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Thursday 22 June 2017

Cruel and sad but he had to go

Claudio Ranieri has been sacked by Leicester City despite winning the Premier League last season. Pic: Reuters
Claudio Ranieri has been sacked by Leicester City despite winning the Premier League last season. Pic: Reuters

They had to do it. It's cruel. It's sad and it's shocking but it was inevitable that Leicester City would sack Claudio Ranieri.

I watched the way they played against Seville and how lucky they were to escape from Spain with a 2-1 defeat.

It was a good result for any club at this point in the Champions League and the kind which has kept Arsene Wenger in a job for many years.

But Arsenal never collapsed completely and had to fight a relegation battle.

If I'm honest, Ranieri never really had control of this team. It was Nigel Pearson's creation and only a mad quirk of fate brought the Italian to the King Power Stadium.

He was the perfect man for a very unusual set of circumstances. Managers are sacked because they don't get results. Pearson went because he couldn't control his temper.

But he obviously left behind a very well-organised group of players and his imprint lasted well after Raneiri arrived and was wise enough to understand what he had stumbled upon.

He fiddled with formations for a while but quickly changed back to what the players were comfortable with and the rest is history.

Had he meddled, had he tried to impose his own chaotic thoughts on a tightly-knit group of players, Leicester might have been fighting off relegation instead of top-four rivals.

With the title won and N'Golo Kante gone, Ranieri's strengths became weaknesses. His easy-going manner was just right for the title run but no use at all when it came to maintaining the standard.

I know it seems very harsh that he has been sacked with the Champions League still alive and it is. Football is harsh more often than not.

Ranieri understands this perfectly well. He's a jobbing manager and now a very wealthy one.

He will be deeply unhappy about what has happened but he will get an enormous pay-off and that should bring him some solace.

His greatest strength I believe is that he knows himself and understands what happened last season and that, more than anything else, will help him absorb this body blow.

As for Leicester? This must have been a very hard decision to make and I say that as a Premier League cynic.

But the owners saw what I saw in Seville and I think they realised that they could not let it go on any longer.

Players who looked slick, quick and disciplined for almost all of last season were a bit of a rabble.

I've always said that in a situation where a club achieves above what would normally be expected of them, Cup competitions in the following season become a haven.

Pressure is off and everything they do in the Champions League is new and done without high expectations.

Ranieri got that lift from his players in Europe but could not find the same form in the Premier League.

Judging by the game against Seville, he has now lost whatever freedom the team felt away from the spotlight of being Premier League champions and it was this which forced the owners to act.

The man who comes in to take over has a very big job on his hands even if Leicester took in a huge amount of money from their title win and now from this Champions League run.

I see the bookies have installed Nigel Pearson as one of the favourites but I'm not sure that makes a great deal of sense even it would be a tempting option in the short term.

He is available and he knows the turf intimately.

He knows most of the players because he signed them and there is a good chance that he could rally the team for a big push for Champions League survival.

Whether he could then do enough to haul Leicester back up the table and out of trouble is another question entirely.

There was a bubble around Leicester for nine months and inside it, Ranieri chortled and the players worked hard.

They showed true courage and he showed great intelligence to let them but the bubble was burst in the summer and can never be repaired.

Maybe Pearson would have the best chance. Maybe he can find an echo. He dragged them out of certain relegation before and maybe he could do it again.

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