Leicester captain Wes Morgan collected the English Premier League trophy on Saturday after one of the most improbable turnarounds by a sports team.
“It’s the best time of my life,” Morgan, who joined Leicester as a second-tier club four years ago, said on the field. “You just want to enjoy every minute.”
After the preseason 5,000-1 title longshots got their hands on the biggest prize in English football, fireworks erupted on the King Power Stadium pitch before yellow and blue streamers cascaded from the roof.
Jamie Vardy, the top-scoring striker, has powered the 132-year-old Foxes to their first top flight title by contributing 24 goals, with two of them coming in a swaggering 3-1 victory over Everton before the trophy presentation.
The striker, who signed from non-league Fleetwood Town four years ago, only missed out on a hat trick on his return from a two-game suspension when he missed a second penalty. It was apt that midfielder Andy King was also on the score sheet.
Just a year ago, King and his teammates feared they were going to make an instant return to the second tier, and were relegation candidates at the start of this season.
But powered by Vardy’s goals, Riyad Mahrez’s trickery, and Kasper Schmeichel’s saves, Leicester confounded the odds to surge to the summit.
Leicester has embarrassed big-spending clubs from Manchester rivals United and City to Chelsea by winning the world’s richest soccer league without lavish spending.
Although Leicester has been owned for six years by Thai duty free group King Power, the squad is largely a collection of bargain buys and players cast off by bigger clubs.
Thousands of fans gathered outside the stadium more than four hours before kickoff, before a deluge washed out the sunshine.
Hundreds of Italians also traveled by bus and plane to Leicester without tickets just to be part of a story that has enthralled the world beyond football fans. They have been captivated by how compatriot Claudio Ranieri turned the team into England’s first first-time champions since promoted Nottingham Forest’s 1978 success, an era before the financial disparities were so vast.
— Leicester City (@LCFC) May 9, 2016
Leicester’s ownership was ridiculed for hiring the 64-year-old Ranieri last July. He’d been out of work since the previous year after being fired by Greece. And his only job in the Premier League at Chelsea ended 11 years earlier.
Ranieri’s prospects of avoiding relegation were written off. How he has proved his critics wrong and beguiled even non-Leicester fans with his command of the team.
“I want to say to you we are champions because you pushed us,” Ranieri told 32,000 fans in the stadium.
Leicester has lost only three times in 37 games in the title bid. Not bad for a season when survival was the objective.