Claudio Ranieri was sacked by Leicester City this week. Sacked less than a year after guiding the club to the Premier League title, and a month after being crowned the best manager in the world by FIFA.
When Ranieri walked into the King Power Stadium to sit in the Leicester City hot seat, he took over a side who the previous season had survived thanks to a late surge of victories, who otherwise were rooted to the foot of the table for the majority of the season. A team with a playing staff who, prior to last season, was not exactly eye catching. Ranieri took the reigns after controversial manager Nigel Pearson was sacked at the end of the previous season. His appointment was met with uncertainty, with many predicting The Foxes may even be relegated under the stewardship of the Italian. We all know how that story played out.
Leicester City were crowned champions at the conclusion of Ranieri’s first season at the helm. A remarkable achievement that nobody saw coming. He took a squad with distinctly average professionals and turned them into a winning machine. He found a formula that worked to the benefit of his players. The pace at which his Leicester City team would move the ball through the team was frenetic, catching out high defensive lines of opposition time and again. It was an achievement that rarely comes around, it may never happen again that such a club will win the elite league in English football. A magnificent feat.
Following the title victory, Leicester also qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history. Ranieri could do no wrong. Fast forward nine months, and Ranieri is gone. Sacked after a poor run in the league, winning the title never even bought him enough time to see the following season out. After receiving “unwavering” support from the board and despite claiming a creditable result away at Sevilla in the Champions League in midweek, if a defeat can be claimed as creditable, which keeps them firmly in the competition thanks to Jamie Vardy’s consolation away goal, Claudio Ranieri was sacked by the Leicester board after it was revealed players had told them they had lost confidence in Ranieri’s abilities. Losing confidence in a manager who took these players on a journey beyond even their wildest dreams. Nobody is telling me Wes Morgan, among others, seriously thought he would ever be a Premier League winner and competing in the Champions League.
Ranieri deserved more. He deserved more from his board, at least a season, and at least to see out his Champions League run. He undoubtedly deserved more from his players. It is impossible and unfair to single out any one player alone for criticism, it is after all a team game, but his match winners, his influential winners, from the previous campaign vanished. They vanished after a poor start to the season, only three victories in their opening ten league games, and never really reappeared, barring a demolition of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City at the King Power Stadium in December. The spine of the team which was so strong the season before, from Kasper Schmeichel, to Wes Morgan and Robert Huth, through Riyad Mahrez and Danny Drinkwater, to Jamie Vardy, who let us not forget broke Ruud Van Nistlerooy’s Premier League record by netting in 11 consecutive games, had completely downed tools. To see Claudio Ranieri yelling from the touchline at Riyad Mahrez to press his opposite number against Swansea City earlier this month, and Mahrez, who was well within ear shot of his manager, literally not move an inch further than where he was summed the situation up. The players had given up.
Jamie Vardy, who scored 28 goals last year for club and country, has managed only 8 goals in all competitions this season, and that includes the Community Shield. We can point to a few aspects that influence this statistic, but another statistic, that Vardy failed to have a shot on target since the middle of December up until his goal at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in midweek suggest the desire, attitude, and application is not there. That can not be laid solely at Claudio Ranieri’s doorstep. In the same fixture that Vardy scored his latest goal, a largely non-existent Riyad Mahrez had the look of a man who simply could not care less. This also can not be laid firmly on Ranieri. This is the attitude and reaction of a man being told he was not allowed to leave the club in the summer. Despite being rewarded with a bumper contract on money we could only dream about, Mahrez had downed tools before the season even began. He never even opened his tool box in the first place. The attitude of the players in nothing short of a disgrace, and to think these players have passed a vote of no confidence in their manager is ridiculous. Perhaps if they had listened to Ranieri’s ideas and tactics instead of just seemingly dismissing them and not trying a jot out on the field, we would not have this scenario.
And what of the board? What did the Leicester board really expect? Another title challenge? An assault on the top four? We all knew there would be a slump after the achievement of last season. The fact that Leicester City are still in the Champions League is an achievement itself.
I am aware that football is all about the here and now. There is no time for sentiment, no time to be romantic in the swirling money pool that is the Premier League, clubs are that desperate to stay in the division and recoup as much money as they possibly can, they forget that being relegated to the Championship is not actually the end of the world. Leicester City are financially very stable, the 24th wealthiest club in Europe even before the league win and the Champions League. Add that to the parachute payments the club would have received should they be relegated and their is no doubt this club would not be one to fall by the wayside. Why shouldn’t Claudio Ranieri be granted time to bring them back to the Premier League if they did go down under his management? It is not as though this is Jose Mourinho at Chelsea the season after winning the title. This is Leicester City. A club, and players that has started to believe its own hype and press, big money contracts have led poor to average players to believe they are in the same bracket, and hold the same power as some of the games global superstars. One league title win, a staggering triumph it may have been, should not grant you this power. Unfortunately it does, and as a result of it doing so, Leicester City fired their Premier League winning manager, Claudio Ranieri.
A man who took a team of average and unfancied players, united them, galvanised a spirit rarely seen elsewhere, and won England’s top division with them, deserved more loyalty and more respect. It is a sad ending to one of footballs greatest stories. Thanks for the memories, Claudio. You deserved better.