Miracle-worker, Claudio Ranieri, got his long-in-the-post sacking from Leicester City on Thursday night. There is this idea that the league table never lies at the end of the season but perhaps Leicester City’s travails beat the polygraph and I don’t think that they were the first to do that either. Manchester United’s last season under Alex Ferguson saw them winning the Premier League title by eleven points but they were unconvincing as could be, bailing themselves out with late goals, having played rubbish, time and time again. Ferguson knew what was coming when he opened the door and rolled out into the road, leaving the hapless David Moyes to crash that car.
Ranieri’s firing has been long coming because Leicester’s title win was built on sand. Too much of the game is broken down into statistics. The only statistic that matters is goals for and goals against but statistics can tell you something, when contextualised and used in concert with other information.
I remember watching one game on television when Arsenal spent 90+ minutes tearing West Ham to pieces at the Emirates, with a shot once every four minutes, on average, but they couldn’t get the ball past a plastic man-style Rob Green. The hammers had one shot on target and they won 1-0. Or there’s the story about the U.S.A.’s war in Vietnam and how the tech bods would feed in every single element – troops, weather, previous battles, armaments – about the war into their huge computers, in the eventual hope that they could then ask the computer for the answer in how to win the war. The day came, they asked how to win, and the computer answered: “You won two years ago.”. In Leicester City’s case, they won the title last season yet their passing retention and passing completion figures were both terrible, like third worst in the Premier League. This season’s showing the team’s true face.
I’m not great with technicalities and facts and figures regarding football. The hipsters knew that the sale of N’Golo Kanté was going to hurt Leicester badly but I just generally thought that they’d had a freak season and were going to get killed this year. Prior to the first game of the season, I told my friend that Hull City, Sunderland and that Leicester were going to have an awful, hellish season we all going down. My friend asked if we should go to the bookies to place a bet but I demurred, thankfully as I hadn’t accounted for Palace nor Swansea’s turmoil.
Then on the second day of the second game of the season, which was the first day for the Premier League, I was at a meal with some fans who didn’t know me and I told them, in conversation, that Leicester were going down, only for them to roll their eyes and “…..well, anyway…..”. Smugly, I recounted all this to a family member a couple of weeks ago only for him to one-up me with the news that he actually put money on Leicester to go down this season and he’d placed that bet a week after Leicester had won last season’s title, giving over his money to a smiling bookie. So, if my family member and I could see the iceberg coming…..
I’ve got nothing against Leicester City. I went to their ground – I think in their last season at Filbert Street – for an FA Cup tie when they had our former hero, Ade Akinbiyi, in their team, having given us millions for that honour. This tie wasn’t long after there was a game between Leicester and Liverpool when a Liverpool striker, Robbie Fowler, I think, put on a ruthless display, scoring a hat-trick. In order to impose a narrative on their coverage, Match of the Day contrasted Fowler’s killer instinct with Akinbiyi’s missing of a number of chances. It was an unfair highlighting of Ade and it gave him a reputation that he could never truly shake. I always think that a striker’s got to be in position to miss chances so he was still working for the team to get in there to try to score the chances. Some players just go missing instead. So, when we played Leicester, even though we all still loved him, we gave him some loud, although good-hearted, attention. When he had to get taken off in the second half, we bade him farewell with “What a waste of money! What a waste of money!”. It is what it is. So much media coverage puts crowd noise, booing, and the like within the finger-wagging realm of ‘abuse’ when it’s often just the craic, just having a laugh.
Then we, Bristol City, once played Leicester City at their current King Power stadium in a league game, as erstwhile Bristol Rovers stalwart, Ian Holloway, was in the process of taking them down into League One. It might be one of my favourite away trips ever in that, although it ended 0-0, there was loads of goal mouth action: of Leicester blasting it over the bar or past the post. You just felt that we could have played another five hours and Leicester still wouldn’t score. To the tune of Giuseppe Verdi’s ‘La donna è mobile’ we greeted every one of Leicester’s numerous failed attempts at scoring with: “THAT’S why you’re going down! THAT’S why you’re going down! THAT’S why you’re going down! THAT’S why you’re going down!”.
Maybe it’s those experiences that makes me think that Leicester shouldn’t get too above their station? Maybe having freaked the title, in a season when Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, United and others were all in transition or turmoil, they should remember where their true water level lies? Seeing them throw Ranieri under the bus when he turned water into wine for them only a few months ago is egregious. There’s been lots of disdain on twitter for Leicester for this action. It would be cool if every opposing side boos every one of their players, every time they touch the ball, for the rest of the season. Indeed, it’s on the players that the microscope should now focus anyway.
They’re all in a tight spot . If they start playing well, then it’s like they’ve engineered the firing of Ranieri and have blood on their hands; if they stay as crap and as clueless, when a new boss is appointed, then it’ll look like Ranieri wasn’t the problem. They can’t do a ‘Eden Hazard’ and take a season off, at usual pay, and then come back gangbusters. The Leicester City players need a gradual up-swing to get them out of danger. Oh, look, they took Liverpool to school only days after the boss got firing. Far from validating the decision to 86 Ranieri, that makes the players look like a bunch of highly cynical scoundrels.
Not to defend the board for firing Ranieri but, from their perspective, they were faced with something similar to the Special One at Chelsea when they went into freefall: you’re either looking at getting rid of a mass of players or just one individual: the manager. That’s Hobson’s choice. Clubs and fans subscribe to this fiction that relegation is a disaster and anything has to be done – anything – to try to avoid it. As I said before, like with mountaineers attacking a face of Everest, sometimes you have to go back down in order to go up again and go up stronger.
Madcap previous Leicester City boss, Nigel Pearson is in the running for his old job, supposedly. Really, Leicester? Ranieri took Pearson’s squad, a group that Pearson nearly took down into the Championship, and made them title winners and Champions League participants. Yes, Pearson put together a very strong run at the end of his season to get them out of trouble, after months of endless beatings, but that was against a load of teams who were either rubbish or safe and ‘on holiday’. The only decent team Leicester had to play in that famous run-in was Chelsea and, although Leicester played well in that game, Leicester got beaten when they played their one good opponent.
Now it looks like Leicester City will give their caretaker manager the rest of the season and will hire some name next time. I’d like Leicester to fall down into the Championship, kind of. I don’t stay up at night thinking about it (indeed I rarely even watch Match of the Day, preferring to go to games and watch ITV4’s Bundesliga coverage and that’s it) but I like the helter skelter aspect to it. I’d love to see them next season but it looks like we’ll be tailspinning out of the Championship ourselves. And if we both go down, for all of the cameras prowling the crowds to pick up the ‘cum shot’ of grown adults crying (they’re just trying to get themselves on TV; relegation will have been on the cards for weeks of months) because it’s such a “disaster”, both sides will be alive and well next season, trying to get promoted again. World keeps turning.