Arrivederci Ranieri!

Claudio Ranieri lost his job nine months after fashioning the most spectacular football fairy-tale, leading lowly Leicester City to the 2015-16 Premier League title. The construction he fashioned may no longer be there, but the memories live on. So too does Ranieri as Leicester’s greatest manager.

Claudio Ranieri will always be a favourite with the Leicester City fans.   -  REUTERS

Dilly Ding, Dilly Gone! Nine months after thrilling the world with one of the greatest sporting achievements ever known, the architect of that triumph, Claudio Ranieri, was sacked. The dream, as Ranieri put it in his statement, was dead. It was a dream all football fans had shared. Rivalries – for a short time, at least – were put aside to enjoy Leicester’s incredible Premier League win.

Leicester, a provincial side nestled near the centre of England, had never finished higher than second in the top flight in the club’s 132-year history. Fifteen years had passed since their last foray into European competitions, and at the start of the 2015-16 season they were a club more concerned with league survival than competing for the number one spot, when Ranieri took over.

This is what makes their accomplishment all the more astounding, and the departure of Ranieri feels all the more heartless. For this was a win for the people. Money didn’t buy the title. No, players competing at their optimum combined with astute tactics ensured they became only the sixth club to have their name inscribed on the Premier League trophy.

But compassion matters little when there’s so much at stake. Or should that be so much money at stake? Because Leicester were only ever heading one way while Ranieri stayed in charge. And that simply would not do. Not for a club, who were looking to expand. A club that had broken their transfer record four times in the summer. A club that now demanded more success. The ignominy of becoming the first champions to be relegated since 1938 could not be allowed to happen.

So, arrivederci, Ranieri! It was fun while it lasted. But football only ever exists in the present. And presently Leicester are far too close to the drop zone for their liking. Ranieri is, of course, not the first Premier League-winning manager to lose his job the following season. In fact, five out of the last six managers, who won the title, moved on before the end of the next season. It was no coincidence that Jose Mourinho, having left Chelsea under similar circumstances, used Ranieri’s departure to complain about the state of club owners, players and the media.

Supporters with a banner, thanking Ranieri, ahead of the team’s game against Liverpool.   -  REUTERS

 

The removal of Ranieri brought with it scorn and anger at the merciless nature of the undertaking. But, and this was overlooked by many, that contempt was not from those within Leicester but outside. Fans had grown weary with the constant change to the starting XI, tweaking of tactics and the inability to defend as resolutely as they had the previous season. While many pointed to the lack of goals as troubling, Leicester were in fact converting chances at the same rate as before, it’s just that they struggled to create enough opportunities.

The issue lay in the defence, with one theory suggesting that referees informed clubs during the summer that they would be more stringent on manhandling opponents and so limited the physical aspect of the game, an attribute that made Leicester’s back four so strong. Combined with N’Golo Kante’s transfer to Chelsea for GBP30million, removing the heart of the side, Leicester were blunted.

Importantly, before the current season even got under way, decisions by Ranieri had started to unpick the bond forged over the previous 18 months. Ken Way, a sports psychologist who had been with the club when Nigel Pearson was still in charge, was let go. Used primarily to ward off bad attitudes before they set into the rest of the team, he was one of three key backroom staff to leave in the past year. The base that had served Leicester so well had now been removed.

On the field they failed to win, and even score, in the league in 2017 under Ranieri. Players were no longer committed, and reports came that they held a private meeting with the owners following the Champions League defeat in Sevilla. Within 48 hours Ranieri left.

Naive revisionism concerning Ranieri’s part in the fairy-tale achievement began in earnest. The title was down to the run-in from the previous season, they argued. The set-up already in place and the impressive scouting network ensured victory, they’d offer forth. All those are true, but they neglect what Ranieri did do.

Crucially, he was wise enough not to impose himself on the dressing room, barking orders and making significant changes to how the club was run day-to-day. A meeting was held soon after Ranieri signed, where the experienced players made it clear they were nervy that the arrival of the Italian manager would mean a shake up of the methods in place. It was at this point that Ranieri made the decision to make only subtle changes.

Evolution not revolution was his plan. The practice of decisions reached by consensus continued, with the players allowed to have their input. Discipline was relaxed. However, it could not last forever. As soon as luck and results went against them, the great house that Ranieri helped build came tumbling down.

The construction he fashioned may no longer be there, but the memories live on. So too does Ranieri as Leicester’s greatest manager. After all, you never forget your first, especially when it’s a Premier League title.

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