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Were Leicester City right to sack Claudio Ranieri?

:Headline: Were Leicester City right to sack Claudio Ranieri?:
Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at whether Leicester City were right to sack Claudio Ranieri just nine months after he steered them to Premier League glory.
By , Editor | 2y

The dust is just beginning to settle on one of the most controversial football decisions in recent memory, with Leicester City's board brutally opting to sack Claudio Ranieri just nine months after he steered them to the most unlikely of Premier League title triumphs.

The overwhelming response has been one of outrage and disgust, from fans, pundits and former players alike, with Ranieri having established himself as a much-loved and respected figure during the Foxes' fairytale run.

However, there has also been reluctant support for the decision given Leicester's current perilous league position, with the board citing the very real threat of relegation back to the Championship as the main reason behind axing the Italian.

Here, Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at whether the club were right to make one of the most divisive decisions in recent times.


Why Claudio Ranieri deserved to go


One glance at the Premier League table will tell you exactly why the Leicester board chose to sack Ranieri. The Foxes currently sit just one point clear of the relegation zone and only two off the bottom of the table in what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive battles to avoid the drop in recent years.

The form table is even more damning for Leicester, who have picked up just one point from six matches so far in 2017 and have lost their last five league outings - the worst run by a defending top-flight champion since Chelsea also lost five on the bounce in the 1955-56 campaign.

Indeed, Leicester have failed to even score in the Premier League since the turn of the year - an unprecedented run of six consecutive blanks since Islam Slimani's winning goal against West Ham United on New Year's Eve. The Foxes have now failed to score in 11 games this season compared to just three in the previous campaign.

When you consider that some of Leicester's fellow strugglers have begun to find a bit of form in recent weeks, with the likes of Swansea City, Hull City, Crystal Palace and Sunderland all having picked up victories, it was seemingly inevitable that they would overtake the Foxes if something didn't change.

That change proved to be the end of Ranieri, and the Leicester board may well have been influenced by the resurgence of Swansea and Hull in particular. The decisions to change manager and bring in Paul Clement and Marco Silva respectively have paid immediate dividends, with Swansea now sitting third in the form table while Hull have won four of their nine matches since Silva's arrival.

As you might expect, the comparisons to last season are not flattering for Leicester. They are 32 points worse off than at the same stage of their title-winning campaign having won five and lost 14 matches this season compared to 15 wins and just two defeats last term.

The club's goal tally sits at a paltry 24 compared to 47 at this point in 2015-16 and, having boasted the best away record in the league last season, the Foxes are yet to win a single game on the road this term, amassing just three points from a possible 39.


Perhaps the most relevant comparison to last term is something that cannot be quantified by statistics, though. Leicester's success last season was down to their team spirit and work ethic, with the whole squad seemingly behind Ranieri and growing with confidence every time they took another step towards completing the most remarkable chapter in English football history.

If reports are to be believed, though, it is those same players who engineered Ranieri's departure this week. A number of senior squad members are alleged to have voiced their concerns to the vice-chairman, just nine months after experiencing what will surely be the pinnacle of all of their careers under the Italian.

Only those inside the club will know what truly transpired, but the stats do not paint a particularly good picture as far as the players are concerned. FWA Footballer of the Year Jamie Vardy scored in a Premier League-record 11 consecutive matches on his way to 24 goals last season, earning him a place in the England squad at Euro 2016, but he has managed just five this time around - three of which came in one game against Manchester City.

Riyad Mahrez arguably outshone even Vardy with 17 goals and 11 assists last season, but he has only three goals and two assists this term; Danny Drinkwater set up seven goals last season but has just one assist to his name this time around.

There have also been problems with squad players like Leonardo Ulloa, who scored a number of crucial goals last season but has barely been given a look-in this time around and even threatened to go on strike in January in order to force a move.


The only major departure was that of N'Golo Kante, but his presence has certainly been missed. The Frenchman has made 86 tackles in 24 appearances for Chelsea this season while the three players chosen to replace him - Daniel Amartey, Wilfred Ndidi and Nampalys Mendy, signed for more than £33m combined - have managed just 50 between them in 27 appearances.

There is no doubt that Ranieri did well to keep the squad together, but those players seemed to lose faith in him and questions can also be raised over the club's recruitment. Slimani may lead the goals and assists charts with five and three respectively, but that is still much fewer than you would expect from a £28m club-record signing.

In football nowadays there is very little that can beat player power, and when a manager has lost the dressing room it is hard for him to claw his way back. Despite the scale of his achievement last season, Ranieri - like Jose Mourinho at Chelsea the year before him - has discovered that success does not necessarily breed loyalty in the sport anymore.

In fairness to Leicester, they are not alone in that respect. The winning managers of the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, Championship playoffs, League One and League Two from 2016 have now all lost their jobs within a year, but there is no doubt that Ranieri's sacking is the most cut-throat of the lot.

Taken in isolation, it is not difficult to see why the decision was made. It is the worst title defence at this stage of a season in English top-flight history, with Leicester three points worse off than the Ipswich Town side of 1963, and relegation looks increasingly inevitable.

Sentiment and romance have a more limited role in football than ever and, if emotion is taken out of the equation, it looks like a reasonable decision. However, the scale of the achievement last term is impossible to ignore and that is why there has been such a furious and exasperated backlash to the news.


Why Claudio Ranieri deserved to stay


Do we really need to give any other reason than the above picture? Ranieri was responsible for delivering not only the greatest moment in Leicester's 133-year history, but also one of the most remarkable achievements that football - or even sport as a whole - has ever seen.

