Imagine not liking your boss. We’ve all been there before, right? Now imagine slacking off because of it, then actually getting a reward. As the dust settled on Leicester City’s now-upside down fairy tale Thursday afternoon, that’s essentially what happened. Leicester quit playing and Claudio Ranieri would pay the price. Per Sky Sports:
“Senior players told club’s owners they were unhappy with Ranieri in meeting after defeat to Sevilla.”
That established, Leicester didn’t just quit before the Sevilla game. This has been going on for several weeks now. We’ll get to that in a bit.
Look, I understand it’s never quite that simple. I know we pick the narratives we believe fit and desperately cling to them. And just as we cannot claim N’Golo Kanté is the sole reason Leicester won the title last season, we cannot say Ranieri only got sacked because his players stopped playing.
But we can build on those narratives. We can rightfully note that having Kanté allowed Leicester to play their style, but not without admitting that everybody—literally everybody—on the Foxes had the season of their lives. We can also rightfully assume that there were multiple problems behind the scenes. Isn’t that typically the case? Then again, Leicester City was never the typical case.
The 2015-16 campaign brought with it arguably the aberration of all aberrations. As a whole, the English Premier League experienced a noticeable dip. Chelsea finished mid-table. Manchester City earned Champions League qualification by the skin of their teeth. United stalled once again. All told, everything came together for Leicester. So they took full advantage, becoming champions of England while Ranieri was named FIFA Manager of the Year.
What a difference a year makes.
Fast forward, and Leicester find themselves right back where we imagined they’d be last season. That isn’t Ranieri’s fault entirely—it’s never just the manager’s fault. Though, to nobody’s surprise, the club manager becomes the most expendable. When things turn sour, you’re not going to fire all of the players. Right or wrong, you’re going to make changes at the top. And it’s reasonable to assume that any other manager in this position would be facing the same fate.
Relegation is serious business, and Ranieri was running out of time. At the end, not even one of the most unfathomable PL title runs could save him. Suffice to say that after this, no manager is safe. Leicester City was never going to repeat. Hell, finishing mid-table after upending the odds last season would have been a success. So what happens now?
Are the Foxes suddenly going to have the performance of their season against Liverpool on Monday? Should the board have waited until after the second leg of their UCL tie against Sevilla—in which Leicester heads home with a crucial away goal—to relieve Ranieri? First off, probably not. Secondly, there simply might not have been enough time to risk that.
Between now and the second leg, three vital PL matches come first. Two of those are against Liverpool and Arsenal, with the other opponent being a relegation-threatened Hull City. Leicester was in a no-win situation, it just happened to go down about as badly as possible. That part falls almost entirely on the players. If the final straw was indeed them going over his head to the owners, shame on them. Let’s talk about some of these players, shall we?
The Foxes don’t have a single Premier League goal in 2017—it’s February 24. Jamie Vardy has five goals and two assists over 22 PL appearances; he notched 24 and six in 36 such appearances last season. Riyad Mahrez, last season’s PFA Player of the Year, scored 17 and assisted 11 in 36 PL appearances of his own. He’s offered just three goals and two assists in 23 such appearances this season. The beat goes on.
Did we really believe Robert Huth and Wes Morgan were defensive studs? The same goes for Christian Fuchs and Danny Simpson. Are we really going to keep pretending? Again, it all came together last season. It’s okay to say that. It wasn’t just because of Claudio Ranieri, of course, but he was as big a reason as any. Yet like all managers before him, right or wrong, he became the scapegoat.
Leicester City will probably never win another Premier League title. Their chances of qualifying for the Champions League in the future are slim to none as well. But nobody can take 2015-16 away from them. And, nobody can take the success Claudio Ranieri guided this club to away from him. This is a man who’s managed clubs including but not limited to: Napoli, Chelsea, Atlético Madrid and Juventus. Yet, his first top-flight title came with Leicester City in the Premier League? Not too shabby.
But then his players decided they were complacent. Beyond that, in fact, as things went from bad to worse than they could have possibly imagined. So the manager paid the price, as managers always do. This time it was Claudio Ranieri; next time it’ll be somebody else. Then we’ll just be back here asking ourselves the same question, which is: when are we allowed to hold players accountable?