Leicester City's miracle and its Ghanaian legacy
The miracle is drawing closer.
Following Leicester City 's victory over Swansea City on Sunday, the Foxes need just five points from their remaining three fixtures to guarantee the league title, and that's assuming that their nearest rivals Tottenham Hotspur pick up the maximum 12 points from their outstanding fixtures.
Should Spurs slip up—and the Lilywhites do have an ominous away trip to enemies Chelsea to come on May 2nd—the title race could be over much sooner.
Of course, Leicester can take nothing for granted—particularly as they face Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea in their final three matches—but considering the relative struggles of that trio (and the Pensioners' desire not to see Spurs take their title) the EPL crown is surely within touching distance.
Claudio Ranieri insisted on Friday that it was 'now or never' for the Foxes to win the title, and indeed, while no one can predict the fates and fortunes to follow in this made old game we love, it's hard to envisage Leicester fans finding themselves on the brink of such a carnival again.
Indeed, never before have the club claimed a major honour, with their best achievements—apart from a trio of League Cups—being a second-place finish in the league in 1929 and a quartet of losing efforts in the FA Cup final, including 1961 loss to double-winning Spurs.
There is no debate that Leicester's campaign represents the greatest single achievement of the Premier League era—even if they were to lose every game from now until the season's end—while it will surely be debated for years to come whether Ranieri's accomplishments this year overshadow those of East Midlands rivals Nottingham Forest under the iconic Brian Clough in the late 70s.
There have been various heroes who have been highlighted for special praise throughout the campaign—with Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, Danny Drinkwater, Robert Huth, N'Golo Kante, Wes Morgan and Kasper Schmeichel all being lionised at one point or another during the year—while it's hard to know, in this season of stories, which of the Foxes' many subplots has been the most fascinating.
Is it Schmeichel's bid to emulate his legendary father Peter and lift the EPL crown?
Is it Kante's immediate impact in the division after moving from Caen and his international recognition with France?
Is it Drinkwater, once rejected by Manchester United, who made his own international debut earlier this year?
Captain Morgan, an unsung hero if ever there was one, spent a decade in the lower leagues with Forest, trying in vain to help the Tricky Trees back to somewhere closer to their former glory.
Key protagonists Mahrez, Vardy and Ranieri each boast novel-worthy narratives of their own.
The first—who impressed without truly starring in the EPL last season and established himself in the Algeria side—has scored 17 goals and contributed 11 assists so far this campaign, more than any other actor in the division apart from Vardy.
Mahrez cost less than half a million when signed by former boss Nigel Pearson. That alone is a hell of a story!
Vardy's own story arc has been more colourful…and much more 'nuanced'. With a racist outburst in a casino at the beginning of the year—coming hot on the heels of the sacking of three youth players after footage emerged of a racial-slur fuelled orgy in Thailand during a pre-season tour—being bookended by accusations of diving and unsportsmanlike behaviour.
Talk of a film has become less and less far-fetched for this fascinating character; veering from tragedy to triumph like the greatest of Shakespearian anti-hero.
As for Ranieri, ridiculed when he arrived, coming off the back of a disastrous stint with Greece, the veteran 'Tinkerman' not only prompted the dismissal of his one-time Chelsea successor Jose Mourinho by beating the reining champions, but he also looks set to take the title from his former employers.
If he could do it on the final day, and receive the title at Stamford Bridge, it would be a storyline worthy of Ettore Scola.
A Special Day indeed.
Amidst the various discourses of the campaign, it's perhaps little surprise that the contributions of Ghanaian pair Jeffrey Schlupp and Daniel Amartey have gone somewhat under the radar.
Schlupp courted interest from Arsenal following his contribution last season as he helped the East Midlanders avoid the drop, but was eclipsed by the likes of Abdul Rahman Baba and the Ayew brothers ahead of the campaign.
It was fascinating, on Sunday, to watch Dede struggle for Swansea, while Schlupp looked in his element for the Foxes, delivering a star turn on the left flank, contributing an assist for Leonardo Ulloa’s second.
The wideman has struggled with injury, managing just 21 outings of which 13 have been starts, but he remains a valuable asset, even in light of the arrival of Christian Fuchs.
Despite mooted interest from Liverpool, the Foxes signed Amartey from FC Kobenhavn during the January transfer window, a valuable utility defensive addition following the departures of Ritchie de Laet and Yohan Benalouane.
Just over a year ago, Amartey was a surprise inclusion into Avram Grant's squad for the 2015 Cup of Nations. Now, he's on the brink of winning the EPL, even if he hasn't been all that influential.
The 21-year-old has made just one start, featuring four times as a substitute and accruing only 102 minutes of playing time in the top flight.
It's a disappointing return, but understandable considering Ranieri's preference to keep a settled team throughout the year. Indeed, only the ostensible first-choice XI and Schlupp have started more than 10 league games this term.
The best for Amartey in the Premier League—and in a Leicester shirt—is surely still to come, and as one of the few players in the squad who already has European experience, he will be a valuable asset for the club next season as they embark on their maiden competition in the continent's premier club competition.
Surely in a Ghanaian setting, Leicester's biggest and best days will be ahead of them. With not just one but two players set to emulate Michael Essien's feat of winning the EPL, support for the Foxes has already been growing in the nation.
The East Midlanders' underdog status will attract one or two new supporters as they rub shoulders with Europe's elite next season, and even if Ghana's direct contribution to this year's potentially imminent title triumph hasn't been overwhelming, expect the achievements of this season to leave a lasting legacy in the Black Star state.=
Schlupp's key contribution perhaps came in early October, when he added a second—ultimately the decisive goal—in Leicester's 2-1 victory at Norwich City.