The overwhelming reaction to Leicester City’s sacking of Claudio Ranieri has been anger. ‘How on earth could the club sack the Italian just months after he delivered their greatest ever success?’ It was inevitable that Leicester would have a much more mediocre season this year, the pundits argue, and Ranieri should have been trusted to steer the club away from relegation.
Or is that really the case?
February’s 3-1 win over Liverpool, the Foxes looked back to their brilliant best and more like the side that hit the dizzying heights of 2015/16, as if they were liberated by the departure of the Italian. The outrage of pundits was based on the idea that you do not sack a manager who won you the title less than a year ago, yet it is inaccurate to say that Ranieri won Leicester City the Premier league.
Granted, he did make some important decisions at the beginning of the season that laid the foundations for success. Switching to a 4-4-2 formation proved a good move, despite the success of 3-4-3 in 2014/15, and this remained the go-to formation for the rest of the year.
While transfers are never purely down to the manager, Ranieri deserves a great deal of credit for the inspired signings of N’golo Kante and Christian Fuchs. Meanwhile, he got the most from a group of players who, on paper, were a mid-table team at best.
— Dan Roan (@danroan) February 25, 2017
Yet he hardly had a difficult task to motivate the team. Leicester had ended 2014/15 with a run of 7 wins from their last 9 fixtures, so they started their title-winning season with the wind already in their sails. Indeed, the decision to sack Nigel Pearson was generally criticised and the appointment of Ranieri viewed with plenty of scepticism.
“The outrage of pundits was based on the idea that you do not sack a manager who won you the title less than a year ago, yet it is inaccurate to say that Ranieri won Leicester City the Premier league.”
For the Italian has not had a particularly impressive career. Before his Leicester fairy-tale, he had never won anything more than a domestic cup, despite managing clubs as prestigious as Chelsea, Valencia, Juventus, and Internazionale, while his foray into international management with Greece was a disaster, ending with a defeat to the Faroe Islands.
He is not only the ‘Tinkerman’ but also a journeyman, moving from club to club but never doing well enough to earn a stay of more than a few years. The pundits defend him based on reputation rather than all-important form, and yet he does not even have an impressive reputation.
There are better managers than Ranieri who have their reputations questioned. Pep Guardiola is a man with a glowing reputation, yet many have argued that this is due to his fortune in managing one of the best teams of all time, namely his Barcelona side of a few years ago.
“The decision to sack Nigel Pearson was generally criticised and the appointment of Ranieri viewed with plenty of scepticism.”
Indeed, despite once again having playing resources that most managers could only dream of, he had a disappointing spell at Bayern, failing to deliver Champions League glory, and is having an uncertain time at Manchester City. Many accuse him of merely sitting back and leaving it to the players (which in Barcelona’s case was all that was needed) rather than actually enhancing their performance. It would certainly be interesting to see how he fared at a mid-table club.
Yet at least Guardiola can point to being a regular trophy winner. The same cannot be said of Ranieri, and this season suggests he cannot handle it when the going gets tough. Last season Leicester were swept to the title by a tidal wave of excitement. The likes of Kasper Schmeichel, Wes Morgan, Danny Drinkwater, N’golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez, and Jamie Vardy were in the form of their lives.
“Pundits have condemned Leicester not because Ranieri is a great manager, but because he is a likeable personality. Charming, humble, softly-spoken, it seems harsh for Leicester to fire such a nice man.”
All Ranieri had to do was keep picking them and the results would look after themselves. This season, with Kante gone and the others struggling for form, Ranieri had the task of lifting his players and pushing them to rediscover their best form. He has failed to do that.
He was also helped last season by the fact that, with the exception of Tottenham Hotspur, all of the top clubs had poor seasons. Chelsea fell apart, Arsenal had their annual late-season collapse, Louis Van Gaal and Manuel Pellegrini struggled at the Manchester clubs, while Liverpool were in their perpetual state of transition. Every one of these clubs has improved this season, and with the increased competition Leicester have found themselves well off the pace.
“Leicester’s owners had no choice but to make a decisive change before the club got well and truly sucked into a relegation scrap.”
Pundits have condemned Leicester not because Ranieri is a great manager, but because he is a likeable personality. Charming, humble, softly-spoken, it seems harsh for Leicester to fire such a nice man. Yet football is a business, and in any other business, the notion of retaining a severely under-performing employee because of their affability and their achievements last year would be ridiculous.
Leicester were never expected to do well this season. Whenever an underdog wins a league title, they tend to falter the next season (Montpellier’s Ligue 1 triumph in 2011-12 is the most recent European example). Yet that does not mean Claudio Ranieri does not deserve criticism. Going from winning the title one season to facing going down the next is quite simply a disaster.
Leicester’s owners had no choice but to make a decisive change before the club got well and truly sucked into a relegation scrap. Ranieri played his part in the Leicester City fairytale and rightly has a special place in the club’s history and the hearts of fans, but that is now very much in the past. This season he has not been good enough, a reminder that he is not objectively a very good manager.
We often talk about players being ‘one-season wonders’ – why not managers too?
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