How 5,000-to-1 shot Leicester City won the English Premier League

Plumb Images | Leicester City FC | Getty Images

It's the stuff of sporting fairy tale.

Leicester City Football Club has won one of the most coveted championships in the world of soccer.

This, despite bookmakers offering odds of 5,000-to-one of it happening back at the beginning of the season. That's less likely than Elvis still being alive or Simon Cowell becoming the next U.K. prime minister.

It’s like a Rocky movie, we had been written off and continued to be written off at every point during the season
Rob Tanner
Author and sportswriter - Leicester Mercury newspaper

Analysts, pundits, fans and players have been incredulous as unfancied Leicester City - pronounced "Lester" and nicknamed The Foxes - has clung to the top spot through the last eight months. The club - based in a city in the East Midlands of England with a population of 330,000 - has won the Premiership.

It was a nail-biting race to the finish. On Sunday, Leicester faced off against footballing giants Manchester United in a tense game which ended 1-1. Both teams gained a point but it was not enough for The Foxes to clinch the title. It was only on Monday night, when Tottenham drew 2-2 against Chelsea, that Leicester secured its lead over other Premiership clubs.

Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates after scoring to make it 1-0 during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and West Ham at the King Power Stadium on April 17 , 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom.
Plumb Images | Leicester City FC | Getty Images

Beating the record-breakers

What makes this feat all the more surprising is that up until now just five clubs have won the competition since its inception in 1992. Added to that, Leicester narrowly avoided relegation in the season before and its record signing is just £9 million ($13 million) for the Croatian Andrej Kramaric, whereas the record for the league stands at £60 million.

Audit firm Deloitte calculated that Leicester's wage costs in the 2014/15 season were £57 million, telling CNBC that "this ranks fairly low in comparison to other clubs."

Thai billionaire and chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha - owner of travel retail group King Power - is not short of cash but is a mere minnow compared to some bank balances in the league. A recent tie against former champions Manchester City saw a team worth £22 million in total take on a £230 million squad of superstars.

"It's like a Rocky movie, we had been written off and continued to be written off at every point during the season," Rob Tanner, an author and sportswriter for the local Leicester Mercury newspaper told CNBC via telephone.

Thai Leicester City football supporters celebrate the team's victory against Swansea FC as they watch a live broadcast on April 24, 2016 in Bangkok. Leicester City's unlikely surge to the top of the Premier League is 'good for football', the club's billionaire Thai backers said after April 24, 2016's mauling of Swansea. Hundreds of jubilant Thai fans defied the steaming city heat to watch the 4-0 drubbing on a big screen at the headquarters of King Power -- whose name is emblazoned on the club's shirt.

‘Moneyball’ tactics

A number of reasons have been given for the club's rise to the top, including its deployment of "moneyball" tactics made famous by Billy Beane's Oakland Athletics baseball team in the early part of the last decade.

Assistant manager and scout Steve Walsh - who famously found soccer superstar Didier Drogba for Chelsea - has foraged the foreign leagues for players for Leicester and found prized gems in the form of Algeria's Riyad Mahrez - who signed for a reported £400,000 in January 2014 and has 18 goals to his name so far this season.

But many point to the shortcomings of the usual soccer superpowers as another reason for Leicester's success. The league has been criticized for being somewhat of an oligopoly but the big-spending clubs have been held back by their own periods of restructuring and rebuilding.

"Money has made the big clubs lazy, they are losing their way ... they don't do any research when buying players and just pay the highest price," Tanner told CNBC.

A Leicester City fan poses for a picture outside the stadium before the English Premier League football match between Leicester City and Swansea at King Power Stadium in Leicester, central England on April 24, 2016.
BEN STANSALL | AFP | Getty Images


The club has also be blessed by a lack of injuries when other teams have suffered setbacks and has notably formed a feeling of team spirit. Iwan Roberts, a former player for the club during the 1990s, told CNBC Friday that a Leicester victory would give "all teams hope" with the club languishing in the division below just a few years ago.

"It's just snowballed, it really has," Roberts said.

"They deserve all the credit in the world because I've never seen a team with such energy and a spirit about them. And I think that's what's taken them to the top of the Premier League."

Leicester City's 'Cinderella story'
Leicester City's 'Cinderella story'

Another attribute during the the club's season has been its style of play. Purists to the game might suggest that the club plays ugly "long ball" style football but fans praise what they call a "sophisticated and direct" approach to the game. Meaning, the players soak up heavy pressure from their opponents and quickly counter after stealing the ball with hungry attackers willing to run and fight for possession. Indeed, a recent game which the team won four-nil saw it have just 38 percent of possession during the whole match.

There's no denying that Leicester's success - if it does manage to successfully reach the finishing line over the next few weeks - would be against all odds and a win for prudence over financial folly.

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