What next for Leicester after FA Cup victory sparks overwhelming emotions?

The Foxes claimed their second ‘one in a lifetime’ moment in the space of five years at Wembley by defeating Chelsea

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Sunday 16 May 2021 10:07
Leicester City players celebrate with the FA Cup trophy
Leicester City players celebrate with the FA Cup trophy

Amid great moments like Saturday, there can often be a tendency to concentrate on the smaller moments, away from the crowds and the big picture. There can be an insistence on the “inside story”. At Wembley, there was wonder over what Brendan Rodgers said to Khun Top as he handed him the FA Cup, or how the Leicester players consoled former teammates like Ben Chilwell and N’Golo Kante. There were then the little things each player did to celebrate such a big win.

For once, though, the men on the pitch didn’t feel the main point of interest. The details from the dressing room simply paled next to the images in the stands.

The real story wasn’t the inside story, but what was happening outside, that everyone could see. It was the supporters, enjoying a first day back, and celebrating a feat for the ages.

That was what made the occasion so special for so many reasons.

There was a huge range of emotions on show, from simple joy to relief to release and elation.

We weren’t just seeing fans back, and celebrating a goal, in a way we’ve missed for so long.

We were seeing fans celebrate a moment they thought they’d never have, and the goal that sealed it, after a wait that had been so long.

Leicester finally claimed that first FA Cup, 52 years after their last final, and four previous defeats on this stage.

It meant that the club has now enjoyed two “once in a lifetime” moments in the space of five years.

You could almost say they’re spoiled. That might sound ridiculous when you cast them against clubs like Chelsea - who were going for their ninth trophy in 10 years - but that’s also the inevitable human reaction to success. The more you have of it, the less emotional it is. That isn’t to say Chelsea wouldn’t have greatly enjoyed celebrating another FA Cup, but a third in a decade fairly pales next to the first in your history.

Brendan Rodgers poses with the FA Cup

All of which begs the question of what the story of Leicester will be. Is this the emotional climax, or does it keep going? Are these victories it, or is there more?

What, most pertinently, is the next step?

It is one of football’s classic narrative twists that the next step may come in the very next game, as they have yet another showdown with Chelsea - this time for the Champions League. It is a regular lament for how the game has gone, and linked to issues around the Super League, but it is still a reality that regular qualification for Europe’s premier event would be more transformative than winning English football’s oldest competition.

The two can of course be connected, though, since this FA Cup win can give Leicester the confidence to go and complete the job.

It is one of the curiosities of that 2016 league win, though. Future football historians will naturally put these two trophies together for Leicester, given they came in the space of five years, but they are more detached than people think.

They came out of completely different contexts. That can be seen in the teams, and the styles of play.

The 2016 title win was really a sensational freak, a glorious product of an impossible combination of events. That was why it was 4,000-1.

By contrast, Leicester doing this is much more logical.

They used the peak of that title win to go to another level as a club, putting in one of the most sophisticated structures in European football - building on the scouting that brought Kante - that has allowed them to brilliantly overperform.

This is also where the rub is, in so many ways.

The question of what next for Leicester ultimately revolves around what they can bring in. The reality of recent years in European football is that you need an annual revenue of around £400m to regularly compete.

Leicester have around half that - which brings us to the next issue.

Leicester players lift the FA Cup trophy

Their wage bill is currently at over 100 per cent of their turnover, with a growing debt, and that only following on from the notorious Financial Fair Play breaches that were part of their initial rise.

Leicester are often cast as “a fairytale”, but it isn’t snow white. The owners, King Power, were founded in 1989 with one small shop in Bangkok. Their immense growth came when the company was granted the exclusive franchise for duty-free sales at Suvarnabhumi airport. The prime minister at the time was the highly controversial Thaksin Shinawatra, who used to own Manchester City.

Leicester have similarly been used to promote tourism to Thailand, a country that still has a hugely questionable human rights record.

READ MORE: Leicester triumph in poignant FA Cup final as football’s soundtrack returns

Such details only further complicate the picture at the top of European football, where the very size of the game has made it attractive to all manner of interests.

Leicester are on the cusp of entering this picture, perhaps for the foreseeable future. There is even an argument they have now broken the big six too, especially as Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal become more and more financially stretched.

Rodgers’s own next step would seem reflective of this.

He should be the obvious choice for Spurs. But it is no longer the obvious choice for Rodgers to leave - at least not right now.

He has full control at Leicester, and the club looks in better shape to compete right now. He has it as he wants it. He has players - like Wesley Fofana - only developing further.

The centre-half is indicative himself. He will commit to a new contract, but it won’t be long until the real big boys come.

That will put the staff under pressure to replace him in the way they replaced Harry Maguire, but that is obviously much more difficult than even Leicester have made it seem. The reality of even clubs with the best recruitment - like, say, Southampton a few years ago - is that it is literally impossible to get it right indefinitely, and the rare drop-offs are where the cracks spread. That’s when figures like your revenue start to have effect, the truth of the numbers intervene, and clubs can fall back down.

These are all sober discussions for the future, though, that Leicester won’t want to know now.

The emotions of the day are too much.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments