The king who lost power to his men

Claudio Ranieri in happier times with goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and the Leicester players after they won the English Premier League title last season. The senior members of the squad later turned against the Italian, complaining of frequent and un
Claudio Ranieri in happier times with goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and the Leicester players after they won the English Premier League title last season. The senior members of the squad later turned against the Italian, complaining of frequent and unexplained changes to tactics and personnel, as well as concerns over alterations to their training regimen and diet.PHOTO: REUTERS

Ranieri's sacking comes just hours after players voiced concerns to Leicester's owner

LONDON • For Claudio Ranieri, it was not enough that he had pulled off one of the most remarkable successes in the history of team sport by winning the English Premier League with rank outsiders Leicester City last season.

Man management was equally important - and failing to excel at that cost him his job as the English football club's manager.

The Italian was sacked by Leicester's Thai owners on Thursday after a breakdown in his relationship with his players. A statement released by the Leicester board confirmed that the "painful but necessary" decision had been taken amid fears of relegation.

"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."

The club had planned to review Ranieri's position at the end of the season, with a view to relieving him of his duties if there was no dramatic improvement, but he was told he would be leaving with immediate effect on Thursday.

The decision came just hours after senior players had expressed their concerns in a meeting with Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the club's owner, in Seville, where Leicester lost the Champions League round-of-16 first leg 1-2 to Spanish outfit Sevilla the night before.

  • WHY RANIERI HAD TO GO:

    A SIGNIFICANT DROP IN THE TEAM'S FORM FROM THEIR TITLE-WINNING 2015-16 SEASON

    DEFEATS

    +11 Leicester have already lost 14 times in the league after 25 games played this season. They lost three games the whole of last season.

    GOALS PER GAME

    -0.82 The Foxes are suffering from the reduced output of striker Jamie Vardy who has just five league goals so far this campaign.

    GOALS ALLOWED PER GAME

    +0.77 Despite a largely unchanged backline, Leicester's goal has already been breached 43 times, seven more than the whole of last season.

    SHOTS PER GAME

    -2.8 Last season's PFA Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez has also come under fire for his reduced assist tally of just two this season.

    SHOTS ALLOWED PER GAME

    +0.8 At the other end, Leicester have allowed their opponents more joy with Ranieri unable to fill the gap left by midfielder N'Golo Kante.

The grievances aired by Leicester's players included frequent and unexplained changes to tactics and personnel - most recently the decision to start with Ahmed Musa, rather than the in-form Demarai Gray, against Sevilla - as well as concerns over alterations to their training regimen and diet.

Ranieri, 65, was informed of the dismissal by the director of football, Jon Rudkin, at the club's training ground.

He was said to be stunned, and shocked that there was no justification beyond a brief explanation that the owners wanted change.

The Italian was persuaded by his coaching and sports-science staff to reduce the players' workload last season but there have been complaints from the dressing room that a more intense schedule has had a negative impact on results.

With Leicester just a point above the relegation zone - although still in the Champions League - the board has begun looking for a new manager immediately.

Roberto Mancini, the former Manchester City and Inter Milan manager, and Englishmen Roy Hodgson and Harry Redknapp, were identified immediately as possible candidates by leading bookmakers.

The reappointment of Nigel Pearson, Ranieri's predecessor, would also be favoured by some players.

The decision to dismiss Ranieri caused considerable anger in the football community, given the esteem and affection in which he is held, as well as the reverence for his achievements last season.

As recently as last month, he was honoured as Coach of the Year by Fifa, football's governing body.

He was informed just a fortnight ago in a public vote of confidence, which spoke of the board's "unwavering support" - that his job was safe until the end of the season.

That has now turned out to be a deception, with the Thai owners, who run the King Power duty-free chain back home, deciding instead that Ranieri does not warrant any more patience now that a team who won the league last season by 10 points are hovering 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.

Ranieri, who signed a new four-year contract last August, is expected to be compensated to the tune of about £3 million (S$5.29 million).

Leicester have 13 games left in which to make sure of their top-flight status, starting with the match against Liverpool.

Craig Shakespeare, the assistant manager, and Mike Stowell, the first-team coach, are expected to be in charge.

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2017, with the headline 'The king who lost power to his men'. Print Edition | Subscribe