Dilly ding, Dilly dong…. Claudio’s gone!
What a difference 296 days makes.
On May 3rd Claudio Ranieri was collecting the Premier League trophy (the most improbable win for the most improbable club in English football history). Yesterday, the genial Italian was collecting his P45.
It’s a sad day for football.
Leicester’s players have been accused of not backing Ranieri. Of forcing the hand of the board. Of downing tools and refusing to play for the manager, in much the same way that Chelsea did for Mourinho.
It’s hard to watch Leicester these days and not come to that conclusion.
This is a team suffering a crisis of confidence. It’s a team that lacks heart. Fight. Pride. Riyad Mahrez has pulled off a disappearing act that would make Houdini proud. Jamie Vardy is putting the ball anywhere but the back of the net. And the midfield is bleeding heavily from a N'Golo Kanté-shaped hole. But it’s also a group of players that have simply regressed to the mean. The fairytale is over. Reality has returned. And it’s pissed.
The truth is that Leicester’s win was an anomaly, a perfect storm of events that wasn’t meant to be. This – 17th in the league and fighting relegation – is where Leicester’s players really belong. This is their level. It’s why they were tipped by almost all pundits for relegation last season and why they were 5,000/1 to win the title.
In my opinion, Ranieri’s loyalty to his players most likely cost him his job.
In the summer, many of the “elite” clubs came calling, looking to poach Leicester’s improbable title-winners.
There were offers of £30 million for Jamie Vardy, from Arsenal, which were refused. Mahrez was subject to bids of plus £25 million. Kanté left, for Chelsea.
Ranieri and the board didn’t want to sell. Understandable, some might say. They did win the title, after all. But the truth is, had Leicester sold, they’d likely be in a stronger position.
Vardy, a player I’ve watched outside of the Premier League on numerous occasions, was always going to be a one-season wonder! Because his record and pedigree suggested as much. Mahrez was signed for £750,000, and while he was excellent last season, the inherent weaknesses in his game were masked by assists and outrageous goals.
Kanté was the player Leicester really couldn’t afford to lose. The only player.
Ranieri backed his players, instead of cashing in and re-building a stronger Leicester. No, not a title-winning side, but one that could have comfortably cemented a mid-table place.
The problem was looking at Leicester’s players as title-winners. As players that could sustain that level. That the same enthusiasm, will to fight, work and win would remain. That was foolish. Maybe the “Tinkerman” just got swept up in the romanticism of it all. It’s easy to see how that could’ve happened.
There’s no loyalty in football, Claudio, and you can’t help feeling he’s been around long enough to have worked that out by now.
For Leicester, many will hope for their relegation. I think it’s a bad PR move from the board. And news of Ranieri’s dismissal has not been received well – especially by Gary Lineker. Claudio is a much-loved figure in the game and the feeling is that the blame lies with the players. The goodwill that was built up by their title win all but extinguished. The win itself now a little tainted.
The fans will surely make their feelings known then next time the players walk out at the King Power. The pundits will pick over the club’s corpse if, indeed, they do go down.
Like I said, it’s a sad day for football. But it’s a volatile business, where the only currency is winning. And Leicester have been losing for far too long.