Biggest party in Leicester’s history gets fairytale ending

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LEICESTER — From the moment the sun came up until the moment it went down, May 7, 2016 will live in the memory of Leicester City fans forever.

[ MORE: Leicester City’s miracle ]

Scratch that. It’s a day citizens of Leicester will never forget.

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From flares being let off in the street in the morning, to dance parties and spraying champagne outside the King Power Stadium before the game, the entire Midlands city of just over 300,000 people came to a standstill to salute their champions.

On Saturday Leicester City’s captain Wes Morgan lifted the Premier League trophy into the air to mark the Foxes’ first top-flight title win in their 132-year history. They were supposed to get relegated this season but shocked everyone to win it all. This felt like a scene from a movie.

It felt like Leicester was at the center of the universe. It probably was. It was the greatest day in their history.

With the sun beating down on Leicester, the party was in full swing from way before midday. Banners of every player and the manager adorned lamp posts along the main city streets and messages from national bookmakers Ladbrokes proudly stated “Congratulations, Leicester City! We’ve paid out £3 million” in their shop window near Leicester market.

Of course, I’m sure you don’t need reminding, but Leicester were 5000-1 to win the PL title before this season began. They’ve lost just three games out of 37 so far this season and have become the first new champion of England since Nottingham Forest in 1978. They’ve come from nowhere to inspire the world that true underdog stories can still happen as they’ve defied the powerful and wealthy elite of the Premier League.

I spoke to one Leicester fan who was choking up as he sipped on a beer and took in the sights around him. He was in his 60s and even though he’d had five days for it to sink in, he couldn’t believe it.

A group of lads I sat with in a pub in the center of town just sat there with massive grins on their faces.

Every direction you looked in you saw signs marking Leicester’s title win, in shop windows, hanging from churches, at the train station, car windows had flags hanging out of them. Since they won the title on Monday night courtesy of Tottenham Hotspur drawing at Chelsea, the last five days has been one huge party.

Leicester fans told me that they took it easier after Tuesday and were saving themselves for Saturday. It certainly looked like that.

As I walked through the streets, Leicester City’s flag was flying on the famous cathedral, fans were hanging out in pubs and a mob of Italian supporters who had flown over from Italy to salute Ranieri were rampaging around town.

Speaking to some of Ranieri’s Italian fans, they told me they flew in this morning from all over Italy to witness this moment. They wanted to salute what their countryman had achieved.

Walking the streets from the central area just over a mile to the King Power Stadium, cars along the way honked their horns and families walked to the stadium together with huge smiles on their faces. The local pubs were packed to the rafters with Kasabian, the city’s favorite rock band, blaring out of the speakers. Everyone said similar things: “I can’t believe this is happening!” and “Is this real?”

Leicester must have been the happiest city on the planet on Saturday. I’m sure of it.

Outside the stadium the local Sikh community were handing out free food and providing entertainment, a gospel choir was in full flow and thousands of fans who couldn’t get tickets to the game — some tickets were being sold for around $10,000 each by scalpers — partied in the streets. Free pizza, beer and crisps (potato chips) were given out to home fans and even though the heavens opened and a huge rain storm rolled in an hour before kick off, the party went on. Nothing could dampen the spirits of the people of Leicester.

Leicester is a hugely multicultural city and people of different faith and race spoke to me about how this day, this team, this title had brought all of the people of the city together.

32,140 fans packed into the stadium and were given a real treat from start to finish.

Andrea Bocelli brought the house down with his pregame performance on the pitch as the legendary Italian tenor stood side-by-side with Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri who had arranged the impromptu gig. It was spine-tingling.

Cries of “Champions of England, we know what we are!” and “Stand up for the Champions!” began early and Leicester’s fans went through the full repertoire of songs, lauding Ranieri for taking their team to the UEFA Champions League and soon they were singing the famous “Jamie Vardy‘s having a party!” song.

Vardy — as he likes to do — started the party early with a neat finish from Andy King‘s pinpoint cross and then King himself, the man who’s been with Leicester since their days in the third-tier, got in on the act as he added a second.

The Mexican wave then came out as the party atmosphere was cranked up a few notches despite the pouring rain and thunder and lightning overhead.

Leicester were rampant, going close through Riyad Mahrez, Wes Morgan and Vardy again, with the Foxes marking their special day with a special performance against a subpar Everton.

At half time Leicester lad Mark Selby, who won the Snooker World Championship on the same night Leicester won the PL, was paraded around the pitch along with former legends such as Gordon Banks.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07: Leicester City supporters enjoy the atmosphere prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

In the second half Vardy added another from the penalty spot and then Everton’s woeful defense gave away another penalty which Vardy this time ballooned over as he missed the chance to grab a hat trick. That would have been too perfect, wouldn’t it? Late on Kevin Mirallas pulled one back as the game ended 3-1. In truth, nobody cared about the action on the pitch.

