Claudio Ranieri's sacking is sad, but modern football means Leicester could not afford to be romantic

Not even that title-winning campaign, the closest thing football has seen to a miracle, could buy the Italian time

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Friday 24 February 2017 08:47 GMT
Claudio Ranieri's side was fundamentally broken and he was always likely to pay the price for that
Claudio Ranieri's side was fundamentally broken and he was always likely to pay the price for that

The party is over, that bell has finally tolled for Claudio Ranieri… whatever line you want to use from last season that has now been completely inverted, not even this story could evade football’s own bottom line. It is sad.

One of the sport's greatest achievements, a fantastically endearing tale that was supposed to defy so many of the capitalistic trappings of the modern game, has merely reinforced just how brutal football is in the fiercest way. Not even its closest equivalent to a life-affirming miracle could grant a stay of execution.

All of that means, from a sentimental and emotional perspective, Leicester City’s decision is an unbelievably harsh and maybe even unfair decision. Bambi, to borrow former Newcastle United chairman Freddy Shepherd’s phrase, has been shot.

Is it harsh or unfair from a purely football or logical perspective, though? That’s a lot more difficult to say - if not quite as difficult as Ranieri might have found it to keep Leicester up.

The bottom line with this team is that something was fundamentally broken within it.

Something therefore had to change. While this doesn’t mean the players should be absolved, the reality of football - not to mention its legal structures - ensure it is much easier to just get rid of the manager. That will become all the clearer when you’re drastically running out of time, as Leicester are.

One fair argument throughout all of this has been that they could have picked a more understandable time, especially since it was literally the day before - and Jamie Vardy’s rousing away goal in the 2-1 defeat to Sevilla - that Leicester finally had something to offer encouragement; finally something that suggested this situation might be fixable. Danny Simpson even said after that game that he could feel the confidence returning after Vardy’s strike.

“You could tell by the way we played after that. Some of the stuff we played, maybe we could have got 2-2. You know, 2-1 and a good performance, we have given ourselves a chance back home.”

The strong counter-argument to all of that is that it would be ludicrous to base such a decision on one moment’s play and a punt on “mentality”, when there are hours of evidence to the contrary, not least the other 89 minutes of this match. Instead, the defeat to Sevilla probably definitively displayed why this situation was unfixable.

The heightened atmosphere of the Champions League didn’t, in fact, restore a heightened level of performance in Leicester. They were dismal. The defence was so exposed, the team selection was wrong with the choice of Ahmed Musa, and there didn’t seem any kind of possibility whatsoever that Ranieri could out-think Jorge Sampaoli to somehow go through. It was merely blind luck, great goalkeeping and some poor finishing that the English champions - a status that now seems even more surreal - didn’t get humiliated.

It would also be wrong to say that the players haven’t been trying. These situations are rarely so simplistic.

It’s just that the connection that was so key to making it all work last season is gone. Whereas absolutely everything clicked together then and Ranieri supremely surfed and directed a fine club structure, he just hasn’t known how to react to any of it this season, particularly the changes to that structure. He hasn’t come close to figuring out how to start reshaping the team without N’Golo Kante, and that has set a pattern whereby almost every decision he’s made has worsened the situation.

Bambi, to borrow former Newcastle United chairman Freddy Shepherd’s phrase, has been shot.

The reality is that many of his calls had started to confuse the Leicester players, and that the tight focus of last season had completely evaporated. That gradually created a loss of confidence, and then outright doubt, that ensured many players ultimately felt relegation could become inevitable if the manager wasn’t changed.

This doesn’t mean that some haven’t dropped their level or not got complacent, but shaking them out of that is also a massive part of the manager’s job. Ranieri wasn't suited to it.

When that whole dynamic starts to take hold - and that connection is broken - clubs ultimately have to act quickly. And, when all things are weighed up, sacking the manager tends to be the most logical decision.

The away goal in Seville masked an otherwise wretched Leicester performance

Many might insist that Leicester should have taken the emotional decision and even risked relegation for the sake of preserving the sanctity and unity of last season, but football clubs can’t afford that kind of romance. Relegation is too costly, especially in this modern economic climate.

There’s also the more abstract argument that this could actually be better for the legacy of last season, for both Ranieri and the club. If it does end up proved that this was a straight choice between relegation and sacking, relegation would have been far worse for the memory of 2015-16 than dispensing with the Italian.

He will always have that achievement, after all, and that will be remembered much more than the fact he got sacked by February of the following season. It is a follow-on from last season’s story, but not quite part of it. Had they all got relegated together, however, it would have undeniably been part of the story. It would always have been the most miraculous win followed by the most sensational collapse, the two forever going hand in hand together, annus mirabilis and then annus horribilis.

Leicester feel this was the only remaining choice open to them to prevent that final collapse. There is a logic to it, if no sense of romance.

There can never be any sense of romance to how these things play out, though. Ranieri was informed of the decision by director of football Jon Rudkin shortly after returning to East Midlands Airport in the afternoon.

He had just landed from Seville, of course, where he had been asked whether his now former Leicester side were matadors or bulls. That's all the more poignant.

Ranieri had come from a city so associated with bullfighting to face a death in the afternoon.

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