Anyone willing to spend half a minute following this year's Barclay's Premier League season will have heard the names Leicester City and Jamie Vardy. Listen a half minute more and Riyad Mahrez and Claudio Ranieri will join them. That is because this has been the year of the unfancied Foxes.
In a cynical, money-grubbing European footballing landscape, what Leicester City have been able to accomplish isn't just remarkable, it's a sign of the times. The game needs more Foxes in it, and thanks to a few changing dynamics in the English game, the success of these Foxes may not be so fleeting. And that's good for Liverpool; it's good for all clubs aiming to take it to nouve riche elite.
For the first time in the era of lavishly rich European behemoths, a top quality league that attracts top quality talent is actually in the midst of establishing sustainable parity. The TV rights deal shared by clubs in England's top flight has had a positive impact on the competitiveness of well organized, well managed, mid tier clubs scraping to punch above their weight.
The immediacy of this rising competitiveness is impressive, but the fact that this money is only going to increase from here on out is the important bit. It means that a Stoke City, a Watford, a Southampton, and even a Bournemouth have every right to see an attainable example in Leicester City's season so far. To plan for it. And as fans of a club with plenty of money, and history, and talent, there is no reason for Redkind to see Leicester City's success any differently. That could be Liverpool usurping Chelsea, the Manchesters, and the Wengers at the top of the pops right now. Thanks to this money, this can't be written off as a fortunate run of form. This a rising tide. But it's not just the money we should take note of.
Another aspect of Leicester City's success that should be instructive is the team building. Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, N'Golo Kante, Kasper Schmeichel, Marc Albrighton, Wes Morgan, Robert Huth -- these aren't names one needs a massive, global network of scouts to find. These aren't ahead of their time talents being signed up and developed into a highly refined youth academy structure. These aren't the hottest names being linked in gossip columns after an incredible couple of seasons demonstrates to the world they are (insert team or league here) quality.
These are just footballers. There are millions of them the world over. They do things really well individually, but not nearly so well as they do them collectively. Daring to dream for the success of a Leicester? Find yourself a Leicesteresque unit. Not just tactically, not just in terms of what guys do with a ball at their feet, but how does a group fit together on and off the field, for and against each other, day in and day out? This is the real blind spot for the biggest, richest clubs that have gotten into the habit of chopping and changing for the sparkliest names each transfer window. Respect the team aspect of this sport, tend to the embers of team spirit -- that's what sees you through during in-game comebacks and end-of-season targets.
The third massively important reason why these underdogs matter? An American TV audience still ruminating over who to cheer for. This isn't an argument about the relative merits of one country's fans over another, this is simply an acknowledgement that the USA is late to the game of football, and its the largest untapped market in the sport. Whereas seemingly every other country in the world has long since pledged their allegiances to the top tier old guard of Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Chelsea, Americans are still finding their feet in a sport that asks them to cut into their Saturday pre-game college football routine by watching an actual football game.
For any American fan that finds football to their liking, but has no personal, familial, or geographic tie to a particular European giant, there has to be something more that connects them to a flag. It's like picking a family to root for when first thrust into the Game of Thrones realm. They all have flags, and songs, and histories, and weird names, and it can be hard to find your footing with one team over another. But then Jamie Vardy breaks the consecutive games goal scoring record, or Riyad Mahrez shimmies one onto his left peg for a peachy curler, or Ighalo puts two past a hapless Liverpool defense, and suddenly you are in love. And nothing coos to an American sportsfan quite so seductively as a prideful underdog.
These are the bonding moments that matter, and established top tier clubs are kidding themselves if they think they can buy these moments. Once a casual observer has that moment that turns them into a fan, all they need is a bit of an extended run from their team to keep their attention. An extended run of competitiveness that is afforded to premiership clubs with the current and future TV deals. Those deals hinge on the still fledgling American market. The money Crystal Palace, and Leicester City, and Stoke City are splashing around to achieve surprising competitiveness is nothing compared to what this is going to look like if this game continues to market itself so appropriately to US audiences.
But this is a Liverpool blog, and we are concerned most with what this means for Liverpool's team. And that's the rub -- the same lesson can be drawn by the Reds here. If Leicester City can snatch the hearts and minds of millions with their history, and their flags, and their lesser lights, then what is to stop Liverpool from winning a long overdue league title? If this league is going to be more and more about enough economic opportunity to breed sporting parity, then what is to stop the Reds from trading silver-laden blows year in and year out with the Manchesters, Chelsea, and Arsenal? We've got the coach, we've got plenty of talent, we've got lightyears better youth academy structure, the new stadium is on the way, and there's always the #tradition.com that just won't quit.
Leicester City are a wonderful team and a wonderful story, but it is important to remember that they are simply taking advantage of the same opportunity that is being afforded to the whole of the premiership these days. Appreciate these Foxes, and root them on for the rest of the season -- on second though, root for them starting after tomorrow's game.