Leicester City – a once in a generation spark achieving sporting success that belies both finance and statistics. Up is down, night is day, cats lie in bed with dogs while a pig flies across the sky. An odd season, this.
The early Premier League schadenfreude brought about by Chelsea's tribulations was a fine time indeed, yet inherently mean-spirited. Happily the troubles of a rich club are now surpassed by the wonder that is Leicester City, the little team that could.
American sports has its salary caps, varying strength of schedule and player drafts to try to level the playing field. The marketing hook known as parity, where as many teams as possible must go into a season thinking “maybe this is our year”. Worst to first is relatively easy where divisions contain but four sides and the playoffs are bulging. Tougher in a league of 20 with significant differences in wage bills, transfer kitties and revenue collection.
According to squad data from CIES Football Observatory and transfer fees from Transfermarkt.de the total cost in transfer fees for Leicester’s current squad was €84 million, a relative pittance compared to €500+million of the two Manchester giants. Those transfer costs would be better viewed in a general sense, because transfer fees in football are hard to nail down.
John Burn-Murdoch's recent analysis for the Financial Times of transfers in the 2015 summer transfer window where at least one outlet reported the fee to be over £20 million found "the major European sports news organisations broadly agreed on the fee in less than half of the 23 such cases".
Even with perfect knowledge of the fee, that's not the full cost of the player. Those who come through the youth system will not appear as a cost, although their wages will be a cost to the club. West Ham's starting 11 from last week's action included two players on loan. Players move with no fee: Crystal Palace signed Emmanuel Adebayor and took on his significant wages, and Spurs still covering part of the tab, but no fee.
Differences within the Premier League are one thing but from a broader perspective Leicester are becoming a bigger fish in football’s pie. They were placed 24th in Deloitte’s 2016 Football Money League, a ranking by club revenues in which Premier League teams fill over half of the top 30 slots.
This proportion could increase, with Deloitte's Dan Jones saying with "the staggering new Premier League domestic broadcast deal coming into effect in 2016/17, there is an outside chance that the Money League top 30 will feature all 20 Premier League clubs in two years' time". As that TV deal creeps into view some of the desperate January splurging from the end of the Premier League table is perhaps not entirely coincidental. Keeping snouts in the Premier League trough is all.
Looking ahead, all is not plain sailing. Leaving aside the small matter of a title race, Leicester face a challenge to sustaining their canny talent-spotting with head of technical scouting Ben Wrigglesworth decamping to Arsenal. The boardroom could be forgiven for contemplating difficulties in keeping this team together as players and their agents fight for increased wages given a vast increase in success. Salary aside, for players there would be the temptation of moving to a “big club”, even one that might have finished behind the Thai-backed side this season.
On the club's side they will be aware of that small print in financial advertisements: past performance – even that of a champion – does not guarantee future returns. This bottom-line worldview was cruelly seen in Miami when Jeff Loria, one of the less popular team owners in US sports history, dismantled his Florida Marlins side in the winter of 2003 after winning an improbable World Series that same autumn.
The same club had pulled the same trick in 1997 under a different owner, Wayne Huizenga, after winning a World Series in just the fifth year of the team's existence.
To go down that road is indecently wrong-headed. Be joyful, sports fans – 13 games to go and a Leicester City title to be won. It would be wonderful.