Thursday 14 December 2017

Comment: RIP football? Outrage at Ranieri sack way out of line

Leicester were patronised in winning the title - but it's ridiculous to suggest sacking manager is a death-knell for the game

Leicester supporters unveil a banner thanking their former manager Claudio Ranieri Picture: Getty
Leicester supporters unveil a banner thanking their former manager Claudio Ranieri Picture: Getty

Sam Wallace

If you missed the online bookmakers' stunt involving a hearse and a flower arrangement that read "RIP football" at the King Power Stadium on Monday night then you were not alone - were the Gambling Commission also to regulate lame ideas, it would have earned an immediate charge.

Best not to go through the excruciating detail, other than to say that it was supposed to signify what Claudio Ranieri's sacking meant for the soul of the game, because when people look for answers to the big questions of the age, obviously online bookmakers tend to be the first port of call.

The response was so underwhelming, even the bookies in question, a publicity-ravenous operation, quietly dropped the whole thing.

Not for the first time, the mood of football fans was called wrong, and the true answers were to be found by watching the reaction of the Leicester City fans who attended the match.

There was no mass outpouring of rage at Ranieri's sacking, rather it was heartfelt thanks for what had been achieved, expressed most notably in the 65th minute when the mobile phone lights were turned on and his song was sung.

There was a march to celebrate Ranieri's achievements, the occasional homemade A3 message and someone reworked their bedsheet banner to read "Dilly ding, dilly wrong", but no one called for the removal of the owners, the Srivaddhanaprabha family, or proclaimed the end of football as we know it.

A Leicester City fan shows their support for former manager Claudio Ranieri. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
A Leicester City fan shows their support for former manager Claudio Ranieri. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

One week on from the sacking of the manager who steered Leicester to the title and the outrage has largely come from outside the club.

It has come from those who believe that Leicester's Thai owners should be so eternally grateful for the 2015-16 season that their manager should have stayed indefinitely.

Leicester were patronised to death in winning the title and now again in losing it.

Over and again, we have been told that Ranieri "deserved the chance" to stay at Leicester, although four of the five managers who won the six previous Premier League titles have also been sacked or replaced.

It is an interesting question. How low does a title-winning manager deserve to take a team in the following seasons before that nebulous quota of goodwill is extinguished and someone is compelled to say, "Sorry Claudio mate, but we're out of contention for the Vanarama play-offs, I think it is time to make a change"?

On BBC Five Live's 606 show, Robbie Savage told a Leicester fan who called in to support the owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, that as a player he would have accepted "eight or nine years" in the Championship and "the odd season" in the Premier League in return for that one title.

Claudio Ranieri and his players celebrating after winning the Premier League. Photo: Getty
Claudio Ranieri and his players celebrating after winning the Premier League. Photo: Getty

If you go back 20 years, including 1996-97, Leicester have spent 10 seasons in the Premier League, 10 in the Championship and one in League One in 2008-09. Even so, it goes without saying: exactly from whom is this trade-off available? Because you would be pretty sure that Ipswich Town, among others, would be eager to sign up.

It also begs another question: why should Leicester not have ambition? It is the case that, having had their season in the sun, they simply must go away and bother no one again, or accept a Blackburn Rovers-style decline.

Leicester never expected to be champions but, having won the title, they are entitled to protect their status, even if it means sacking a decent, likeable man.

The notion that Leicester are nonentities who should simply be grateful is somewhat undermined by their place in the trophy roll call of recent years.

If one goes back to 1997, taking into account the three domestic trophies won in that year, and every year since then, the picture is striking.

From the 1996-97 season, Manchester United have won the most with a combined total of 17 Premier League titles, FA Cups and League Cups. Next come Chelsea (14), Arsenal (9), Manchester City and Liverpool (5) and, in sixth place, are Leicester with three.

Historically, they are ahead of clubs such as Tottenham, on two trophies since 1996-97, and Swansea City, Middlesbrough, Blackburn, Birmingham City, Portsmouth and Wigan Athletic, all on one.

It should be said as politely as possible that the likes of Everton, West Ham, Southampton, Stoke City, Sunderland, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion - we could go on here - have won none at all in those 21 years.

There is no Leicester fans' song for Srivaddhanaprabha, the joke being that they keep running out of syllables, but perhaps there should be.

It is he who spent around £120m on the club. He also pledged £2m towards building a children's hospital in the city. He gave £100,000 to the fund to rebury Richard III and £23,000 to a fan who was raising money for research into his son's rare genetic disorder.

For a billionaire who commutes in a helicopter, perhaps it is not such big a deal, but it has been remembered, which is why the notion of hounding him out is considered utterly ludicrous.

The League Managers Association chief executive, Richard Bevan, said that Srivaddhanaprabha's decision to sack Ranieri had "undermined the profession", so it will be interesting to hear from all those managers who refuse to work for Leicester on a point of principle.

As things stand, Roy Hodgson looks a good bet - and he was de facto LMA president for the four years he was England manager.

It is notable that Leicester's most famous fan, Gary Lineker, described the decision more in terms of the sadness it evoked rather than a sense of injustice. He did say, though, that Leicester should be building statues to Ranieri rather than sacking him and, of course, the generous Thai owners may yet do that.

In the meantime, there are two crowd-funded appeals for Ranieri statues that have been launched by separate groups of Leicester fans, one which quotes its project at £100,000 and the other at a cut-price £10,000.

By lunchtime yesterday, they had raised £90 and £792 respectively, which suggests there are other issues rather more pertinent to Leicester fans than big bronze statements to reassure the rest of the football world they care about Ranieri's feelings. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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