One more rendition of “Championes, championes, ole, ole, ole!” was belted out in stoppage time as the final whistle saw incredible celebrations in the stands and on the pitch.

When the game was over the moment everybody had really turned up for arrived.

At 7:40 pm local time, Morgan stood tall and proud as he clutched the PL trophy and thrust it into the air with Ranieri and his teammates by his side.

The fans went wild. The world watched on. Leicester City were crowned Premier League champions on a day the Midlands city will never, ever forget.

It was a perfect day to cap a fairytale season and as fans streamed out of the King Power the party was set to continue long into the night. It probably won’t stop for weeks, if not months. The magnitude of what this city in Leicestershire has witnessed over the past nine months is indescribable. We may never see a more unpredictable title win in Premier League history. This may well be the best moment in PL history.

And Leicester will likely never, ever see another party like this.

Cole returns to Chelsea as youth team coach

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One of Chelsea’s best players in club history is back at his old stomping grounds in a new role.

Chelsea finally confirmed over their social media channels that former left back Ashley Cole is back at the club coaching in the academy, helping the next generation of stars grow and learn the games. Specifically, Cole is coaching the U-15 squad.

[READ: Top Premier League Storylines]

“I’m also doing my badges at the moment and so being here at Chelsea means I have the chance to coach every day, whereas maybe if I wasn’t working at a club it would be hard for me to get the hours in,” Cole told Chelsea’s website. “I’m learning not just how to be a coach and how to speak to people in a different environment but the side of coaching that you don’t see like planning the sessions and setting up the equipment.

“As a player, you just turn up for a session and do it. If it’s a possession drill, you just arrive and try to keep the ball but now I’m getting to understand that there are always ideas behind a particular session or practice. Organization has to be key and those are the little details that it takes to be a great coach.”

While plenty from Cole’s era have moved into the media for lucrative punditry roles, it’s nice to see players like Cole and his former teammate Frank Lampard, now Chelsea coach, go into coaching to help pass on some of the great lessons they’ve learned during their careers. .

Cole said in the interview that he wasn’t sure what was next after playing three seasons for the LA Galaxy and then joining Lampard at Derby County for the second half of last season. He added that he got his first taste of coaching kids while with the Galaxy, helping some of the academy players and taking part in video sessions.

“The Academy are very good at giving ex-players a route back to the club and a chance to learn as coaches,” Cole said. “They’re eager to bring in people who understand what it means to be at Chelsea and what it means to wear the badge. You have to be a top player to play for Chelsea so they want those top ex-players influencing and trying to help the next generation develop and be better players.”

Spanish FA once again opposes La Liga match in U.S.

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For the second consecutive season, La Liga and Relevant Sports have proposed a league match to take place this winter in the U.S.

And once again, the La Liga proposal doesn’t have the support of its national soccer federation.

[READ: La Liga wants to move Villarreal-Atletico Madrid to Miami]

Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), told reporters on Thursday that it would oppose the match taking place outside of Spain’s borders, keeping a consistent line in the sand on how far globalization can go in soccer.

“It would disrupt the competition,” Rubiales said, via AS. “To play a game in Miami, La Liga needs permission from five bodies that it doesn’t have.”

The five bodies Rubiales referred to are the RFEF, FIFA, CONCACAF, U.S. Soccer and MLS.

Last time around, Relevant Sports and La Liga announced a long-term, lucrative marketing contract to expand the brand’s footprint in the Americas, and soon after, petitioned to move Girona’s home game against Barcelona to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, the home stadium of Relevant Sports owner Stephen Ross and his Miami Dolphins.

Ultimately, La Liga president Javier Tebas and Relevant Sports were unable to get permission from the RFEF or FIFA to hold the event outside Spain and it went off as expected in Girona. At the time, Spain’s player’s union and fans groups opposed the move. Tebas has filed a lawsuit in Spain to try to force the RFEF to approve their request, but it seems unlikely to be awarded and it surely doesn’t provide any good will between the two parties.

There’s been plenty of talk about bringing league games abroad before, but it has just been talk so far. The Premier League considered adding an extra game to the season to be played all over the world, but never went through with creating plans for matches.

Associations – not leagues, to be clear – have brought things like Super Cups abroad. For example, the RFEF moved the 2018 Spanish Super Cup to Tangiers, Morocco, while the France Football Federation has brought its national Super Cup match to both the U.S. and Montreal, Canada in recent years. However, the argument in favor of bringing those games abroad is they’re basically meaningless. Meanwhile, one result in a league season could – in theory – determine whether a team is relegated or not, especially if the margin is three points or less.

We could see another legal fight on our hands, so watch this space, there’s plenty more to come.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday’s prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

“Today is Lacazette’s first training back with us,” Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. “He finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

“The most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.”

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there’s already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette’s return also couldn’t have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal’s high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

“[Tierney is] ready to play,” Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player. It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.”

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.