Friday, 24 February 2017

Bye Bye Claudio, Thanks for Last Season

While we await the results of the two by elections in Stoke and Copeland, let us reflect for a moment on the cruel vicissitudes of life as a football manager. Last May, entirely unforeseen and unpredicted by any but the most strident and deranged amongst its supporters, Leicester City went from one of the perennial yo-yo clubs to champions of the Premier League. Now they are flirting with a new and unwelcome stretching of the yo-yo string. From champions to relegated in one season.

And so last night, rather more predictably than their triumph in May, they sacked their manager Claudio Ranieri. Ranieri should probably have gone in December really, if they were being entirely rational. But football is not entirely rational. Sentiment is involved too. How could Leicester sack the man who took them to that glorious championship? How could they sack the man who led them to glory, galvanised that squad of bargain basement buys and signings from the lower reaches into a team of players capable of embarrassing the best in the land?

Of course what happened last season, as we all knew deep down, was a glorious fluke. We see it in cup competitions from time to time, unfancied teams sometimes manage to go all the way to Wembley and even win cup competitions. But its not supposed to happen in the league. The league is about consistency, about hard graft but also class. In truth its not of course. There's still a lot of luck involved and Leicester proved that. They rode their luck, got few injuries, few suspensions, played high octane football, defended well, hit teams on the break and shook the Premier League. By the time the other clubs had worked them out it was too late. It still helped that the so called glamour clubs failed to step up last season even after spending countless millions. The two Manchester clubs were out of sorts despite their absurdly expensive squads. Arsenal did what Arsenal always do. Chelsea went from champions to also rans and also sacked a manager. Liverpool started poorly, sacked a manager and then struggled to find consistency. Spurs came closest out of all of them but were ultimately found wanting. And so Leicester did a real Roy of the Rovers and made football romantic for at least one season again.

We all knew that gravity would reassert itself this season, that Leicester would do well to make the top six or eight. But few of us expected their fall to be quite this precipitous. In truth Ranieri was never the genius some thought him to be. But he was a good manager whose tinker man tendencies were prevented by the sparseness of the Leicester squad. It brought out the best of him. This season his utilitarian but thrilling football was countered by savvier opponents. In Europe they have performed mostly admirably.

Football is a meritocracy though and results matter. That is why Ranieri is gone. Politics is supposed to be like that too. Now, what about those by elections.......

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