Leicester City winning the Premier League 2015-16 is a greater miracle than Nottingham Forest winning the First Division League title in 1977-78. Here are five reasons why.
Nottingham Forest was promoted in 1977 and expectation was for a respectable position in the league and steady consolidation. The team had been runners-up in the First Division as recently as 1966-67. Leicester, on the other hand, had been bottom of the Premier League at Christmas in 2014 and only a sustained run of wins in 2015 saw them escape relegation, and then the club sacked their manager Nigel Pearson in the summer. Expectation was for Leicester to be relegated in the following 2015-16 season, having been selected by chief BBC football writer Phil McNulty as one of his three candidates for the drop.
Brian Clough had a prior record of managerial excellence, having won the First Division title with Derby County in 1972, together with reaching the semifinal of the European Cup in 1973. He had also been on the shortlist for the England manager’s job. Claudio Ranieri was a nomadic traveler, having managed clubs in Italy, Spain, England and also the Greek national team. Apart from occasional success with Valencia in the late 1990s, and a runners-up position with Chelsea in 2003-04, his appointment to Leicester was considered somewhat of a joke, having previously been sacked by Greece for its loss against the Faroe Islands. The mood of the country was echoed by football pundit Gary Linker tweetying his reaction to the appointment: “Claudio Rainieri, really?!”
Nottingham Forest comprised a collection of astute signings of several players unwanted by other clubs, such as Kenny Burns and Larry Lloyd, but also featured established internationals and club players who believed in the Clough vision – Archie Gemmill, John Robertson, Tony Woodcock, and Peter Shilton to name a few. Leicester had a motley collection of players either signed from lower league football, (Vardy, Morgan, Ulloa), had been released from their previous clubs (Drinkwater, Albrighton), or signed on the cheap in “hopeful” expectation from overseas (Fuchs, Mahrez, Kante).
Competition from rivals
Liverpool FC was the one dominant football team in Nottingham Forest’s time, with occasional challengers to this dominance. In Leicester’s time, there was the quartet of Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea, who had shared the title between them since 1995.
The economic divergence between the football clubs in the 1970s was narrower, and Nottingham Forest had purchasing power to attract marquee signings such as established England and internationals Peter Shilton for 250,000 pounds (US$364,000) – a significant fee for a goalkeeper in that era _ and the nucleus of the Derby Championship winning side, Archie Gemmill, John O’Hare and John McGovern. Compare this with Leicester’s strongest XI, which cost £22 million, of which Ulloa and Kante cost £13 million combined, and this compared with Manchester City’s strongest XI costing £280 million. Leicester would never be able to compete in the transfer market for established players who would eschew a relegation candidate club for a team vying for trophies, especially European Football, and the chance for international selection. Leicester’s signings in 2015-16 of Ulloa and Kante was the extent of their ambition to sign players within their modest budget cap to assist the club fight bravely against relegation.
Did you know?
When Nottingham Forest was league title winner in 1977-78, Leicester City was relegated to the Second Division.
James Rawcliffe, based in the Cayman Islands, is a keen student of football history, having observed the evolution of the game from the Football League in 1977 to the modern Premier League era.