Image from the Daily Star
Unbelievable. It’s almost as unbelievable as their title win back in May. On Thursday evening, Claudio Ranieri was sacked by Leicester City, nine months after doing the impossible; giving the Foxes their first Premier League title against all the odds. Twenty-four hours before the news broke the footballing world, the Italian was cheering on the touchline as Jamie Vardy gave Leicester a very strong lifeline in their Champions League journey, scoring a crucial away goal in a 2-1 defeat to Sevilla. How on earth has it all come to this?
What are the owners thinking?
Just over two weeks ago, the Leicester City owners gave their manager a vote of confidence, outlining their “unwavering support” for Ranieri, following disappointing results in the Premier League, which left them on the brink of the relegation zone. Since the release of that statement, the Foxes have played one Premier League game. One Premier League game. What has changed in the owners’ mind since then? They lost away to Swansea in that game. Yes, it’s a disappointing result, losing to a direct relegation rival, but does that, on its own, make Ranieri’s dismissal justifiable? Not for me. Apart from that, they were knocked out by Millwall in the FA Cup Fifth Round, but it was clear that progressing in this particular competition was at the bottom of Ranieri’s priorities considering that they made wholesale changes to their line-up ahead of their European clash this week. The Thai owners at the King Power stadium must have made this decision on the basis of last night’s match. And if this is the case, it is by far the worst decision made by a football club in this history of the sport, and proves that these tycoon owners know very little about football. If I was a Leicester fan, I would have been very happy with that result on Wednesday night; Sevilla are a good footballing side with some very good players, and an away goal in the Champions League makes all of the difference. A 1-0 win for the Foxes in the return leg would see them through to the quarterfinal stage, and if there’s any man to lead Leicester to that kind of result, it’s Claudio Ranieri. Even if they didn’t go through, surely he earned the right to keep hold of the reigns for the second leg at least?
Is Ranieri to blame for Leicester’s struggles?
Let’s not forget one very important fact; Leicester City have been very poor this season compared to last year. They’ve conceded silly goals, and have lost games that they shouldn’t have done when you look at last season’s results. Games like losing to West Brom at home and Sunderland away have shown that not only have the Foxes lost their conviction in recent weeks, but also their confidence. But is this all because of the manager? I’ve been saying since the start of the season on this website that I’ve felt sorry for Ranieri, as it’s not all his fault. Firstly, the loss of N’Golo Kanté has left a huge dent in Leicester’s side, and this is proven not only by the Foxes’ drop in form, but also by Chelsea’s resurgence to becoming champions elect. What could Ranieri do about that? On top of this, they haven’t been able to replace him, or even add to the talent they had in the previous campaign. The club tried to repeat last year’s antics by trying to make ‘clever signings’ like Kanté was in their title winning campaign. Players such as Daniel Amartey and Bartosz Kaputska have not had the same effect, and while Islam Slimani was a step in the right direction, it just hasn’t been good enough. This is probably where Ranieri has to take some of the blame; the manager picks and chooses the players he has at his disposal, and the Italian has failed in this regard. However, what he cannot take the blame for is the drop in form of his key players. Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy have been a shadow of their title winning selves this season, and this was down to their financial circumstances. Last year, both these players were unstoppable. Vardy was guaranteed to score in the majority of the games he played in, while Mahrez always held the key to unlocking Premier League defenses and deciding the outcome of the matches, but at the start of the season, new contracts have taken away their passion, their determination and, consequently, their form. It’s true that they did need a pay rise, as some of the big clubs, especially Arsenal, were sniffing around to sign the deadly duo, but maybe the club could have managed this differently. Is this the board’s fault? Probably not as much as people think. Is this Ranieri’s fault? Definitely not.
It’s official: loyalty doesn’t exist anymore in football
It’s a statistic that may shock some people, but in the last five years, no Premier League title-winning manager has lasted more than 18 months after winning the league at their club. Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini, Jose Mourinho and now Claudio Ranieri were either sacked or replaced within a year of winning the title (we are obviously not going to include Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in this list). Pellegrini was even granted a four-year deal after winning the league with Manchester City in 2014, but by early 2016, it was already decided by the Man City board that he would be replaced by Pep Guardiola for the following season. But Ranieri’s dismissal is far worse than that. The fact that the club has sacked him gives off the impression that they have zero confidence in the Italian; that they truly believe that he can’t keep them up. Again, if that’s the case: what a load of rubbish. This is Claudio Ranieri we’re talking about, the man that did the impossible at Leicester City. He could have kept the Foxes up, it wasn’t a certainty, but it was definitely a possibility. Surely he had the right to see out the rest of the season with the team; his set of players and the squad that he built. He’s not the best manager in the world, but he pulled off arguably the greatest achievement in sporting history, and that reason alone proves that sacking him was an extremely harsh decision.
Where do the Foxes, and Ranieri, go from here?
The fairytale has become a nightmare, but it’s now time for the club to wake up and make the right decision. When the news first broke out, my first impression was that the club have had a new man in their minds for a while now, and that they have already made contact. But the quotation, “the board will now begin the recruitment process” from their official club statement does not match my initial impression. The board should put the Champions League to one side, they have ruined their chances of progression by getting rid of Ranieri, as they need to focus on Premier League survival. They need a man who will get immediate results and has a proven track record of doing exactly that. My choice would be Martin O’Neill on an interim basis until the end of the season, which would suit both parties as the international break in March shouldn’t prove to be too much of a distraction for the club or the manager. There is also a clear affection between the club and O’Neill so, in my opinion, it’s almost a perfect match. For Ranieri, I have the upmost sympathy for him. He gave a lot of fans around the world a year and a half to tell generations about, and I hope we’ll see him in the elite competitions again. He might be out of a job at the moment, but he certainly has the best CV in world football.