CLAUDIO Ranieri was sacked last night (at the time of writing).
It is too obvious to state that this represents a disappointing state of affairs. That the figure head for as great an achievement as there has been in British sport should find that his team no longer require his services is beyond sad. Ranieri is simply the greatest leader in the history of Leicester City Football Club. While it remains voguish to build statues to the game’s heroes, that mob should be rushing to put down a deposit on a lump of quality granite toute-suite.
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Leicester City chairman, was right to sack Ranieri.
The criticism of him and his board is irrational. It is irrationality disguised as compassion, which makes it irksome. Most of the voices crying loudest about the perceived injustice done to Claudio came from beyond Leicester. Voices that can afford to view a football club and it’s people as a curio, as a sometime charming distraction. The Leicester City story is beloved of those only passingly interested. Their improbable league title win of 2016 a frozen moment in time. Those loveable Corinthians. They reminded us that sport remains, beyond all else, about triumph of will.
Unfreeze the frozen frame. Release the paused image. Scroll right nine months to today. Leicester City have been put back where God found them. They are in their rightful place, near the bottom of the top. On the cusp of relegation once more. Hierarchical order has been restored.
But you haven’t really been watching. Not really anyway. And why should you? It’s only Leicester.
They have been watching, though. The Leicester nation has been watching. They have seen their ‘moment’ rendered precisely that — a blink, a blip, a hiccup. Did it really happen? Were all those metaphors about living a dream literal after all? Was any of it real?
You’ve trudged with Edmund Hillary to the top of Mount Everest. He’s got you there, his leadership, guile, know-how. You owe it all to him. On the way down, though, he seems to be directing you into a ravine. To almost certain death. You know he still thinks he’s doing the right thing, but every turn on the descent seems to only increase the sense of impending danger. The abyss has clearly opened up in front if you. If you don’t do something drastic you are going to be swallowed whole by it.
If Leicester lose to Liverpool on Monday night, and the weekend’s other fixtures aren’t kind to them, they are likely mired in a bottom two trench that will take some climbing out of. The Leicester board were right to sack Claudio because their jobs are to achieve the best set of outcomes for Leicester City FC. They don’t exist to honour Ranieri in perpetuity. They, and all Leicester, may be grateful to the man until they draw their last breaths, but they are bound to love the entity that is the football club, that little bit more.
Ranieri knows that the Leicester board were right to sack him. He knows this because he understands the extents and limitations of a manager’s powers. Claudio oozes experience. He has been round all the blocks. Ten times. He is the man most aware that when the fairy dust that makes players, a crowd, a football club have faith, be committed to the manager’s method, when that magic is absented, then there is nothing left.
The tales Claudio must have told those Leicester boys last season to raise them so high. So fanciful so beyond belief, so extravagant. And yet, they chose to believe. They elected to view Ranieri as the Shamen. His word as lore. His word above all others. He convinced them to walk through fire.
Claudio had those boys follow him across that tightrope that that French guy spanned across the Twin Towers, way back. He rid them of their fear, kept their heads up, and focused eyes only on the other side. His magic over their minds. They were champions of all England. They had achieved the seemingly impossible. They just needed to walk back across that taut wire to safety and a place among the football’s comfortable establishment.
And then they looked down.
And after they’d looked down Claudio knew that they were doomed. That they would fall and that he wouldn’t be able to catch them.
Leicester City’s board have simply gambled that a new voice might — just might — correct their perilously off-kilter team. Might re-orientate them just before they plummet. It’s a long shot, but the alternative wasn’t worth thinking about.
This drama is played out with depressing regularity in football. Liverpool FC — in various ownership guises — have had to make these calls, for better and sometimes for worse. That it was the Tom Hicks and George Gillett era, and the Roy Hodgson was the answer to a question, doesn’t change the fact that Rafa Benitez had hit a wall at Liverpool in 2010, just 12 months after taking an incredible Manchester United side as close to the wire as it often gets. Rafa was rightly handed a new contract in early 2009. It was right that he and the club parted just 12 months later.
Then there was Kenny — he had saved the club from a Hodgson-inspired meltdown by May of 2011, but despite bringing a trophy back to Anfield had presided over a depressing league campaign. His ‘executioners’, the then new Bostonian owners, knew less about the game than Kenny had forgotten in an afternoon, but they recognised — and it isn’t hard to see how — when a manager was no longer able to have the influence over a dressing room he once seemed to so effortlessly enjoy.
Freshest in the memory is the culling of Brendan Rodgers in October 2015. Brendan, the man who has come closer than any to rendering the league title back to Anfield since it was last won in 1990. His reward for that near legendary achievement was to be permitted 10 games worth of grace, into the 2015/16 season, before being removed from office.
The Ranieri decision is more binary than all of the examples above. In all of these instances, cases could and were made that patience might be its own reward. The price of making incorrect alternative decisions may have been a lower league placing, by a position or two. For Leicester City, failing to act was sanctioning the club being relegated.
In what realm was/is it OK for a board to sit back and allow that to happen to a club when there is always a different course that can be set? It can obviously fail just as fundamentally but surely the greatest dereliction of duty by a club’s custodians is to sit on their hands in such times of strife.
The Leicester people simply could not afford to stick. Twisting was their only option. If I were a fan of that club I would hope that they did have a new man already lined up. To have sacked Ranieri and deemed him worse than leaving the ship rudderless would seem a more than curious action. Unless that Leicester team had reached the unlikely point where they couldn’t even look their once beloved leader in the eye, even a diminished Ranieri would be better than a void.
From an Liverpool point of view this no-man’s-land between the sacking and the appointment of the new guy is to be exploited. Regardless of the rectitude of removing Ranieri, his leaving will cast the club into a phase of mourning. There will be talk of a defiant showing ‘for the boss’, but confusion and insecurity will abound.
Jürgen Klopp was stealing Liverpool for the task of taking on a rejuvenated version of Leicester City. The one that felt it had briefly rediscovered its soul in the wake of a potentially crucial away goal against Sevilla in the Champions League in midweek. From a Reds’ point of view, it is to be hoped that whatever long-term purpose Ranieri’s sacking may serve for Leicester, that in the immediate here and now it is only a good thing for Liverpool.
Klopp saw the rise in his own stock briefly checked during a fallow January, but the win over Tottenham more than calmed nerves, it restored total confidence in the manager. The run-in starts here, Jürgen is telling his players. Face only the front and we’ll see what’s behind us when the clock stops in May, he has told them.
It’s what we all need and want to hear. Let’s raise a glass to Claudio Ranieri and an immortal achievement. Let’s wish him and even Leicester well. But let’s win. Let’s leave regretting behind for the season.
The carnivorous Reds to face off against the Foxes: Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Coutinho, Mane, Firmino.
Kick-Off: 8pm live on Sky Sports 1
Last Match: Liverpool 4 Leicester City 1
Referee: Michael Oliver
Odds: Leicester City 5-1, Draw 16-5, Liverpool 4-6