herald

Thursday 29 September 2016

Forget about the numbers and let's enjoy the fairytale

Claudio Ranieri
Claudio Ranieri

Finally. the numbers tell us that Leicester City are champions. Hats off to Maurico Pochettino for making a fight of it. Somebody needed to.

Spurs dismissed Chelsea with a bit of backspin for 45 minutes at Stamford Bridge last night and watching somewhere with their feet up, Leicester's players would not be human if they didn't feel doubt.

When Harry Kane carved Chelsea open and Spurs bullied Chelsea into submission with a second goal from Son, doubt flared into alarm. But Chelsea's pride was wounded and they fought back. Spurs defensive resistance crumbled, Gary Cahill and Eden Hazard struck and Leicester could finally allow them selves to celebrate.

Miracle? No. Leicester may be an inspiration to every Ragball Rovers outfit but this win was based on all the things you won't find in an amateur operation.

Admirable

Spurs' dogged refusal to give up the title was admirable and a relief to the burgeoning tribe of statistics slaves foretelling Leicester's doom for months based on an arcane formula of acres covered, shots saved and the players's cholesterol levels

This rush to turn football into an intellectual pursuit has never been better illustrated than in the raft of statistical analysis which told us incontrovertibly that Leicester should not be on top of the table.

It is a perverse use of numbers indeed to try to rationalise Leicester's achievement in that way.

This truly remarkable effort by Ranieri and his players is a testimony to the power of hard work, organisation and extraordinarily high levels of professionalism.

It is based on great hearts and great legs, fit and determined men like N'Golo Kante and the deadly accuracy and skill represented by Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy.

Statistics are usually beloved of those who never played the game to any significant level and were used like weapons when Howard Wilkinson and Graham Taylor's devotion to percentages became the English FA bible on player development.

They allow those who would have us believe that the game can be written down in cold numbers to talk with great authority about something they don't know an awful lot about.

The only people who truly understand why Leicester have been able to make fools of some of the biggest clubs in the world are those at the heart of it. The players, the staff and the manager know and the fans know.

For a few weeks now there has been a line pedalled that Spurs are the best team in the League and the basis for that is the never-ending whirl of statistics generated every match day by the Premier League.

Apparently, all the numbers stacked up to say that Leicester now had to deal with a charging rival more than capable of whittling down a very chunky lead.

When Leicester barely scraped a 2-2 draw at home to West Ham just before the recent international break and Spurs hammered Stoke 4-0, the statisticians interpreted this as the triumph of their predictive craft and the beginning of the end of a fairy-tale.

Ranieri and his players laughed, knuckled down against Swansea and battered them 4-0. Spurs drew 1-1 at home to West Brom.

What the numbers couldn't count was the scale of Spurs's courage or the psychological impact of decades of falling short while Arsenal and Chelsea both kicked on.

Last night, Spurs came up short. They are the top club in London but they are not the best club in England.

The numbers tell us that Leicester are Champions and nobody can argue with that.

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