Tuesday , April 23 2024

Captain Morgan And Coach Ranieri Lift League Title

It finished as it had started, with a decisive victory inspired by Jamie Vardy.

All that was missing was the glorious sunshine which had adorned Leicester’s win on the opening day of the season against Sunderland here, way back in August.

It rained on their parade in Leicester, literally, with a spectacular thunderstorm during the match. Not that it mattered terribly. Andrea Bocelli sang; women in burkas waved Leicester City flags; a man in a wheelchair was wearing a Pavarotti mask. Wrong opera singer, but we knew what he meant and where his heart was.

Foxes goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel puts the Premier League crown on manager Claudio Ranieri’s head during the celebrations

The pair smile as Ranieri dons the crown on his head
Wes Morgan has captained Leicester to an incredible Premier League title this season and is pictured here kissing the trophy on Saturday .Wes Morgan has captained Leicester to an incredible Premier League title this season and is pictured here kissing the trophy on Saturday 

Star winger Riyad Mahrez, who was recently named the PFA Player of the Year, kisses the Premier League trophy following the Everton win.Star winger Riyad Mahrez, who was recently named the PFA Player of the Year, kisses the Premier League trophy following the Everton win

The Leicester City players were in jubilant mood during their trophy celebrations having clinched an history title this season

The Leicester City players were in jubilant mood during their trophy celebrations having clinched an history title this season 
Leicester City fan Steve Worthy is pictured handing over the Barclays Premier League trophy to captain Morgan on Saturday night.

Leicester City fan Steve Worthy is pictured handing over the Barclays Premier League trophy to captain Morgan on Saturday night

There was a fairground outside the stadium. Inside they gleefully sung the hokey cokey, chorused about going on European tours and chanted ‘Dilly Ding, Dilly Dong’.

None of the above happens at Manchester United, Chelsea or Manchester City when they win the Premier League.

It was surreal, all of it. One minute we were lauding Alan Birchenall’s annual charity run, which is just the kind of thing you expect at homely Leicester; the next we were listening to Bocelli sing.

But it really happened. All of it. Including the presentation of the Premier League trophy to captain Wes Morgan at the end, by which time even the evening sun had crept out of hiding.

And one moment was more unexpected than all of the above. There were no tears from Claudio Ranieri, the man serenaded by the crowd from start to finish. He looked on the verge, but never cracked.

‘It was amazing when the maestro sang,’ he said. ‘But I’m a strange man! When I put my mind to it, I can say, “Claudio, calm now. The cameras all want to see if you cry”. Say today, no. But the emotion was at the top.’ Leicester vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha (right) celebrates the opening goal against Everton in the King Power Stadium stands.Leicester vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha (right) celebrates the opening goal against Everton in the King Power Stadium stands

At the end, when Morgan held the trophy aloft, Ranieri clung to it as if it was a life-raft about to be wrested from him. Yet no-one can take away his achievement. ‘It was an amazing moment for me because I’m not young. I won cups in Spain and Italy but never here.’

It was suggested he might have thought his best days were behind him. ‘What!’ he exclaimed in mock horror. ‘You are a crazy man! I start now! But this was a crazy season. The big teams couldn’t find consistency and we found our consistency.

‘At the beginning when I came I saw the team were very good and I said I will try to bring some Italian tactics to this team, to be solid and strong. But in the beginning they weren’t. And then I say, “OK, I pay for pizzas when you don’t concede. Come on. We need to improve”.’

Improve they did. So much so they will now be forever remembered. And just as they did on that first day of the season when they thrashed Sunderland 4-2, it all started in a blur of attacking football led by Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.

Something was different now, though. Back in August, if feels as though we lived in more cynical times. Football was a feudal system then. Notions of the rightful order were always quickly restored. So we indulged Leicester City, patronised them and allowed them their moment in the sun as we waited for the winter to close in on them. Leicester City striker Vardy notches his 24th Premier League goal of the season from the penalty spot to score his side’s third goal.Everton goalkeeper Robles can't hide his embarrassment as the striker wheels away to celebrate his second goal on Saturday

But then when the Harlem Globetrotters used to put on basketball shows, they always needed a team of patsies to tour with them, just to complete the show. And Everton played that role to perfection, never threatening to spoil the party.

Leicester saw it through almost to the end. ‘I said to the players, “All the world is watching how we play. How will we play as champions. Our strength has been our concentration. So now show me that concentration”,’ said Ranieri.

None more so than Vardy, breaking into the box on 69 minutes. Matthew Pennington, booked earlier for a challenge on Mahrez, clumsily attempted to tackle and conceded the penalty. Presumably referee Andre Marriner only spared him what looked a second yellow because of the spirit of the occasion.

Vardy struck the penalty decisively to his left to take himself on to 24 goals. Three minutes later he had the chance of a third. Darron Gibson launched a rash challenge that felled Jeff Schlupp in the box. Vardy stepped up but this time he lofted the ball high over the bar. The hat-trick was not to be.

Nor could Leicester quite execute the perfect finish. On 88 minutes, the otherwise heroic N’Golo Kante faltered as he allowed Kevin Mirallas to beat him to the ball, evade Marcin Wasilewski and drive past Kasper Schmeichel. There would be no clean sheet, so no pizzas.

Still, captain Morgan summed it up. ‘It’s like a dream,’ he said. ‘It’s not a reality.’ And yet it all happened: the Premier League title, this carnival, the world-famous opera singer, the qualification for Champions League football; all of that really happened.World snooker champion Mark Selby (left) with his trophy and Leicester City mascot Filbert Fox prior to kick-off at the King Power.World snooker champion Mark Selby (left) with his trophy and Leicester City mascot Filbert Fox prior to kick-off at the King Power

A Leicester City supporter holds a shirt printed ‘Champions 16’ during their final home match of the Premier League campaign

A Leicester City supporter holds a shirt printed 'Champions 16' during their final home match of the Premier League campaign 
 As they have done all season, Foxes fans were in vocal mood on Saturday with a Gary Lineker banner making an appearance in the stands
Huge swarms of fans gathered in celebration outside the King Power Stadium, pictured, as the victory party began in earnest .Huge swarms of fans gathered in celebration outside the King Power Stadium, pictured, as the victory party began in earnest 

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