A year ago, before the football world was inexorably turned on its axis, Leicester City’s pre-season preparations involved playing lower-tier English clubs Lincoln, Mansfield and Rotherham.
A late run of seven wins from nine games had secured the side’s safety in the English Premier League, and the Foxes headed into the 2015/16 season under new manager Claudio Ranieri as 5,000/1 outsiders to win English football’s top division.
Ahead of last season the pundits were universally in agreement that Leicester would endure another nine months of battling relegation.
As it turned out, Ranieri’s Leicester romped to its first top-flight success, winning the league by 10 points, and only losing three games in the process. Never has the phrase, “the rest is history” been more apt.
Fast forward to late July of 2016 and this summer’s pre-season, with no offence intended, has been something of an upgrade — the newly-minted champions have swapped Lincoln for Los Angeles as part of their preparations for Sunday’s curtain raiser to the English season when they play Manchester United in the Community Shield.
The Foxes received a prestigious invite to the International Champions Cup, where they found themselves sharing the rarified air with the likes of Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.
The location of Hollywood is but another head-scratching moment in a year that simply defies belief. “It’s difficult to reflect, maybe a director can think of what happened,” says Ranieri, who helmed Leicester’s smash hit of a season. “I couldn’t have scripted it better. ”
‘Smells like team spirit’
His leading man, star striker Jamie Vardy, whose 24 league goals didn’t just lift Leicester to the title, but helped to greenlight a movie about his meteoric rise, concurs with his boss, even if he doesn’t bite when asked about the Hollywood ending.
“We just had to keep taking it game by game,” Vardy recalls. “And as we were getting closer and closer, we knew that others were going to try and make us falter at the final hurdle, but that wasn’t in the team spirit whatsoever.
“We’re that close together, nothing was ever going to stop us winning the league.”
Former Leciester striker Emile Heskey was part of the cast who the club took to Los Angeles, albeit in an ambassadorial role, ahead of its title defense.
The now 38-year old believes that “people wanted to see something different. To see an underdog like Leicester, who people were saying should have been relegated the season before, to go out and win it, and win it convincingly is great — for the whole world.”
The Cinderella story captivated everyone the Leicester team interacted with in Los Angeles, whether it was at a meet-and-greet session at an English pub in Santa Monica, signing sessions in stores, or at the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Even the actor/comedian Will Ferrell, who himself has become a part-owner of new MLS franchise team Los Angeles FC, was bowled over by the Foxes.
“I think that’s always an amazing storyline in any sport. Especially here in America, we love an underdog,” Ferrell told CNN at an LAFC event featuring some of the Leicester players.
“It doesn’t matter what sport it is, you’ll find Americans pulling for that team that comes out of nowhere. And Leicester City winning it all … it’s equivalent to a team here that’s never had any wins and winning the Super Bowl.”
And what better place than Hollywood to discuss the movie that’s being made about Vardy.
‘Later, fatter years’
While Ferrell concedes that playing the part of the “working bloke” may be a step too far, he could see himself taking on the role of Vardy’s later years. “His later, fatter years,” Ferrell clarifies.
When this is put to the striker himself, Vardy bursts out laughing, pointing out that “would be brilliant. Obviously that would make it into a comedy.”
As way of an actual update, Vardy confirms that he had a meal with the writers while in LA, and the film will come out in 2017.
By the time it’s released, Leicester won’t only be in the midst of defending their title, but will have made their Champions League debut.
Defender Christian Fuchs has Champions League experience, and notes that it’s “something special.”
Indeed, he speaks with the same excitement as a supporter when it comes to the Foxes’ entry into the competition. “Leicester City is coming out of nowhere,” Fuchs remarks. “Playing against big teams like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona. That’s crazy and I love it.”
And if the impossible were to happen again, with Leicester lifting the Champions League, it would be a sequel not even Hollywood could have contemplated.