On February 23rd, Claudio Ranieri was sacked by Leicester City, a side he led to an improbable Premier League title just 9 months earlier. This brought massive argument and discussion in the football world over the frailty of managerial jobs in the modern game.
After their 1-0 defeat to Millwall in the FA Cup, it would not have been hard to see a change of management at Leicester. Compared to their thrilling and captivating performances last season, this season’s Leicester was nothing less than shambolic at best. Despite a few bright spots in their season, like their win against City, and rising stars like Demarai Gray, the reigning champions of England are currently just a few points above the drop zone and are undoubtedly in a relegation battle this season. With such a stark change in league standing this season, there’s a question everybody is asking: should Ranieri have been fired for Leicester’s poor performances?
On paper, the obvious answer is yes; a team winning the Premier League title one season, then scrambling for survival the next is surely a reason for a manager to lose his job. The sudden drop of playing level has was widely criticized by fans and the press this season, as star players like Mahrez returned to sub-par performances and Jamie Vardy was cut off from the long ball deliveries he thrived on. I cannot disagree with these facts, and frankly, the football world is a tough and harsh one. The board and fans can often be very forgetful of past glories, and when you stop delivering consistent wins, nobody is safe from an exit- players and managers alike. In this context, the Leicester city management had no other choice but to bring in a new manager, who could turn them around so they would be able to compete in the top flight next season.
However, there are two big holes Leicester failed to deal with in the offseason coming into the 2016-17 campaign, and these holes were not ones Ranieri alone could fix. The fact that he was condemned and sacked for these problems may have been a reason for many football fans and pundits to criticize Leicester’s decision to sack the Italian manager.
The first was the exit of scout Steve Walsh to Everton. Discovering players like Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante from the lower divisions of French football and Jamie Vardy from Fleetwood Town, Walsh played an integral behind-the-scene role in their title winning season. Developing and improving these ‘rough diamonds’ into real gems of the squad is certainly a hard task, which Ranieri has magnificently achieved last season. The ability to find such players, however, should be considered a real talent in itself. If Ranieri was the musician, Walsh was the composer. Without music from a composer, the musician would not be able to showcase his talent; without a musician, the composer would have nobody to play his music. The point is, the two go hand in hand. If one or the other is missing, the performance is not complete. By letting Walsh leave and failing to find a suitable replacement at his role, Leicester spent close to £60 on Islam Slimani, Nampalys Mendy, and Ahmed Musa who all performed below expectations this season.
The second big hole was letting midfielder N’Golo Kante leave for Chelsea. Shadowed by Jamie Vardy’s clinical finishing and Riyad Mahrez’s flashy technical abilities, Kante was somewhat of an unsung hero in the title-winning team last season. With his endless work rate and physicality, the Frenchman was a dominant presence in the Foxes lineup. Constantly retrieving the ball to start another attack, Kante was the real reason for Leicester’s midfield dominance, which led to more counter attacks, possession, and goals. Without Kante this season, Leicester’s midfield looks very empty- while players like Amartey and Mendy were brought in to fill his boots, neither was successful in doing so. If he was still at King Power Stadium, who knows what could have happened? Now playing a similar role under Antonio Conte at Chelsea, Kante is yet again demonstrating that the midfield is where the game is really decided. Retrieving possession and becoming the basis for most Chelsea attacks, the midfielder looks to be well on his way to his second consecutive Premier League title.
All in all, should Leicester have sacked Ranieri? I say no. Leicester should’ve stuck with the man who won them the title, at least until the end of the season to find a replacement. But at the end of the day, the decision has been made, and it could have been the best way for both parties. Instead of looking at this as a sacking, I like to see it as the end of a chapter for both Leicester and Ranieri- and quite an extraordinary and brilliant one too. It won’t be easy to find a special manager like Ranieri, or such a dedicated group of players like the ones he managed last season to top the table at a 5,000 to 1 odds. It’s a chapter that neither the players, fans, the club, Ranieri, or any football fan for that matter, can ever forget. To borrow the words of José Mourinho from his press conference, where he had the initials “CR” to show his support after the sacking of Ranieri: “Keep smiling, amico. Nobody can delete the history you wrote.”
Let us know what you think in the comments!