By Andrew Warshaw
October 18 – Just how short-sighted can you get? If ever a club was the victim of its own success, that club is surely Leicester City. The season before last, Leicester upset every prediction in the book by famously coming from nowhere to win the English Premier League, perhaps the greatest miracle in team sport.
It was a feat that reverberated around the globe orchestrated by charismatic Italian manager Claudio Ranieri. No-one outside Leicester’s diehard fans (and maybe not even them) expected the club to be challenging for honours – of any description.
However memorable an achievement – a rare and heartwarming example of what can be attained with all-for-one teamwork and canny management – it was a one-off. Nevertheless, nine months later, after guiding the club to the most unlikely of titles, Ranieri was shown the door by the club’s Thai owners in what must rank as one of football’s most unjust sackings even by today’s standards of harsh business decisions.
In Ranieri’s place came his assistant Craig Shakespeare who steadied what had suddenly become a rocking ship. Yet now Shakespeare has gone the same away, just four months after he signed a three-year deal to take the job on a permanent basis.
What on earth were Leicester’s Thai owners thinking? Okay the Foxes are having a bad run have not won any of their past six league matches but they are not a title-chasing team. Nor can they possibly be expected to challenge for the top six. Like many other top-flight English clubs, they have some fine players for whom a top-half finish should be a reasonable goal. Under Shakespeare, Leicester finished 12th last term, not far off that top half.
Owners can sometimes have totally unrealistic ambitions and jettisoning the Leicester manager at such an early stage of the new campaign seems a classic example. Shakespeare won eight of his 16 games in charge after taking over last term and even led the club to an unlikely Champions League quarter-final. They may be flirting with danger at present – just as they were when Ranieri was ditched – but we are not even a quarter of the way through the new campaign.
In a typically flattering trademark statement that invariably accompanies managers and coaches being fired, Leicester said: “Craig has been a great servant to Leicester City – during his spells as an assistant manager and since taking over as manager in challenging circumstances in February. His dedication to the club and to his work has been absolute and the contribution he made to the most successful period in Leicester City history is considerable.”
“However, our early promise under Craig’s management has not been consistently evident in the months since and the board feels that, regrettably, a change is necessary to keep the club moving forward – consistent with the long-term expectations of our supporters, board and owners.”
What are those expectations? Too lofty, according to most experts including BBC pundit Danny Mills, a former England defender.
“You have to be realistic, the league title was a complete anomaly, something that is never going to happen again,” said Mills.
“If they finish in the top 10 that should be a brilliant season by their standards. The owners, fans, everyone has got to understand that they can’t compete with the top clubs, they are not at their level.”
Everyone, it seems, understands that sentiment. Apart from those at the very top.
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