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The Clock Still Hasn’t Struck Midnight In Leicester City’s Cinderella Story

Leicester City's English striker Jamie Vardy (L) celebrates after his header is deflected into his own net by Tottenham Hotspur's Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld (not seen) for their second goal during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on December 20, 2020.
Photo by Andy Rain/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

If ever there was an event seismically miraculous enough to snap the hedonic treadmill and by itself ensure a lifetime of (sporting) contentment, it was Leicester City’s Premier League title run in 2016. Had that been the end of the fairy tale, and had the Foxes followed that season by reverting to form as a club yo-yoing between the top two divisions, I have a hard time imagining that Leicester supporters would be all that disappointed about how things turned out. Yet somehow the club’s chariot still hasn’t transformed back into a pumpkin, and the Foxes remain something pretty damn close to what they were during that magical season, which is a feat only marginally less impressive than the title itself.

Leicester currently sits in second place in the league table, four points behind the reigning champions, Liverpool. The team took possession of that second spot on Sunday with a commanding 2–0 victory over Tottenham. In that match, striker Jamie Vardy scored the opening goal from the penalty spot and caused the second when a header of his banged off Spurs defender Toby Alderweireld’s thigh for an own goal. The penalty gave Vardy 11 goals for the season, tied for second-most in the league, just two behind Mohamed Salah’s 13.

That all of those facts are accurate—that we are almost halfway through the season, that Leicester is second, that the team just whipped story-of-the-season Spurs, that Vardy is scoring as or more often than all but one player—and yet Leicester isn’t the season’s most shocking storyline tells you all you need to know. Leicester is at the top because Leicester belongs there.

As fantastical as that 2015–16 season was, there was no actual great mystery to it. Leicester had acquired great players, hired a great manager, and thus built a great team. Proof that Leicester’s championship squad had legitimately championship-caliber players can be seen in the post-trophy careers of those Leicester stars. Vardy has remained amongst the league’s highest scoring forwards since his 2016 breakout; Kasper Schmeichel is still one of the best goalkeepers in England; Riyad Mahrez has played a major role for Manchester City; N’Golo Kanté has consecrated his status as one of the great midfielders of his generation with an F.A. Cup, a Premier League trophy, and a Europa League title with Chelsea, to go along with a World Cup trophy with France.

To that point, it’s similarly no mystery why Leicester is where it is right now. The roster is brimming with young studs brought in relatively cheaply who have blossomed at the club. James Maddison, Harvey Barnes, Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi, Timothy Castagne, Ricardo Pereira, Caglar Soyuncu, Wesley Fofana—all of those players have at times been amongst the best in the league in their respective roles, and only Pereira (27) is older than 25. In Brendan Rodgers, Leicester has a manager who himself is amongst the best in the league. The Foxes have continued the savvy scouting, signing, and development of talent, plus the strategic investment splurges, that created the conditions for the 2016 triumph, and that is the biggest reason why Leicester has been able to continue competing with its historical betters.

Though Leicester is within striking distance of the top of the table right now, there is next to no chance the team repeats 2016’s accomplishment and wins the Premier League in 2021. Even keeping hold of a top four place by season’s end will be a daunting task. But the simple fact that the team is still up there at the top now—and still has every reason to believe it could qualify for next season’s the Champions League, and still has a future plenty bright enough to attain goals the club couldn’t even have dreamed of a decade ago—is a testament to the amazing position the club has made for itself. Leicester may be Cinderella, but it’s also its own fairy godmother, and as long as the magic is coming from inside the building, there’s no telling when or even if it’ll run out.