One minute they're a team that's the toast of the Premier League. Their manager has been named the LMA boss of the year and the club's young striker has gone from anonymity to PFA Award nominee and Arsenal-linked star inside two years. A squad made up of players cast off from bigger clubs, or plucked from smaller ones, has exceeded all expectations to bring their fans success they've never even dreamed of. Yet 12 months later the club is crumbling under the pressure of a most unexpected relegation battle.
While the above seems to sum up the Leicester City of 2017 quite nicely, it's also just what happened to Steve Coppell's Reading nine years ago.
Like most football fans, I was enthralled by Leicester's run to the title last season. It was a story that gave supporters of every single club across the country belief that yes, you could actually take on the big boys and win. However, there was always that little voice in the back of my head saying... 'but wait, is this squad really that good?'.
Fast-forward nine months and it's plain to see why Leicester found themselves on the brink of relegation a year before their title triumph. The never say die, hard working, gutsy performances have evaporated, while the extra sprinkling of quality from players including Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez has seemingly faded as well. Last season's engine room N'Golo Kante is now powering another title challenger in Chelsea, as new signings brought into the club fail to fill the void.
That Sinking Feeling
Chances are if you watched Reading between 2005 and 2008 you're already drawing similar comparisons. Steve Coppell's team that stormed to the title in 2006 before finishing 8th in the Premier League 12 months later, had some strikingly comparable components to today's strugglers from the East Midlands.
At Reading, you had an arguably over-achieving journeyman core of Murty, Ingimarsson, Gunnarsson, Harper, Hahnemann & Sonko suddenly reverting to the form that had seen them largely overlooked for up to a decade previously. You could point at Morgan, Huth, Drinkwater, Albrighton and Simpson and likewise argue that they've reverted back to their normal level.
Kevin Doyle was nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year in 2007 but less than a year later would cut a frustrated figure out wide and out of the goals. Jamie Vardy anyone? Likewise, Doyle's brash young striking partner of Leroy Lita went from enjoying a brilliant summer with England U21's to failing to find the net until the last day of the season. For Mahrez, just look at Glen Little, who likewise couldn't provide the magic to provide vital goals.
A Hole In The Engine Room
Yet most crucially of all for that Reading side, the heart of the team walked out to join Chelsea. Steve Sidwell may not be having the impact that Kante is having at Stamford Bridge but the impact on the club he left behind is just as painful.
Both Reading and Leicester tried to fill the void. Reading broke their transfer record to sign Emerse Fae, an unqualified bust who featured just eight times in the Premier League before being sold to Nice. Leicester turned to Nice themselves for a new midfielder and splashed out £13 million to sign Nampalys Mendy, who's so far managed just four league appearances.
Steve Coppell and Claudio Ranieri are two managers that just about everyone in football respects but Sir Steve couldn't and Ranieri seemingly can't stop rapid declines from their squads. Coppell was LMA Manager of the Year in 2007, with Ranieri scooping the honours just last year yet within a short time both look shells of the men who seemed to have the footballing world and their squads in awe of them.
Previously happy players are suddenly unhappy or gossiping behind the scenes. Leonardo Ulloa may have taken his displeasure public but Stephen Hunt had admitted he was just as agitated to get a move away from Reading in the January window of our relegation campaign. Other members of the squad have also made noises about moving on and it doesn't take much for players to have their head turned when the bigger boys come calling. Both Reading and Leicester relied a lot on a overpowering team spirit to make up for not having great quality and once that spirit fades, flaws only become more noticeable.
A False Sense Of Security
Jon Keen's excellent book, 'The Sum Of The Parts' chronicles Reading's decline in far better detail than I could muster, but one of the things that stands out the most is how the players didn't even sense they were in a relegation battle until it was far too late. Players were clinging on to past successes long after it was time to put them away and re-focus.
Both Reading and Leicester started the seasons following their biggest success in decent enough shape. Both took four points from their first four, both earned creditable 0-0's against big clubs (Reading at Manchester Utd, Leicester against Arsenal) before going on to enjoy good winters to ease any relegation fears. Steve Coppell's side took nine points in December 2007 including a 3-1 win over Liverpool. Leicester themselves earned seven in a month that saw them beat Pep Guardiola's Manchester City 4-2.
Reading would go on to win just four games from January 12 and so far it's three defeats in three for Leicester.....
Will Ranieri's men suffer the same fate as we did in 2008? I'd like to hope not but if it does happen, they can't say they haven't been warned at how quickly things can go wrong. You can never take away the amazing memories of past successes, but if you're a Leicester fan reading this, don't expect those memories to erase the pain of a most unexpected and needless relegation. As Reading fans know only too well, there's a chance those good times might take a long time to return.