After Premier League Title, Leicester City Learns Magic Goes Only So Far


LEICESTER, England — With time, they no longer seem like memories. They are too strange, too difficult to explain. They feel, instead, like hallucinatory flashbacks from some fever dream.
The butchers who paid tribute through the medium of sausage; the pilgrimage of the van driver from North London, drawn to a city he did not know, compelled to find a wall on which to paint a mural; the story of the television personality who appeared on screen naked save for a pair of crisp, white boxers.
With time, an air of unreality has settled on it all. If it remains hard to comprehend the overwhelming fact that Leicester City, the 5,000-to-1 shot, actually won the Premier League title last May, then all of the little details that illuminated the story have become more unfathomable still.
For a few weeks last spring, everything around Leicester felt dizzy, giddy. Now, eight months on, it all seems hazy, flickering and shimmering somewhere between recollection and imagination.
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Leicester, for so long one of England’s “yo-yo” teams — bouncing between the top flight and the second tier, never able to settle — is back in its traditional role. This weekend’s F.A. Cup match at Everton brings a little relief from what has become an arduous, but familiar, Premier League season, the club once more flirting with the relegation battle, all thoughts of a repeat title long gone.
The Foxes’ opponent on Saturday is fitting: It was a home defeat to Everton on Dec. 26 that brought the first audible mutterings of discontent in the stands at Leicester this season, and fans who have felt only joy for a year are starting to rediscover anxiety and anger. There have been questions about the wisdom of the club’s summer recruitment, expressions of frustration at the players.
As Claudio Ranieri, Leicester’s manager, put it last week: “The first six months of 2016 were fantasy, and the second six months were reality.”
Those who were caught up in the story feel the same. Gary Lineker, the stripped-to-his-boxers television personality in question, supports Leicester and played for it, but even he believes the club has simply reverted to type. “It’s not that anything in particular has gone wrong this season,” he said. “It’s just that this is what Leicester is, what it has always been.”
The contrast between what Leicester is and what Leicester, briefly, was has simply served to deepen the sense of disbelief, to allow the doubts to flourish. It is hard to be sure that it did, actually, happen. “I think I remember it,” Lineker said.
Only firm proof assuages the doubt. There is the club’s continuing Champions League campaign, of course, the great beacon of optimism from the first half of Leicester’s season. Ranieri set his team a target of remaining in European competition beyond Christmas, and his players delivered in style: Sevilla awaits in the Round of 16.
There are the books, too, with titles like “Fearless” and “5000-1” and the slew of others that were published to record what Lineker called the “most unlikely sporting triumph of all time.” And there are the awards, which continue to trickle in. Before Christmas, Leicester was named team of the year in the BBC’s year-end awards, while Ranieri picked up the honor as best coach. Just this week, Riyad Mahrez was named African player of the year, a title Shinji Okazaki had already picked up in Asia.
After Premier League Title, Leicester City Learns Magic Goes Only So Far After Premier League Title, Leicester City Learns Magic Goes Only So Far Reviewed by DIcki Wiranata on 3:45 AM Rating: 5
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