No room for sentiment - Leicester had to act
The greatest football story now has the most remarkable twist. Nine months after engineering the most incredible league triumph in living memory, the FIFA World Coach of the Year has been summarily dismissed.
To put that into even sharper focus, the sacking came just 16 days after Leicester City publicly pledged their "unwavering support" for Claudio Ranieri. And football clubs wonder why we are so sceptical of the statements they make.
It felt like the wrong move for Leicester to deliver that pledge, although, to be charitable, it may have been their last throw of the dice to try and convince the players he was going nowhere.
Not that Leicester wanted to sack Ranieri. Why would they? They knew - if nothing else - that it would become a part of the story; last season's story. It would be like one of those films where there is a twist in the final credits, in which everything we have just watched is turned on its head.
There was also the loyalty issue - the sense that Leicester's Thai owners wanted to stay with the man who had won the title for them; that he deserved that.
And he did. Sacking him is not honourable. It is unsavoury. It is unromantic and can also be seen as brutal.
Except for one brutal, key fact - Leicester are 17th in the Premier League table.
They are just one point above the relegation zone and Liverpool are coming to the King Power Stadium on Monday - by which time Leicester might have slipped into the bottom three.
Quite frankly, as things stood, few would have been expecting them to beat the drop.
Beyond a duty to be loyal to Ranieri, the owners and the executives who run Leicester will believe they have a duty to the club - and that does not include relegation. It is why they have taken a hard-headed decision.
Unfortunately for Ranieri and for romance, it was the right decision. It is to be hoped it is the right one for Leicester, too.
Stories have rumbled all season about disharmony between the players and the manager, about a disconnect between Ranieri and key staff.
Although it will be sad if more of those stories seep out in the coming days - and they probably will - it has to be hoped the club have done their due diligence and then weighed up their options. They had to do something.
There have been growing suggestions that Leicester's players ran out of patience with Ranieri's tactics and methods, his lack of clear instruction - and, at times, his temper.
There was also the disruptive treatment of Leonardo Ulloa and the belief that some in the dressing room were being managed differently than others.
So he has gone. Leicester could not change their players. But, like any club, they could change their manager, which always makes the man in the dugout vulnerable - just ask Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho, who left Manchester City and Chelsea respectively after leading their clubs to the title.
Before them, Alex Ferguson retired at Manchester United and Roberto Mancini was sacked by City after winning titles.
In January, I suggested that Ranieri might have a statue erected for him and be sacked in the same season.
The drop-off was becoming too great, the evidence too overwhelming for him to be invulnerable. Even the defeat by Sevilla in the Champions League, on the face of it an encouraging result, was, in the cold light of day, a battering in which they were fortunate not to be heavily defeated.
What will be interesting is the attitude of the supporters. They sang Ranieri's name in Seville and there has been no clamour for the Italian to lose his job. They are still revelling in last season and the Champions League.
Unfortunately, the players have been doing the same and Ranieri has been unable to change that, leaving the club with the horrendous reality of sacking the man who engineered such an uplifting, 5,000/1 story.
"His status as the most successful Leicester City manager of all-time is without question," Leicester said in their statement. But Ranieri is history and they must live in the here and now.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)