2016: The year of the sporting overachiever

When historians look back at this year in sport, there’s going to be one constant they’ll see throughout, the unlikely victor.

2016 has been a remarkable year of success for teams that usually only taste heartache, however, it wasn’t necessary because they were the best on paper but more because they overachieved.

Now, overachieving has some negative connotations, none of this is to say that the teams mentioned didn’t deserve their accolades, of course they did, they won after all, but perhaps under the same circumstances, the results they achieved would be scarily different.

These are teams that upset the odds and outdid all that was expected of them.

Premier League fairytale

No more was overachieving evident in 2016 than in the English Premier League and the most unlikely champion of all: Leicester City.

Traditionally, the team that pays the highest wages or the most money on transfers has won the Premier League, a team coming from the Championship one season and winning the big prize the following year is relatively unheard of.

Relatively unheard of in all of football too, in England the last team to win the top-flight league title in their first two seasons in the division was Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest in 1978.

This wasn’t a Leicester team filled with international superstars suddenly fuelled by a Middle Eastern oil tycoon either, this was a team filled with overachievers.

From goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel who looked destined to spend his career in his father’s shadow, to Robert Huth who had only fallen down the Premier League ladder since signing for Chelsea early in his career, the same as Danny Simpson and Danny Drinkwater who had both been at Manchester United when their careers began.

There were foreign talents like N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez brought in on cheap fees, both of which finished last season as hot commodities.

Of course, chief amongst the overachieving Foxes was the league’s top scorer and record breaker Jamie Vardy.

Vardy didn’t begin his career in the production line academies of the top clubs, his career began at Stocksbridge Park Steels, an eighth tier club in Sheffield, whose former talents aside from former England winger Chris Waddle, begin and end with Vardy.

After impressing with Halifax Town and Fleetwood Town in non-league, helping the former to the Conference title and first ever elevation to the Football League with 31 goals, Leicester snapped up Vardy for a non-league record £1 million.

He floundered at, he looked nothing like the hotshot striker he’d become, but last season not only did he win Leicester their first league title, he broke former Manchester United striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record of goals in consecutive appearances.

Leicester are now in a serious decline domestically, the loss of Kante has been felt deeply as they sit dangerously close to the relegation zone, positions they occupied in 2015.

However, they continue to over-achieve in Europe, progressing through their first ever UEFA Champions League group with ease.

Perhaps football’s biggest overachievers of this year are Portugal, despite boasting the world’s best player in Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the worst Portuguese sides did their own Leicester by winning the European Championships.

Portugal were fortunate to be playing under the new group phase format which meant they made it to the knockout rounds as a best third place team, finishing below Hungary and Iceland after drawing all three of their games.

They continued to ride their luck in the knockout rounds, leaving it late in extra time to dump out Croatia and needing penalties to dispatch Portugal, their negative tactics effective as they went on to defeat Wales and hosts France in the semi-finals and final – a final in which they lost Ronaldo to injury early on.

In the Rio games, Team GB became the first ever former host nation to surpass it’s medal haul from the games they hosted in the Olympics directly afterwards.

Across the pond

It wasn’t just in Europe that teams were outdoing themselves, on the other side of the Atlantic, the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled a Portugal by having one of basketball’s greatest ever players win the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Although LeBron James’ Cavaliers topped the Eastern Conference by one game over the Toronto Raptors, the team of the season was the Golden State Warriors who went 73-9, breaking the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ regular season record.

The Warriors even went 3-1 up in the finals before succumbing to 2016’s favourite sporting meme of blowing a 3-1 lead.

The Cavaliers won game seven by four points to win their first ever NBA Championship and deny the Warriors the greatest ever season in NBA history  -the 1996 Bulls may have only gone 72-10 but they beat Seattle SuperSonics 4-2 in the finals.

The Peyton Manning story was supposed to have an unhappy ending in America’s favourite sport, the NFL, however, the Denver Broncos upset the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.

Sure, the Broncos could boast the league’s best defence and Pro Bowlers Aquib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., DeMarcus Ware and Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller but offensively they were useless.

39-year-old Manning threw only nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions, the first time he’d thrown more picks than TDs since his rookie season in 1998.

So bad was Manning that during a week 10 game against the Kansas City Chiefs he was benched with a 0.0 Quarterback rating after throwing four interceptions, despite beating Brett Favre’s passing yards record earlier in the game.

Manning would sit out the next six games with an injury as replacement Brock Osweiler led the Broncos to the play-offs, the veteran returned in Week 17 to secure an unlikely first seed finish in the AFC.

Defensive plays got the Broncos to the Super Bowl but on the other side were the Carolina Panthers, not only the NFC’s best team but also the NFL’s best team, like the Warriors they boasted a 15-1 record.

The Panthers also had the league’s best player in league MVP Cam Newton and their own defensive talents in Pro Bowlers: Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly, Kawann Short and Josh Norman.

They were the favourites but the end result for the NFC South side was far from favourable, Denver won 24-10 thanks to it’s defensive players, it’s offense set the record for the fewest yards from a winning Super Bowl team with 194.

Still this season there are overachievers, the Dallas Cowboys finished last season as the worst team in the NFC with a 4-12 record, this year they’re already in the postseason with an 12-2 record thanks to an offensive line and rookie running back in Ezekiel Elliott that is up for MVP candidacy and a rookie Quarterback who wasn’t meant to see much if not any action this season in Dak Prescott.

The world of Pro Wrestling

Even the world of sports entertainment has had its fair share of overachievers, AJ Styles is one of its current World Champions, a wrestler who wasn’t even in WWE last year.

Of course, Styles may have been in rival organisation TNA and in Japan before 2016 but he is currently one of the best performers in the world and totally deserving of his main event push this year.

No, the real story of overachieving comes from the man who has been a recent thorn in Styles’ side, James Ellsworth.

Ellsworth has the look of your stereotypical jobber – they’re the ones who get the stuffing beaten out of them by the real stars to make the stars look good, in fact that was his original role, being fed to up and coming giant Braun Strowman.

However, Ellsworth’s look won him a lot of fans and since then he’s been thrown into the main event picture between Styles and former World Champion Dean Ambrose, including getting several wins over current World Champion Styles.

Perhaps, overachieving and upsetting the odds is just the climate we live in, in politics both Brexit happened and Donald Trump is President elect, overachieving is just the way of the world in 2016.