Claudio Ranieri has gone. It’s been held up as a decision that typifies the fickle nature of modern football. Nine months on from winning the league, he finds himself shuffling down to the job centre in Leicester. Well, maybe not. A holiday is perhaps more likely for the Italian, what with a cushy payout on top of an already-rather-nice salary.
I think the sentimentality regarding this sacking is a little over the top. Just last year Chelsea faced the same dilemma with José Mourinho, and look at them both now. Chelsea top the league with Antonio Conte, while José’s United charge seemingly unstoppably up the table. Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side.
Leicester’s Thai owners have been painted as absentee landlords who don’t understand football. It shouldn’t be forgotten, though, that their last managerial change seemed rash at the time but paid off handsomely. Sacking Nigel Pearson after Leicester’s great escape of 2015 was widely panned, but led to one of the greatest stories in sporting history as they won the league under Ranieri.
The real problem for Leicester is that they haven’t been unlucky. They’ve been frankly dire, and showing no signs of improving. Last season they built up a good lead early on as side after side underestimated them, pushing players forward only to have the Ngolo Kantes break up an attack, leaving Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy to cut them into pieces.
Since around February last year, though, teams have learned to stop disrespecting Leicester. Rather than attack with abandon, they let Leicester have the ball a little more, and they were found wanting. With a healthy points cushion and a series of scrappy (bordering on lucky) 1-0s Leicester made it through to claim the title, but they haven’t been at their electrifying best for a long while.
Ranieri has had ample time to make the adjustments, to find the right combination of players and tactics to beat teams that give Leicester the ball and say “show us what you’ve got”, but he hasn’t been able to. Without the Kante twins they can’t absorb pressure so well, Robert Huth and Wes Morgan are still Robert Huth and Wes Morgan, and the side look disjointed and out of ideas at both ends of the pitch.
Not only this, but the players look unmotivated. We can’t know what’s gone on inside the Leicester camp, and allowing a sulky dressing room to fire their boss is a risky move, but to assume the players are automatically at fault just because Ranieri seems lovely makes no sense. Perhaps their frustration is rooted in the knowledge that Ranieri hasn’t done what’s needed to get them winning again. By his own account, Ranieri changed little from Pearson’s tactics, and spirit alone can only take you so far.
The romantic in me hates this decision, but last season is over now. Ranieri and his players overachieved, and won their medals. Nothing – not even relegation – can take that from them. The story is already written, and barring a Champion’s League miracle, this year could only ever be a footnote to one of football’s greatest ever tales. Leicester’s owners gave Ranieri time, but now they have to look to the future, not the past.