‘Why I believe sacking Ranieri was right’

Downtrodden: Leicester have the worst record of any Premier League team in 2017. © PA
by ToMaxtone-Smith

A writer for The Day, Toby is a keen observer of the beautiful game, who first followed Ranieri’s management in action as a boy at Stamford Bridge, when Ranieri managed Chelsea.

Leicester City’s decision to fire Claudio Ranieri just nine months after winning the Premier League was greeted with fury. But in the cruel world of modern football, the sacking makes sense.

This is how the story goes. Claudio Ranieri, a charming, avuncular Italian, led Leicester City to the most unlikely triumph in the history of sport, defying odds of 5000/1 to win the Premier League. The next season, after a tough few months, Ranieri is sacked by an overambitious, ungrateful foreign owner, corrupted by success. The fans are in revolt. It is just another example of how football is losing its soul.

In the Daily Mail, Martin Samuel called the sacking “disgusting”. Ian Herbert of the Independent called it “a despicable act of felony”. In The Sun, Neil Ashton said that Leicester’s players “deserved to lose their medals” after letting their manager down.

These people have an important thing in common: they are not Leicester fans.

If it is not your club spiralling towards relegation, it is easy to see this as a triumph of evil over good.

Leicester are in the relegation zone in the Premier League. They have not scored a league goal in 2017. Their recent performances have been dire.

If it is not your club spiralling towards relegation, it is easy to see this as a triumph of evil over good. The triumph of avarice over gratitude and respect.

If Leicester City are not your club, it is very easy to shake off the threat of relegation with careless ease: “Oh who cares, they won the league last year!” But for Leicester fans, who believed their title win could be a springboard for more consistent success, returning to the second tier would be devastating.

It is no good to say that “Leicester have always been a yo-yo club”: fans are entitled to be ambitious.

The uncomfortable fact is that many regulars at the King Power Stadium — the people who love Ranieri more than any pundit or journalist — had lost faith that he could turn their form around. They had seen his baffling tactics, his poor summer recruitment and his inability to replicate the spirit of last year’s team.

Watching Leicester recently, especially the dismal 1–0 defeat in the FA Cup away to Millwall of League One, it is clear that the players no longer have confidence in the manager’s tactics.

Yes, the players must take some blame. They look like a team that believes it is too good to go down, and that is the most dangerous mentality in football. There have been rumours that a dressing room revolt led to Ranieri’s departure. This is, of course, inexcusable.

But it is the manager’s job to set the emotional mood of a squad of players. If that mood turns toxic, something drastic must be done.

None of this means that Ranieri did not do wonderful things with a limited squad of players last season. But it is impossible to understand Leicester’s triumph without liberal use of one word: “luck”.

Luck is not a dirty word; it is one of the most important factors in sport, and several hugely unlikely things combined to help Leicester win the league. They suffered hardly any injuries. Their opponents converted a freakishly low proportion of their chances against them. Their title rivals were dogged by inconsistency. An average-looking defence somehow combined to become the league’s meanest back four, a feat they have spectacularly failed to replicate this year.

Even when they were homing in on the title, bookmakers ranked them as the seventh best team in the league.

I love Claudio Ranieri. I rejoiced at Leicester’s fairytale and I was sad to see him go. But Leicester need to think about the future instead of dwelling on one bizarre, inexplicable season.

In the cruel world of modern football, Ranieri’s sacking was just. And a pay-off of £3m is neither “despicable” nor “disgusting”.

You Decide

  1. Were Leicester right to sack Claudio Ranieri?

Activities

  1. Roleplay: divide into pairs and recreate the moment when Ranieri was fired. One person plays the part of Ranieri, the other is Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, Leicester City’s Thai owner.

Word Watch

5000/1
No other team or player has ever won at such large odds. It is estimated that the result cost bookmakers around £50m.
Foreign owner
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha is a Thai billionaire and the owner of King Power Duty Free, the company that sponsors Leicester’s stadium. He frequently arrives at Leicester’s matches by helicopter, which takes off and lands in the centre-circle.
Yo-yo club
A club that constantly bobs up and down between divisions. Leicester have been promoted five times and relegated three times in the last 20 years.
Millwall
The result was even more embarrassing because Millwall played most of the second half with ten men.

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