Youri Tielemans could have signed for Manchester United in 2019. The club had a conversation with his agent, Peter Smeets, but had other business to complete and were stalling. Anyway, Tielemans had an alternate option.
A club that had won the league more recently than United and could also afford the £40million Monaco were asking.
That club was Leicester. It is why six big clubs are so frightened of those on their tails. Everything the cartel does is not just to increase its own margins, but to limit those of the challengers. The doomed Project Big Picture at first looked generous with extra funding for the EFL below. Yet in reality, the richest would be compensated by extra European games, and the rest would take a cut.
Leicester sealed the FA Cup with a win over Chelsea thanks to Youri Tielemans’ wonder strike
It was those around them, clubs like Leicester, who would have a percentage of their wealth given away, with no way of compensating for it. And that would directly impact on their ability to purchase a player like Tielemans who, on Saturday, won a trophy that five clubs would see as theirs, by right.
Since Everton won the FA Cup in 1995, there have been 26 winners. Arsenal eight times, Chelsea seven, Manchester United four, Liverpool and Manchester City twice — and the rest of the league put together, the clubs outside the Super League breakaway, have three FA Cup victories between them all. Two of those clubs, Portsmouth and Wigan, are now in League One, but the third, Leicester, are a threat.
They epitomise what the wealth of the Premier League has done to competition. Brendan Rodgers said they are the people’s champions in a Super League era, but there are some people who hate Leicester. People at Arsenal, people at Manchester United, people at Liverpool, for example.
Leicester’s cup winning squad has great stories including Jamie Vardy up and down the team
By rights, Chelsea should not lose a marquee Wembley occasion to Leicester. Leicester is where Chelsea go shopping. N’Golo Kante won the title there, then did the same at Chelsea the following season. When Chelsea needed a goal on Saturday, they introduced Ben Chilwell, who moved from Leicester last summer — and don’t forget had Danny Drinkwater not been such a disappointment he would be part of this Chelsea team, too.
He cost £35m in 2017 and is still only 31. Take three of any team’s best players over a four-year period and they shouldn’t be able to compete with you.
Yet Leicester did. They were better than Chelsea at Wembley, certainly in the second half, and sit two points and a place above them in the league. Indeed since the summer when Chelsea took Kante, the clubs have met 13 times in all competitions. Chelsea have won six, Leicester three with four draws. Yet Chelsea have won once in their most recent seven meetings, and their last league win was September 9, 2017.
Why? Well, Leicester do not have the money to resist Chelsea in the transfer market, but they do have the money to afford pretty good replacements after these raids. Tielemans is the perfect example.
By winning the FA Cup it was a vindication of Brendan Rodgers’ talent as a manager
When Manchester United visited Anderlecht in a Europa League tie in 2017, his was the name on everybody’s lips — the next big thing out of Belgium. He had been a first-team player since 16, was approaching 200 games at 19 and set to be included in Belgium’s World Cup squad.
In his first two seasons he was Belgium’s young player of the year, in his third he was player of the year. And when a move to Monaco wasn’t successful, this was the calibre of player Leicester could afford to recruit.
Yet it does not stop there. Wilfred Ndidi, Wesley Fofana, Timothy Castagne, Ayoze Perez, Caglar Soyuncu — these are all players that Leicester have recruited who would not look out of place in the squads of the breakaway six. Most would start at Tottenham or Arsenal, and certainly be contenders elsewhere.
The point is they are not greatly inferior to those who would presume to shape elite European football. Jose Mourinho was first to alight on this during his second spell with Chelsea. Before the start of the 2015-16 season, he singled out Crystal Palace’s recruitment of Yohan Cabaye as evidence of the narrowing between top and middle. Mourinho cited him as the sort of player Chelsea might target were they not already well staffed, and then explained the significance of his destination.
‘Cabaye is a player that left Newcastle two years ago to go to Paris Saint-Germain to get lots of money on a big transfer fee, and he is coming to Crystal Palace,’ he said.
‘The players that are going to Stoke, the players that are going to Everton, with the players that are going to every club in the Premier League, it is getting much more difficult. In 2004, it was Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea coming with all the ambition of Roman Abramovich. The distances were huge.’
For Palace, Everton and Stoke, read West Ham, Everton and Leicester. Except Leicester have got it right in a way the others have not. Yet Richarlison, Angelo Ogbonna, Felipe Anderson, Allan, James Rodriguez are exactly the type of players who, in a parallel universe, might have the impact of Leicester’s recruits.
Are they inferior to what Arsenal or Tottenham have been buying? This is what the elite find unsettling. Take an extra £20m out of Manchester United’s purse and chances are they will not feel it; remove £20m from Leicester and that directly impacts on their chance to compete. It is what allows them to buy Tielemans, and then he wins them the FA Cup.
Club management helps, too. ‘We’ve heard so much about owners,’ exclaimed Alan Shearer as Leicester’s Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha — thankfully known as ‘Top’ — joined his jubilant players on the Wembley turf. ‘This is how to run a football club.’
And he’s right, it is. Top’s father, Vichai, perished in a helicopter crash because he wasn’t an absentee owner, he was engaged, he did travel to support his club.
And not just in the good times, either. The match Vichai had just attended when he died was a 1-1 draw between Leicester and West Ham. Leicester were 12th, West Ham 13th. It could not have been any more of a routine occasion.
So when Top bounded into the celebrating throng, it placed in sharper relief the detachment of the Glazers and Kroenkes. Top was as happy as any Leicesterian, as happy as Gary Lineker, whose late stall-holder father attended four FA Cup finals as a Leicester fan and saw them lose every one.
And again, no wonder the six are fearful. For this is what can be achieved in the Premier League by a well-funded, well-managed club. Compared to Leicester, they’re not so big, these six. That’s why they don’t want anyone else playing with their ball.