By Andrew Warshaw
February 24 – It was described as the greatest ever miracle in team sport, a triumph that defied all logic at odds of 5000 to 1. But nine months after guiding Leicester City to the most unlikely of English Premier League titles, Claudio Ranieri has been shown the door by the club’s Thai owners in what must rank as one of football’s most disgraceful sackings even by today’s standards of harsh business decisions.
No-one would deny that just as they over-performed last season, so Leicester have under-performed this term having plummeted to 17th place in the table, just one place off the relegation zone. Only once in history has winning England’s top flight been followed by instant demotion.
Yet just when it seemed they were turning the corner, having succumbed to a creditable 2-1 defeat by highly rated Seville in the Champions league with the home leg still to come, so Ranieri was brutally dispensed with after achieving legendary status.
Leicester chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha tried to explain their reasoning.
“This has been the most difficult decision we have had to make. But we are duty-bound to save the club’s long-term interest above all sense of personal sentiment, no matter how strong that must be,” said a statement.
“Claudio has brought outstanding qualities to his office. His skilful management, powers of motivation and measured approach have been reflective of the rich experience we always knew he would bring to Leicester City.
“His warmth, charm and charisma have helped transform perceptions of the Club and develop its profile on a global scale. We will forever be grateful to him for what he has helped us to achieve.
“It was never our expectation that the extraordinary feats of last season should be replicated this season. Indeed, survival in the Premier League was our first and only target at the start of the campaign. But we are now faced with a fight to reach that objective and feel a change is necessary to maximise the opportunity presented by the final 13 games.”
According to some reports, the players – almost all of them title winners last season – had become alienated from Ranieri but the decision to get rid of the man who turned Leicester into everyone’s second favourite team and oozed humour, modesty and dignity sent shockwaves across the sport and prompted universal outrage and disgust.
“Inexusable, unforgivable,” posted former Leicester and England striker Gary Lineker on social media, echoing the view of thousands who saw Leicester sweep through their Champions League group as winners with a game to spare even though they were struggling domestically.
Ranieri may not have always enjoyed success in a career spanning 14 clubs including Napoli, Roma, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan, Monaco and Chelsea.
But the fact that Leicester, after decades of relative obscurity, are three places and millions of pounds better off than they were at this stage two years ago appears to be lost on owners who have pressed the panic button in a classic case of short-termism.
In doing so, they have brought to an end the reign of the lovable Italian who had never previously won a league title yet will forever be remembered for catapulting a team of no-hopers to the greatest triumph in Leicester’s 133-year history.
For that alone, he should have been treated more thoughtfully and graciously and at least given a chance to keep Leicester in the top flight – something most of their fans in most seasons would view as success.
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