Leicester’s owners have proven as wily as the Foxes’ namesake, argues ROGER DOMENEGHETTI
Here we go again, eh? Another week another set of clueless trigger-happy owners giving a manager the bullet. Makes you wonder how these people made their money in the first place.
This time it was Leicester and Gary Lineker didn’t hold back. “Was always a miracle,” he tweeted from the warmth of the TV studio, or perhaps the comfort of his La-Z-Boy, “but it’s even more remarkable really that Leicester won the league given the ineptitude of those that run the club.” You tell ’em, Gary!
Yet, whatever Lineker — a man who, lest we forget, has never run a club — might spout from his electronic soap box, a dispassionate assessment of the Srivaddhanaprabha family’s ownership of Leicester City shows they’ve hardly put a foot wrong.
It’s worth remembering that when they bought the club in August 2010 Leicester had only 12 months previously spent its a season languishing in English football’s third tier and it had been six seasons since the club had graced the top flight.
The position the Foxes are in now and what has been achieved in the last seven years is not to be scoffed at. But scoff the experts continue to do.
It’s the managerial hirings and firings that seem to be the subject of most of that scoffing, but again, you’ll see the owners have got it right pretty much every time.
After buying the club they appointed Sven-Goran Eriksson (probably on the advice of the previous owner Milan Mandaric, who helpfully stayed on as chairman) and backed him financially.
In 2011, after Mandaric’s departure, when it became clear that the Swede’s splash-the-cash approach wasn’t quite right for the Championship, they reappointed Nigel Pearson — the manager Mandaric had effectively forced out the club 12 months earlier. Then they stuck with him despite Leicester missing out on the play-offs in 2011-12 and losing in the play-off semis in 2012-13. Their reward for this ineptitude? Promotion (and the Championship title) in 2014.
Then during the 2014-15 season, despite the club being rooted to the bottom of the table for four-and-a-half months, the owners again stuck with Pearson when others might have sacked him. Their reward for this ineptitude? Ultimately the club avoided relegation thanks to a run of seven wins in their last nine games that saw them top the form table over the 10-game run-in.
Yet within two months Pearson was gone, another victim of the Srivaddhanaprabha family’s gross incompetence. Lineker was stunned: “WTF!” he tweeted. Later adding: “Are the folk running football stupid? Yes.”
He had a point. What possible reason could there have been for this parting of the ways? Perhaps
it had something to with Pearson calling journalist Ian Baker “an ostrich” in a bizarre post-game rant. Perhaps it had something to do with Pearson telling a fan to “fuck off and die” and then refusing to apologise. Perhaps it had something to do with Pearson “playfully” throttling James McArthur during a game after the Palace player had the audacity to accidentally knock him to the ground. Perhaps it had something to do with Pearson’s reaction to the rather distasteful incident involving his son, a group of other Leicester fringe players, some Thai prostitutes and a mobile phone. Or, perhaps, it had something to do with all of the above.
When Claudio Ranieri was appointed in Pearson’s stead, Lineker was again on hand to give us the benefit of his boundless wisdom, saying: “This is an uninspired choice by Leicester. It’s amazing how the same old names keep getting a go on the managerial merry-go-round.”
Of course, Gary didn’t tell us who he would have preferred but I’m guessing instead of someone who hadn’t hopped on the Premier League merry-go-round for more than a decade he would have wanted a more left-field choice like, oh, I don’t know, Sam Allardyce, or ’Arry Redknapp?
To be fair, Lineker was not alone here. Most of the punditry dismissed Ranieri as a joke who would be gone by Christmas. It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that inept, uninspired choice contributed to one of the most remarkable sports stories of all time.
Of course, there was no way the Srivaddhanaprabha family could have expected (or even dared hope for) the title success, but appointing Ranieri certainly wasn’t the ill-thought-through decision most experts made it out to be.
That said, he wasn’t solely responsible for the title triumph, although you could have been forgiven for thinking otherwise when he was sacked last season.
Suddenly those fair-weather hacks, the same people who little
more than a year earlier had derided his appointment, were now the Italian’s greatest champions. Lineker was at the front of the queue again, tweeting: “After all that Claudio Ranieri has done for Leicester City, to sack him now is inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad.”
Sad? Yes. Inexplicable? Er, no. Unforgivable? Not really. The axe fell after a run of six league games without a win in which Leicester scored the princely total of zero goals while conceding 12.
It was February, they were in the bottom three. It was clear to anyone who cared to take off their Ranieri-tinted spectacles that something was seriously wrong.
Yes, Leicester owe Don Claudio a huge debt of gratitude, but not one so big that he should have a job for life, even if that meant relegation.
And that brings us to Craig Shakespeare. He was a good fit for the job Leicester needed doing at the tail end of last season. He knew the squad and could get the best out of them without the benefit of transfer-window additions.
He reverted to the system and personnel employed during the title win and turned things around. As a reward he was given the job full-time and, arguably, this was the first mistake the owners had made with regard to the manager since they appointed Eriksson seven years earlier: they let their heart rule their heads.
Competent caretaker though he was, there was nothing to suggest that Shakespeare was the right man to lead Leicester in the long-term — to tap some of the title heroes on the shoulder and say: “Thanks for the memories, but it’s time for you to move on” before bringing in fresh blood, developing the squad and changing the style of play. It’s a mistake the owners are trying to correct.
No doubt whatever appointment they make Lineker will be on hand to pass judgement and I’m sure it will be as insightful and well-thought through as all the rest, otherwise people might start wondering who the inept one really is.