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Transfer market travails and the empire striking back: What next for Leicester City?

In years to come, Monday May 2, 2016 will be one of those ‘where were you when…?’ days. 

Where were you when JFK was shot? Where were you when man landed on the moon? 

Where were you when Leicester City won the Premier League title? 

Monday May 2, 2016 was the day when the biggest feat in the history of English football was rubber-stamped. 

Tottenham’s 2-2 draw at Chelsea handed Leicester a first top-flight title in their 132-year history. Something we’d all known for weeks, perhaps even months, was going to happen, finally happened.

But while Claudio Ranieri and his players will deservedly bask in their astonishing glory over the next few weeks – Saturday’s home game against Everton is sure to be a party that will live long in the memory – soon, the dust will settle and attentions must turn to the next chapter in this remarkable story.

Things will not be the same next season, that much is clear. The established elite will not be as accommodating to Ranieri’s arriviste upstarts again. 

Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United – the three clubs who shared every Premier League title between 2005 and 2015 – all look set to be under the new management of serial winners.

Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte have been recruited at the Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge, with Jose Mourinho expected to follow at Old Trafford. 

Between them, Guardiola, Conte and Mourinho have won 16 league titles – a figure that will swell to 17 when Bayern Munich wrap up the Bundesliga this week or next. Between them, Guardiola, Conte and Mourinho will spend hundreds of millions on new players. 

The empire will strike back.

Where Guardiola et al decide to spend their millions could also be of concern to Leicester. Riyad Mahrez said last week that he “loves England”. In other words, he loves the Premier League. He may not love Leicester enough to resist the overtures of a stellar manager or a club that offers title challenges and Champions League football year-in, year-out.

N’Golo Kante also batted his eyelids at his many suitors last month by giving it the ‘you never know’ spiel when asked about his future last month.

And what about Ranieri? The charismatic Italian turns 65 in October and could be forgiven for seeing this title as the pinnacle, the final hurrah, of a colourful club-level managerial career. It does not take a genius to join the dots after acknowledging that Conte’s departure means the Italy job will be available after Euro 2016. 

The adventure of the Champions League also brings its own challenges. Leicester’s success has been built on a foundation of defensive organisation and lightning-quick transitions.

The exertion – both physical and mental – of a title tilt borne out of hard running and sheer force of will has to take its toll. How will Leicester cope when they are playing three times a week, every week?

Fine margins and luck have also played their part. Leicester have won 14 Premier League games by one goal this season. Leicester have suffered no major injuries to key players this season.

The last time a non-superpower won the Premier League, they finished seventh the following season. Blackburn Rovers also struggled in the 1995-96 Champions League before selling their best player to a domestic rival 12 months on from their finest hour. 

In short, there are a million reasons why Leicester will fall away, why they will revert to the mean. But then again, there were a million reasons why Leicester could not rise to these improbable, impossible heights. 

And so what if they fall away and revert to the mean? So what if they struggle in the Champions League and then sell their best player to a domestic rival 12 months on from their finest hour?

It bears repeating that this is the biggest feat in the history of English football. It might even be the biggest feat in the history of sport. 

Ranieri himself said before last Sunday’s trip to Manchester United that his players were on the verge of taking a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. 

Well, they’ve taken it. Leicester City are the champions of England for the very first time. And, quite possibly, the very last time. 

But it feels churlish, needless, joyless to discuss where Leicester will go from here right now.

To paraphrase words uttered in the wake of another iconic Premier League-winning moment: Just enjoy it. Drink it in. Because I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again.

Tue 3 May, 2016
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