A little more than two weeks after receiving a vote of confidence from the Leicester City brass, Claudio Ranieri was sacked Thursday by the floundering Foxes.
Germinal reactions were many, and with each claim by pundit and supporter alike that called the move cynical and in poor timing, was an abundance of evidence supporting the dismissal of the captain of last season’s storybook ship.
Related: Ranieri fired by Leicester City after wretched run of form
Plentifully cordial and wholly likeable, mild mannered Ranieri’s eventual firing was always going to draw derision, though one glance at the club’s form is reason enough to make a change, let alone a host of other justifications.
Shocking squad selection
The only side in England’s top-four divisions yet to score in 2017, if Leicester’s attack last season was an explosive unit profiting from break-neck efforts against the run of play, this campaign’s variant was as frightful and flaccid as the top tier will permit.
As easy as it is to pin that on the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, the manager picks the squad, and his insistence to rely on last season’s stalwarts has dented his crown and rusted its sheen.
It’s utterly inexplicable that Demarai Gray, who has dazzled when given the opportunity, has played the full 90 minutes only twice in the Premier League. Somehow Ahmed Musa, who has appeared unsure of himself and completely lacking in confidence, has been named to the starting XI seven times in the league.
Related – Lineker: Decision to sack Ranieri ‘inexplicable, unforgivable’
Ranieri’s squad selection issues were on display Wednesday at Sevilla, when Musa and Marc Albrighton started on opposing wings, and you’d be hard pressed to find two worse players on the pitch in Andalusia. Gray came on for Musa in the 68th minute and almost immediately breathed life into Leicester’s attack.
Times Sport chief writer Henry Winter adds that Ranieri’s call to start Musa over Grey understandably ruffled some feathers in the Foxes’ dressing room, and losing the faith of the players may have cemented the Italian’s exit.
Pair the limp attack with troubles at the back, and Ranieri’s persistence with the same back four as last season speaks both to his stubborn squad selection issues and his disastrous moves in the summer and January windows.
When midfield lynchpin N’Golo Kante ditched the King Power for a second successive title run at Chelsea, Ranieri and his scouts were helpless to replace the tireless French worker.
Kante’s absence undoubtedly marred Leicester’s title defense, with the club winning just 19.2 percent of its matches without him compared to 62.1 percent with him in the squad. No player in the Premier League has proven to be as difficult to succeed as Kante.
That’s not to say they didn’t try.
Nampalys Mendy’s £13-million move from Nice has proved to be a crummy cocktail of injury and omission, prompting the £15-million January transfer of Wilfred Ndidi from Anderlecht.
Pair that with a failure to provide cover for a languid and lackadaisical back four of Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Danny Simpson, and Christian Fuchs who post an average age of 31.3, and it’s clear why this season’s troubles at the back has matched those in the attacking positions.
Centre-back Luis Hernandez was lured to Leicester from Sporting Gijon, made four league appearances and was off to Malaga in January, nearly as swiftly as he arrived. In addition to the failed move for Hernandez, Yohan Benalouane returned from loan, Molla Wague arrived on a temporary move, and Marcin Wasilewski peculiarly still had a job. Wague broke his leg in his first Foxes feature against Millwall and Wasilewski is a well-caffeinated blindfolded bull in a china shop.
Related – Poll: Did Leicester make the right decision by firing Ranieri?
Among a host of moves, only the arrivals of Islam Slimani and Ndidi appear beneficial, while conversely, the signing of Bartosz Kapustka in the summer from Krakow is easily one of the transfer window’s worst additions.
Ranieri’s fate may have been different had head scout Steve Walsh not moved to Everton in July. After signing the likes of Mahrez, Vardy, and Kante – Ranieri’s successes in the transfer window – Walsh made the Goodison switch, and the club’s dealings took a serious hit.
For the sake of the season
With 13 matches left to salvage a disastrous campaign, Ranieri was sacrificed so that Leicester could save its season.
It’s now or never for the Foxes, and without a win in six Premier League matches hampered by a dire run of five points earned out of a possible 30, Leicester’s top-flight safety is quickly shifting from an expectation to a pipe dream.
When Leicester appeared destined for the drop in 2014-15, Nigel Pearson’s Foxes pulled off the unthinkable to finish 14th thanks to the Nottingham-born gaffer’s bullish ways. Pearson is Ranieri’s opposite, and in the same fashion that the media supported the former’s contentious sacking, they are flocking to Ranieri’s side.
Related – Report: Some Leicester players want Pearson back as manager
With home fixtures against Liverpool and an inspired Hull City fast approaching before a visit to Arsenal, Leicester could not afford to sit patiently in hopes that Ranieri could replicate some of last season’s magic.
With just a one-point margin between a narrow escape and the perils of relegation, the Foxes recent form was reason enough to shuffle the deck. The last time Leicester was relegated from the Premier League, it took the East Midlands side a decade to return. The club can’t afford that again.
It’s hard not to feel for Ranieri, but cheerful pressers, congenial relations with journos, and gleaming smiles do not secure Premier League safety.
After a celebrated career lacking only a top-flight title came to a head amid a fairy tale run with Leicester, the Italian is out of ideas, and after Thursday’s decision, he’s also out of time.
It’s not a popular decision, though it is the correct one.
Here’s hoping that Ranieri’s nine-month tenure with the club will be remembered for a shock Premier League title, and not for this season’s failings.
Claudio Ranieri deserves as much.