Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City ouster: a counter-attack that caught him off guard?

Claudio Ranieri was relieved of his duties as Leicester City manager after the Premier League champions had a disappointing start to the season.

football Updated: Feb 24, 2017 20:47 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Claudio Ranieri,Claudio Ranieri Sacking,Leicester City
Claudio Ranieri was sacked by Leicester City after a dismal run of form in the 2016-17 season.(REUTERS)

Having won the Premier League last season by hitting on the break, Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri, it seems, has been caught on the counter. The manner of his sacking, nine months after defying 5000-1 odds to win the world’s toughest football league, is also symptomatic of how team owners play the media and more through statements that mean exactly the opposite of what they are supposed to.

Claudio Ranieri went because mortals fulfill great expectations only once. He got Leicester to believe in a new normal: that they could be champions. This, to a team that has been up and down six times in the past 15 seasons.

Indeed, Ranieri came with the modest ambition of keeping Leicester in the Premiership. He then got the team to overreach itself. Or, as he put it: “The god of football said Leicester must win.”


The god of football may have also decided that the usual contenders also implode at once. “We cannot compare the Premier League of last year with this year,” said fellow Italian and Watford manager Walter Mazzarri.

Whatever it was, the divine intervention led to new dreams. But for a team that will now be managed by a Shakespeare, it is perhaps appropriate to point out that such ambition usually ends up falling on the other side, as Macbeth said.

‎Many reasons will be put forward now. That Ranieri lost the dressing room --- sacked coaches always do; look at how it went downhill for Jose Mourinho with Chelsea last term ---- lost a key player and then other key players lost form. And that their defence isn’t as difficult to break down any more.

All of that would be true. Report of dressing room rift started circulating earlier this year. N’Golo Kante proved irreplaceable ---- his 86 tackles for Chelsea puts him third on the list this term --- and they haven’t been able to defend set-pieces as well as they did possibly because referees have been stricter in the Premiership. Then, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez couldn’t recapture their Cinderella season.


That could be an important reason. Players now get scrutinised every second and the good ones stay ahead by evolving into different, better ones. Unless you are Arjen Robben because even though everyone knows when he would cut in and where he would shoot, he often still can’t be stopped. The example of Philipp Lahm would be an extreme one but ‎this season Vardy and Mahrez seem like Yusuf Pathan in cricket’s short and shorter versions.


With that came Ranieri’s inability to find another way. Leicester haven’t got the space for those fast transitions that caught teams by surprise last season. It took a 0-3 defeat for Antonio Conte to switch to three centre-backs. But though Ranieri tinkered with the team, he couldn’t find another effective way of playing.

The way Leicester’s season has panned out also shows why it is so difficult to break the stranglehold top clubs have on trophies. Or why there have been eight winners in 20 World Cups. Soon after a comeback win against Monaco, Manchester City’s Yaya Toure spoke about history not being behind them and that it would take a few years for them to be like, well, Manchester United.

Ranieri won’t have to be the first Premier League manager to supervise relegation of the reigning champions. But as Mourinho has said: no one can delete the history he wrote.

First Published: Feb 24, 2017 17:54 IST