Long-shot Leicester City, a soccer team most people in America probably haven't even heard of, have been crowned champions of the biggest soccer league in the world. Their first-ever title, which they clinched Monday when their closest rival couldn't pull out a win, brought on cries of joy not only in England but across the globe.
Why is a team from a small city halfway between London and Manchester being called by some the greatest story in all of sports? We've never seen an underdog stay this good — after being so bad — for so long. Ever.
Here are four reasons your soccer-obsessed friends are talking about the biggest little football team in all of Europe.
In the world of big-time soccer, there are only a handful of teams that have enough money to matter. You've probably heard of them — Real Madrid is the richest team in the world, according to this year's Deloitte Football Money League analysis.
Leicester (It's pronounced "Lester," as in Lester Holt) are pretty wealthy themselves, having being bought by a Thai billionaire in 2010. But even as the 24th wealthiest team in the world, they only have about a quarter of the revenue of Real Madrid and less than a third of the richest English team, Manchester United, according to Deloitte.
No one can catch them now... pic.twitter.com/5xLJiz9lrC— Premier League (@premierleague) May 2, 2016
Only one other team outside Deloitte's top 10 has won the Premier League since it started in 1992, as a way to capitalize on money in TV broadcasting rights. The richest few teams, all backed by their own billionaires, have the money to buy the best players in the world, helping them to more success, and more money, and on and on.
In a year when Bernie Sanders won't stop telling Americans the banking system is rigged for the rich to win, Leicester is proof that the little guy can still win it all in a system that's stacked pretty heavily in favor of the big guys.
Leicester City. Champions of England. pic.twitter.com/WRwfysTn2N— Leicester City (@LCFC) May 2, 2016
Leicester was the worst team in the Premier League a little over a year ago, in last place when 2015 began. They only barely survived — the worst three teams drop to a lower league at the end of each season — but there weren't a lot of people who thought they'd do it again this season, let alone win the league.
In fact they had never won the top division in England (or Britain, when teams from Wales qualified) in the 132 years the team existed. It was one of dozens of fairly successful teams from small cities across the English countryside.
For 2015-2016, oddsmakers had them at 5,000-to-1 odds to win the league. Elvis surfacing in good health was a 2,000-1 shot, according to The Associated Press. An analysis in The New York Times pegged the odds of the great 1980 "Miracle on Ice" between 17-to-1 and 1,000-to-1.
To understand how unlikely this is, imagine a No. 16 seed in the NCAA basketball tournament winning the whole thing. No, it's never happened, but all they have to do is win six games against teams better than they are. Leicester needed to collect more points over 38 games, in nine months, than 19 teams many thought were better than them. Three had at least 13 more league titles than Leicester.
INTERNATIONAL CAST OF PLAYERS
Few could have named Leicester's players at the start of the year, and while none is yet a world-beating star in his own right, the players' inspired performances together have made them household names for soccer fans. Take Jamie Vardy, an Englishman who this year set a record for scoring goals in the most consecutive games in the Premier League, at 11. He's likely to play for England at this summer's European Championships.
They come from all over the world, too. Riyad Mahrez, a wizard with his feet, comes from Algeria; key support strikers Shinji Okazaki and Leonardo Ulloa are from Japan and Argentina; Jamaican captain Wes Morgan is usually partnered in defense by a German, Robert Huth; they play in front of Kasper Schmeichel, a goalkeeper from Denmark.
Now, those players are the toast of Britain. Two recently one the league's top player awards — Mahrez won player of the year from the Professional Footballers Association, and Vardy beat out Mahrez and another teammate to be named the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year.
NICE GUY COACH
The heart of the team this year has been an old Italian coach named Claudio Ranieri, 64, a man who had never coached a team to a championship even when he was in charge of one of the best teams in the world, Juventus.
Ever calm and seemingly always smiling behind his round spectacles, Ranieri grabbed headlines in October when he promised his team a pizza party if they held their opponents scoreless. The players had to make the pizza themselves though, a lesson from Ranieri that they had to work for everything.
"It was very good, too. I enjoyed many slices. What can I say? I’m an Italian man. I love my pizza and my pasta," Ranieri wrote in The Player's Tribune in April.
It might have been cheesy, but the motivation worked: They held their opponents scoreless 14 more times this year in the Premier League, including a stingy run of five games in March and Aprli that all but cemented their championship.
Even when "little Leicester," as he affectionately called his team, started pulling away from the pack, Ranieri always said the right things about keeping a level head and never thinking beyond the next game.
"No matter what happens to end this season, I think our story is important for all football fans around the world. It gives hope to all the young players out there who have been told they are not good enough," he wrote in The Player's Tribune.
Oh, and as for his priorities, Ranieri didn't watch the title-deciding match between second-place Tottenham and Chelsea on Monday. He was scheduled to be on a plane, flying back from Rome where he was having lunch with his 96-year-old mother, he told reporters on Sunday.