Game Theory: Top 4 Contenders Leicester City Should Absolutely Keep Jamie Vardy

A few days ago I wrote probably my most controversial blog, where I said emphatically that Leicester City has to sell Jamie Vardy in January.  The most interesting part to me is that I never actually tweeted the link to it – @FanalyticsBlog auto-posted it like it does with all my blogs (and many other excellent soccer analytics blogs), and it got a decent number of retweets pretty quickly (and was later picked up by a Dutch soccer account that may or may not have liked it – Google Translate was unclear). I came back from teaching and apparently Soccer Analytics TwitterTM was debating it pretty heavily. Tom Worville and Mike Goodman made some interesting points about why I was wrong, and someone whose name I forget pointed out I ignored the damage to the fan base (something I’d written about previously and did ignore here).

Since then, things have changed, and changed dramatically. Leicester City won a difficult road game at Swansea, continuing to overachieve, and it’s now a very realistic possibility that they qualify for the Champions League.  Here’s my model as of Saturday:

Week 15-1 Final Table

I’ve got them in 4th place currently, edging Liverpool and Spurs for the final Champions League spot. 1 I’m not the only one, @GoalImpact’s has them in 4th,  @Stats4Footy has them in 5th place, and Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) has them in 6th, but with an almost 30% chance of qualifying for the Champions League.

None of our models are perfect, but when so many of them cluster around such an unusual finding it’s really compelling evidence: Leicester City is for real.

This is a truly historic year for Leicester City. I wrote about their overachievement a couple of weeks ago, and in that article I mentioned that their next 6 games would be tough but that MOTSON didn’t expect much from them. MOTSON predicted ~6 points in 6 games, and so far they’ve earned 4 points out of 2 games with struggling Chelsea coming up soon. There’s no reason they can’t pick up even more points over the next 4 games, which is a truly scary though for Liverpool and Spurs.

If they have a real chance of making it into the Champions League (and an even better chance of staying in the Top 6 for the Europa League places), Leicester City has to keep Jamie Vardy (and Riyad Mahrez) at least until the end of the season. I’m still a believer in selling players at their peak value, but a special season like this changes the economic calculus. Formally, it looks like this:

Pr(Champions League)*Money Gained from Champions League – Value(Vardy/MahrezJanuary-August)

Ignoring the emotional component for a minute (and I acknowledge that it is important), the Champions League can mean a huge financial infusion for Leicester City. All the models have them at somewhere around 30-40% likely to qualify as of today, so multiply that number * the money gained from qualifying for the Champions League.2. If that number is greater than the premium they would get for Mahrez and/or Vardy in January compared to selling in August, they should keep the players. I’m more optimistic about the January “panic premium” than most, and I don’t think it would be that much compared to what they’d get for the two in August, especially the younger Mahrez.

The opportunity to qualify for the Champions League, or at the very least the Europa League is very real, and as long as Leicester City keeps this pace up through mid-January they shouldn’t sell their stars. If they slip, or Liverpool/Spurs gets really hot and things change, then it might be time to sell. But I’ve changed my mind – if the Champions League is a real possibility then they have to pursue that. They have to keep Jamie Vardy until at least August.






  1. If Liverpool wins Sunday, they’ll likely edge back ahead – MOTSON doesn’t have them as much of a favorite over Newcastle, and actually thinks a draw is the most likely outcome at 42%.
  2. The actual calculus would be the probability of qualifying for the group stage, which is where the money is earned, but I’m simplifying here for the sake of readability. One should also add the money from the Europa League which isn’t substantial for big clubs~! but would be for someone like Leicester City.

    One can also picture a second level where one big season gives Leicester City a boost that keeps them in the Premier League for X extra years, and the money that comes from that. The math can get as complicated as you want, and the more complicated it gets the more it tips the balance in favor of keeping Vardy.

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