Why falling champions, Leicester City needs another ‘Ranieri’/ claudio Ranieri

They had no Messi nor Ronaldo but when it comes to recent history, Leicester City would not be forgotten for their 2016 fairy-tales that saw them clinch the Premier League title emphatically, racking up a staggering 81 points in the process.

Their success is symptomatic of the fact that when people sacrifice individual glory for collective gain, there is no such word as impossible. Don’t ask for instances. The dramatic way in which Portugal won the 2016 Euro is one. Nottingham Forest’s heroics in the 1970s which saw them win the title consequent upon promotion, followed by back-to-back European cups is another.

This is football where the impossible happens, sometimes crazy though.

Gus Poyet, Sunderland’s Coach in 2014 was dead right when, after an unlikely victory over Everton and subsequently coming from two goals down to draw at Cardiff – two results that kept them afloat of the relegation zone for that season - said in a tone that mirrors nothing but stark reality:

“Football is crazy I cannot explain it. A few months ago people were thinking it was impossible and now it is there. In reality we have done nothing, but it is now all about what is coming next.”

Only four Premier League champions have won the title by a greater margin of points than Leicester (10) - Manchester United in 1999/2000 (18), Chelsea 2004/05 (12), Arsenal 2003/04 and Manchester United 2012/13 (11).

However, it is worthy of note that while such heroics are not commonplace in football, teams who attain such feat often ride on the crest of  their coach’s good managerial skills combined with vision. And in the case of Leicester in 2015/2016 season, they had one in Claudio Ranieri.

It is unarguable that managers’ actions or inactions are, in most cases if not all, the major determinants of their teams’ success or failure. When a coach gets it wrong tactically, his team bears the brunt.

In the case of Ranieri, he simply knows the right players to get the job done. Aside his team’s discipline, their defensive abilities to absorb pressures - a strategy mostly credited to Jose Mourinho’s “bus parking” - proved effective to pull off their target.

Tactically, he was able to frustrate opponents, forcing them to throw more players forward, thereby opening up a sharp and effective counter-attacks that often leave opponents’ defence in shreds, thanks largely to his customary 4-4-2 formation that allows balance of play.

Referring to Leicester’s success, Matt Le Tissier said: “I think they might have over achieved just a fraction! It's amazing what a bit of team spirit a little bit of momentum can do for you. They've just rode the crest of a wave really, following on from the back end of last season. To have won the Premier League with a few games to go and by some distance is just absolutely phenomenal.”

Indeed, Raineri’s managerial skills which span his ability to maintain a cordial relationship with his players are, no doubt, factors that aided his achievements with the foxes.

"I told them, if you keep a clean sheet, I'll buy pizza for everybody. I think they're waiting for me to offer a hot dog too,” the coach jokingly told his players on one occasion.

On another, he told them: "From the beginning when something was wrong I've been saying: 'Dilly-ding, dilly-dong, wake up, wake up!' So on Christmas Day I bought for all the players and all the staff a little bell. Why can't we continue to run, run, run? We are like Forrest Gump. Leicester is Forrest Gump.”

Beyond the amusing nature of these quotes lay the fact that he was able to create an environment for his players to function even in the face of odds. Such virtue can also be seen in Diego Simeone’s Athletico Madrid and Chelsea’s Antonio Conte.

Though in his second charge at the club, the manager seemed to have lost his magic wand as his players were nothing but a shadow of their former selves, the alleged rift between him and his players, to a large extent should be blamed for his failures, not the coach’s inability to deliver.

Of course, this is not the first instance of such cases in football neither would it be last. Jose Mourinho was caught in a similar scenario when he was axed as Chelsea’s manager in 2015 despite winning the title the season before. Roberto De Matteo was also sacked for the same reason despite handing Chelsea their first Champions League trophy in 2012.

The concern generated thereafter is how to find a suitable replacement for Ranieri, their unlikely hero, who will restore the bond between the players. This becomes essential, if the club’s hope of avoiding a looming relegation after a lack-lustre start in the season is anything to go by.

In 2015, Barcelona manager, Luis Enrique nearly toed the same path. His decision to leave out Lionel Messi on the bench due to some alleged friction between the two did go without a cost. Barca were not only humbled 1-0 at Real Sociedad but also missed the chance to climb the log after Real Madrid's shock defeat at Valencia earlier in the day. They however, went on to win a historic treble after the team resolved their differences.

True, the club management’s decision to give the embattled coach the boot might be somewhat a right step in the right direction for a club seeking consistency in one of Europe’s elite leagues and a club gradually getting obsessed with titles, but the club must find a manager who can offer what Ranieri brought to the team to keep the players focused. 

In Chelsea’s case, their success story in 2016/2017 lies in their ability to find the right replacement in Conte after the club’s shambolic display under Mourinho. Leicester either cannot shy away from this fact. Getting another coach of Ranieri’s charisma is non-negotiable.

As it stands now, the foxes seem to be finding their feet back after two victories in a row under Interim manager, Craig Shakespeare. Their 3-1 demolition of Liverpool and Hull city is an indication that it is not yet over. Although another title or Champions League spot is not realistic this season, the foxes can yet stage another comeback next season with the right coach.


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