Whether happiness and success are linked or opposites has been debated for centuries. In creative arts, misery seems more linked with genius. But football offers us a different view, at least this year.
For readers who think football's a bore, I must say that I find it a rich source of insights and analogies for life generally. So bear with me for a few paragraphs.
In May 2015, Leicester City narrowly escaped relegation from the Premier League. Now, in April 2016, they look likely to be League Champions for this season. The turnaround has a lot to do with happiness. To show how unlikely this success is, Leicester spent much of the 2014/15 season in the relegation zone. They started the current season as favourites for relegation, with their manager favourite for first manager to be fired, and odds of 5000 to 1 on winning the League.
Most of Leicester’s players are unchanged from the struggles of the previous season – this is not a team with big ticket bought-in stars and massive egos to match. When Leicester appointed Claudio Ranieri as manager early in this season, many (including me) though they’d made a bad mistake. Ranieri is oldish, 64 years old, with a mediocre track record.
But the Ranieri we’ve seen this season is happy, sweet, even playful guy, who has clearly given his players permission to enjoy every match. They’re a team who just seem to be happy to play football, without the angst and pressure of big-name teams with big reputations to defend.
Technical stats suggest Leicester are not that great: for example, their pass accuracy at 70% is awful. Ranieri says, “The first thing I said to players is for them not to worry too much about tactics.” Clearly, spirit and fun count for more!
Even as the season nears its climax, and expectations are huge, the team seem to be playing to enjoy the moment, and Ranieri is staying pretty calm. In a recent interview on Match of the Day, he was asked “Do you feel it’s becoming a real possibility now?” He smiled, and said “What? Oh, you mean the championship?”