To quote the Fergie (no, not him) song Big Girls Don’t Cry, “Fairytales don’t always have a happy ending, do they?”. No Fergie, they don’t. Indeed, football’s very own fairytale doesn’t have a happy ending, with Claudio Ranieri sacked by Leicester City nine months after leading the Foxes to a magical, unthinkable, impossible Premier League title win. Any number of superlatives could be used to describe the 2015-16 season at the King Power Stadium.
But the situation in the East Midlands right now could not be any more different. Contrary to popular slatings of the Leicester board over a lack of ‘class’, ‘respect’ or ‘dignity’, I think that the Champions were left with little choice other than to let the 65 year old go. If people weren’t too busy slagging the club off and tweeting their hopes for them to get relegated and actually read the statement issued by Vice Chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha yesterday evening, then they might realise the logic behind the decision. It is one of most well-constructed statements I have ever read. Two parts of it in particular stood out to me:
Firstly: “We are duty-bound to put the Club’s long-term interests above all sense of personal sentiment, no matter how strong that might be.”
Now, Claudio Ranieri comes across as one of the nicest men in football, his own statement released today only emphasises this. Equally, his achievement last season will never, ever be forgotten and will go down as the greatest story in the history of football. Ranieri himself is also undoubtedly Leicester’s greatest ever manager. But in the modern era, unfortunately being Mr Nice Guy or your past success doesn’t get you all that far. All “personal sentiment” has to be thrown out of the window when considering the present situation. And the present situation for Leicester City with Ranieri in charge was bleak. Very bleak. Numerous reports claim that he had lost the dressing room, and when your own players allegedly go to the board to ask for the manager to be sacked, you know it’s bad. Simply, the Italian had taken the team as far as he could, and the longer he continued to struggle on the sideline, the more the club’s “long-term interests” were being damaged.
Secondly: “Indeed, survival in the Premier League was our first and only target at the start of the campaign. But we are now faced with a fight to reach that objective and feel a change is necessary to maximise the opportunity presented by the final 13 games.”
Football is a results business. Ranieri was not getting results at Leicester. The Foxes sit one point and one place above the Premier League relegation zone, have won just one of their last 10 league games, have not scored a league goal in 2017 and were knocked out of the FA Cup by League One’s Millwall, who also had a man sent off with nearly 40 minutes to play. In addition, their 2-1 defeat to Sevilla in the Champions League on Wednesday might not have been a bad score, but anyone who watched the game will know that the Foxes couldn’t have been further off the pace and may very well have conceded four or five had it not been for Kasper Schmeichel or the Spanish side’s inability to finish their chances. It is impossible to argue that that run of form can keep a manager in a job.
“Why then, if Ranieri can take the credit for 2015-16’s success, can he not take the blame for 2016-17’s failure?”
Amongst the criticisms of the board, the players have taken a fair amount of stick too. People are unsurprisingly not best pleased by the reports of in-club demands for Ranieri to go, as supposedly the players have their manager to thank for last season’s achievement. Do they? Why then, if Ranieri can take the credit for 2015-16’s success, can he not take the blame for 2016-17’s failure? Last year, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy had the campaign of their lives, Wes Morgan and Robert Huth became Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta and the whole team came together to stun the league. 12 months on, Vardy and Mahrez have eight league goals between them, the defence has conceded more goals than they did in the entirety of last season and the whole team lack direction, coherence and belief. 2015-16 was arguably a fluke that was down to players having an out-of character nine months, with Claudio Ranieri just being there for the ride. Now, it’s not as harsh on the Italian as that, but the likes of Vardy and Mahrez would still have become superstars without Ranieri, they do not have as much to ‘thank’ him for as people are making out.
In situations like this, it is the manager that forfeits. A whole team of players cannot be sacked with three months of the season left to go, the only change that can be made at this stage is the manager. Should Leicester’s performances fail to improve under a new boss and they go on to get relegated, then you point the finger at the players. But who is to say that a change in the dugout isn’t exactly what the Foxes need? After all, Nigel Pearson’s sacking in the summer of 2015 was largely criticised but that turned out to be the best decision the Leicester board ever made.
Is Ranieri a victim of his own success? Perhaps, but what was abundantly clear was that Leicester were going nowhere under his leadership, with reports off the pitch and results on the pitch proving that. A gentleman, a legend he may be, but his reputation will now not be tarnished with relegation, as that’s the way that Leicester were going. Dilly ding, dilly gone.