Former Leicester City manager Martin O’Neill has admitted that he doubted their Premier League title charge – until January.
The 64-year-old is generally regarded as one of the most successful managers in the club’s history, heralding an era of consistent top-10 finishes, two League Cup triumphs and Uefa Cup qualification in the late nineties.
But Claudio Ranieri is going several steps further, already eclipsing Leicester’s previous record points tally (55) in the Premier League era, with Champions League football increasingly seeming an inevitability.
The Foxes have never reached European football’s elite competition but are 14 points clear of fifth-placed West Ham United – who have an extra game – with eight matches to play.
“I could not believe that they could have done it at Christmas time even in January,” O’Neill said at the LMA president’s dinner. “The first time I felt they had a chance was when I heard the Manchester City manager say after he qualified for the League Cup final that he had nine games that month and another nine in February.
“At the same time there were 15 games left in the league. Leicester were out of everything else. That was the first time I thought they could and since then I have not changed my mind. It has been a fantastic effort.”
O’Neill’s complimentary words come just weeks after West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis joked he had become a Leicester fan following an impressive 2-2 draw for his side at the King Power Stadium.
“I hope Leicester win the league,” the Welshman said.
“Nottingham Forest, when they won the league under Brian Clough were rank outsiders; if Leicester do it it’s an even bigger achievement.
“The gap [in resources between Champions League clubs and the rest of the Premier League] is enormous and I’d love to see them do it.”