Today or tomorrow, this week or next week, sometime soon, anyway – Leicester City will become Champions of England. Premier League Title winners and Champions League top seeds. Read, mark and inwardly digest. It could have been, perhaps should have been Leeds United.
Leicester’s fantastic achievement is the explosion of the theory of an “Elite Cartel”. They’ve simply ripped up the rule book and imposed themselves irresistibly on a League that regarded them merely as cannon fodder. What the Foxes are doing self-evidently could be done by any club of reasonable size and support, properly run and adequately funded. There is no better proof that something can be done, than going out there and doing it.
All of which begs the question: why have Leeds United so shamefully under-achieved in the six years since escaping League One? The Whites’ track record in that time pales in comparison, not only to champions-elect Leicester, but also Southampton and Swansea City (who, as I write, are taking Liverpool to the cleaners). This trinity of clubs, reborn and reinfused with competitive vigour, are all considerably smaller than Leeds and lack anything like a comparable tradition or pedigree. All of them were fellow strugglers along with us in our third-tier lowest ebb. All are living proof of United’s utter and culpable failure since 2010.
That’s the significant year, really. Prior to that, we’d been almost a decade in intensive care, a chronically ill football club doing its best to regain some sort of health. That was achieved, despite the dodgiest of ownerships – and the FA Cup victory over Man U, together with a scrambled promotion back to the second level, could and should have created a platform from which to build a bright future. That it didn’t is our tragedy, but there are no excuses. Again, look at where three smaller clubs are now, clubs that shared our League One doldrums with us. Their example puts Leeds United to shame.
Whatever the Cellino apologists might say – and they’re as stubborn a bunch as I’ve ever come across outside of a field of donkeys – it’s very difficult, surely, for them to argue he’s been any sort of success when you see what’s been achievable elsewhere, and at clubs with far less potential. Perhaps – just perhaps – making and breaking promises, serially hiring and firing managers, interfering in team affairs, insulting the support base, treating staff abominably with sexist attitudes and a desire to humiliate professional football people by making them clean up around the place – perhaps all of this isn’t the way to carry on after all? It’s just a thought.
Maybe this is at the root of why we’re where we currently are while our former League One rivals are comfortably established in the Premier League – with one of them poised to become Champions. It could so easily have been us – and that’s not just glib wishful thinking. Hard work, a professional setup, enlightened ownership – all that old-fashioned stuff – they’re why Leicester are now on the edge of a miracle of historic proportions. Instead of which, the day after we lost at home to a team already relegated from the Championship, we have to look upwards and crane our necks to see the success of others.
Good luck to Leicester City, I’m genuinely pleased for them. I have my memories of 24 years ago, and I know – as so many of us will – exactly how those Foxes fans will be feeling right now. But I just can’t help wishing that it was us again; with the frustration kicking in hard when it’s so clear that it could – and perhaps should – have been.