In a foxhole
Should under-fire Leicester City boss be bulletproof?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.