Hey folks, Dre here again, back for Day 2, so this plan is already going better than I had anticipated! As I said yesterday, I said I wasn’t just sticking to Motorsport through this next 30 days, and as you guys wanted on Twitter, I’m going to be writing about some football and specifically, Leicester City as Claudio Ranieri was sacked less than 300 days after winning them an unthinkable league title.
I’m going to be real with you here, I was one of those guys who said that this might happen. Not to beat my own horn, but because this is just the way football is going now. It’s become a hyper-extended version of US Sports like the National Football League, where one bad season can and most likely will, cost you your job.
Look at my own club, Manchester United. David Moyes didn’t last a season at United as Ferguson’s successor. Van Gaal was pushed out for Mourinho after what many considered a pretty decent time at the club, despite frustrations, and raised the profile of young talents like Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Martial. Chelsea sacked Roberto Di Matteo just months after winning the Champions League, after not making it in the knockout stages of the following season, and sacked Jose last season after just three months as league champions.
(It’s why I admire Arsene Wenger for sticking it out at Arsenal as long as he has. He’s truly the last of his breed given managers are nowadays dancing from league to league, and rarely doing more than 3-4 years with a single club, for a plethora of reasons)
Some were more justified than others, but the point is, teams, on the whole, are more ruthless, and we’re learning rather quickly, that when shit goes down, the manager is always more replaceable and it’s a sport where the only time the players are called to account for anything, is when they’re disloyal to their clubs. More on that later.
Leicester City was fishy from the start of the season. Started mediocre, quickly got worse. Any other manager’s head would have been on the block by Christmas. But without a doubt, Ranieri’s ridiculous success the previous year gave him a pass, and in the short-term, rightly so. But I was tweeting as early as December, “Are we SURE Leicester City isn’t in a relegation fight?”, and I was proven to be right.
So we get to February, and Leicester can’t score to save their lives, the loss of N’Golo Kante hit them harder than we thought, star players Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have been terrible, and the back four’s been as useful as a chocolate colander. I’m not saying he’s totally responsible here, but Ranieri had put the board into a very difficult position. To everyone saying “he deserved the time!”, time had just about run out.
February/March is the point of no return when it comes to sacking coaches. And it’s been proven that those sort of late hires can save teams in the short-term. Big Sam’s made a career out of it. Clement is doing a superb job at Swansea, Silva the same at Hull City. Heck, even Paolo Di Canio did it at Sunderland a couple of years back. If Leicester were going to make a move, now was the time. And to me, if they had kept going, I think there would have been a good chance that Leicester would have gone on to be relegated, the ultimate humiliation given their entire season was a title defense, to begin with, and of course, the tens of millions lost by playing Championship football.
This whole scenario was the clash of two worlds – The spirit of the football fan, and the story the game tells, and the businessman, their natural enemy, and the results based entity that football has become. Leicester made a business decision. If they’re on the brink of going down anyway, why not roll the dice and see if someone else can keep you afloat till the off-season?
For me, Claudio had to go. He’s had a horrific season by any single measure, even if the 2-1 defeat to Sevilla in the Champions League had Leicester show more fight than they had in the 20 games prior, which made the timing all the more strange. But I also think if Leicester had gotten relegated, there wouldn’t be so many fans pouring one out, or Paddy Power just being “extra” in having a funeral service at the King Power Stadium.
HOWEVER, I fear there’s a third party involved.
Player power is something we all sleep on in football, for sure. We only mention it when a player leaves that club you like. Look at Dimitri Payet. West Ham took him to their hearts after he gave them a season that made him look like a Top 20 player in the world. Fleeced them for a million pound loyalty bonus that West Ham was stupid to give him in the first place, then when on strike after wanting to go back to his former club, Marseille. The Internet gave us the same old comments. “He’s a snake!” “Where’s the loyalty?” “You’d never do that in a normal job!”
…Payet’s not in a normal job. He’s not working those 9-5’s that make you jealous when you log onto your computer for the morning. In this space, Payet had a ridiculous amount of leverage here – A legitimate World Class player holding a relegation fighting club to ransom. And he got what he wanted. A footballer has no sense of entitlement to his club, they’re independent contractors at the end of the day. He was looking out for #1, and I don’t think there’s any shame in that.
If a footballer player makes his club’s life that difficult, he can force a move. That’s always been the way, and I suspect the players had a say in Ranieri’s sacking.
Now, no-one truly knows the relationship Claudio had with his players, but the fishy videos of Kasper Schmeichel leaping to his defense, to the coincidental brilliant performance against Liverpool on Monday now he was out of where… It’s not unreasonable to think the players may have thrown the season to boot the manager out. It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but there’s enough on the table to ask that as a fair question.
I look back on this whole situation as just a matter of sadness. By any measure, Claudio Ranieri is one of the truly good men in football and a great character. And he achieved something that’ll most likely, never be done again, an eternal part of the history of British football. But time catches up with you fast, and in football’s ever-increasing state of “What have you have done for us, lately.”, he was caught in the middle of a power struggle and made us all take a good look hard at the state of the game today. I wish him all the best. Sometimes, just being a good man, speaks volumes. See you tomorrow.