The Faroe Islands and the Premier League’s most unpredictable season

© Getty Images Sport – Ian MacNicol

©Getty Images Sport – Ian MacNicol

It’s looking increasingly likely that there will be a new name on the Premier League trophy this season. If they stay the course then that name is going to be Leicester City’s. Threatened with relegation at this time last year, Leicester’s transformation into genuine title contenders has to go down as one of the most remarkable stories in football history. There are countless factors that have contributed to the stratospheric rise of a club that began 2015 rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table, but a remarkable away performance by the Faroe Islands in November 2014 may have played a key role.

Claudio Ranieri’s tenure as Greece Head Coach was a short one. The Italian was appointed in the summer of 2014, and took charge of the former European champions for just four games. The Greeks had returned from a successful but ultimately disappointing 2014 World Cup, where they were narrowly eliminated from the last 16 by an unfancied Costa Rica side featuring an inspired Kaylor Navas in goal. Manager Fernando Santos’ contract expired the day after that deflating loss, and Ranieri stepped in to fill the managerial vacancy.

Come November and winless Greece were rock bottom of an uncompetitive Euro 2016 qualifying group they might realistically have expected to win. Greece’s fourth fixture of the campaign was a home tie against world football minnows the Faroe Islands – a great opportunity to chalk up a first win of the group stage and turn their qualification prospects around. 90 minutes later and Ranieri was once more jobless, sacked after his toothless Greek side succumbed to a 61st minute strike from Jóan Edmundsson. In England, Nigel Pearson’s Leicester City side were 18th in the table, with just nine points from 11 games.

Following that defeat to the Faroe Islands, Claudio Ranieri became something of a laughing stock in international football. The gentle Italian with his broken English and quizzical expression was an easy target for lazy journalists and unimaginative pundits, and his eight-month sabbatical from the game was enough time for many fans to forget that he once steered Chelsea to 2nd place in the Premier League, behind only an Arsenal side that finished the year unbeaten.

Ranieri was appointed Leicester City Manager following the sacking of Nigel Pearson in the summer of 2015. Pearson had just overseen a remarkable turnaround in the club’s fortunes, keeping Leicester up when it seemed they were doomed to relegation. A number of off-field controversies meant that Pearson’s sacking was inevitable, but Ranieri’s appointment in his stead was unexpected to say the least. Writing days after the Italian joined the club’s coaching staff, The Guardian’s Marcus Christensen wrote: “if Leicester wanted someone nice, they’ve got him. If they wanted someone to keep them in the Premier League, then they may have gone for the wrong guy.”

What has happened since then has made fools of countless pundits, as well as more fancied teams who visited the King Power Stadium expecting an easy three points. No-one could have predicted that Leicester City would be top of the Premier League in March 2016, with the so-called ‘Tinkerman’ in charge of the most settled squad in the division. Spurs are breathing down their necks, but bar an unprecedented reversal in form Leicester will enjoy European football next season at the very least. The players deserve all the plaudits they’re getting – Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante chief among them – as does the Leicester City board for making such a brave and left-field appointment. Ranieri, of course, should be in the reckoning for manager of the year this season. But save some praise for the Faroe Islands. Without that historic win in Greece Ranieri might still be in charge of the national side, and the most unpredictable season in Premier League history would have looked very different.