Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Rise of Leicester City ... and Donald Trump

Two weird and miraculous things happened this week, one in England and one in the United States.

One says a lot about soccer and the other about our nation, the latter not in a particularly flattering way. But they are, I believe, connected.

In the English Premier League, Leicester City, a soccer club that had never won a championship at the highest level of English football in its 132 years of existence, triumphed over the biggest clubs with some of the highest payrolls in the world, clinching the title when Tottenham Hotspur could only manage a draw against London rival Chelsea. Spurs' tie put Leicester's seven point lead out of reach with two matches to play.

To put things in perspective, the metropolitan area of Leicester has about the same population as that of Kalamazoo, Michigan, while Spurs and Chelsea have that of, well, New York City (if you need something other than London as a reference). The Foxes' payroll was 17th in the Premier League at about 48 million pounds (or approximately $70 million), certainly nothing to sneeze at, but chump change in comparison to the 110.5 million pounds ($160 million) that Spurs spent to finish first last or the 215.6 million pounds ($312.5 million) that Chelsea paid out to finish ninth.

Leicester's heroes are easy to identify now, but would not have been recognized as such until very recently: leading scorer Jamie Vardy was playing non-league football four years ago; midfield wizard Riyad Mahrez was signed for a pittance two years ago; and manager Claudio Ranieri, of whom Jose Mourinho once famously said was "almost 70 ... and hasn't won anything" (Ranieri was 56 at the time), really hadn't ever won much of anything.

Mahrez (left) and his notably diverse teammates celebrate a goal.
(photo from

The Foxes are the type of club that, if they weren't English, would embody the American dream. They are the epitome of grit and determination; of punching above your weight; of believing in your collective self when all around you don't even give you a thought, let alone a chance. Theirs is the story of immigrants and itinerants, of castoffs and factory workers, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and making something wonderful of themselves collectively: The whole greater than the sum of the parts. How much more American can you get?

That's what I used to believe the American ideal was. But that was before Donald Trump, whose apparent ascendence to the Republican nomination for President is the second phenomenon of the week.

We are now, or at least a significant minority of us are, the inconsolably aggrieved. We're not interested in helping ourselves. We are unhappy with the changing world around us and instead of figuring out how to fix it, or how to adapt and lead the way as we have done for a century, we prefer to attach ourselves to a bully, a lying huckster offering not fixes but simply to point the collective middle finger of blame anywhere but at ourselves.

When asked to explain their support of a narcissistic shill with no sketch for the future let alone a road map, Trumpites resort to calling him "genuine" and "believable" and ascribing to him similar traits only slightly more oxymoronic than the notion of a billionaire populist.

There's no thought to how we might actually make America great again (even if we're not, or even if we can). Just the mindless choosing of the easy way out by blaming others and yearning for what some assumed to be a birthright - to be at the top of whatever little heap we had mentally staked out as our own.

When conservative talking heads bash soccer as being "un-American" I used to just ignore it as simple pandering. But, turns out, they may be on to something. 

If Leicester City is the new soccer, and Trump the new America.