That’s an esteemed lineup of managers and ambitious clubs leading up to the amazing run of Leicester City, much more a relegation candidate than championship
contender and rated at 5,000-1 to win the title when the season kicked off in August, 2015. As the ultimate overachievers, the Foxes captivated fans and journalists around the world as week after they
week they cranked out points in a fiercely competitive, intensely scrutinized competition.
Just nine months later, despite reaching the Champions League round of 16 and losing the first leg narrowly 2-1 in Sevilla on Wednesday, Leicester City yanked open the trap door.
Its position in 17th place, just one slot above the relegation zone, triggered a decision widely decried yet explained in a straightforward manner by the team.
“This has been the most difficult decision we have had to make in nearly seven years,” a statement from the club’s vice-chairman, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, said. “But we are duty-bound to put the club’s long-term interests above all sense of personal sentiment, no matter how strong that might be.
“Claudio has brought outstanding qualities to his office. His skillful management, powers of motivation and measured approach have been reflective of the rich experience we always knew he would bring to Leicester City His warmth, charm and charisma have helped transform perceptions of the club and develop its profile on a global scale.
“We will forever be grateful to him for what he has helped us to achieve. It was never our expectation that the extraordinary feats of last season should be replicated this season. Indeed, survival in the Premier League was our first and only target. But we are now faced with a fight to reach that objective and feel a change is necessary to maximize the opportunity presented by the final 13 games.”
The recent results have certainly been grim. Leicester hasn’t scored a league goal this calendar year and in the last six games has garnered just one point. It is in real danger of becoming the first English team since Manchester City in 1938 to suffer relegation after winning the top-flight title.
In changing managers midseason, timing is everything. Leicester City lost last weekend at Swansea City, 2-0, and with that victory -- a third win in the last five games -– the Swans moved three points ahead of Leicester into 15th place. When they fired Bob Bradley as manager in late December, the Swans were in 19th and ownership said fear of relegation forced its hand.
Leicester City hosts Liverpool Monday and next weekend is at home again to bottom-dweller Hull City. Clearly the ownership -- despite its vote of confidence in Ranieri just two weeks ago -- wasn’t confident of getting enough points from two crucial home games with him in charge.
So ends an extraordinary tale. Ranieri’s hiring in the summer of 2015 surprised many, as his previous stint in England ended badly at Chelsea -- he got the sack shortly after Roman Abramovich took charge -- and, ironically, predecessor Nigel Pearson had just rescued Leicester City from relegation by steering it to seven victories in its last nine games.
Pearson’s resignation in a dispute with management set in motion a saga that seemed rooted in a bygone era, before global corporations and foreign billionaires took over a league steeped in a tradition since it began operations in 1888. Working-class Leicester City toppled the elitists, led by a modest, sensible man who liked to spend his off days lunching with his mother back in his native Italy.
As he had done since the day he was hired, Ranieri showed his class in a farewell statementto the club and its fans. Leicester City will always have its magical season to treasure but the aftermath is forever soured by how it betrayed the faith and trust of a man, a team, and its fans that had given so much.