Leicester City’s rise to top of the table will not be easy to replicate

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:  Claudio Ranieri Manager of Leicester City looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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They may become England's most unlikely champions since Ipswich in 1962, if not ever. They are almost certain to be its most improbable Champions League qualifiers. Leicester's exploits have prompted astonishment. Once the sense of wonder gives way, however, the probability is that the search will start to learn lessons from the league leaders.

And this is where it gets difficult. Part of Leicester’s model is so outlandish to be inimitable. Consider the backdrop. The manager grabs an opposition player by the throat, brands a journalist an ostrich and is eventually sacked after his son is one of three players who is involved in what is described as a ‘racist orgy.’ He is replaced by a manager who had appeared his diametric opposite and who was fired from his previous position after losing to the Faroe Islands.

As it has transpired, Claudio Ranieri has proved the ideal successor to Nigel Pearson, despite their different backgrounds and characters. Leicester were right not to be fooled by Ranieri’s troubled stint in charge of Greece and correct to read more into his long club career. Yet the fact remains that they lacked a manager a month before the season began.

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If it seems a strange model, Leicester’s transfer-market prowess offers more reasons to study them. Their current starting 11 were all acquired. That most, if not all, have improved at the King Power Stadium is a sign of the quality of coaching. It is also an indication that they were bought with plans in mind, rather than as products of the random recruitment that has gone on elsewhere.

Yet they show there is no quick fix. The 11 that could face Norwich on Saturday, assuming Marcin Wasilewski replaces the banned Danny Simpson, will feature the Pole, who joined outside a transfer window, and players signed in seven other different periods. This City side dates back almost five years to Kasper Schmeichel’s arrival in 2011, followed six months later by deals for Danny Drinkwater and Wes Morgan.

There is no common denominator to the selling clubs. They have been British and foreign, ranging from Manchester United, Drinkwater’s former club, to Fleetwood, a non-league outfit when Jamie Vardy played for them. But if there is a theme, it is that Leicester have raided markets others have not fully exploited.

The Vanarama National League, England’s fifth tier, is a case in point. So is the French second flight, where Riyad Mahrez was unearthed and where N’Golo Kante plied his trade before he spent a season in the top tier and Leicester moved for him.

Schmeichel and Morgan came from Championship clubs, both when Leicester were one themselves, and the influx of imports means there is a greater talent in England’s second division these days. Robert Huth and Marc Albrighton had lost their places and their way at Premier League rivals. Shinji Okazaki and Christian Fuchs show there are bargains to be found in the Bundesliga. Drinkwater may be the exception. Many have thought that signing Old Trafford old boys offered a route to success; in plenty of cases they have proved overvalued or declining. In contrast, the midfielder has progressed to such an extent that he would get in the United side now.

But instead of offering an easy route to copy, Leicester show they have developed on a case-by-case basis. It is a tribute to Steve Walsh, the head of recruitment, that so many individual judgments have proved correct. Walsh, an ally of Pearson’s, returned to Leicester in November 2011. Only Schmeichel was not signed on his watch and, while there remains an innate suspicion of directors of football by many English managers, he illustrates the benefits of continuity in key decision-making roles behind the scenes.

Yet no matter how fine the planning, the reality is that Vardy and Mahrez, signed for a combined £1.4 million (dh 7.15 million), represent outliers to an extraordinary degree. And so, as anyone else trying to copy them may discover, do Leicester.

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