In August, the storylines surrounding the 2015-2016 Premier League title race included questions of Chelsea’s title defense, the big spending at Manchester United, and if key signings Petr Cech and Kevin de Bruyne would bring title glory for Arsenal or Manchester City, respectively. Those four teams, which comprised last season’s Top Four, have virtually no shot at winning the title with four matches left to play.
Jump forward to today, and the narratives have changed. The soccer-watching media has been handed one of the greatest sports stories in history. Leicester City, the team that barely escaped relegation in what many call “the great escape” just last season, are suddenly sitting on top of the league table with a five point lead over second-place Tottenham Hotspur. Who doesn’t love a good underdog story?
The media and, as a result, the public, have eaten this right up. Leicester fit the typical trope of the underdog — they don’t have big name players who are easy to like for their rugged histories, they don’t splash cash as easily as the Manchester clubs or Chelsea do, and they have never been part of title talk before. In fact, in their 132 year history, they have never won a top-tier title, finishing second in 1928-1929. Leicester are hard not to love, really. Except when you remember a few things.
For example, the Foxes are not exactly the financially-strapped team everyone keeps claiming they are. The club’s chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, leaves home matches in a helicopter, which he lands on the King Power Stadium pitch for all the media to see. The Thai businessman, who named the stadium after his travel retail company King Power, is worth $3 billion, per Forbes. But you already knew that. In fact, you probably thought it was a cute little thing, just like you think Leicester is a cute little team. You probably don’t see it as an obnoxious show of wealth.
This may be a tiny misrepresentation of the Foxes in the media, but nothing quite shows the media’s blind embrace of Leicester City than the glorification of one Jamie Vardy. Vardy, like his club, fits the underdog trope. He readily admits he had a reputation as a ‘bad boy’ that inspired him to clean up his act and mature. He’s never been a regular in the top flights in any country, spending his early career playing non-professional soccer. But, all of a sudden, the forward is circling the top of the scoring charts, currently with 22, two behind Tottenham’s Harry Kane, breaking records as he goes. Hard not to like a guy that, in the words of Drake, started at the bottom.
Easy to forget that just weeks before the season began, a video was published of Vardy calling a man of East Asian descent a “Jap.” Vardy got the bare minimum of punishment by his club — a fine and enrollment in a “diversity awareness” class. The man said sorry and that was that. You’d think the guy would get a harder punishment, as this was all before his twenty-plus goal season and before he was being declared a potential starter at EURO 2016. But no one pushed. No one cared, and so Vardy’s season was really able to begin without a hitch.
This is the same media that slammed Luis Suarez for allegedly using racist language towards Patrice Evra. That type of pressure resulted in an eight match ban for the Uruguayan striker, who was also scoring goals at remarkable pace. But Vardy didn’t get in trouble by the FA until he shouted expletives at a white man, referee Jonathan Moss, after he was sent off. Still, members of the media called his red card harsh, and not much disgrace was thrown in Vardy’s direction as he blatantly disrespected a referee. Still likable?
This depiction of Leicester has also come at the expense of Tottenham Hotspur, who capitalized on Leicester’s two dropped points this weekend, taking the gap from seven points to five. To the media’s credit, a lot of light has shone upon the young Englishmen that have led Tottenham to victory after victory this season, attention that has translated to England caps galore and appearances in the PFA Team of the Year. But Spurs have been shortchanged.
Just a little more than a week ago, many were celebrating Leicester’s win over Sunderland as them winning the title. Many were remarking that Leicester had created a ten-point gap at the top of the table. Not many added after that Tottenham were still to play against Manchester United, a match they ended up winning 3-0. Not many people discussed that the gap remained at 7 points even after the conclusion of both matches. All of this is remarkable, considering the English media’s bias towards English players, of which Tottenham boast possibly the best of the best.
The media were handed a gift this season in covering a brand new story, one that is certainly for the ages. However, they have failed to present a complete image of the league leaders. Leicester City, like anything else in life, is not perfect. It is flawed; it is complex. The fact that we do not regularly see those complexities shows that the mainstream media has failed in one of their main tasks: being the watchdog of the institutions they cover.