Ranieri’s sacking a shameful, senseless act

The odds of Leicester City winning the Premier League last season are well-known: 5000-1. You could have practically written the same odds for the Foxes sacking Claudio Ranieri this season.

Claudio Ranieri

Manager Claudio Ranieri Source: Leicester City FC

Then came the news, in a crisply-worded statement, released to media outlets on Friday morning: "The board reluctantly feels that a change of leadership, while admittedly painful, is necessary in the club's greatest interest."

Some will say they saw it coming. Rumours had been flying around for weeks. But nobody, not even the most uproarious tabloid journalist on Fleet Street, would have predicted it actually happening.

That Leicester have cut ties with the Italian is the most demoralising decision for anyone who still believes the sporting field is a place where anything is possible.

The fairy tale we all bought into – and allowed ourselves to be completely seduced by – is over. Dead. Finito. Dilly-ding, dilly-gone.

Technically, it’s still alive so long as Leicester are in the UEFA Champions League – the legacy of last year’s miracle – but it won’t feel the same.

I’d have almost backed the Foxes in the thunder and fury of the King Power Stadium to have turned around the 2-1 deficit against Sevilla. It was a decent result in Andalusia this week, one that gave them every chance of staying alive.

Now without Ranieri, who is possibly capable of guiding this group to keep going, both in Europe and in the Premiership?

Ironically, it should be pointed that the same questions were asked at Leicester when the club parted company with Nigel Pearson after he oversaw a miraculous recovery in the final stage of 2014-15, surging from last to 14th by the end of the season.

Pearson was sacked for the role of his son, James, in a graphic recording made by a trio of the club’s reserve team players in Thailand. Now one bookmaker has already installed him as the favourite to return as manager for his third stint in charge. Talk about swings and roundabouts.

But whether Pearson, or someone else, is in charge by the time the club faces up to the return leg with Sevilla, the point is that they shouldn’t be.

Between now and then, Leicester have three massive games in the Premier League, which could very much determine their hopes of survival.

It starts with home matches against Liverpool and Hull City, followed up by a trip to Arsenal. Last year, they’d have eyed off nine points. Right now, it’s hard to see them getting more than one. Perhaps, if you're cynical, that very fact proves the board’s decision.

There is no easy way to work around the fact that Leicester are in a huge funk, illustrated horrendously by the FA Cup exit against Millwall and the defeat to fellow struggles Swansea City in the league the week before.

With five wins from 25 games – and winless in 2017 – it’s nowhere near good enough for the reigning champions and it was fair that questions were asked. Yet did anyone ask what toll the Champions League might take?

Surely – surely – Ranieri had earned the right to stay on and fight it out. After performing the greatest miracle in football history, it’s not like we need to wonder whether he’s a good manager or not.

Then there’s the human side. Yes, this is a results-based business, but Ranieri had brought a dignity and grace back to English football. His scholarly, gentlemanly manner proved there was an alternative to what we often see. He proved it was possible to win without checking your manners at the door.

Public fallout is often knee-jerk, but here it’s testimony that Leicester made the wrong decision. They’ve damaged their brand, their reputation and have added a horrible footnote to what happened last year.

Some of the players ought to shoulder some responsibility. Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Danny Drinkwater have been shadows of their former selves. N'Golo Kante is probably the one player in blue who has kept the momentum going. Unfortunately, it’s been in the royal blue of Chelsea.

Unwittingly, the £32.5 million release clause in Kante’s contract has proven the catalyst for a spectacular unravelling. He was the glue that kept the team together. We suspected it last year but now we know it for certain – and his performances at Stamford Bridge only add more evidence.

Could Ranieri have done more? Obviously. Bought better? Probably. Told the players not to enjoy themselves after the title? Unlikely. This was never going to be an easy year.

His board should have known that. Instead, they should have stuck by their man, invested in his vision and done whatever it took to keep the team in the Premiership.

For somebody who did so much – for a club, a city and football fans everywhere – he deserved so much better than this.

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5 min read
Published 24 February 2017 at 9:11am
By Sebastian Hassett