In a fox­hole

Should un­der-fire Leicester City boss be bul­let­proof?

Global Times - Weekend - - SPORTS - By Jonathan White

Clau­dio Ranieri is the odds-on fa­vorite to be the next Premier League man­ager to be sacked. This is the same Ranieri who was named Best Coach at FIFA’s Best Awards last month, a ti­tle he de­served for tak­ing Leicester City from rel­e­ga­tion bat­tle sur­vivors to cham­pi­ons of Eng­land in a sin­gle sea­son.

Leicester City’s re­mark­able rise to the top of the ta­ble was a tri­umph for the ages, a story that took root around the world, but in the eyes of many who were so en­rap­tured by the Premier League-era fairy tale, it has not ended hap­pily ever after and it is time for Ranieri to go.

Fans fum­ing

Many of those call­ing for his head are Leicester City fans – the peo­ple who were pinch­ing them­selves for much of last sea­son be­cause they could not be­lieve what they were see­ing from Ranieri’s charges as they swept to the ti­tle by 10 points.

Ra­dio phone-ins are abuzz with callers de­mand­ing that Ranieri be re­lieved of his role, as they were as far back as Septem­ber when they lost at Manch­ester United, while in­side the Walk­ers Sta­dium the at­mos­phere this sea­son has seen boo­ing steadily in­crease.

Fans ar­gue that they have seen the cham­pi­ons of Eng­land ca­pit­u­late, that the side are just one point above the rel­e­ga­tion zone after 24 games and face the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing the first cham­pi­ons to be rel­e­gated since Manch­ester City in 1938, and that the man­ager has to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for that slide.

These fans also ar­gue that while Ranieri de­serves credit for the ti­tle win, more should go to his pre­de­ces­sor Nigel Pear­son, who over­saw the side’s equally un­likely es­cape from rel­e­ga­tion in the 2014-15 sea­son, and that Ranieri’s ti­tle was built on the con­tin­u­a­tion of that Pear­son side’s form from the turn of the year.

They have a point, in so much that Leicester City have strug­gled to pick up from where they left off last sea­son and in turn failed to pick up many points in the Premier League. But in mak­ing their case they have high­lighted one rea­son why Ranieri should not be shown the door.

Un­rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tions

De­spite the ti­tle win – an anom­aly in both the his­tory of the Premier League and the his­tory of Leicester City – the club and its fans have no rea­son to ex­pect a re­peat or any­thing near­ing it. Their form this sea­son is more in keep­ing with where Leicester City can ex­pect to be – they were al­most rel­e­gated in 2014-15 and were tipped for rel­e­ga­tion at the be­gin­ning of last sea­son too.

As fickle as the modern fan is, their team are still in the FA Cup and they are in the knock­out stages of the Cham­pi­ons League. The Foxes are in the Cham­pi­ons League, which is rea­son enough to si­lence the voices clam­or­ing for his head.

Those calls for regime change are not com­ing from within the game. Derby County man­ager Steve McLaren spoke of Ranieiri’s predica­ment and said that the Ital­ian should have a statue out­side the ground for what he achieved last sea­son. Gary Lineker has been un­equiv­o­cal in his sup­port for the man­ager, while fel­low player-turned-pun­dit Jamie Car­ragher has spo­ken out against re­ports that the play­ers want the man­ager to go. The theme is clear: Ranieiri’s ex­ploits should al­low him a stay of ex­e­cu­tion, even if that means go­ing down.

Lost fo­cus

Ranieri ad­mits the team have lost fo­cus this sea­son. He may not have helped that. Re­ports have emerged that the play­ers have been un­com­fort­able with the con­stant shifts in for­ma­tion and per­son­nel that the man­ager has im­posed, of­ten at very short no­tice, as he strug­gles to re­place the de­parted N’Golo Kante.

While Kante ap­pears on course for back-to­back ti­tles with new club Chelsea, his for­mer team­mates have strug­gled to match him in repli­cat­ing their form from last sea­son. With the ex­cep­tion of beat­ing Manch­ester City in De­cem­ber, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have not hit the heights of the pre­vi­ous cam­paign. The pair were hauled off at half­time in their loss at Old Traf­ford – and as Lineker pointed out on Twit­ter, cen­ter backs Robert Huth and Wes Mor­gan are ex­posed with­out Kante mop­ping up in front of them.

Goal­keeper Kasper Sch­me­ichel has called their ti­tle de­fense “em­bar­rass­ing” and the play­ers have to take as much re­spon­si­bil­ity as their man­ager for that.

Board back­ing

This week the board has given their “un­wa­ver­ing sup­port” to their man­ager. In many cases a pub­lic procla­ma­tion of their con­fi­dence would be seen as the kiss of death but that might not be the case with Leicester City. They stuck by Pear­son two sea­sons ago with the club deep in the rel­e­ga­tion quag­mire and he proved them right by se­cur­ing their Premier League sta­tus with a game to spare. There is no rea­son to be­lieve that the vul­tures are cir­cling above Ranieri, at least not from his em­ploy­ers.

How long will that be the case? Of the teams be­low them, Swansea City – who they meet at the Lib­erty Sta­dium on Sun­day – have shown an up­turn in form since Paul Cle­ment took over from Bob Bradley, sim­i­larly Hull City un­der new man­ager Marco Silva. David Moyes ap­pears to have turned a cor­ner with Sun­der­land – they beat fel­low strug­glers Crys­tal Palace last week – while ev­ery­one still ex­pects Sam Al­lardyce to have a pos­i­tive ef­fect on Palace. Leicester are right among the rel­e­ga­tion can­di­dates and cur­rently in worse form, with only two wins in their last 15 league games.

What hap­pens in South Wales on Sun­day could mean the end of the road for Ranieri and he needs his Foxes to go for the jugu­lar when they meet the Swans.

Leicester City man­ager Clau­dio Ranieri ges­tures dur­ing their Premier League match against Burnley in Burnley, Eng­land on Jan­uary 31.

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