Take a quick look at your calendar. It’s nearly Thanksgiving and Leicester City are the top team in the Premier League. Leicester City, the team that was in dead last in the Premier League this time last season is now leading the league, ahead of all the giants like Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea.
How is Leicester doing this? This is a team whose summer was marred by scandal. They were such a mess that everyone didn’t even think twice about picking them to be relegated.
Throughout the first few months of the season many pointed at their light schedule as the reason why they kept racking up the points, saying their luck will run out eventually. Yet, here they are at the end of November sitting at the Premier League summit.
How they’ve gotten there is pretty simple. Leicester City isn’t scared of you. They play attacking football, they’ll take the game right to you and they never believe they’re out of it. More importantly Riyad Mahrez has finally emerged as the star everyone expected him to be and Jamie Vardy, who four years ago was playing non-league football in the fifth tier of the English football system, has decided that scoring goals in the Premier League is apparently really easy. Vardy just scored in his 10th consecutive match, tying a Premier League record held by Ruud van Nistelrooy.
The question now is can Leicester realistically keep this up and challenge for a top four spot this season? The answer of course is most likely not because of that pesky little thing called the January transfer window.
Unfortunately we’ve seen this story before too. Small club has a great start to the season behind the fantastic play of a little known player. Big clubs take notice and swoop in (whether it’s in January or if they wait until the summer) with big money offers for the players. The players are swayed by the dollar signs (or in this case the £ signs) and the club is happy to sell because they’re getting more money than they typically make in a year. The player then arrives at the big club and either struggles with the pressure, or they realize that the big club has several world-class players at the same position and the player can barely get off the bench.
We’ve seen this happen time and time again, and it’s happened even more once Manchester City became a big money player. The most famous example is Andy Carroll leaving Newcastle after a good first half of the season for a big money move to Liverpool where he was a complete flop. Then of course there are the cautionary tales of players like Roque Santa Cruz, Victor Moses and Scott Sinclair, who left their small clubs only to get completely lost at clubs like City and Chelsea.
Riyad Mahrez is a tremendous talent who can absolutely play in the Premier League. Does that mean he’s ready to jump to a team like Manchester United, Chelsea (who have Hazaard, Pedro, and Willian), or Arsenal (with Ozil, Sanchez, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain) who are interested in signing him this January? The jury is still out on that. He’d certainly fit right in at a club like Tottenham or Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, but right now why leave Leicester for one of them?
Vardy is a completely different story. We still don’t know what he is. Is he a big fish in a small pond kind of player, or is he actually becoming a world-class striker? As of now the evidence is still heavily in the former’s corner. Going to a team like Real Madrid (who are interested in him) and competing with the like of Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez for playing time certainly won’t end well for him.
If you’re Leicester City and these big clubs come calling in January with massive amounts of money, are you listening or are you doing everything you can to hold on to these players to see how long this magic can last?
Two years ago the answer would be simple, but the Premier League is different now, with the amount of TV money every club gets even the smallest clubs aren’t strapped for cash anymore. They’re actually doing quite well. Every Premier League club is among the 40 richest clubs in the world and this past summer Leicester signed Gokhan Inler away from Napoli who finished fifth in Serie A and were competing in the Europa League. They were able to do that because despite finishing 15th in the Premier League, Leicester had more money.
But then there’s the other side of the coin. Leicester are a very thin squad. If they suffer just one major injury that could be enough to derail their entire campaign. As for the players, this could be their one opportunity to earn a big-money contract. What if Vardy turns down the money in January, choosing to see where the season goes with Leicester but then suffers a career-threatening knee injury in March and the big money offer never comes again?
For the sake of football it would be amazing to Leicester hold on to their players for the full season and seeing how far they can take this run. Unfortunately, if Mahrez or Vardy want to go after the money, it’s hard to see Leicester going against the players wishes.
The most likely outcome of this whole ordeal is Leicester will lose either one or both of those players in January. At that point they’ll have enough points to safely keep them out of the relegation zone if they could just be mediocre in the second half of the season, but their magical run at the top of the table will certainly come to an end. It’s hard not to say that fans will be the ones who ultimately lose if that happens.