Football is a game of highs and lows, but few English clubs have seen such dramatic extremes in recent years as those experienced by Leicester City. In this article, we’ll run through their impressive rise from the third tier to the top flight and – against all the odds – how they became Premier League champions. Alas, we’ll also outline how things came crashing down in the 2022/23 season. But let’s pick things up with the Foxes languishing in League One.
2007/08 to 2008/09 – The Only Way is Up
For Leicester City, the 2007/08 campaign in the Championship (second tier) was a complete mess. Including caretakers, a total of eight men had a hand in (mis)managing the club as they ended in 22nd position and got relegated to the third tier. After Ian Holloway was shown the door, former Southampton boss Nigel Pearson was handed the manager’s job and tasked with getting the Foxes back into the second tier.
Pearson achieved that at the first time of asking, winning League One with a total of 96 points, seven more than their nearest rival. The next task facing Pearson: get Leicester into the Premier League.
2009/10 to 2014/15 – The Long Road to Promotion
Pearson almost led Leicester to back-to-back promotions, guiding them to a fifth-place finish in the Championship and into the play-offs. They lost out to Cardiff in the semis, however, and – after a somewhat disjointed relationship with chairman Milan Mandaric, Pearson left the club to join Hull.
It wasn’t long before Pearson returned, however. Mandaric left the club in 2011 and the new chairman Vichai Raksriaksorn reappointed Pearson. That faith was restored as the side’s performances picked up and they made it into the play-offs once again in the 2012/13 season. This time they lost out to Watford in the semis. But, unlike their last play-off defeat, Pearson was kept on board and given another crack at promotion.
That proved a wise decision as the very next season, Leicester took the Championship by storm and won the division with a brilliant total of 102 points, helped by the goals of David Nugent and Jamie Vardy. The big question now was, could Leicester do enough to avoid relegation from the top flight the next season? The answer: yes, and with room to spare. They finished in 14th position in 2014/15 in the Premier League with a total of 41 points on the board. Unfortunately for Nigel Pearson, however, relations with the board had soured somewhat due to certain off-the-field complications (allegedly involving Pearson’s son, racism and a sex tape!). He was replaced by Italian former Chelsea boss, Claudio Ranieri. It would prove a masterful appointment.
2015/16 – The 5,000/1 Premier League Champions
At the start of the 2015/16, few had any real expectations of Leicester challenging for anything except perhaps relegation. And though they had a reasonable start to the campaign (three wins and three draws from their opening six), when the Foxes got battered 5-2 at home to Arsenal towards the end of September, a title challenge looked fanciful, to say the least. Few could have predicted at the time (indeed few did!) that Leicester would only lose two more games all season, the return match against Arsenal and a 1-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield.
They first hit the top of the table in November 2015 after beating Newcastle 3-0 at St James’ Park. But they slipped to second after a draw at Old Trafford, and then (after regaining top spot) again dropped to second after that defeat at Liverpool. But a 3-0 home win over Stoke on 23rd January 2016 sent them top again… and there they stayed for the rest of the season!
While Pearson can claim some credit for helping to build the team that defied all the odds in the 2015/16, there’s little doubt that Claudio Ranieri was the man to mastermind the unlikely run for the title. The squad included some top performances in all areas of the pitch. Kasper Schmeichel in goal, Wes Morgan and Robert Huth in defence and N’Golo Kante in that crucial defensive midfield role ensured the Foxes were extremely difficult to score against. While the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez provided the goals, pace and magic to fire Leicester to the title.
The miracle had happened: Leicester had won the Premier League, fully 10 points clear of second-placed Arsenal and a massive 15 points ahead of both Man City and Man United. Could they take the fairytale to the next level and win the following season’s Champions League? Well, no, but in truth they had a decent run in that competition too!
2016/17 to 2021/22 – Steady Sailing in Top Flight
There was a relatively disappointing campaign the following season, when Leicester finished 12th in the Premier League; although they had a decent enough run in the Champions League, making it to the quarter-finals where they went out to Atletico Madrid (2-1 on aggregate). But Ranieri wasn’t around to see that defeat. Despite leading the club to their first-ever top-flight title, he was sacked in February 2017 (reportedly after a player revolt!).
There followed a couple of years of relative instability as neither Craig Shakespeare nor Claude Puel could get near emulating Ranieri’s success. But the Foxes finished in ninth place in both 2017/18 and 2018/19, the latter of which was partly due to Brendan Rodgers, the former Liverpool and Celtic boss, having joined as Leicester manager in February 2019.
Rodgers didn’t do badly at Leicester overall and led the Foxes to their first-ever FA Cup success in 2020/21 when they beat Chelsea 1-0 in the final at Wembley. He also guided the club to back-to-back fifth-place finishes in 2019/20 and 2020/21, followed by a still-respectable eighth-place in 2021/22. But then things went rather pear-shaped.
2022/23 – The Sinking of the Leicester Ship
What goes up must – eventually – come down. And from the dizzy heights of being the champions of the Premier League, there really is only one way a side can go (well, unless you go on to win it several times and throw in a treble for good measure…).
By 2022/23, the squad was a pale shadow of the one which won the title. And though some of the key personnel remained, it’s fair to say they didn’t perform nearly as well. Jamie Vardy, for instance, was scoring for fun in 2015/16 when he notched 24 league goals. In the Premier League in 2022/23, Vardy mustered just three league strikes!
A team is never going to finish high up the table with misfiring forwards, and it’s notable that the highest-scoring forward for Leicester was Kelechi Iheanacho who managed only five league goals. Midfielders Harvey Barnes and James Madison were the only players to make it to double figures (13 and 10 league goals respectively). Indeed, after the Foxes lost six of their opening seven games (and only drew the other), the writing was on the wall.
To be fair to Rodgers, he stuck to the task and got some points on the board around the middle of the campaign. But a poor run early in 2023 ultimately cost him his job and he was sacked in early April 2023. Former Norwich and Aston Villa boss Dean Smith came in with the remit to save the Foxes’ skin. Alas, he failed, as Leicester ended up in 18th position in the Premier League, two points behind the safety of 17th (occupied by Everton).
And so it’s the second tier for Leicester City once more. Whether they can return to the top flight any time soon remains to be seen. But for Leicester fans, at least the last decade or so has been pretty darn exciting, to say the least.