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Tuesday 25th April 2017
Opinion

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Over the last few days, I have been trying to find a sporting story in my lifetime to equal the magnitude of what Leicester City has achieved by winning the Premier League. In all honesty, I cannot find one (though Andy Murray winning Wimbledon in 2013 comes quite close). As someone born and brought up in Leicester, there may be a touch of partiality when I state that the story of Leicester City is bigger than football. In fact, it’s bigger than sport. This story is simply beyond superlatives.

Why has the success of Leicester City gripped the entire world? Is it purely a footballing story? Clearly not, since even those who detest football know the story inside out. So what has made this story so memorable and refreshing?

There’s no ‘i’ in team

Leicester’s meteoritic rise to the top is a triumph of collectivism over individualism. There are no mega-names in the squad, just hardworking team players. Vardy, Mahrez and Kante certainly received more attention than the other players, but at each and every opportunity, these same players praised the collective effort of everyone, including the fans. Whereas oft-used substitutes usually moan about the lack of game time, players like Ulloa and Gray showed no resentment whatsoever. After the title was secured, the Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri warned that he did not want any mega-names joining the club, in case it disrupted the unparalleled team spirit.

It is so refreshing to hear about teamwork in a sport that has become centered on a few high-profile individuals alone. We are constantly bombarded with statistics relating to Suarez, Ozil, Ibrahimovic, Ronaldo and Messi. They mean nothing. The sum of the individuals is far greater.

A trophy earned not bought.

Let’s make this perfectly clear; Leicester City is not exactly a poor club, though only a few years ago they did flirt with bankruptcy. Today, they have the backing of Thai billionaires. However, in comparison to many clubs in the division, they are paupers. Their wage bill last year was the third lowest in the division. Wayne Rooney takes home £400,000 a week, roughly the same amount Leicester paid for PFA player of the year Riyad Mahrez. Many players were brought in on free transfers or from the lower divisions (Kante and Vardy).

Leicester City found success without the unhealthy obsession of money. No game epitomised this more than the 3-1 defeat of mega-rich Manchester City back in February. Leicester did not merely beat Manchester City; they surgically dismantled them, limb-by-limb, organ-by-organ. Afterwards, Alan Shearer stated that Leicester did not have the spending power of Manchester City, but did have in abundance ‘desire, hunger, determination and team work.’

In a materialistic world, this is perhaps the one factor that made the story such a powerful one.

iii. Enjoy it while it lasts

Ever noticed how we use the word reminisce quite often? It’s when we remind ourselves of a memorable moment from the past with great joy.  Most of the time we ‘reminisce’ because we did not value and enjoy the moment when it was upon us. We reminisce our youth today, but whilst it was happening, did we value it? We do reminisce the good weather we enjoyed, but only when it’s raining.

One cannot help but feel that Leicester City fans enjoyed every moment of this season. They fully understood that the unique circumstances of the league would not repeat itself ever again and so they just enjoyed every moment. Ranieri was key in instilling this attitude. He was constantly asked throughout the season where he thought the club would finish. Each time, he dismissed the question and reminded everyone the players and fans were too busy enjoying the moment to think too hard about tomorrow. After the penultimate game against Everton, Gary Lineker asked the Leicester manager about their Premier League and Champions League ambitions next year. He simply remarked:

Listen Gary. We know very well next season, everything will be different. But the fans are dreaming. Keep dreaming. Why wake up?

Indeed, Claudio. Why wake up?

Everyone’s second team

As early as February 2016, BBC Presenter and life-long Chelsea supporter, Jeremy Vine,  publicly declared that Leicester City was now his second team (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/35497832). Arsenal fanatic Piers Morgan declared his love for Leicester, partially because of the calamitous state of his own team. When Chelsea played Tottenham Hotspur (2nd May 2016), the entire country was behind Chelsea, knowing that a draw or win for them would hand the trophy to Leicester. In short, Leicester City became likeable. In fact, very likeable.

More intriguing is the way they have achieved this. They haven’t forced this sentiment on others. They haven’t asked people to like them. They have simply applied universally loved principles to their ways –  teamwork, dedication and humility. Liverpool fans revolted against their own club because of rising ticket prices. In contrast, Leicester provided free food and drinks for theirs on several occasions.

In an age of vanity, people have become obsessed with becoming likeable. The Leicester City model is simple yet brilliantly effective: keep your head down, work hard and people will automatically (and genuinely) adore you.

One goal, many routes

Over the last few years, much has been made of the Barcelona model of football, where keeping possession of the ball is key priority. Certainly, this has been a major factor in their recent success and appeal. In terms of tactics, Leicester City has been the total opposite. All season, they have been happy to allow the opposition to keep the ball, to then break swiftly on the counter-attack. It has worked brilliantly, much to the delight of pundits and commentators.

The point? There are often different ways to reach the same goal. A large amount of our differences and disputes centre on our insistence in adopting one particular route to a goal (religious or otherwise), to the exclusion of all other voices and opinions. There are sometimes two ways to get to the same place.

Keep the Faith.

Unforgettable, unparalleled, refreshing, rule-changing, fearless, heart-warming -these are just some of the words that have become synonymous with the Leicester City story. Perhaps the most common word is ‘unbelievable’. They have defied the odds, defied conventional practice and have rendered pundits utterly speechless. The constant use of the word ‘dream’ to describe their season suggested the story simply did not belong to the real world.

And in this is perhaps the most important lesson of the story. Leicester City achieved the ‘unbelievable’. They did this by, well, believing. In themselves, in their ability and in their manager.

Without belief, you will never achieve the unbelievable.

 ***

Viewed from this angle, I really do not think the Leicester story has taught us anything new. We really should not be surprised by their success. It has simply reminded us of values we all knew and learned from our teachers, our elders, our parents and our Imams. This is a story of teamwork, belief, focus and humility. None of these are new ideas. And certainly, none are alien to Islam.

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One Comment

  • Muneer-ul-Hassan says:

    Excellent Article Dr Ather. Brilliant! Really enjoyed reading it. Much much better than most articles on the BBC and Telegraph. You need to be a football pundit

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Dr. Hafiz Ather Hussain al-Azhari

Ather is an Imam, writer and researcher based in Leicester. He is a graduate of Jamia al-Karam, al-Azhar University (Cairo)...
read more about Dr. Hafiz Ather Hussain al-Azhari