Leicester City Football Club’s fairy-tale win could net them more than £150m, ($217m) according to sports data analysts Repucom. But how did a tiny team from the British Midlands pull off one of the most remarkable sporting achievements of all time?
The story is so extraordinary there are even rumours of a Hollywood movie in the works.
In an era when oligarchs with bottomless pits of money are running football, it seems almost impossible that underdogs could ever beat the system. Odds of Leicester City FC winning the title were 5,000-1 in August 2015. In the same month, betting agency Ladbrokes had former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson at 1,000-1 odds to win reality show Strictly Come Dancing.
The story is so extraordinary there are even rumours of a Hollywood movie in the works, telling the tale of the club’s star striker’s rise from factory worker to the England team.
But was it really so unfathomable? We analyse four secrets to their out-of-nowhere success.
Smart, low-cost recruitment
Mathematical modellers have become hugely important to sports teams these days. Number crunchers at clubs such as Manchester United help curate the ‘perfect’ squad — often made up of players with eight-figure salaries — capable of winning the biggest titles. Last season’s champions Chelsea FC, for instance, ran starting line-ups costing up to £215m ($310m).
And while Leicester does use analytics, its tiny budget of £57m (less than $82m) was spent using a more old-school method: scouring lesser known clubs and leagues.
Jenny Amalfi, learning and development director at recruitment firm Airswift said: “The ability to get the right people at the right time, in the right place and for the right cost, can mean the difference between success and failure of a project.”
Leicester’s success relied heavily on making absolutely sure every recruit was the right fit.
She suggested that Leicester’s success relied heavily on making absolutely sure every recruit was the right fit. “It’s a well-organised team and everyone has a clearly defined role — something a lot of teams, and indeed organisations, struggle with.”
Leicester’s striker, Jamie Vardy, was one of the most important low-cost hires. Signed from little known Fleetwood Town FC for £1m, Vardy was the team’s top scorer, with 22 goals this season. Another find was forward Riyad Mahrez, who was once considered too frail to make a top footballer. Even signing for Leicester from Le Havre in the French second division was luck — the Midlands club had gone to scout another player that day, but Mahrez stole the show.
Play to your strengths
“Instead of responding to opponents’ tactics, they chose to play to their own strengths, outrunning the opposition and defending tightly,” Amalfi said. Experts suggest this shows a team cleverly harnessing its ‘core competencies’ which is defined by Harvard Business Review as the source of a company’s competitiveness.
Bring in a veteran leader who will stick to his guns
Once labelled the serial runner-up, former Chelsea FC coach Claudio Ranieri has had to wait 30 years for his moment in the sun.
At Leicester he focused on nurturing the talent he already had within the club. Chris Roberts, practice director of business performance consultancy Accelerating Experience, pointed out that Raineri’s team weren’t all winners to begin with. “But astute scouting and an emphasis on youth and bringing through cheap, but hardworking players helped the team stabilise and maintain power.
Ranieri’s strategy involved a pizza-based incentives programme.
Ranieri — once dubbed the ‘tinkerman’ — made just 27 changes to his line-up across the entire Premier League season, the lowest in history. He committed to developing each player as an individual and as a member of a team, giving him a passionate, hardworking and ultimately, a winning line-up.
Ranieri’s clear sense of purpose “helped propel the team to the top”, said Chris Underwood, managing director of executive search firm Adastrum Consulting. Ranieri’s method evokes passion and commitment and focuses “on leaving a legacy – something which Ranieri has certainly done!"
Rather than offering big-money bonuses and Ferraris, Ranieri’s strategy involved a pizza-based incentives programme (he fulfilled his promise to reward the team with a pizza lunch after their win).
Play the long game
Stuart Podmore, investment propositions director at city asset manager Schroders, said there are lessons about patient, strategic investment to learn from the victory. The club “stuck to its long-term, tactical success [by using] low squad turnover and an absence of fear.”
And Ranieri isn’t making any huge changes. He has stated he has no intention of chasing the big names now the club is watching the money roll in.
However, Underwood at Adastrum said leadership research suggests a sense of purpose can have a sell-by-date “and there will come a point when a leader’s purpose within a role is fulfilled.”
It remains to be seen whether this is the case for Ranieri.
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