Leicester and the irony of '93

Leicester’s City’s unlikely quest for Premier League glory has strong parallels with Norwich’s title push in 1992-93. The reality now is very different: Seb Ward argues that the billionaire-owned Foxes are worlds apart from City, both on and off the pitch

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There are a lot of space-related metaphors you can use for Leicester.

‘Out of this world’

‘Over the moon’

‘They’ve got no superstars and they’ve got no world-beaters’

Etc. Etc.

That’s how I started writing this piece. Not your usual launchpad for an article on the title contenders, but that’s where I began. Then the idea started getting silly. Very silly. In fact, Universal were on the phone trying to turn what had become a sci-fi thriller into the next big blockbuster.

But the original idea that Norwich and Leicester are worlds apart remains, sadly, true.

They’ve done what no one ever imagined they could. Not in their wildest dreams. They’ve defied the odds. Challenged the status quo. Thrown two big fingers and shouted “’ave it!” Leicester have done it overnight, while we’ve halted, faltered and said, “It’s all Martin’s fault”.

But we, as Norwich fans, as supporters of a club used to being the underdog, should rally Leicester on. They’re the underdog this time and there are parallels with our famous 1992-93 season. Leicester have no world-beaters and no superstars. Neither did we in ’93. Just the right pegs in the right holes. A manager who can tell the difference between square ones and circular ones and other irregularly shaped ones.

“But Leicester have a billionaire owner! We’ve only got Delia!” They do. His name: Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. His aim: the Premier League title. A man whose surname was bestowed upon him by the King of Thailand, apparently.  It’s worth mentioning how much he spent getting into the Premier League – it’s not entirely the fairytale it seems. When Leicester were promoted in 2014, Srivaddhanaprabha said his aim was to have Leicester in the top five within three seasons, and was prepared to spend “a huge amount of money, possibly £180m, to get there. That doesn’t put us off.”

But the money isn’t the reason for their success this season.

There’s having the cash and there’s spending it right. Like having some change in your pocket, going into the Norwich club shop, and not buying their £3 backscratcher that you’re never going to need or use or want. Ever. Leicester spent wisely. For their change they got Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and lots of goals. Kerching. Even Shinji Okazaki, who has played second fiddle to Vardy all season, has scored as many as our top striker.

Sadly, and as David McNally so explicitly expresses in the LYBP interview, we’re limited by our owners’ financial capacity. Passionate, caring, committed. But not rich. Passion and money rarely come together, and even when they do they can take the form of a Piers Morgan or something equally horrid. So there’s no guarantee, just as there isn’t with rich owners who lack the passion. But that difference in spending ability, whether we like it or not, will inevitably put something of a void between us and Leicester. The sad recurring reality of football.

Without the funds to match many of our Premier League counterparts, we must follow the Southampton model and build from within where possible. Currently though it’s hard to conceive of a world where youth gets a chance. Too much is at stake, although the signings of youngsters James Maddison, Ebou Adams and Ben Godfrey appears to be signaling a welcome change of culture.  

Despite this gap in spending, this weekend Norwich hold the keys to potentially the greatest irony. An almost sad irony, if it proves to be Leicester’s downfall. For we were the last outsider to give the Premier League title a real shot. The golden age of ’93. The golden age of Gunny, Culverhouse and Fox. Of Robins, Goss and Crook. We played positive, passing football with pace and power. Leicester have done the same, but from deeper. They’ve done it with a number of British players too, which is rare in the modern era. Both sides topped the table at Christmas, and Leicester have made the King Power the fortress its name suggests, just as Norwich did with Carrow Road.

But in many ways Leicester have proven to be better. More defensively adept and more cautious. In fact, our attacking attitude would prove our undoing in crunch games vs Manchester United, Tottenham and Ipswich in April. Leicester’s ability to hold tight and pick teams off has been vital. After all, there’s no way you could finish third with a negative goal difference today. 

Leicester now enter their final descent. They’ve been incredible in the final third all season, but how about the final third of the season? Will they repeat Norwich’s mistakes of 23 years ago, or hold firm? A slip-up now would bring that dream hurtling back down to earth like a meteor, and they might not get a better chance to win the Premier League in a century.

So who better to inflict the first  damage than Norwich. Little old Norwich. A team who lost to a team who lost to their own youth team. A team who lost six on the trot and are among the bookies’ favourites to go down. That’s also why it would be ironic: because we’re not very good.

And if we couldn’t have it in ’93, no one can… right?

You can follow Seb Ward on Twitter at @Seb_Ward

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