EPL TALK: Leicester relegation would be an EPL tragedy

Their 2016 title win allowed fans to believe in miracles. If they go down, that warm and fuzzy nostalgia will disappear with them

Leicester City's Jamie Vardy on his knees during the English Premier League match against Fulham.
Leicester City's Jamie Vardy on his knees during the English Premier League match against Fulham. (PHOTO: Jacques Feeney/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

ANDREA Boccelli hit the highest notes of Nessun Dorma, Claudio Ranieri fought back tears and the world watched in disbelief. This was not happening. Leicester City, a smallish club from a smallish province, were not doing this. They were not lifting the English Premier League trophy. They were not giving an absurd Hollywood story a ludicrous Hollywood ending. They were not making history.

And yet, they were. From 5000-1 outsiders to Cinderella men in a single season, they returned the game to an age of innocence. They encouraged us to regress back to childhood, to a simpler time of underdogs and overachievers, a place where anyone could win. In 2016, they made the dreams of every school playground a Premier League reality.

And now, they could be relegated.

Irony is often cruel, but this feels needlessly masochistic, as if a Hollywood hack ran a red pen through a simple script and scribbled in block capitals, “AUDIENCES ARE STUPID. MAKE THE EPL SYMBOLISM EVEN MORE OBVIOUS."

The champions of 2016 face relegation in 2023. The minnows are no longer mighty. The money won. Romance is dead. Hammer home the message and if the misty-eyed idealists are still not getting it, hit them again. Have Jamie Vardy miss a penalty in a must-win game at Fulham. Have the original poster boy for the Foxes’ fairytale squander an opportunity to salvage any hope. There can be no room for misinterpretation. This isn’t Disney Plus.

No team have a divine right to their Premier League status, whatever their history, but Leicester’s drift into the bottom three isn’t even subtle, as if the karmic gods want to make it painfully clear for every naïve fool still loyal to the concept of equality. Trickle-down economics do not exist in the EPL either.

The Foxes are fighting relegation because their uplifting story no longer plays, the one about a regular rich guy taking a middling club and spending his way to unlikely glory. In the mid-1990s, his name was Jack Walker. A self-made millionaire was enough to take Blackburn Rovers to the Premier League title. Once. In 2016, his name was Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. A self-made billionaire was enough to take Leicester to the Premier League title. Once.

Not anymore. Regular, run-of-the-mill billionaires are lining up outside the poor house like Dickensian street urchins, hoping for scraps from a new ruling class. In pre-season, Leicester bought just two players - the defender Wout Faes for £17 million, to replace the Chelsea-bound Wesley Fofana and Alex Smithies – a third-choice goalkeeper.

Among the clubs in the Premier League since the 2018/19 season, only Brighton and Hove Albion have a net spend lower than Leicester’s £92 million. A stellar club became a selling club, flogging Harry Maguire, Fofana, Riyad Mahrez and Ben Chilwell – for more than £50 million each. James Maddison will be the next to go in the summer.

Leicester City manager Dean Smith has not been able to stop the Foxes from slipping into relegation troubles.
Leicester City manager Dean Smith has not been able to stop the Foxes from slipping into relegation troubles. (PHOTO: Rob Newell - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Rare EPL victory for the small clubs feels like the last

Of course, smaller clubs sell superior assets all the time. Only the geopolitical soft power exercises and the American consortiums can hang onto their expensive products, but Leicester’s fire sale has been a particularly dispiriting spectacle because of their unwitting purpose in the Premier League.

The Foxes have been a palate cleanser. Their story and successes removed lingering aftertastes. They made the grubbiness elsewhere easier to swallow.

Their title win, the Champions League quarter-finals and then that FA Cup final victory over Chelsea 2021 inspired just as much for the manner of those accomplishments as anything else. They operated and progressed with a quiet dignity.

Following the death of his father in 2018, chairman Aiyawatt “Top” Srivaddhanaprabha promised to honour his family's legacy and maintain investment in a club and town that lack the population size, infrastructure and global reach of many EPL competitors.

Aiyawatt wrote off a £200 million debt owed by Leicester. The chairman is not really in this for the money because the Foxes aren’t making any. The club posted pre-tax losses of £92.5 million for last year – an increase of £61.3 million on the previous season – despite a period of relative success. Like most clubs outside of Manchester and Newcastle, Leicester are kicking furiously beneath the water to stay afloat as the oil tankers cruise past.

In Aiyawatt’s world, £200 million takes care of the club’s outstanding debts. Elsewhere, £200 million buys half a Declan Rice. Welcome to the new world, where old world money still reigns and everyone else pays a price, starting with Brendan Rodgers and Aiyawatt. The former manager was fired for not turning water into wine on a shoestring budget and the chairman’s decision to swap Rodgers with Dean Smith may be rewarded with an ignominious drop into the Championship.

The Foxes were the greatest winners in Premier League history, but there may be none left after this season. Vardy is the last man standing from 2016. So he had to miss that penalty at Fulham, naturally, to really lay on the cruelty and make him a poster boy of a different kind now, a myth that cannot be repeated.

From non-league to the English Premier League title is not going to happen for an individual again. From the Championship to the English Premier title is not going to happen for a team again. Leicester are destined to become a “remember when” question. Remember when the impossible was still possible? Because it isn’t now.

Nostalgia acts as a soothing balm when the present day becomes too irritating or uncomfortable. Vardy’s heroics, Boccelli’s vocals and Ranieri’s tears still give us the warm and fuzzies in a way that the prospect of a fifth title in six years for Manchester City just can’t.

In 2016, the Foxes’ delivered a rare victory for unpredictability. Now it feels like the last victory. Predictability is becoming a way of EPL life. Teams like Manchester City clean up. Teams like Leicester City go down. The closed shop is firmly in place. There’s no going back.

The Foxes once allowed us to believe in miracles. Their relegation would force us to believe in nothing but money. What a sad and undeserved legacy that would be.

The Foxes once allowed us to believe in miracles. Their relegation would force us to believe in nothing but money. What a sad and undeserved legacy that would be.

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.

Follow the new EPL season with the "Footballing Weekly" show on YouTube, Spotify and Acast.

For more football news, visit our Football page on Yahoo!

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter. Also check out our Southeast Asia, Food, and Gaming channels on YouTube.

Yahoo Singapore Telegram
Yahoo Singapore Telegram