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Bellingham
Saturday, January 16, 2021

LET’S TALK SPORTS: LEICESTER CITY

5000-1.

These are long odds in just about any context.  In sports betting, though, those odds are under more scrutiny and calculation than in any other arena. And yet, these are the odds that Leicester City Football Club is four games away from toppling.

Roughly a year ago, the club was stuck in last place in the English Premier League and faced almost certain relegation to the second division of English soccer. What followed, though, was truly spectacular: in their final nine games of the season, the Foxes posted a record of seven wins, one draw and one loss.

The lone loss? That was courtesy of the eventual Premier League champions, Chelsea.

When the season was all said and done, Leicester had gathered more points in their final nine games (22) than in their first 29 games (19). Their point total of 41 was more than enough to ensure their safety from the drop and saw them finish in 14th place in the 20-team league.

The fairytale, however, didn’t end there.

The Foxes continued to march on and maintained their form from the previous season. From the beginning of the season until Christmas, a 17 game period, Leicester lost just once. Since that time, they have lost just two games and are currently in first place. They need just seven points from their remaining four games to clinch the title.

They have been helped largely by the services of English striker Jamie Vardy, who broke off a streak of 11 games in a row scoring a goal, setting a new Premier League record in the process. Just four year ago, he was applying his trade in the fourth tier of English soccer, before being bought by Leicester for a meager $1.41 million. His current valuation is well over $13 million.

Vardy isn’t the only member of Leicester’s team who was plucked from obscurity. French midfielder N’Golo Kanté and Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez were both bought from clubs in France’s second tier. Mahrez, who costs roughly $550,000 at the time, is now valued at $22 million.

The club itself mirrors the character of its players.  Leicester has rarely been seen in the top flight of English soccer and their financial clout reflects that.  The value of the squad at the beginning of the year was just $70.68 million, the third lowest in the league. The value of Manchester City’s squad at the beginning of the year was $588 million, almost ten times the valuation of Leicester.

It is easy to sit down and try to understand Leicester’s remarkable rise using statistics, but in truth, sport has proven time and time again that it is a fool’s errand.

In 1990, Buster Douglas pulled off what many regard as the greatest heavyweight boxing upset ever by knocking out Mike Tyson. He was a 42-1 underdog.

Trailing three games to none in the 2004 American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox were given 120-1 odds to advance.  They managed do so and ultimately won the World Series, ending an 86-year championship drought.

At the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, the United States hockey team’s odds of winning a gold medal were 1000-1.  There is a reason their victory over the Soviet Union in the final game is known as the “Miracle on Ice,” after all.

These cases are made all the more remarkable when you consider how calculated sports betting is. Even the most outlandish odds are devised using a scientific application of analytics.

5000-1, though?  Those are odds that not even Cinderella herself would bet against.

Soon, it may appear she should have.

Brendan Herron, Let's Talk Sports reporter // @brendanherron // Photo by Ian Koppe
Brendan Herron, Let’s Talk Sports reporter // @brendanherron // Photo by Ian Koppe

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