For Leicester to be crowned champions was unthinkable at the start of the campaign. Odds of 5,000-1 represent the biggest outsider to ever win a bet, with Leicester's energy, passion and work ethic scoring an unforgettable victory over the traditional big boys and their vastly superior financial muscle.

Even Leicester's final position from the 2014-15 campaign was slightly misleading, with the Foxes launching a stunning late run of form to escape relegation and eventually finish 14th in the table. Ranieri took that good work under Nigel Pearson and built on it to deliver a thrilling title triumph that captured the hearts and minds of sports fans all over the world.

The success was made even more incredible by the fact that Ranieri's last job had been an unsuccessful stint in charge of Greece which was ended by a home defeat to the Faroe Islands. Former Leicester striker Gary Lineker was outspoken against the Italian's appointment, but just 19 months later described his sacking as "inexplicable" and "unforgivable".

It was clear to most even before this season began that last term was the freak campaign, and while many would not have expected such a dramatic fall from grace for the Foxes this time around, they are, to a large extent, having the same sort of season that they were expected to have last year.

The Leicester board entrusted Ranieri to steer them to safety when they appointed him in July 2015 and, having won the Premier League title in his first season at the club, they seemingly no longer believe that he is capable of doing the job he was essentially brought in to do, despite never having dipped into the bottom three during his time at the King Power Stadium.


There is no getting away from the fact that Leicester are in very real danger of becoming the first team since Manchester City in 1938 to be relegated the season after winning the top-flight title, but at the very least Ranieri had surely earned the time to prove that he could keep the club afloat.

For what it's worth, Manchester City kept faith with their manager Wilf Wild throughout their relegation season and beyond in 1938, but it is hard to find any solid precedent behind Leicester and Ranieri's situation. The game has, of course, moved on lightyears since 1938 and the cost of relegation is so astronomical now that it almost forces clubs in precarious positions to push the panic button.

Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea just seven months after leading them to the title as recently as 2015, but that was a severe underachievement from one of the league's big boys who, like Leicester now, found themselves just a point clear of the bottom three following a dreadful start to the season. Chelsea were expected to compete for and even win the title that season, whereas Leicester's primary target reverted back to avoiding relegation this term.

The title triumph will be the highlight of Ranieri's career, of that there is no doubt, but the veteran manager has also become a victim of that success. Leicester kept faith with Pearson throughout the 2014-15 campaign despite a much bigger threat of relegation, with the Foxes sitting bottom of the table and five points from safety after 25 games of that season.

Loyalty is an increasingly rare trait in football, but there is such a thing as being too loyal. Nottingham Forest won back-to-back European Cups under Brian Clough - perhaps the only achievement in English football that could rival Leicester's title success last season - but then kept faith with the legendary manager until their relegation from the top flight in 1993, winning just two League Cups in his final 13 years at the helm.

Arsenal fans may claim that a similar scenario is happening at their club, with Arsene Wenger still in the job 13 years after his last title success while back-to-back title-winning managers have suffered the sack.


However, it would be a big stretch to suggest that Ranieri had reached the limit of loyalty and the Italian would have felt that he at least deserved the chance to see out the Champions League campaign that he delivered for the club.

The timing of his departure, in the wake of a 2-1 away defeat against Sevilla that leaves the Foxes still very much in their Champions League last-16 tie, was particularly strange. The board have seemingly acted as though last season did not happen, but a position outside of the bottom three and a realistic chance of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League would have been beyond their wildest dreams when they appointed Ranieri.

The club themselves hailed the Italian as their greatest ever manager despite his relatively short time in charge, and surely a man of such stature deserved more faith than the Leicester board have shown.

The argument essentially boils down to cold-hearted and ruthless business decisions based on a short memory and worrying statistics versus the more idealistic and romantic side of football. Leicester, in the space of a year, have shown everything that is good about football and a lot that is bad about it.

Last season's heroes were a throwback to a bygone era where money was not everything and football fairytales came true, and perhaps the main reason why Ranieri's sacking has drawn such an outpour of anger and sorrow is the realisation that the very same club have now epitomised the brutal and cut-throat nature of the modern game.


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Premier League Table
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Liverpool98102171425
2Manchester CityMan City96122992019
3Leicester CityLeicester9522168817
4Chelsea95221914517
5Arsenal94321312115
6Crystal Palace9423810-214
7Tottenham HotspurSpurs93331513212
8Burnley93331211112
9Sheffield UnitedSheff Utd933387112
10Bournemouth93331313012
11West Ham UnitedWest Ham93331113-212
12Aston Villa93241513211
13Wolverhampton WanderersWolves92521212011
14Manchester UnitedMan Utd9243109110
15Everton9315813-510
16Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton9234912-39
17Southampton9225916-78
18Newcastle UnitedNewcastle9225514-98
19Norwich CityNorwich92161021-117
20Watford9045521-164
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Premier League Table
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Liverpool98102171425
2Manchester CityMan City96122992019
3Leicester CityLeicester9522168817
4Chelsea95221914517
5Arsenal94321312115
6Crystal Palace9423810-214
7Tottenham HotspurSpurs93331513212
8Burnley93331211112
9Sheffield UnitedSheff Utd933387112
10Bournemouth93331313012
11West Ham UnitedWest Ham93331113-212
12Aston Villa93241513211
13Wolverhampton WanderersWolves92521212011
14Manchester UnitedMan Utd9243109110
15Everton9315813-510
16Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton9234912-39
17Southampton9225916-78
18Newcastle UnitedNewcastle9225514-98
19Norwich CityNorwich92161021-117
20Watford9045521-164
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