Claudio Ranieri, the manager who led Leicester City to one of the more implausible success stories in history, has been sacked only nine months after taking a team of 5,000-1 outsiders to the Premier League title and a football miracle.
Ranieri’s dismissal comes barely two weeks after Leicester offered him their “unwavering support” in a statement insisting there was no way his job could be in danger and pointing out that the club’s success had been “based firmly on stability, togetherness and determination to overcome even the greatest of challenges”.
That now turns out to be a deception with Leicester’s Thai owners deciding instead that Ranieri does not warrant any more patience now that a team that won the league last season by 10 points is only one place above the relegation zone.
Leicester could theoretically be in the bottom three by the time they play their next game, at home to Liverpool on Monday, and their FA Cup fifth-round defeat at Millwall has also counted against a man whose success in the Midlands city has led to talk of a statue being erected in his honour.
“This has been the most difficult decision we have had to make in nearly seven years,” a statement from the club’s vice-chairman, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, said. “But we are duty-bound to put the club’s long-term interests above all sense of personal sentiment, no matter how strong that might be.
“Claudio has brought outstanding qualities to his office. His skilful management, powers of motivation and measured approach have been reflective of the rich experience we always knew he would bring to Leicester City. His warmth, charm and charisma have helped transform perceptions of the club and develop its profile on a global scale.
“We will forever be grateful to him for what he has helped us to achieve. It was never our expectation that the extraordinary feats of last season should be replicated this season. Indeed, survival in the Premier League was our first and only target at the start of the campaign. But we are now faced with a fight to reach that objective and feel a change is necessary to maximise the opportunity presented by the final 13 games.”
Ranieri was informed of the decision on his return from the club’s Champions League last-16 tie against Sevilla when, to put Leicester’s season into context, the champions of England came back from Spain seemingly happy with a 2-1 defeat in which they were largely outplayed.
It is only six weeks since Ranieri was named as Fifa’s coach of the year but his team’s decline this season has left them in danger of being the first English side since Manchester City in 1938 to be relegated the year after winning the league and the club’s statement makes it clear they think it would happen if he stayed in charge.
Leicester are yet to score a league goal since the turn of the year and have picked up only one point from their last six league matches, leaving them only a point above the bottom three. There have also been stories about him apparently losing his aura in the dressing room, where some of the tactical changes and selection decisions have gone badly with the players, leading to splits in the camp.
“His status as the most successful Leicester City manager of all time is without question,” Leicester said in their statement to announce the decision. “However, domestic results in the current campaign have placed the club’s Premier League status under threat and the board reluctantly feels that a change of leadership, while admittedly painful, is necessary in the club’s greatest interest.
Leicester’s assistant manager, Craig Shakespeare, and the first-team coach, Mike Stowell, will take charge of the squad while the search for a new manager goes on, with two of Ranieri’s other coaches, Paolo Benetti and Andrea Azzalin, also being moved out on a day when one of the more popular managers of the modern era found out the hard way how brutal the business can be.