Football: Stopgap Craig Shakespeare a casualty of Leicester City owner's wish for a big name

At least Craig Shakespeare was under no illusions about the nature of the challenge at Leicester. He had helped to save them from relegation, steadying a ship sinking under the weight of spent euphoria, but then came the difficult part.

Restoring a sense of normality at the King Power Stadium while satisfying the owner's spiralling ambitions? That looked like another of football's impossible jobs.

It is a job for someone else now that Shakespeare has become the second managerial sacking of the Premier League season.

Dropping into the relegation zone, with one win in their eight league matches, was enough to trigger the panic alarm in the Leicester boardroom once again.

Shakespeare acknowledged in an interview with The Times in August that he would have to prove himself all over after earning the job on a permanent contract. What he did not realise was just how little time he would be given to do so.

Even when Shakespeare signed a three-year deal in June, it was hard to resist the feeling that this was an appointment Leicester had made because he had given the club's Thai owner no alternative.

Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha has long had designs on appointing one of European football's elite coaches.

He tried to sound out Carlo Ancelotti in the summer of 2015 when the three-time Champions League winner left Real Madrid.

With one win and six points from their first eight matches, Leicester seemed at risk of another season of struggle.... Do not be surprised if Leicester make a play for Thomas Tuchel, who left Borussia Dortmund in May.

It was this desire for a big name, and the pedigree that comes with it - that eventually led him to appoint Claudio Ranieri, whose reputation at the time appeared to be at an all-time low. Ten months later, incredibly, Leicester were crowned Premier League champions.

Ever since that freakish triumph - so at odds with the accepted realities of modern football - Leicester have been trying to capitalise on it. That moment has surely gone.

Last season's struggle, when the spirit that had taken them to the title seemed to evaporate, cost Ranieri his job.

Shakespeare restored a sense of purpose and direction, leading them to wins in his first six matches and a 12th-placed finish, but that momentum did not continue into the new season.

With one win and six points from their first eight matches, Leicester seemed at risk of another season of struggle. Vichai was simply not prepared to take it.

As Shakespeare noted at the time, Leicester had an unforgiving start to the season - Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool among their first six Premier League opponents.

Stoke have suffered from a similarly difficult set of opening fixtures, yet there is a sense of calm at the bet365 Stadium, where Mark Hughes' position is not under immediate threat.

At Stoke, they appreciate the ebb and flow of a football's club life. At Leicester, where there has been a roller-coaster existence for the past five years, it is all boom and bust.

So who next? Ancelotti is out of work again, sacked by Bayern Munich last month, but he will surely hold out for a more prestigious job.

Roberto Mancini, who had a brief spell with Leicester at the end of his playing career, might be more tempted, but breaking a contract with Zenit St Petersburg would not be easy even if he wanted to.

Do not be surprised if Leicester make a play for Thomas Tuchel, who left Borussia Dortmund in May.

Less exotic possibilities - Chris Coleman and Sam Allardyce - were floated by the bookmakers, but it is unlikely they will go for safe.

The Foxes want survival, desperately, but they also want that roller-coaster existence.

Shakespeare will reflect that, even after landing the job full time, he was only really an interim.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline 'Stopgap Shakespeare a casualty of owner's wish for a big name'. Print Edition | Subscribe