On the 8th August 2015, Leicester City were 5000-1 to win the Premier League. This date is also significant as it was Claudio Ranieri’s first competitive game in charge of the Foxes. This was a man who had never won a top division league title in a 30 year managerial career. This was also a man who had not managed in the Premier League since taking a newly Roman Abramovich-purchased Chelsea to a disappointing 2nd place finish in 2004 and who had in 2014 been sacked as national coach of Greece just a day after a humiliating home defeat to the Faroe Islands. As anyone in football knows, what followed the opening day 4-2 victory over Sunderland was truly and improbably sensational. From the clutches of relegation to champions of the richest and most competitive league in the world in one season.
Less than a year on – 298 days to be exact – Ranieri was sacked as manager of Leicester with the side a point above the relegation zone. A meteoric rise to stardom followed by a proverbial fall off a cliff. True, it must be tough for Leicester lovers to take but in all seriousness, what did they expect?
Let me provide some context for those who may be thinking that Ranieri deserved the boot out the door. As late as 2009, Leicester were playing in League One, England’s third tier against sides such as Stockport County, Hereford United and Yeovil Town. Any Leicester fan who sat (or more likely stood) on the terrace when Tranmere Rovers beat them 2-0 would have referred you to a doctor if you’d told them Leicester would win the Premier League in seven years. In fact, any Leicester fan would probably have done the same had you told them they would win the Premier League the next season after Spurs had just beaten them 4-3 to extend their run without a win to 8 games on 21st March 2015.
Now I do take the point that Ranieri inherited a team in form and I do think that he was lucky in that sense. In my opinion, the momentum was already there thanks to Nigel Pearson. This was a team who won their last 7 out of 9 league games to escape an almost certain relegation in 2014-15 including a final day 5-1 hammering of QPR. He took on a group of players who had gone from looking at a slog in the Championship to a bonus season in the Premier League. In many ways, the ingredients were there. But every good recipe needs a good chef to execute it. Ranieri was that man. From his warm approach to the media to his passion on the sidelines, there was nothing to dislike about the way Ranieri went about embarrassing the traditional big boys of the Premier League but the simple and unavoidable truth is that he did too well.
As many observers highlighted, Leicester’s pre-season fixtures before the 2015-16 included Lincoln City, Mansfield Town and Burton Albion. Their matches before this season included games against PSG and Barcelona in America. Ranieri was a victim of his own success because not only had expectations gone through the roof but so had the stakes. No one can just win the richest domestic prize in football and go back to mediocrity. It would be like getting a first from Oxford and then going back to your retail job in Primark. The footballing world was Leicester’s oyster and Ranieri couldn’t capitalise on it because it was impossible to.
As controversial as it is, Jamie Vardy is not, never has been, and never will be, world class. He is a better than average striker who had a world class season and he’s not the only one. Whilst Leicester’s owners can be forgiven for wanting better than what they have produced, I believe they may see in hindsight that actually the Last 16 of the Champions League and 17th in the Premier League is perhaps more than can be realistically expected of their squad.
What Ranieri achieved last season was remarkable and what he achieved this season is frankly what was probably expected of his when he took charge. This only leads me to conclude that sadly, the only reason Ranieri was sacked is because he won the league.