Why you Should Care About an English Soccer Team’s Championship
Last week, English soccer team Leicester City became the champions of England’s Barclays Premier League, a prestigious league in England and one of the best soccer leagues in the world. Leicester, a team that was promoted to the league just last year, managed to beat out some of the wealthiest and most powerful clubs in the world, including Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal. These clubs are not only almost always the strongest competitors in club soccer, but are also among the wealthiest sports franchises in the world, often paying ridiculous fees to import the best players from all over the world. Leicester City managed to unseat these clubs with a highly limited budget and talent pool, using many players that had been with the club since its days in the lower levels of English soccer. Many are calling Leicester’s championship one of the greatest sporting accomplishments of our time, but the effects of Leicester’s victory are even more important than winning silverware. Leicester’s victory has changed the outlook on international athletics, making financial capabilities less important and introducing parity to one of the world’s most wealth-dominated sports.
Much more so than in American sports, the most successful teams in world football are generally the richest. For example, Real Madrid CF, one of the best teams in Spain, was recently rated by Forbes as the most valuable sports franchise in the world, possessing a fortune of over $3 billion. Madrid has utilized their wealth by implementing a strategy called Los Galacticos, where they spend unprecedented amounts of money on some of the world’s greatest and most expensive players, including British superstars Gareth Bale and David Beckham, Portuguese legend Cristiano Ronaldo, and French icon Zinedine Zidane. Real Madrid, and its Spanish archival FC Barcelona, each spend even more money on players than the highest paying American franchise, the New York Yankees. Their wealth has translated into ten European championships in their history, the most of any team in Europe. In recent years, many other European football teams have adopted similar strategies of rampant spending in order to achieve success. This has led to world football being divided into “Big Clubs”, who are able to hand out lucrative contracts in the hopes of landing the world’s most talented players, and smaller teams, who fight to stay competitive in the world’s top leagues. Before this season, the past 20 English champions had been a “Big Club”, including Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, or Chelsea, all of whom have paid expensive transfer fees for players.
Leicester City was first promoted to the top flight of English football last year, as part of the promotion-relegation system of international soccer, where the top teams in a league move up to a higher division, while the bottom teams are pushed down to the lower divisions. Leicester City managed to beat out some of the richest organizations in sports for a domestic title, in only their second season of play in their division. To put this achievement into American sports terms, Leicester’s championship is a rough equivalent to an NBA expansion team winning a title in their second year in the league, against a historically dominant team like the Los Angeles Lakers, who possess superstars like Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol on their roster. Simply put, this just doesn't happen. Leicester has shaken the sports world, and proven that you don’t need a hefty paycheck in order to achieve athletic success.
Even in American sports, money has often been one of the most important factors in a team’s success. In sports like basketball, where each individual player’s impact can be the difference between winning and losing, teams will shell out unbelievable amounts of capital in order to secure the best players. Many of Basketball’s greatest modern players, including Lebron James, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant, are paid upwards of $20 million a year by their respective teams. In soccer, teams will pay even more for individual players, partly because of the wealth of their respective owners. Some of Leicester’s competitors, including Chelsea, Manchester City, and Manchester United, each had annual payrolls of over 190 million English Pounds in 2016. Meanwhile, Leicester City paid a combined 48 million Pounds for the services of their players this season, which is around a quarter of the respective payrolls of their rivals in England, and managed to defeat all of them. Leicester’s victory has introduced parity into English soccer, where even cash-strapped teams can now be championship contenders. As Leicester has shown, it doesn’t take money to have success in the world’s top sports leagues.Many of Leicester’s players and staff, including striker Jamie Vardy, midfielder Danny Drinkwater and manager Claudio Ranieri had been castoffs from other clubs, and had been deemed incapable of performing at the highest level of soccer. Their triumph has proven that the best formula for athletic success is a careful eye for talent, including the acquisition of capable players who may even be seen as rejects by other clubs. This strategy is similar to Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” policy in baseball, which he used to create a winning team under a limited budget. Any team in any sport can become a winner by finding diamonds in the rough, who other teams undervalue and fail to acknowledge or pursue. By mimicking Leicester’s strategies, less-than-wealthy sports franchises can overthrow the financial Goliaths in their leagues, and can introduce parity to their respective sports.
Leicester City’s victory has overthrown the financial culture of international sports, and introduced competitiveness to a sport that has traditionally been dominated by the few teams that could outspend the rest. Leicester City has changed how teams view themselves, and allowed smaller teams to become more ambitious, even against wealthy and powerful opposition. It will be interesting to see if other “small teams” can copy Leicester and unseat the perpetual champions in the future, and continue to change how sports teams are assembled.