The English Premier League has been the stage for the sporting story of the season. Anthony Joshua’s rise to boxing royalty has been impressive, Danny Willett’s Masters victory took the world of golf completely by surprise and the Golden State Warriors’ record 54-match NBA home winning streak coming to an end served only to highlight quite how impressive a run it was. Even in the Premier League, Tottenham’s (likely) second place finish will be the club’s highest since 1963, and Mauricio Pochettino should be praised for his work in North London. No story, though, has rocked the world of sport quite like Leicester City’s unthinkable-turned-possible Premier League title charge.
This time last season, the Foxes had lost 19 league games, had just 34 points and were in 16th place - which, in the context of their miraculous escape from relegation, was a comfortable position. Their goal difference was -15 and Nigel Pearson was the man receiving the very justified plaudits for turning around what had been a dismal first season in the Premier League. Fast forward 12 months and the club are seven points clear at the top of the table, have lost just three league games and have a goal difference that is 45 goals healthier. Claudio Ranieri’s return to English football felt a strange move at the time, but has been vindicated emphatically.
Last season’s heroic escape from relegation - which included seven wins from nine games - was not enough to convince any bookmaker of Leicester’s top half credentials, much less their title chances. A 5000/1 long-shot was almost unanimously applied. To put that in perspective, bookmakers considered Leicester’s title charge less likely than Simon Cowell becoming the UK prime minister, Kim Kardashian becoming US president and Elvis being found alive and well. Explaining their rolling momentum this season is perplexingly difficult. Leicester are 8th in the league for both goalscoring chances created and shot accuracy, no team has a worse passing accuracy and only Sunderland and West Brom have held less possession across the season. But atop the league they sit, and with every passing match day the impossible dream edges closer to reality.
So remarkable has Leicester’s achievement been that anyone who saw it coming in August stands to make an incredible amount of money. Fast forward eight months and the Foxes are the clear favourites to take home what will be the most incredible title in Premier League history - or, arguably, footballing history. Just like everyone that assumed the title would go to Chelsea, Manchester City or Arsenal, the bookmakers stand to lose money. Losses could be huge, with Ladbrokes alone facing a liability of £3 million, according to the Financial Times. John Hill, spokesman for Coral, told the International Business Times that Leicester’s win could cost British bookmakers as much as £50 million, and the hopeful backers stand to cash in big on what was initially a fanciful bet.
One man that could not have seen Leicester’s ascent coming is Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. The Thai businessman bought a debt-laden, second-tier English football club for £39 million back in 2010. Their meteoric rise has analysts predicting that the club will be worth more than 11 times what he paid for it, with the value shooting to £436 million if the title charge is successful. Leicester’s squad is worth a paltry £54.4 million - compared to Arsenal’s £251.9 million and Manchester City’s £418.8 million - and only some shrewd conversion of debt into shares has enabled various managers to spend that much. PrivCo analyst Evan Danckwerth told City A.M.: ‘With some of the best private equity firms and venture capital firms they could bag a tenbagger, easily. If the Thai owners were going to sell, the end of this season would probably be the best time to do it – especially if they win.’
The job isn’t done yet. Leicester face some tough challenges against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Everton. The Foxes need only one win from the three games, though, to deny Tottenham a chance at the title and complete what has been a truly inspirational achievement. The world will be watching as Leicester look to finish the task and, with the exception of the bookmakers, many stand to make a lot of money.