If a week is a long time in politics, seven months is an eternity in football. Things change and change quickly.
Just ask Leicester City . In May they were lifting the Premier League trophy. Now, as we prepare to bid farewell to 2016, they’re languishing in 15th place in the Premier League, just three points off the relegation zone.
European adventures notwithstanding, it’s shaping up to be a tricky old season at the King Power Stadium.
Not that their achievements in 2015/16 are in danger of fading into sepia tones any time soon.
The end-of-year retrospectives are likely to be fairly Leicester-heavy, for a start, and there’s always the chance that Claudio Ranieri’s men will shake off the dust in the new year and play the greatest hits like they did against Manchester City earlier this month.
Beyond that, there is the possibility that, thanks to to one of the most thrilling sporting triumphs in recent memory, the Foxes have staked out a permanent spot in the footballing lexicon.
Over the last year, “doing a Leicester” has become shorthand for all manner of achievements – both real and hoped-for – defined by romance, underdog spirit and sheer unlikelihood.
Not all such comparisons stand up to scrutiny. But what is pleasing is the sheer variety of clubs who have been twinned with the Foxes.
Here are seven from major leagues who have earnt the moniker of ‘The [X] Leicester’ for their exploits:
The German Leicester: RB Leipzig
“Last year we had the phenomenon of Leicester City in England, and Leipzig can match the achievement. That’s what I think when I see them play. RB Leipzig are not some flash in the pan, but absolutely serious contenders. This is comparable to what happened last year in England.”
Those words, volunteered by Thomas Tuchel in November, made the headlines in Germany. But really, the Borussia Dortmund boss was really just verbalising what everyone else was thinking.
The Red-Bull-backed outfit have been success story of the season so far in the Bundesliga, emerging as the main challengers to Bayern Munich as other, more traditional clubs – Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen – have slipped back into the primordial soup. Leipzig started the season with a 13-game unbeaten run (a record for a newly-promoted side) and topped the table before defeat to Ingolstadt earlier this month.
The similarities with Leicester have their limits. As moneyed upstarts with no real history to speak of, Leipzig are not everyone’s cup of tea, meaning there has not been a groundswell of goodwill behind them.
Their squad is also short on the kind of lovable journeymen who propelled the Foxes to glory. But the exploits of youngsters like Emil Forsberg, Timo Werner, Naby Keita and Scotland international Oliver Burke have been compelling, and there is a feeling that there is still more potential to be tapped.
Bayern clearly see Ralph Hasenhuttl’s charges as a threat: “English clubs made the mistake of not taking Leicester seriously last season,” said chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who promised that the Bavarians will do everything in their power to ensure that “Leicester does not suddenly lie in Saxony”.
A 3-0 win over Leipzig on Wednesday night reinforced that message, but the new kids on the block will come again.
Expert view – Bundesliga writer Archie Rhind-Tutt: “Leipzig certainly fit the surprise package mould, having only just been promoted from the second division. Yet you won’t find anyone calling their rise a fairytale.
“Their ascent to the top is viewed dimly by most due to the way they were created by Red Bull. That goes against the spirit of the 50+1 ownership rule that Bundesliga fans hold so dear.”
The Italian Leicester: Atalanta
At the end of September, the Bergamo side embarked on a stunning run that made them the talk of Italy.
Atalanta took 25 points from nine league games, seeing off Napoli, Inter and Roma to emerge as shock candidates for the European places.
They’ve come back down to earth a touch since the start of December, but remain sixth in Serie A – no mean feat for a squad whose most famous players are Chilean journeyman Mauricio Pinilla and Swansea flop Alberto Paloschi.
Young midfielder Frank Kessie has caught the eye with a series of commanding performances, while the more experienced Jasmin Kurtic and skipper Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez (whose habit of wearing weird and wonderful captain’s armbands has earnt him a few fans this term) have chipped in with key goals.
But the real architect of their rise has been coach Gian Piero Gasperini, who has whipped a middling squad into shape in a manner that brings to mind Claudio Ranieri’s work at the King Power Stadium.
The former Genoa manager recently welcomed the inevitable comparisons. “The Italian Leicester? If you’re referring to the last couple of months, then yes,” he told Radio Sportiva. “In the long term, I don’t know. [Winning the league] is unlikely, but we’ll try to imitate Leicester for as long as possible. Putting a few Euros on us doesn’t cost anything.”
Expert view – Serie A aficionado Sheridan Bird: “Gasperini clashed with several senior players at the start of the season and results were poor. He was supposedly on the verge of the sack.
But being a clever old fox, he sidelined the troublemakers, and put his faith in youth and hard workers. Everyone took notice when they beat Napoli, but thought it was a one-off. Then they shot down Inter and Roma. They are an energetic team, without divas and with a few genuinely barmy fan groups.”
The Argentine Leicester: Godoy Cruz
Like many South American leagues, the Argentine top flight tends to be wide open, meaning direct comparisons are tricky. But there was some talk of a home-brew Leicester back in May, when Godoy Cruz came within a whisker of reaching the final of the catchily-titled Transitional Championship.
Hailing from Mendoza, a province known more for wine and mountains than football, they have been a fixture in the top flight over the last decade or so, but had rarely appeared in the upper reaches of the table before the first half of 2016.
But they confounded expectations, playing some enjoyable football that took them to the summit of Group 1 with two games of the campaign to go.
“We tell ourselves we are Argentina’s Leicester,” admitted striker Javier Correa before the local clasico against San Martin.
