The Leicester City fairy tale went beyond the exultations of neutral supporters this week as the hype spread to fellow Premier League managers. After becoming the fifth team in six games to get the 1-0 treatment from The Foxes, Southampton boss Ronald Koeman threw his weight behind their title bid. ‘I hope they win it,’ said the Dutchman. ‘They deserve to.’ In an environment where opposing managers naturally fight tooth and nail along the touchline for the smallest advantage, this groundswell of opinion has been rather strange to see. It’s almost as if the other managers have become fans again which is a testament to just how powerful Leicester City’s story has been this season.
Such praise is less likely to be directed at a team that still hangs on to the faintest of title hopes, Arsenal. This seems to have been getting to Arsene Wenger of late and the Gunners’ boss this weekend used his post-match press conference to aim a not so thinly veiled pop at his detractors. When praising youngster, Alex Iwobi, Wenger launched into a narrative about the lack of respect his club receives for the way it conducts itself in the modern game. “We have values in our club that are maybe not rated always, but one of them is to give a chance to young people and educate them” commented the Frenchman.
Now, he is right, bringing through young players with the right attitude, strongly grounded in sound footballing principles, holds clear value. It contributes to young talent progressing and then excelling at Premier League level. What it doesn’t necessarily do is persuade these players to stay once they’ve made a name for themselves. That’s the more important trick that Wenger is missing and won’t be able to satisfactorily address until he wins league titles again. Most people don’t have an issue with the way that young players are blooded at Arsenal but the problems come when this idealism blinds the management to solving the evident problems that have stood in the club’s way for the best part of a decade.
A criticism often levelled at Arsenal is the lack of leadership throughout the team. That is certainly not a stick that you can use to beat Leicester City over the head with. Claudio Ranieri said as much in his comments after Wes Morgan’s first goal of the season earned his side a crucial win over Southampton on Sunday.
‘But everybody is a leader in my dressing room,’ said the Italian, ‘Everyone knows what I want.’ This strikes on an important point that we often overlook when it comes to the character of a team. It matters little who the captain is, in fact, if you are looking to just one player for leadership qualities then you will find yourself up against it. Leicester, as with any good team, can rely on players all over the pitch and even on the bench, to step up to the plate and haul their team-mates over the line when the chips are down or a game needs to be closed out. From Schmeichel in goal, through Fuchs at left back, Kante and Vardy, Ranieri has countless lieutenants on the pitch that he can rely on. Maybe this is why the Italian has appeared so relaxed when talking to the media as the run-in has progressed. There are still six more games to see out but if he can keep his cool we may well be looking at a lot more than just free beer and doughnuts come 15th May.
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