Start of a big change if Leicester win EPL title?

LONDON • Leicester City's surge towards a first top-flight crown may spark a major power shift in England, according to players from the 1978 Nottingham Forest team that produced a similarly unexpected title triumph.

It is 38 years since Frank Clark, Garry Birtles, John McGovern and Archie Gemmill were involved in Forest's remarkable transformation. Having scraped promotion to the old first division in third place, they stunned the football world by winning the league in their first season back in the top flight before claiming consecutive league and European Cup title triumphs under manager Brian Clough and assistant Peter Taylor.

Leicester, seven points clear of Tottenham Hotspur at the top of the Premier League with six games remaining, are attempting to become the first side since Forest to win a maiden crown.

While they still have a long way to go to be mentioned in the same breath, Leicester's exploits this season have drawn inevitable comparisons.

"We were a side that came out of nowhere, won promotion, then astounded everyone by winning the league by seven points when it was still only two points for a win," said McGovern, who captained Forest to both European Cup successes.

  • 3 

  • Number of defeats Leicester City have suffered after 32 matches played in the Premier League this season. They lost 18 at this stage last season.

"Like Leicester we were told we were just a flash in the pan... I am not so sure that if Leicester, or Spurs for that matter, win the title, it will be a one-off either," added McGovern, who played all 42 matches in Forest's title-winning season.

Leicester share another similarity to the victorious Forest side in that they have made the most of limited resources.

While squad sizes differ a lot between the two eras, so far this season Leicester have used 23 players, the joint fewest in the league. When Forest won the title, they fielded 16.

"I hope they go on and do it. It will be terrific for football in this country. The league needed a breath of fresh air," said Gemmill, who won two league titles with Clough at Derby County before landing the crown again and the first European Cup with Forest.

Leicester have lost three of their 32 games this season, the same number of defeats Clough's side suffered in their 42 games.

Forest maintained their remarkable run into the following season and between Nov 26, 1977 and Nov 25, 1978, they set a record of 42 consecutive league games without defeat. That record lasted until it was eclipsed by Arsenal's "Invincibles" 26 years later.

Arsene Wenger's Arsenal are one of only four teams, along with Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea, to have won the league since 1995.

Clark, a former Forest player and manager who won a league championship and one European Cup, said the Premier League could be set for change on the back of the new £5.14 billion (S$9.78 billion) three-year TV rights deal that starts next season.

"Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea have been able to do what they have done for years because of money and resources," he said.

"But the clubs below them are getting big money with the new TV deal and will be able to sign some very good players because the top clubs cannot buy them all.

"The new money will make the league less predictable because clubs like Leicester, West Brom, Stoke City and the others will make the league more competitive with more clubs able to win it."

For now, Birtles is just happy to see another unfashionable side upsetting the big clubs.

"Leicester thoroughly deserve all the accolades they are getting because coach Claudio Ranieri has ripped up the coaching manual," said the striker, who embodied Forest's team-without-stars narrative. "Fans have become bored with the same teams winning it every season, with a certain arrogance from the bigger clubs.

"That's why I am delighted Ranieri has said, 'We are not playing like that, we will send it long, we will turn defenders', and it's taken the Premier League big boys by surprise."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2016, with the headline 'Start of a big change if Leicester win EPL title?'. Print Edition | Subscribe