“That gives us strength to believe that anything is possible in football. We know that it’s difficult against the bigger, more powerful clubs, but there’s no use crying about it. You just have to play.”
With that kind of attitude, it was little wonder that Godoy Cruz won so many fans, even if they were eventually leapfrogged on the home straight by San Lorenzo, who went on to lose to Lanus in the final.
The Portuguese Leicester: Boavista (2000/01)
In some countries, comparisons have been made retrospectively. This is the case in Portugal, where Leicester’s feats brought to mind the achievements of Boavista at the start of the millennium.
The Primeira Liga title is usually a carve-up between the Big Three of Benfica, Porto and Sporting, but the club with the famous checked shirts gatecrashed the party in sensational style in 2000/01.
After a promising start, Boavista really hit their stride in the new year, beating city rivals Porto 1-0 and never looking back. Things went awry in the years that followed, but events in the Premier League last term prompted a fresh wave of praise in Portugal.
Former national-team goalkeeper Ricardo, who played in goal for Boavista that year and was on Leicester’s books back in 2011, was asked about the link when the Foxes were closing in on the title. “The big victory against Manchester City has filled [Leicester] with confidence,” he said.
“We felt a similar thing after beating Sporting: we had beaten the strongest team and that gave us strength. It’s a beautiful story.”
Expert view – Tom Kundert of Portugoal.net : “In terms of the slimness of the chances of their pulling it off, it is comparable.
“On the other hand, Boavista were a consistently strong team at the time, winning the cup a couple of times and doing well in Europe, so you’d have to say that Leicester’s feat was a bigger surprise.”
The French Leicester: Montpellier (2011/12)
A few people have noted similarities between Ligue 1 pace-setters Nice and the Leicester of last season.
“They have an experienced coach and players who could be revelations like N’Golo Kante,” said RMC pundit Gilbert Brisbois earlier in the season. “They have a kid who could be a Riyad Mahrez figure: (Alassane) Plea. They have (Mario) Balotelli, who could almost be their [Jamie] Vardy. And there is a real potential in the club, with new investors.”
But a more apt comparison would be with Montpellier, who won the French title against all odds back in 2011/12. With a squad put together on a shoe-string budget (especially compared to the big-spending Paris Saint-Germain), La Paillade rode a wave of public approval and, thanks in large part to the goalscoring exploits of Olivier Giroud, finished the season three points clear of the chasing pack.
“What’s being said in the media about Leicester is exactly what was said about us,” coach Rene Girard told the BBC in March. “[People said] ‘They’ve done really well, they’ve had a great journey but they’re going to crack, physically they haven’t got what it takes to be champions.’
But in the second half of the season we could rely on a great team spirit with young players who realised they could achieve something special.
“We didn’t ask ourselves too many questions. We never left the mentality that served us so well, which was to enjoy our football, take pleasure in it and leave everything out on the pitch. Everyone was waiting for the moment we would crumble but – like Leicester are at the moment – we held on.”
Colourful club president Louis Nicollin may not be a connoisseur of the English game (“I don’t even know where Leicester is!”) but admitted that the Foxes’ achievement had gone down well in Montpellier.
“This title brings back fond memories,” he said in the summer. “It was fabulous [for us], so I’m pleased for them.”
Expert view – James Eastham, French football writer: “It’s easy to see why the Montpellier connection has been made. it was their first-ever Ligue 1 title and to say they were rank outsiders is an understatement; like Leicester, they weren’t even mentioned in the pre-season debate over who might win the league. Montpellier had finished 14th the season before, just three points above the relegation zone.”
The Russian Leicester: Rostov
Ranieri’s men were not the only debutants in this season’s Champions League: Rostov were also taking their first steps in Europe’s top club competition.
They may not have made it out of their group, but stunned Bayern Munich and did enough to secure a spot in the Europa League at the expense of PSV Eindhoven.
It was their 2015/16 league campaign, however, that really captured the imagination.
Just a year after a narrow escape from relegation, and despite major financial issues behind the scenes, the Selmashi spent much of the season juking it out with Russia’s traditional big-hitters, topping the table in the spring and dreaming of a their first major title. Like the Foxes, the football was often direct and deadly, with counter-attacks key.
In the end, they were overhauled by CSKA Moscow, but that did not prevent the Leicester comparisons being made.
Former Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong, who was playing in Russia with Ufa at the time, was among those to make the connection. “What Leicester is doing in England, Rostov is doing in Russia,” he tweeted. “They were in the relegation fight this time last year [and they are] now top of the league.”
The Brazilian Leicester: Chapecoense
The Santa Catarina side came to global attention in grim circumstances last month, when the plane carrying the squad to a game in Colombia crashed, killing 71 people, including the majority of their players.
But Chapecoense had already achieved fame in South America thanks to their stunning rise through the divisions in Brazil and their progress to the final of the Copa Sul-Americana.
As recently as 2008, Chape had failed to even qualify for the fourth division of Brazil’s national league. But for eight straight seasons after that, they improved on the previous year’s finish, clawing their way to the top flight in 2014 and ignoring those who tipped them for a swift return to Serie B.
They came within a whisker of stunning River Plate in a two-legged Sul-Americana tie in 2015, then went several steps better this year, despite limited resources.
Chapecoense says thanks for all the support
“Our team really reminds me of Leicester, a team from an unfancied city that was able to win an important title,” said coach Caio Junior in September.
“I want to make a mark this season with this club, this group of players.” Tragically, the dream was snatched away from them just as it looked set to become reality.