The headline of Friday's La Gazzetta dello Sport featured a picture of a downcast Claudio Ranieri and a headline of "Inglesi ingrati". You do not need to be fluent in Italian to understand the suggestions of English ingratitude.
Perhaps that is not entirely accurate, however. It was Leicester City that sacked Ranieri, but there has been much sympathy for the Italian alchemist, among the club’s fans, his fellow managers and in the wider footballing public in Britain.
It was a Leicester story that captured imaginations everywhere, a tale of an unexceptional provincial club who had tended to veer between the second tier and the lower half of the top flight but defied expectations and modernity alike to become champions. They were the unlikely contenders whose story echoed around the world.
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Ranieri’s dismissal was more than just a part of football’s culture of hiring and firing. It made many lose some of their faith in a game that can depress with its disloyalty, its cynicism and its regular dashes for cash.
The reaction exposed a great divide. It split the romantics and the pragmatists. For those with a sentimental streak, a nostalgic bent or an awareness of history, Ranieri’s deeds meant he merited more time.
For those rooted in the here and now, studying the statistics of a side with five consecutive league defeats and an FA Cup exit to a third-tier team, the past was obsolete and Leicester were a side in free-fall.
Ranieri was the East Midlands equivalent of Alan Pardew, Mike Phelan or Bob Bradley, a manager who could cost his club a slice of the Premier League pie next season.
Such is Leicester’s unique position that Ranieri’s dismissal can be both understandable and incomprehensible. There is the extraordinary juxtaposition that Fifa’s reigning Coach of the Year had a team who had not scored a league goal in 2017, but who could reach the Uefa Champions League quarter-finals. Try making sense of that.
Leicester’s response showed they prioritised the Premier League, which perhaps Ranieri should have done in autumn. Yet the romantic in him was aware that this was a one-off tilt at the Champions League. He forged more memories even as Leicester made a wretched defence of their title.
When he had to become “the Tinkerman” again, too many changes were misjudged. Too many signings failed to deliver. Too many of the players temporarily elevated from mediocrity and obscurity reverted to type. N’Golo Kante looked still better with every game Leicester lost after his departure. Riyad Mahrez seemed uninterested, Jamie Vardy a one-season wonder, Wes Morgan and Robert Huth ready for the footballing knackers’ yard.
Tales of dressing-room unrest abounded. Like possible successor Roberto Mancini was at Manchester City, Ranieri appeared more popular with the press than with his players. It will be instructive how they are received against Liverpool on Monday. Ranieri and his champion team are Leicester legends, guaranteed immortality, but for those whose sole concern is this season, they are underachievers, a group who have put in less effort.
The mind goes back to last season, when an iconic manager was fired the year after winning the title. The Chelsea crowd reacted to Jose Mourinho’s departure. A banner proclaimed Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas “the three rats”. Will Leicester’s Foxes be similarly re-branded? Or, minus Ranieri, will they resemble the team of last season, be spurred back to their best and surge to safety?
Whichever, Leicester will receive less goodwill. They alienated the outsiders who warmed to them. But the pragmatic argument is that neutrals’ best wishes would count for even less if they were the champions demoted to the Championship.
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