On Thursday night, Claudio Ranieri’s dream as manager of Leicester City ended. Ranieri was sacked after Leicester’s poor run of form in the premier league which sees them languishing near the relegation zone in 17th place with just thirteen games to go. Ranieri’s class and respect for the club was evident on Friday afternoon when he issued a statement about his departure from the club he had made Champions just nine months ago.
There is no doubt that Claudio Ranieri will be held in high regard amongst fans and players of Leicester City for years to come. The season before they became Premier League Champions, Leicester achieved a 14th place finish under the leadership of Nigel Pearson. Their remarkable turnaround in the season of 2015/2016 saw Ranieri cast as a legend of the club as they won the title for the first time in their history. However their return to the wrong end of the Premier League table this season has prompted criticism and had cast doubt on Ranieri’s future. That Leicester City’s owners did not afford Ranieri the dignity to leave the club at the end of the season when their fate had been decided is controversial. Playing in the last 16 of the Champions League, Leicester showed glimpses of last season’s excellence against a strong Sevilla lineup, losing 2-1 in the first leg on Wednesday. Their first season in the Champions League has seen Leicester impress against strong opposition, in contrast to their poor league form. Despite the promise shown by Ranieri’s men in their last game, Ranieri was sacked on Thursdsay.
Shortly after his departure, fellow managers demonstrated their respect for Ranieri in their respective pre-match interviews given on Friday. Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp appeared bemused by the decision when he took questions from journalists, the same could be said of Mourinho who stood in solidarity with Claudio Ranieri by wearing a shirt with the initials ‘CR’ printed below Adidas’ logo. Jose Mourinho experienced a similar fete last season when he was sacked just one season after lifting the Premier League trophy as Chelsea manager. However, the specifics of that particular case were well known before his departure from Chelsea as his season never recovered after the public spat with club doctor Eva Carneiro.
Ranieri’s success was underpinned by his quiet determination and focus on the next game rather than being carried away with what might happen in the future. He did not antagonise the press nor try to find anyone to blame for this season’s slump. His press conferences demonstrated his humble and honest nature, especially in recent weeks as Leicester’s struggle deepened. During the post match interview given in Ranieri’s last game in charge he imbued optimism as a result of Leicester’s performance despite losing 2-1, he also gave no indication of his impending departure from the club.
Unpicking Leicester City’s fall from grace is difficult. There appears to be no one simple answer to why their form this season has been so poor. The loss of N’Golo Kante to Chelsea was certainly a contributing factor to their poor form however the issues at the club are much more complex. Throughout the season, the hunger of Leicester’s players has been repeatedly called into question. After achieving such great heights by winning the Premier League, many of Leicester’s players had achieved more than they could ever have dreamed of. What did they have left to play for? New contracts were issued to many players after their title success; with that money player indulged in new cars, houses and other luxuries. Earning more money than ever before in their careers and with little else to aim for, it seems some of Leicester’s players have simply given up.
The club’s owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha had an unquestionably difficult decision to make. Leicester’s form in the premier league has been poor throughout this season and there has been little in the way of a revival at any point. Although last season’s success was almost certainly impossible to emulate, many expected Leicester to survive the relegation battle comfortably especially since signing a number of promising players in the summer transfer window. However, the club hover just one point above the relegation zone and a resurgent Hull City side who appear to have found a new lease of life under new manager Marco Silva. Claudio Ranieri is not solely responsible for Leicester’s demise, however as manager he carries some responsibility.
Football is a funny old game and managers are seldom afforded dignity. It would be unfortunate and unexpected for Leicester City to line-up in the Championship next season but it would not be unthinkable. They have never been a solid Premier League team and have jumped between the Premier League and Championship with alarming regularity.
There is no obvious candidate to replace Ranieri and that is, perhaps, the most surprising element of this bizarre footballing episode. Under Ranieri’s leadership, Leicester could have rallied and clung to their Premier League status one last time before a more controlled departure in the summer. Although this may have been difficult in light of the reported discontent in the Leicester dressing room it would perhaps be easier than bringing a new manager into the team given the short time frame to the end of the season. Instead, they are left managerless and in crisis. Long-serving assistant manager Craig Shakespeare has been placed in temporary charge of a side poised to face the difficult visit of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool on Monday night.
If Leicester fail to avoid relegation this season, the decision made by Leicester’s chairman to strip Ranieri of the managers position will leave a bitter taste in many a football-supporter’s mouth. He did, after all, achieve the impossible just last season.