Teams experiencing a decline will need to make difficult decisions as their new financial reality sets in.
LINCOLN — The hosts had some time to reflect on the abyss they were about to enter before the King Power’s last whistle rang. Reality crushed the West Ham fans as their cries of “say hello to Millwall” became louder and louder. Wout Faes clutched that flawless afro in bewilderment. The Leicester fans couldn’t decide whether to boo or show their unwavering support for a team that had fallen so far short of their collective expectations this season, so Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall covered his face with his shirt.
Leicester City did everything they could on the last day, but in the 37 days prior to that, they fell well short. A futile conclusion to nine seasons in the Premier League that earned this city glory beyond its wildest dreams was this 2-1 victory over West Ham United. Every fan would undoubtedly choose a day like today if it meant they could also enjoy the joys of European nights, FA Cup triumph, and that incredible spring of 2016, the greatest tale in English football history.
They shouldn’t have been forced to make that change, though. The 2016 champions and the team Brendan Rodgers twice brought to the verge of the Champions League, this Leicester squad may be quite a few steps back from their greatest years. It might have suffered due to injuries to key players. It may have had the projected and actual goal differential of a team in the lower half of the standings. But after watching Harvey Barnes, James Maddison, and Youri Tielemans tear through West Ham in the first half, you might have wondered how this side managed to get to the point where the outcome of the game was out of their hands on the last day.
The fact that they fired their manager without having a clear upgrade ready to go probably did not help their argument. Dean Smith said that he had “failed” because he had only earned nine points in the eight matches he was in charge of, as opposed to the aim of 11. that they share with the other two teams joining them in the Championship for the upcoming season. It’s possible that Jesse Marsch wasn’t Leeds’ solution, but Javi Gracia and Sam Allardyce weren’t either. Southampton’s relationship with Nathan Jones, arguably the worst Premier League manager in history, didomed them to the bottom of the standings.
It’s a huge disappointment for everyone that it has come to this, said Smith, who made no indication that he believes his position would be filled through the following season. “I can only truly look back on my seven weeks and eight games here, and I always knew it would be difficult when I arrived. As I have stated, I thought there was a lack of belief and confidence.
“I’ve failed in that aspect [earning only nine points]. We succeeded in achieving confidence and belief, although we missed a few areas.
The pain is just getting started. Everton, who defeated Bournemouth 1-0 to advance academic events at the King Power Stadium and have a 53,000-seater stadium to fund by 2024, would have experienced considerably more misery, but these are undoubtedly hard times for the three teams who finished behind them. Southampton at least has a ton of assets that can be sold, and the young players they bet would be good enough to keep them in the league are now in serious jeopardy. What does Leeds’ ownership structure in the Championship look like given that 49ers Enterprises desired a top-flight club?
Leicester, on the other hand, had already experienced greater than average financial losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Srivaddhanaprabha family, who made their riches in Thai duty-free shops, is well-liked in this country for the financial assistance they have provided to Leicester fans. Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha paid up £194 million in debt to the parent business of King Power in February. The team does not, however, have the financial stability to merely survive one or two seasons in the lower tiers. The club’s most recent figures for the 2021–22 season, during which time fans returned and they advanced to the semifinals of the Europa Conference League, showed a loss of £92.5 million pre–tax, by far the most in club history. Prior to the departure of seven first team players at the end of the next month, their pay expenditure still ranks significantly in Premier League terms despite a gradual decrease since last summer.
According to today’s evidence, there are enough of players who can fetch a respectable price even with Leicester under pressure to sell, and the projected parachute payments, which are expected to be worth over £45m, would soften the financial damage. Youri Tielemans and James Maddison performed a last dance while wearing Leicester shirts as they slid around the field and swiftly and precisely fizzed the ball into the most dangerous areas. Harvey Barnes was moving quickly, and his 13 goals this season should have made some of England’s wealthiest teams take notice of him.
His opening play today was of the highest kind. Drifting infield from the left, he fizzed a pass to the feet of Kelechi Iheanacho, who was getting better as the game went on. When the ball was returned to him, Flynn Downes was caught flat-footed and could only hurl an arm back in the general direction of his man in desperation. Barnes opened up his body to roll the ball beneath Lukasz Fabianski even though the angle was tight. The chaos that came thereafter compared sharply with the way the second goal, Faes’ flicked header off a Tielemans free kick, was roasted. Before the realization that everything happening from this point forward is functionally irrelevant until something changes at Goodison Park, where Abdoulaye Doucoure’s unexpected goal punctured the Leicester bubble, the muscle memory of a cheer went up for a brief period.
The West Ham fans, who appeared to celebrate Pablo Fornals’ late goal with less vigor than they did Leicester’s woes, may be among the worst fanbases to have in the away end for your own personal hell scape. “We’re going to Prague, and you’re going down.” They are the best at understanding the agony of losing with a team that is too excellent to be in the bottom three. Within two years, that squad was back on track. As Smith pointed out, Leicester are more than capable of doing that than the other relegated teams.
A head coach who now has relegations with Norwich last season and Leicester this season on his resume claimed that “the raw materials this club has are of an elite club.” “It aches and feels raw right now. Everyone will be devastated, but given the infrastructure it has, it will recover. Over the years, several [clubs] have suffered setbacks. It’s your responsibility to get better at the areas where you felt let down. I am confident that the club will.
They could let players like Tielemans and Jonny Evans leave and yet have a remnant of players who are capable of competing in the second division after selling Maddison, Barnes, and the all-too-often injured James Justin. If Leicester has the correct manager, they might even find their time in the second division to be fairly energizing, as Burnley’s Vincent Kompany and that of Burnley can confirm.
Some others might even prefer a year of Championship board sweeps than fighting to stay in the top flight. Leicester, though, have been in a waking dream for nine years. The morning of tomorrow will be rather depressing.