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Foxes in Sheeps' Clothing: Why Has Everyone Fallen for Leicester City?

19/04/2016 17:16 | Updated 20 April 2016

There's an infamous chant sung by Millwall fans, celebrating how little they care about the fact that no-one likes them. The reason for the supposedly universal dislike of this (actually pretty decent) football club is generally felt to be the brutal reputation of their supporters, although an equally unrefined playing style over the years probably hasn't helped much either.

There is another team making headlines at the moment who are no less abrasive in their approach to the beautiful game, and guess what? Everyone loves them.

Leicester City's 2-2 draw against West Ham on Sunday was like their entire season in microcosm, and told us everything about the strengths and weaknesses of a club who, whether or not they end up winning the league, have apparently been crowned The People's Champions.

There was some good stuff: a brilliantly worked and ruthlessly finished opening goal by Jamie Vardy; the all round excellence of the remarkable machine that is N'Golo Kanté; and the never-say-die attitude of the whole team, which leant an air of inevitability to their last minute equaliser.

But there was a whole lot of bad stuff too, not least the very same Vardy verbally abusing the referee after he'd been sent off for diving (yes, that's diving - the 'continental disease' that has blighted our good old English game, and to which good old English teams like Leicester are supposed to represent a refreshing antidote).

Then there was the defensive work of Robert Huth and Wes Morgan. To call it neanderthal would be generous. A better word might be illegal. By no means unique in their approach to defending corners - which basically consists of each of them grappling/wrestling the man he is marking, and hoping he gets away with it - they are nevertheless two of the leading exponents of that particular dark art. Huth in particular got away with it several times during the first half on Sunday, but it finally caught up with them in the 83rd minute, when Morgan was penalised for committing what looked like a clumsy and ill conceived attempt at foreplay on Winston Reid.

In truth, Leicester as a team have been 'getting away with it' all season. They play extremely physical, ultra defensive, counter-attacking football, not unlike a low budget version of Mourinho's Chelsea in their heyday. Like the Chelsea of Terry and co, they play right on - and often just over - the margins of legality. They are clever in the areas of the pitch in which they commit most of their fouls, and have benefited from some extremely generous refereeing. So much so in fact that their fans seemed to take it as something of an affront when some of the major decisions on Sunday didn't go their way - hang on ref, we are The People's Champions, everyone's 'favourite second team', you can't go punishing us like this! (Needless to say this sentiment was vocalised in somewhat less friendly terms.)

One detail from Sunday's game stands out in terms of the team's philosophy: in a match in which they were the home team, and had the opportunity to stretch their lead at the top of the table to ten points, Leicester did not have a single corner. Not one. It's a stat that is almost impossible to believe of a team who are favourites to win the league, and speaks volumes of their unimaginative and unenterprising style of play.

That Leicester have been on the receiving end of apparently undiluted adoration from both pundits and public is down to one thing alone: they are not Chelsea, Arsenal, City or United. They are an entirely unexpected presence at the top of the tree, and one which hasn't had unlimited millions lavished on them (though that's not to say they have been entirely without controversy on the financial front).

So it's not who they are, but who they aren't, that has endeared them to the nation. But history shows that the new kid on the block is not always the straightforwardly sweetness and light alternative to what has gone before. Whether it's Blair coming to power after 18 years of Tory rule or Mike Ashley taking over at Newcastle, it's often just a matter of time before what once felt like a breath of fresh air starts to seem more like the smell of a dead rat in the air conditioning unit.

With just five games to go, it's increasingly looking as if Leicester will be crowned not just People's Champions, but Premier League Champions. Whether they will have done so by fair means or foul is open to debate, but either way it's a reasonable assumption that the club and their supporters - like those of Millwall - won't care.

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