Miracle title may not save Ranieri from Leicester axe
Claudio Ranieri has been around the block enough times as a manager to know that past performance is more comfort blanket than bullet-proof vest when it comes to job security.
The Leicester City boss is in his 16th managerial position since starting out with Italian amateurs Vigor Lamezia in 1986 - and the majority of his jobs have ended with the sack.
Chelsea, Valencia, Parma, Roma, Juventus, Inter Milan and Greece all dispensed with Ranieri following a run of poor results, and he only saved himself from the sack at Atletico Madrid in 2000 by resigning before notorious owner Jesus Gil pulled the rug from beneath him.
Fortunately for the Italian, who celebrates his 65th birthday on Thursday, Leicester's Thai owners felt so indebted to him for guiding the club to the Premier League title last season that they signed off a new four-year contract in August.
Will Ranieri still be in charge at Leicester in June 2020? Probably not, judging by the impatience of modern-day football club owners.
But for Leicester's impressive start to life in the Champions League - victory at home to FC Copenhagen tonight will leave them just one point from securing a place in the knock-out stages - Ranieri would probably already be bracing himself for a knock on the door due to a series of heavy defeats in the Premier League which have left the reigning champions languishing in 13th place.
The good news for Ranieri is that Leicester's owners have been breath of fresh air in English football since buying out Milan Mandaric to take control of the club in August 2010.
Since appointing Sven-Goran Eriksson as manager in October 2010, owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha has been a model of restraint, standing by Eriksson's successor, Nigel Pearson, for three-and-a-half years before turning to Ranieri in the summer of 2015.
Yet success can affect owners just as much as failure and Ranieri made himself vulnerable the moment his Leicester team crossed the line in the title race last season, even if he insisted on Saturday that he is "not worried" about his job and that "work, work, work" is the solution.
Once an owner has tasted champagne, they tend to want more, but it has been back to flat beer with heavy defeats at Liverpool (4-1), Manchester United (4-1) and Chelsea (3-0 at the weekend).
It gets to them all in the end. Jack Walker sacked manager after manager at Blackburn as a result of their failure to replicate Kenny Dalglish's success, while Roman Abramovich has taken it to another level at Chelsea - Carlo Ancelotti was sacked less than a year after winning the Double, while Roberto di Matteo went six months after winning the Champions League.
So will Srivaddhanaprabha be any different? Will last season's remarkable success insulate Ranieri from the fate so many have suffered elsewhere?
Having won the hearts of the Leicester public during his six years in charge, Srivaddhanaprabha now has the opportunity to prove he is different from the rest by allowing Ranieri the time to rediscover last season's magic formula.
The problem, however, is that Srivaddhanaprabha has done little to dispel the perception that he quite enjoys the reflected glow of success on the pitch.
Would a wise owner really have allowed his image to be the centre-piece of the front page of the match programme for last month's Champions League fixture at home to FC Porto, as Srivaddhanaprabha was?
Having seemingly claimed the Premier League trophy as his own, with Srivaddhanaprabha and his son, and Leicester vice-chairman Aiyawatt, hogging the silverware on the pitch following the presentation last season, will the recent run of Premier League horror shows been received with an acceptance that it was always going to be so much harder this season?
Ranieri's lukewarm reaction to Srivaddhanaprabha giving each of the title-winning squad a blue £100,000 BMW sports car at the start of the season, as a reward for the Premier League triumph, hinted at the Italian's realisation that he and his team would have to keep delivering this term to enable the owner to continue to enjoy the spotlight.
But having invested close to £80m in his squad since the end of last season, including the club record £29.7m spent on Islam Slimani, Ranieri has struggled to offer an indication that last year's miracle could be repeated.
Leicester can no longer defend properly, Riyad Mahrez only performs under the bright lights of the Champions League, Jamie Vardy's hot-streak has cooled and the owner's helicopter is no longer flying on cloud nine.
Ranieri knows the road ahead, though. That is why he will now be looking over his shoulder.
Independent News Service