Shortly after Leicester City’s Champions League loss to Sevilla Kasper Schmeichel, Wes Morgan, Marc Albrighton, and Jamie Vardy were summoned to a meeting with Thai owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha that spelled the end of Claudio Ranieri’s reign as manager. According to The Times, the group of senior players met Mr Srivaddhanaprabha at the team’s hotel in Seville and were asked for their opinions on the team’s decline from last season’s Premier League triumph. As expected the Leicester players subsequently rejected these claims when questioned by the media, as Mr Vardy claimed the allegations were “untrue and extremely hurtful” and Mr Schmeichel asserted “there is absolutely no truth in that whatsoever. What happens above our heads at boardroom level is completely out of our control.”
Mr Ranieri had been under intense pressure before his sacking as they hadn’t won in the Premier League since New Year’s Eve, lost five of their six league games in 2017 without scoring and were knocked out of the FA Cup by Millwall in the fifth round. At the times of his departure, Leicester were one point from safety and had recently lost to relegation rivals Swansea.
Leicester City have been a shadow of their former self this season. Centre-backs Robert Huth and Wes Morgan, who were so dependable last season, have struggled to establish any sort of consistency. The standout attacking players of last term, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, have also been unable to recapture their scintillating form as the former has only managed to score three goals and the latter five goals so far in the Premier League. The transfers that took place during the summer transfer window also did not work out in Leicester’s favour. Nampalys Mendy failed to adequately replace N’Golo Kanté, who has been a key player in Chelsea’s title run this season. Winger Ahmed Musa has failed to record an assist and £25 million man Islam Slimani has only scored six goals in all competitions.
While things do look perilous for the club at this point, it is important not to forget how far the club has come in just a few years. At this time in 2009 Leicester City were playing host to Stockport County, a club who now play in Vanarama National League North. Mr Ranieri led the team to the title just a season after they nearly were relegated from the Premier League. As late as 3 April 2015 Leicester were 7 points adrift from safety. No one expected what was to come next as some of Mr Ranieri’s key signings, including Shinji Okazaki, N’Golo Kanté and Christian Fuchs, propelled the team to their first ever Premier League title. This achievement marked the fastest seven-year rise to the title since Ipswich Town in 1962. The title win was characterised by a high pressure 4-4-2 tactical system that featured solid defence combined with quick counter-attacks. Leicester’s momentous Premier League title achieved praise from football fans the world over as the modest club from the East Midlands shocked the perennial title contenders.
José Mourinho greatly admired Mr Ranieri, and he provided perhaps the most accurate analysis of the former Leicester manager’s achievements when he asserted that winning the title “was bigger than all of the titles I won at Chelsea and in 50 years’ time the Leicester fans will still know that.”
Despite Mr Ranieri’s amazing accomplishment last season, it was player pressure that ultimately forced him out of the club. Reports of unrest in the dressing room circulated as the club failed to pick up results this season. Rather than placing these results upon themselves, the players used their manager as the scapegoat. For example in January, striker Leo Ulloa declared he felt “betrayed” by Mr Ranieri and refused to play for the club again in late January.
Following their title win last season, every member of the first-team squad received a BMW I8 supercar worth £105,000 after Mr Srivaddhanaprabha promised to reward the players for their momentous Premier League triumph. This is the kind of action that inflates the egos of players, as many of them became entrenched in past success and failed to properly prepare for the next season. Martin O’Neill, manager of the Republic of Ireland national team, remarked how the players at Leicester “are really powerful – including a lot of ordinary players.”
Managers sometimes need time to turn things around. Sir Alex Ferguson went on an 11-match winless streak during the 1989-1990 season as Manchester United finished 13th. United’s directors were understandably under pressure to sack the Scotsman, yet they were football people who understood that the club had many injuries and the manager needed time to change the club’s fortunes. Their patience was ultimately rewarded as Mr Ferguson became the most successful manager in the Premier League of all time.
Unfortunately for Mr Ranieri Mr Srivaddhanaprabha is not a football person, rather he is a billionaire businessman who heavily relies on the players to help him make important decisions. While the Thai owner should be commended for clearing the club of its £100 million debt and pouring millions more to help the club win the Premier League, he should have recognized that Ranieri deserved to stay at least until the end of the season. The massive support show by the Leicester fans towards Mr Ranieri at the first match following his departure against Liverpool demonstrates how much he was idolized at the King Power Stadium. Mr Srivaddhanaprabha is unlikely to ever be forgiven by the majority of Leicester fans for his sacking of the Italian, even if they stay up at the end of the season.
The manager who rewarded his side with pizza for keeping a clean sheet and who kept his players focused with an imaginary bell by shouting “dilly ding, dilly dong” will be sorely missed at Leicester City. Whether they are still playing Champions League football or playing at Oldham in 10 years, Leicester will struggle to recapture the brilliant personality and tactical genius of Mr Ranieri.