Life can be difficult at high altitudes. Leicester City Football Club is finding this out the hard way. Its motley group of footballers climbed the peak, inspired by a crafty manager with a beautiful vision. But the club seems to be unraveling now, in the face of vertigo that is threatening to destroy it. A fairytale that was beyond belief is suddenly sour beyond imagination. The Thai owners of LCFC sent shockwaves in the football universe with their decision to sack Claudio Ranieri. The club is battling relegation and the man that scripted the Leicester fairytale is walking about looking for a new job.
Despite Leicester’s well-documented troubles this season, this has to be one of the most shocking managerial sackings in Premier League history. After all, the Italian had scripted one of the most unlikely tales of triumph with his magical influence on Leicester last season.
“After all that Claudio Ranieri has done for Leicester City, to sack him now is inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad,” tweeted Gary Linekar. I think it was a culturally depraved decision too. Club football is built on a foundation of heritage and legacy. A club is no more than the collective prose of triumph and tragedy read out in the communities around it, passed down from one generation to the next.
Modern football though seems to be turning into a soulless commercial enterprise caught in a vortex that demands instant success. If Ranieri needs a good man to drown his sorrow with, he will find plenty of them who can lighten the mood by sharing the grief.
Vicente del Bosque suffered a similar fate at Real Madrid, after earning the club two La Liga titles and a pair of Champions League trophies. Sam Allardyce is another man that can relate to Ranieri’s plight, suffering the boot just when it seemed that the management had him covered.
Marcus Christenson of the Guardian called Leicester’s choice of hiring Ranieri “baffling,” when he came on board in July 2015. It is an assessment that might be more appropriate now, as a reflection on the sacking of the storied manager.
Ranieri accomplished a seemingly impossible task in bringing the trophy to Leicester for the first time in 132 years. No one gave them a chance. Media pundits wondered if Ranieri can keep them from falling into the relegation bucket. Betting firms offered 5000-1 odds on Leicester winning the title. Yet, Ranieri found the voice and vision needed to lift the spirits of his motley team of footballers on an unforgettable journey to the summit.
Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez turned opportunity into substance laying the foundation for their triumphant run. N’Golo Kante redefined the term workhorse with his untiring ethic in the midfield during their season of delight. Wes Morgan’s leadership and endurance gave the team belief. Kasper Schmeichel’s steadiness in the goal was instrumental in fueling the counter-attacks that defined so much of their success. The brains behind much of this was the understated Italian manager.
But success brought a new set of problems. And Ranieri, who seemed at home climbing the mountain, found himself ill at ease living on it. The departure of Kante to Chelsea shook the foundation and the club hasn’t yet recovered from the loss of its tireless midfield warrior.
Kante’s absence has exposed the ageing duo of Robert Huth and Wes Morgan. Vardy and Mahrez seem as inspired by football as the American media is by Donald Trump. Adding to their woes is the brewing discontent among the players.
Ranieri has faltered with his choices. The expenses spared to acquire Ahmed Musa, Nampalys Mendy and Bartosz Kapustka haven’t paid no dividend. Instead it has made long serving warriors of the team disgruntled about the ways of their manager, sowing the seeds of gloom.
Another factor has been Ranieri’s return to his famed tinkering. Unlike the stability of their title winning run, Ranieri has been forced to chip and change this season. Sadly, nothing has worked for the team, adding to the sense of despair gripping the club. Schmeichel was impeccable in the goal last season. He contributed to 15 clean sheets and bled just 36 goals. The team has already conceded 41 goals this season, with a third of the season still to be played.
The search for reasons could be endless. But Ranieri’s fate might just be explained by one overwhelming fact. The decision to sell Kante was perhaps the worst of Ranieri’s managerial career. Leicester returned to the Premier League in 2014. They have collected just 63 points in as many games without the services of the towering central midfielder. In contrast, they took in a whopping 80 points off just 37 games with Kante on the field.
If Ranieri’s marshalling of unheralded soldiers should invoke respect, his struggles this season should also cause dismay. It is unfortunate that the club did not afford him space and time to try and work out solutions. Ranieri’s sacking exposes the unforgiving nature of top flight football. The idea of a long term manager seems to be dying a natural death.
It is a real pity that the Foxes will no longer hear the “dilly ding dilly dong” sounds inside the King Power Stadium.
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Updated Date: Feb 24, 2017 13:57:42 IST