It’s probably a generational thing with me but Leicester City’s title win has to have some context. It’s a massive achievement, truly, but by no means is this like no other achievement before it.
Take Nottingham Forest – champions for the first time in 1977 and European Cup winners twice in a row after that. These things can happen and part of the reason why Leicester have shocked the Premier League this season is, as far as I can see, because they’ve got an old-fashioned attitude about them. Their work rate, their effort is quite superb and it’s caught the bigger boys by surprise.
The owners of Manchester United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal will be sitting now thinking ‘what the hell’s going on here?’. They’ll be struggling to comprehend how Leicester have beaten them. But it’s a very popular success and with the exception of Tottenham’s supporters, I think the majority of us have been crossing fingers for Leicester to win the title since Christmas.
The sobering thought as a Leeds United fan is that seven years ago we were playing Leicester in League One. Two years ago we were playing them in the Championship. This inevitably brings us round to the subject of money because, while Leicester haven’t spent like some Premier League clubs do, they certainly spent a fair whack in the Championship.
Around the time when Sven Goran Eriksson was their manager, a few of us here made the point that the money they were throwing at him and his squad wasn’t making much of an impact. I still think that was true. The difference for Leicester came when they started using their cash wisely – investing it in safe bets who were genuinely likely to get them out of the Championship; David Nugent and players like that.
It got them up in 2014 in hugely consistent style and they’ve never looked back but I don’t think that changes the fact that heavy expenditure by football club owners is a gamble, unless they can really afford to lose money hand over fist without losing sleep. If Leicester had missed out in 2014, would they have been able to draw breath and go again? Maybe. Or maybe they would have been forced to cut back and cut their cloth? We’ll never know because they made it to the Premier League and once you’re in that division you earn more money than you know what to do with.
So it’s easy to say that over the past four or five years, Leeds should have spent more.
I totally accept that various squads haven’t been good enough and that we keep falling a long way short of the play-offs but I still think there’s a balance to strike between forking out and living within your means or close to your means.
I still maintain that there are clear risks involved with splashing big sums on players. Personally, I think we’re going to see Massimo Cellino spend a lot of money on the squad at Leeds this summer. I think he’s going to go for it and I’m sure that intention was behind the recent season ticket offer.
But even if the money’s there, building a team takes more than cash. It needs the right structure of recruitment and scouting, the right people doing the deals and the right people working out which areas of the team need most work. It needs skill. Under Eriksson, that’s where Leicester seemed to go wrong. They just launched millions in all directions, with no obvious plan for how it was all going to come together. I look around the Championship and I see Derby County – big spenders this season. What about Middlesbrough? They ploughed £9m into signing Jordan Rhodes so what will the consequences be if it goes wrong for them at the death again? Sheffield Wednesday are another side who’ve taken a gamble in the past 12 months. It might just work for them. But time will tell.
The reality in this league, and we’re all alive to this fact, is that you have to speculate to accumulate. It’s very hard to compete if you don’t have the funds to maintain a large and talented squad. But Leicester shouldn’t be used as a cast-iron guarantee of what happens if you spend big in this division. They’re an example of what can happen if you spend big and everything clicks – and, in that respect, there is a difference.
Massive credit to them for doing what they’ve done. People will talk about this season for years to come now and they’re an inspiration to others, a reason to dream.
But it would be wrong to say that their success came cheaply or came easily. They took the plunge financially and others will follow. But it won’t work for everyone because football never does.