What a ride! Like all rollercoasters, Leicester City’s has come to its final juddering halt, and though theirs had more rises than it had falls over the past three seasons, it has not been without its low moments. In the end, however, it will be a journey few around Leicester will ever forget.
From promotion back to the Premier League to the amazing winning run under Nigel Pearson to retain their top-flight status the following season, most Foxes supporters would have been happy enough with their team’s recent performances.
So to then be playing Atletico Madrid in a Champions League quarter-final as Premier League champions and England’s sole representative left in the competition is beyond the wildest dreams of the majority of their supporters. Many, one would imagine, will wake up on Wednesday pondering whether it all was just the most enjoyable sleeps of their lives.
Defeat to Atletico is no disgrace given Diego Simeone’s side’s performances in this competition over the last four seasons, and for much of the first half they never looked like springing a shock. The Rojiblancos were happy to let Leicester have the ball in midfield while Diego Godin was immense in dealing with Jamie Vardy. Craig Shakespeare’s side were being beaten at their own game – the team who defied all expectations finally put in their place.
But this is Leicester, and they just do not know when they are beaten. Shakespeare threw on Leonardo Ulloa and Ben Chilwell at the break and switched to a 3-4-3 formation with Riyad Mahrez given freedom to come off the right-wing and roam in between the lines. The changes worked, and Vardy’s equaliser on the night was thoroughly well deserved.
The Foxes smelt blood, but they could not force the ball home despite throwing everything at the Atletico defence. In the end most of the home side were out on their feet, unable to give anymore. They leave European football behind – perhaps for a lengthy period of time – with their heads held high.
And though the fairy tale ended in disappointment, no one can take anything away from this Leicester side. From Jamie Vardy’s goal record to amazing wins over Manchester City and Liverpool. From Eden Hazard’s equaliser against Tottenham to the superb comeback win over Sevilla. All of these memories will go down in legend. None of them will be forgotten.
Leicester’s success will no doubt have been soured for some given their poor form for much of this season and the subsequent sacking of Claudio Ranieri, but their decision to dispose of the Italian in favour of Shakespeare has at least meant this rollercoaster has not ended in disaster. The man with no previous managerial experience even managed to outwit Simeone in both legs with effective half-time changes.
But it was not to be enough. The Leicester City dreamworld is finally closed for business. Few will ever forget it.