So much has been written in the last 24 hours about Leicester City’s Premier League title, and yet it doesn’t seem to be enough. This is, plain and simply, the greatest and most amazing achievement that I have ever seen in more than two and a half decades of watching soccer. Not only that, it’s the greatest story that I have seen in all of sports. My sincere congratulations to Leicester City Football Club, their manager, players, staff, and supporters.
Sports attract a lot of attention for a lot of reasons. There’s the entertainment, the escapism, the ability to pour out one’s passion completely into something without consequence. Sometimes there are consequences and indeed very bad and hateful ones, and I’m not going to rehash those here. But sports have the ability to inspire because they demonstrate the outer boundaries of individual and collective human endeavor, desire, and spirit.
I believe that this inspirational quality is what is greatest about Leicester City’s triumph. In a competition in which success is more often than not strongly determined by the size of a club’s payroll, Leicester City have demonstrated that the “not” is still possible. It’s probably not frequent, and it may not even be occasional, but it is possible. The Foxes demonstrated what is possible with sound and shrewd recruitment, a deep understanding of the capabilities and limitations of the squad, the development of match plans that best exploited the qualities of the team, a consistently high-performing defensive unit, minimal injuries, and of course, some luck and good fortune. There are teams outside of the Big Five that have done this but fell short of the top, so other circumstances have to come into play. There may not be another season in which Arsenal, Chelsea, the two Manchester clubs, and Liverpool have sub-par seasons at once. But Leicester City did what was asked of them and will finish the season with more points with anyone else. They are deserved and worthy champions.
So what has been the role of analytics in this achievement? I am constantly reminded of a phrase that I used at the end of a post I wrote four and a half years ago, in which I said that an analytical approach in a sports organization
…requires someone willing to champion the idea. What is needed even more is for these champions to become champions.
I know that Leicester City have a performance analysis department that is well respected and puts on events of interest to the analytics community; I don’t know anyone there but I know that they follow me on Twitter (and if I have met any staff members at a conference, I really do apologize for forgetting you!!). I think there are people better positioned than me to state how much the analysis department contributed to Leicester’s success. We’ll find out soon enough about their practices and innovations, and we will be rapt with attention when they choose to reveal all (okay, some).
This has been a historic moment in sports in general and football in particular, and I congratulate Leicester City’s triumph and thank them for expanding the limits of the possible.