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The Leicester fairytale

Out of the English Premier League less than two years ago, Leicester City's title charge is one of the greatest sporting romances in recent memory

Shakya Mitra 

The Leicester fairytale

How about odds of 5,000-1 on Leicester City winning the English Premier League title at the start of the 2015-16 season? Well, that is exactly what William Hill, an English betting website, offered on this incredible prospect. They only narrowly avoided relegation in the 2014-15 season, which was their first back in the top tier since being relegated in 2003-04. So, battling for survival was a better proposition to back than competing for the title.

Leicester City are achieving what they are at the moment during a time when generally competing with the biggest clubs, who can pay the highest transfer values and afford the fattest wages, is nearly impossible. Chelsea and Manchester City at various points broke the monopoly that Manchester United held over the English Premier League , but the role that the millions of their super-rich owners played in helping them get there cannot be underestimated.

The total cost of Leicester City's squad taking transfer values into consideration is only £54.4 Million. This is quite some margin lower than the EPL big hitters such as Arsenal (£252 Million) and Manchester City (£418.8 Million).

To exemplify why Leicester City's impending march to glory can be described as nothing short of a fairytale, Manchester City's most expensive signing this season, Kevin De Bruyne, alone cost them £54 Million.

Leicester's two star players this season, Jamie Vardy (£1 Million) and Riyad Mahrez (£400,000), cumulatively cost just £1.4 Million. Their net returns this season are: Vardy scoring 21 goals , while Mahrez has 16 goals and 11 assists. Both, incidentally, are in the running for Player of the Season. In contrast, De Bruyne's returns this season are 6 goals and 9 assists. Leicester sensationally find themselves 15 points ahead of Manchester City, EPL's richest club.

With a seven-point lead and with five games to play over the nearest contenders, Tottenham Hotspur, it is fair to say that Leicester have the title more or less wrapped up. Miracles do happen in sport, as Jordan Spieth would allude to at the recent Masters Golf Tournament where he crumbled at the back nine on the final day, and it would take only a meltdown of those proportions to deny Leicester what would be their first ever title in the highest tier of English football.

While their sporting fairytale has relegated most other stories about them to being mere sideshows, Leicester's success has relevance from an Asian context as well. First , 29 per cent of the city is British Indian, the highest in the United Kingdom. Second, it is an Asian- owned club.

Leicester has been referred to as 'Little India' because of the Indian origin population residing there. Leicester also has the biggest Diwali festival outside Asia as well as a statue of Mahatma Gandhi installed there. This makes it the only UK city, apart from London, to have a statue of the Mahatma.

Despite this considerable British Indian population, it is believed that the majority of Leicester City's fan base continues to be white. Not that it doesn't have an Indian-origin fan base, but it could be higher given their population in the city. So yes, it may be too early to ascribe Leicester City's impending title as being a 'success' for the British Indians living there. But we could hopefully in the future see a change in that perspective with a title this season.

Leicester City are owned by Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the owner of King Power Duty Free who bought the club in 2010 for £39 Million. While we can take the success that Leicester has enjoyed under his ownership for granted, it would be worth remembering that it has not always been a smooth ride for Asian-owned clubs in EPL (if you exclude Manchester City and their West Asian ownership). The best example of this being the Indian-owned Blackburn Rovers who were relegated within a year-and-a-half of their takeover by Venkateswara Hatcheries in 2010 and haven't returned to EPL since.

A more recent example is of Cardiff City (who played the 2013-14 EPL), owned by Malaysian businessman Vincent Tan. Other than making some questionable administrative decisions, Tan also outraged the fans by deciding to change the club's playing colours from blue to red.

Under Srivaddhanaprabha, Leicester City have been a far more stable football club, and they have taken practical decisions such as appointing the versatile Italian Claudio Ranieri as the club's manager at the start of 2015-16 season. It would be hoped that the success enjoyed by Leicester will break the 'glass ceiling' that hangs over Asian-owned clubs in EPL, which was, to an extent, damaged due to the experiences of Blackburn and Cardiff.

While the EPL title is not quite done and dusted, from a purely sporting perspective, we hope Leicester hangs on. In an era of ruthless professionalism and in a time when money talks the loudest, this is indeed a sporting fairytale for the ages.

First Published: Sat, April 16 2016. 00:00 IST
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