The real reasons behind Leicester City’s astonishing English Premier League success
“This fairytale proved that you can still achieve great success with limited budgets and resources. With the right approach, attitude and application, great results are very attainable.”
I will never forget sitting on the lounge with my 6-month old on my lap, watching as Claudio Ranieri stood beside Andrea Bocelli singing ‘Nessun Dorma’ at the King Power Stadium. The impossible was made possible.
I know, it's just football and football isn’t life, but this story was, as a true legend of the game once said, “so much more than that”. It was emotional and accessible to all because this was a victory for the underdogs, the unlikely heroes.
Most importantly, this fairytale proved that you can still achieve great outcomes with limited budgets and resources. In a world that is now dominated by big-spending, ultra-wealthy clubs, Leicester City Football Club (Leicester City) proved that with the right approach, attitude and application, great results are very attainable. This applies to all facets of life and business, even in the “real world”.
Some people may not know the full story or have only heard soundbites, so I will explain what has happened and it's significance.
Leicester City, a relative minnow in English Football, won the elusive English Premier League title in 2015/16, the most popular and competitive elite football competition in the world; against all odds.
This was a team that started their campaign knowing that survival in the top division of the country was going to be difficult. In the previous season they only just avoided being relegated to the second tier.
On the first day of the season, I’m sure some may have forgotten that they were in the league at all. At a whooping 5000/1 odds, the realistic target for this team was 40 points and league survival.
Nearly every year, the eventual league winners had finished in the top 3 in the previous season. Leicester City simply had no chance to win the league.
You see Leicester City are not the traditional powerhouse in modern football. Yes, they were revitalised and bankrolled by a Thai billionaire owner, but in terms of expenditure, they were in a completely different ballpark to their super-rich rivals.
The value of their starting 11 was nowhere near the league’s juggernauts, who spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new players each season.
No, this team was made up of nobodies. A collection of players hand-picked to do a specific job within the team collective. Without any real big names, we learned that their scouting was very deliberate.
So how did they do it?
Leicester City had built a cohesive team with a clear plan, a smart approach maximising their available resources and clearly defined roles for everyone involved.
Their Italian manager, Claudio Ranieri, was a respected manager, but he was also renowned for “tinkering” with the team too frequently. Often the bridesmaid throughout his career and never winning a league title, he brought his learnings into this season, setting out a clear plan and seeing it through to the end.
By the end of the season, his team had the most consistent starting 11 in the league. They were fortunate with injuries, but the key here was that he applied his learnings from past experience. And boy did it work.
They stuck to a set plan and process. They threw out the traditional styles that had dominated the league for so long. Without the huge transfer fees, they didn’t have the superstar players who typically have more of the ball. Instead, they played to their strengths and they played as a united force, with each player performing his specific role at maximum efficiency.
They gave the other teams the ball possession, defended carefully and as team and then sprung out into counter-attacker with lightening speed. They were direct, powerful and fast, with each player committed to performing their specific role within that style of play.
Although they did have some superb individuals, playing as a team was a huge part of their success. They had a super-quick and clinical striker in Jamie Vardy, an exquisite play-maker in Riyad Mahrez and a range of other brilliant specialists. But they talked, played, worked, suffered and celebrated as a team. They were together and all in it for the benefit of the collective.
What are the lessons to be learned?
We’re talking about limited budgets and resources, but a strong sense of purpose and very clear objectives. You can see how this does not only apply to football. We can all relate to this story in life and in business, with many lessons to be learned.
It is common to come across people, teams and organisations that have very clear objectives. They know what they want to achieve, where they would like to get to. Often there is a misconception that the chances of getting there or succeeding are mainly driven by expenditure and budgets. Yes, these play a role, but that is certainly not the end of the story, as Leicester City have proven.
Being smart and effective means that you maximise your available resources, including budgets. It means that you create a clear plan, informed by your past experiences and that you stick to this plan and see it through. It means working as a team and leveraging the strengths of all players within the team for the benefit of the group.
I guess this is the main point of this piece.
What Leicester City lacked in resources and ludicrous amounts of money, they made up for with team spirit, resourcefulness and a smart, effective approach to performing consistently all season.
They proved it can be done, on smaller budgets, with fewer resources and hype and with a truckload of strategy, commitment and hard work. Let’s also not forget that they also kept it light-hearted the whole way. They enjoyed the process. They laughed, they joked, they hugged; but they remained steely in their focus, with one eye always focused on the prize.
As the trophy was lifted into the air by their captain Wes Morgan, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed and overjoyed, even though I am not a Leicester City fan.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but these feelings ran so much deeper for so many reasons beyond the simple over-achievement of a lessor known sporting team.
Personally, this was a justification of a belief in an honest approach that focuses on being smart and effective with the resources that are available. An approach that we take with our clients on a daily basis when it comes to building brands, developing marketing strategies and applying them through relevant digital and creative communications.
This was proof that taking a team approach above individual glory can be a recipe for genuine success and that enjoying the process whilst sticking to your convictions counts for a great deal. Leicester City have reminded us all that anything is possible and that money on it's own does not guarantee success.
Claudio Ranieri was busy having dinner with his beloved mother while rivals Tottenham Hotspur slipped up to give his side the ultimate victory. He had his priorities right; and in the end, his entire team and staff had out-foxed them all!