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The audacity of courage

By Gbenga Adebambo
28 May 2016   |   6:24 am
In life, there is no permanent record; records exist to be broken. Such is the story of the current king of the English Premier League (EPL): Leicester City FC. Niccolò Machiavelli once said....
Leicester City's Italian manager Claudio Ranieri (2R) and Leicester City's English defender Wes Morgan hold up the Premier league trophy after winning the English Premier League football match between Leicester City and Everton at King Power Stadium in Leicester, central England on May 7, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS

Leicester City’s Italian manager Claudio Ranieri (2R) and Leicester City’s English defender Wes Morgan hold up the Premier league trophy after winning the English Premier League football match between Leicester City and Everton at King Power Stadium in Leicester, central England on May 7, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS

In life, there is no permanent record; records exist to be broken. Such is the story of the current king of the English Premier League (EPL): Leicester City FC. Niccolò Machiavelli once said, “Where the willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great.”

One of the amazing and awe-inspiring stories that defied the precision of football spectators and soothsayers is the unimaginable rise of Leicester City FC from the base of EPL as underdogs to becoming the Premiership Champions in the face of overwhelming odds. A feat that is likely to become the greatest sporting story of all times!

It looked like an impossible hope for Leicester City to achieve anything meaningful after Nigel Pearson’s messy departure. Last season they were at the bottom of the table for four-and-a-half months and managed to put together a run of seven wins from their last nine fixtures to survive. The present coach, Claudio Ranieri, was actually brought in just to avoid relegation but the Italian coach took the meaning of relegation a little bit far to mean ‘not settling for less’. Ranieri believed firmly that when a man settles for less, he would eventually get less than what he settled for!

One of the former world leaders and the 30th president of the United States of America, Calvin Coolridge, emphasized the supremacy of grit and tenacity when he said: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; rewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

The city of Leicester is known for a magnificent statue of William Shakespeare, sculptured by Giovanni Fontana. The legendary Shakespeare had Leicester City FC in mind when he wrote in one of his plays, Julius Caesar, a reverberating line that will always define man’s destiny and destination.

He said: “Men at sometimes are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” The most ‘levelling’ reality of life is the fact that at any given moment in life, you alone have the power to say this is not how the story is going to end. No soothsayer, sorcerer, enchanters or flawless seer has the right to predict that this is how your story will end. I took my time to do a deep analysis towards unravelling the secret of their success and it was amazing to discover that the normal over-bloated reasons for football success were not on their list- money, star-studded team, the best coaches, past successes etc. I have come to realise from the deep analysis that the greatest hindrance to success is not failure but rather the previous success.

One of the former Prime Ministers of Great Britain nicknamed, ‘The British Bulldog’, Winston Churchill, once said, “success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” No man is ever defeated, we simply quit, John C. Maxwell said, “I have never known a man who quits his way to the top’’. It is not failure when you are finished; it is failure when God has finished with you.

Columbus faced incredible difficulties while sailing West, in search of a passage to Asia. He encountered storms, experienced hunger, deprivation and extreme discouragement. The crews of his three ships were near mutiny, but his account of the journey says the same thing over and over again: “Today, we sailed on.” His perseverance paid off. He didn’t discover a fast route to the spice rich Indies; instead he found new continents. When you are confronted with the fear of the unknown, remember Columbus and his persistent statement, “Today, we sailed on!”

Henry Ford forgot to put a reverse gear in his first car. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb after trying 999 ways without success. He didn’t learn to talk until he was four years old. He attended formal school for only three months, and his teacher thought his brains were “scrambled” because he asked so many questions. Edmund Hillary failed to surmount Mount Everest in 1952, but he never gave up and on May 29 1953, he conquered Mount Everest and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II later that year.

I was so much inspired by the ability of Claudio Ranieri to rally round common ‘out-casts’ into a formidable team; the coach had the audacity to believe in his team despite all the evidence to the contrary. It was amazing how one man can magically blend together a squad largely comprising of rejects- players that other teams across the continent deemed unnecessary and undesirable- into a weapon of ‘astronomical destruction’! Who will ever imagine that a nonentity, Jamie Vardy, who was virtually trying to eke out a living as a factory worker six years ago, would become the nightmare and punisher of league favourites. The 29-year-old Vardy eventually became a ‘verdict’ for even overbearing league giants.

Ranieri meticulously blended his band of ‘misfits’ and ‘cast-offs’, eventually succeeding in etching their names in sporting folklore for the rest of time, making them the first squad ever to break the jinx and give Leicester City its first-ever title in the club’s 132-year history. From the Algerian ‘miracle’, Riyad Mahrez, to the four fox behemoths- Simpson, Captain Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, and Christian Fuchs, to Andy King, Danny Drinkwater and the Japanese whizkid that entertained fans with an amazing bicycle-kick goal, Shinji Okazaki; Malian-French national, N’Golo Kante, their authoritative goal keeper, Kasper Schmeichel and finally to Leicester talisman Jamie Vardy, it has been a story of blended misfits in the hands of a coach with a magic wand.

There are many reasons responsible for Leicester’s rise to international limelight but one that stood above the rest is their tough team spirit. Their team spirit, rugged determination, flexibility, adaptability, selflessness, terrifying understanding and common sense are Leicester’s seven greatest assets. Intelligent application of all seven has done the rest. The beauty of the team was its individual’s ability to play different roles during a game and they used it to catch opponents who were wedded to rigid formations by surprise. One of the virtues to learn from the charismatic coach is his ability to celebrate his players; his genial and humorous personality gave the players the enabling environment to always be themselves. The players always look forward to training because it was always full of fun. He has an unprintable nickname for the talismanic Jamie Vardy and once ordered a standing ovation for Shinji Okazaki after the Japanese striker passed his English exam in London.

The virtue of selflessness among the team members is so contagious to the extent that they all go out to play for one another. One moment, in particular, sums up the selflessness of this squad. It was in the 2-1 win over Watford in November: Leicester had just been awarded a penalty and Mahrez was about to take it. Mahrez gave a vivid description of the whole scenario: “The manager said at the beginning of the season that I was the designated penalty taker,” Mahrez recalls. “I took the ball but ‘Vards’ came to me and said ‘Riyad please give me the ball, I want to get the ninth goal in a row’. I was going to take it but then I thought no he’s right, so I gave him the ball to continue his run. I could have taken the penalty but it would have been no good to him. I would expect the same from him if I’d been on such a run! It shows why we are together. We are all like brothers.” Vardy did score that penalty and later that month shattered the 12-year-old record held by Ruud Van Nistlerooy by scoring in 11 successive league games.

Thomas Edison said: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” I want to reach out to the Nigerian youths to be fearless like the fox (the Leicester City FC symbol); every man is defrauded by their fears. The greatest pain in life is giving up because pain is temporary, it may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever. DON’T EVER GIVE-UP!