Reality biting hard for Thai-owned club

opinion February 18, 2017 01:00

By The Nation

After a football fairytale, Leicester City face a stern survival test

Months ago it was a Cinderella-type story shared and marvelled at all over the world. Now the Foxes, as Thai-owned Leicester City Football Club are called, are experiencing a real-life nightmare, with the possibility of plummeting from England’s summit football league getting bigger with each passing day. Their ordeal is sad because many sport lovers, for good reasons, hoped their success last season was sustainable evidence that sporting glory did not require a lot of money.

Maybe sporting glory doesn’t need that much cash, but sustaining it does. Leicester City didn’t spend big after their dramatic surge to the English Premier League title last season, but other top teams broke open their piggy banks to recruit more “world-class” players. Manchester United, for example, bought French international Paul Pogba at a record price of Bt4 billion. The Foxes, in fact, sold an influential player, N'Golo Kante, to Chelsea Football Club for Bt1.4 billion. Leicester City had picked him up for Bt245 million.

A big irony, especially for football idealists, is that Chelsea are now pulling ahead in the race for this season’s title. The leaders have great spine, but all of the players came at high prices. Financially, Chelsea are worlds apart from Leicester City, and the fact that the former finished far below the Foxes last season made many people think the tide might be turning in turns of economic might.

The influence of big money on the game made Leicester City the name on everyone’s lips. Whatever made them the league champions of England, money is not it. 

The team were put together on an extremely tight budget and the coach was widely considered a has-been. But they were fearless throughout the 2015-2016 league season, and the whole world cheered when they lifted the Premier League trophy.

It was said then that winning the Premier League the way they did was easier than proving the success was not a mere fairytale. In other words, Leicester City have been carrying a heavy load on their shoulders – the necessity to prove that passion, not money, was key to sustainable sporting glory.

Most good athletes go through similar stages in their journey from humble beginnings to the summit. First they win because they put up a real fight. Then the money comes in to spoil some and push others up further. The road to the first form of glory is tough, but to remain glorious is a lot tougher.

Football pundits have tried to pinpoint why the Foxes have been struggling this season. Some say it’s because other teams are taking them seriously now, meaning Leicester City have faced determined and dogged opponents every time they play. Other experts blame the virtual lack of spending on reinforcements, especially when compared to other top teams.

One painful question is why maintaining glory requires a lot of cash, especially in team sports. It’s no coincidence that the most successful teams in the world nowadays are the richest ones. But the question is also as ironic as it is painful, given the fact that the richest clubs of the Premier League were swept aside by Leicester City in the previous season like insects on the windshield.

Leicester City are like a young, successful athlete passing into the stage where money matters. What happens next will be very interesting. The fairytale is long gone, and how the Foxes cope with hard-biting reality will show how difficult it is to turn the tide, which is favoured by no one but doesn’t need anyone’s favour to roar ahead.