Leicester City winning the Premier League was a big deal.
A massive deal. A landscape-altering deal. A deal that was covered and celebrated the world over.
Yes, this is a Leicester City blog and we may be slightly bias, but even the most ardent of cynics would have to acknowledge some level of the above.
England was, for a moment, cool again.
After a good period of Spanish dominance with the likes of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid running the continent with the help of German pals Bayern Munich, the spotlight was maybe, just maybe shifting West.
Leicester had helped to bring the shine back to a nation that was going to be boosted further by the shiny managerial appointments of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, Jose Mourinho at Manchester United and Antonio Conte at Chelsea.
And wouldn’t you know it, heading into Euro 2016, the national team didn’t look half bad either. Friendly wins over Germany, Portugal and Turkey (all participants in the upcoming monthly-long tournament) had spirits high and optimism cautiously building.
The weather was even nice. The weather. In England.
Now Leicester were able to win the Premier League because Claudio Ranieri, the orchestrator of all that beautiful madness, employed a very specific yet simple plan that was run on working hard and playing as a team.
38 matches resulted in 23 wins and 12 draws and Wes Morgan (who was a 32-year-old second-year Premier League player) was setting off fireworks at King Power Stadium with a massive trophy lumped over his head.
They weren’t the most expensive, they weren’t the biggest, they, at first anyway, weren’t the most recognizable...but this rag tag bunch worked hard and played as a team, reaching soccer immortality in the process. Imagine that?
It’s a novel idea at its core but one that isn’t crazy. When well made parts work closely together at a high rate, the whole can and should be successful. Just look at the Honda Accord.
Football in England typically wasn’t played that way. You just spent as much money as you could to buy the best players and put the most bums in the seats at the biggest stadiums. It shocked people that the Foxes’ system could work the way it did and for the entirety of a season, no less.
With the streets of Leicester still cleaning up from the celebrations, The Three Lions were off to France with one of the medal-winning heroes in Jamie Vardy looking to play a key role in a confident set up. A favorable draw had yielded a manageable group that Roy Hodgson’s men should navigate with relative ease.
The good vibes were there, people. They were there.
Playing about as well as expected against Russia, Wales and then Slovakia, our boys moved on to the knockout round of the proceedings. A surprising Iceland package was ahead after the plucky footballerssons beat Austria 2-1 in the last match of their group play.
The team of part-timers from a country with a population 5,000 less than that of the aforementioned Leicester was the talk of the tournament. Its...hard work...and...team unity...had propelled it to heights it had never come close to before.
The parallels were everywhere. Iceland was being dubbed the ‘Leicester’ of Euro 2016 and rightly so. They were the underdog you loved to root for. The little guy who stood up to the drab hierarchy of European football and stated its case for being amongst the traditional big countries, if only this once.
This was England’s opponent. A massive divide in the talent of the two sides, few expected Iceland’s fairytale to continue...despite England playing typically English to this stage.
And as if it was seen coming a 1,000 miles away by every Englishman with a pulse (it was), Iceland defeated England much in the same way as the latter’s title-winners had been doing for over a year prior to the favored opponents they faced.
Hard. Work. Team. Unity.
The lesson was not learned by The FA. Hell, it wasn’t even acknowledged. England looked unbelievably hopeless in a match that should have been a good warm-up for a Sunday clash with historical rivals France. Beaten at a game they had been obsessing over since Jamie Vardy decided to start breaking records, the once proud nation was sent home as a laughingstock.
Credit absolutely has to go to Iceland because they saw an opportunity to badger outwork an emotionally-fragile set of players in white to the point of submission. England was beaten before the final whistle even blew.
As the traveling support from across the Channel slowly filtered out of the Allianz Riviera in Nice, you scarcely saw an upset face. They were bewildered and confused but also expectant. The face you make when your parents first learned how to text. Or when you realize Harry Kane was taking corners. This wasn’t supposed to happen...but you knew it was an all-too-real and terrifying possibility.
Yet it all could have been avoided. Mistakes could have been learned from. Adjustments could have been made. Strength and bravery could have been shown. Pride could have been sacrificed. But no. England fell on its own sword once again with a perfect blueprint in hand.
The pride felt from Leicester’s fantastic achievement was but a distant memory and life was back to normal. Only another two years until the next chance to best that level of embarrassment. Tally ho!
England losing to Iceland was a big deal.
A massive deal. A landscape-altering deal. A deal that was covered and celebrated the world over…and one that should have never happened.