In an age where finances dominate the direction of football clubs, Leicester City’s promotion to the Premier League has reminded many that a tight, cohesive unit is still the most pivotal aspect of success.
The fortunes of Queens Park Rangers and Blackburn, to name only a few, prove that spending big to adjust to top-flight football isn’t guaranteed to pay dividends.
Meanwhile the imminent demise of Fulham, Cardiff and Sunderland only enhances the view that perhaps the best means to retain first division status isn’t always acquiring the biggest squad possible.
Similarly, the constant chopping and changing of managers to find that allusive “fresh approach” often leads to rapid decline – just ask Swansea, West Brom, Fulham and Cardiff.
It’s a trap that has haunted newly-promoted sides for years, but one that clubs continually fall into. No team in English football has learnt these lessons the hard way quite like Leicester City.
Back to business for the #lcfc squad today, but not before celebration pics! See them all at http://t.co/bsMOI24ZpB pic.twitter.com/Zsv3UYu6wR
— Leicester City (@OfficialFOXES) April 7, 2014
Relegated from the Premier League in 2004, the Foxes went through an incredible 22 managers, including caretakers, in seven years. They tried it all, from the reliable (Gary Megson) to the eccentric (Ian Holloway) and even the downright ridiculous (Sven-Goran Eriksson).
Amid the calamity came millions wasted on expensive imports. Matt Mills, Lee Pelter, Yuke Abe and Jermaine Beckford were just some of the players unable to make an impact in the Championship, despite commanding multi-million pound transfer fees.
But the takeover of the club from Thai businessman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in 2010 soon brought a change of direction. Stability was needed and, ultimately and ironically, the club settled on Nigel Pearson – a man already included in the aforementioned list off 22 – to lead the charge.
Pearson’s first stint as Leicester boss brought immediate success, with the Foxes promoted from League One as champions in 2009. However a strained relationship with then-owner Milan Mandaric led to his dismissal.
But his reappointment little more than 12 months after Mandaric left brought an overhaul and, suddenly, a clear route to the Premier League was visible.
“Any team that has sustained success has stability in its leadership,” the Leicester Mercury’s Rob Tanner tells upstart.
“Constantly changing managers doesn’t provide successful longevity. It may work for short-term goals, such as clubs fighting relegation, but to fulfill a long-term project like City’s rise to the Premier League, everyone around the club needs to buy into what the club is trying to achieve.”
However Leicester’s journey to the Premier League has hardly been cohesive.
Last season, Anthony Knockaert missed a last-minute penalty that would have sent the Foxes to the play-off final, only for Watford’s Troy Deeney to race up the other end and score a 97th-minute winner.
It was heartbreaking for Pearson and his squad, but a moment that Tanner believes has inspired their season.
“I have spoken to all the players at some point this season and, to a man, they have all said they have been driven by the memory of what happened at Vicarage Road and how determined they were to get the job done this season,” Tanner says.
“It has been one of the major motivational factors this season. Pearson has certainly maximised that determination amongst his players.”
If anything, the heartbreak suffered at Watford last season has only brought an already tightknit squad even closer together.
Remarkably, Pearson has used only 22 players throughout the entire Championship season, highlighting a squad whose core value is based around togetherness.
It’s an approach that the Leicester manager will take into a summer that consistently looms as an important period for sides battling to retain their Premier League status.
It’s no surprise that the three teams currently in the relegation zone were among the most active in the transfer window 12 months ago. Fulham and Cardiff each brought in 15 new players, while Sunderland added 19 new men to their squad.
According to Tanner, though, similar mistakes won’t be repeated.
“There will not be wholesale changes and I think that is the right approach,” he says.
“I believe this current City crop could already compete at Premier League level with the clubs currently in the bottom half of the table. Bringing in loads of new players could jeopardise the group who have fostered a strong team spirit.
“[Others] have demonstrated how to shoot yourselves in the foot on the big stage. City won’t repeat those mistakes.”
It’s a refreshing approach and one that, if successfully tackled by Pearson and his young squad, will only add to an already amazing journey to the Premier League.
Riley Beveridge is a third-year Bachelor of Sport Journalism student at La Trobe University and is the co-editor of upstart’s sport department. You can follow him on Twitter: @RileyBev.