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Kyle Martino: Leicester City, Claudio Ranieri let us believe in romance again

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A week after Leicester City decided to part ways with Claudio Ranieri, ProSoccerTalk spoke with Kyle Martino about Ranieri’s sacking and how the manager will be remembered at Leicester.

Q: How does Ranieri’s firing affect his legacy and the legacy of Leicester City?

Kyle Martino: I don’t think it affects his legacy negatively at all and I think that’s been the biggest misconception fueling the outrage in the aftermath of what was the biggest decision these owners have had to make since they took over Leicester Football Club. What he did last season, as Jose Mourinho said can’t be deleted, but in a way the mess and the potential of relegation that they were headed toward was really the only thing that could dent his legacy. An equal and opposite accomplishment, maybe just a bit less because it’s happened one time before, would have been the title winner getting relegated the season after they won the title, which happened to Manchester City in the 30s. So the 5,000-1 odds to win, the accomplishment was absolutely spectacular, will probably never be matched in Premier League history, but a close second in terms of incredible feats would have been getting the team relegated this season.

I argue in a way the owners have protected him from the stigma and pardoned him from this incredible mess that no one can wrap their head around right now. Was he entirely responsible for the tailspin that Leicester are in right now? No, but definitely culpable and although one game isn’t going to tell us everything, the Liverpool game confirmed what the small minority who thought this was a good decision expected. What the small minority of us who were looking at the evidence of this season and the downturn wondered was would the team perform without him and it’s clear that they did. Not only clear that they performed better without him, but went back to being the team before Ranieri even got there.

Q: Do you think the team’s struggles this season say anything about their accomplishment last year and the role Ranieri played in it?

KM: I don’t think they could have won the title without Ranieri. Ranieri was a piece of it, he was an important part of it and I think it would be wrong to not give him credit and make arguments that there shouldn’t be a statue of him at some point and that this all could have happened without him. That being said, I think one of the most important things Ranieri did in the season, which is atypical if you look over the balance of his entire career, is he stepped out of the way a little bit. He really did, I think the smartest thing Ranieri did was recognize that in the ‘great escape’ and even going back to the team getting promoted, there was a brotherhood, there was a bond, there was a momentum and something special built under Nigel Pearson that he knew just needed tiny, little tweaks.

[ MORE: Ranieri returns to say final goodbyes ]

The humility he showed in sort of getting out of the way a bit. There were reports that players came to him initially and said you know this is who we are, this is what we’ve done, don’t change it and Ranieri respected that and then added his little sprinkles in. So I think that’s his greatest accomplishment. It’s like when they say what makes an amazing jazz musician isn’t the notes he plays, but the ones that he doesn’t, the times that he rests for a beat and stays out and doesn’t try to fill it all with notes.

[ WATCH: Kasper Schmeichel talks Ranieri  ]

In a way, Ranieri, for the first time in his career, was able to win a title by kind of not coaching. That could be looked at as a negative and this could be twisted to mean I’m insulting him when in reality I think he just accepted and realized that the team had something special and he just needed to make, as I said before, minor tweaks which I think alludes to what has gone wrong this season.

Q: In the aftermath of Ranieri’s firing we saw a pretty unprecedented outpouring of support from the soccer world, but it appears that Leicester’s players didn’t fully support Ranieri. Why do you think that is?

KM: Well, let’s start with the outpouring of support for him and the outrage. I think the bigger sort of 30,000-foot picture is with the modern game strangling the romance out of the game, you know whether it be players turning in transfer requests or managers fielding weakened teams for the FA Cup or these gigantic salaries, all of these things have slowly contributed to this modernization of the game that everyone’s been fighting against. I’ve seen some articles saying the soul of the game is dead and Ranieri’s sacking confirms that. So I think the outrage is that the Leicester story let us believe in romance again. It was such a fairytale, it was such a romantic experience and it was anachronistic in the sense that it was a throwback. It took us to a time before all those things that I just mentioned and I think some people have used words like ‘disgusting’ and ‘disgraceful’ and ‘classless’ because they got drunk on this fairytale and they forgot that this is the modern game, this is nothing new. This is nothing new not only in the last 10 years, this is nothing new in the last 30 years. This cut-throat, results-based business is what the modern game is.

So many people expected Ranieri to have complete immunity based on last season’s miracle but that’s so incongruent with the way the game works now and in a weird way I think it’s incredibly hypocritical because that sentiment dispels another very romantic, ancient idea of the game which is no one person is bigger than the club. If Ranieri gets to keep his job even though it’s clear the players aren’t playing for him and the results are leading toward relegation, isn’t that more disrespectful to the game than firing someone based off of merit because any argument to keep him in his job was based off of a very sentimental look at last season.

Q: How will Ranieri be remembered at Leicester City?

KM: Very fondly. Very fondly, because you know here’s the reality, they still have a job to do and they still could get relegated. If they were to get relegated, because they’ve done this so early, Ranieri for me will be completely pardoned from that mess. They have enough time to get out of this, they have a good enough team to get out of this and they should get out of this. So if they don’t, all of the speculation on whose fault this is I think falls entirely on the players and that obviously will excuse Ranieri of the negative consequences of relegation. If they stay up, all the supporters will still argue that they would of under Ranieri anyway.

[ LISTEN: 2 Robbies on Ranieri sacking ]

So it’s sort of a win-win for him at this point, but I still think regardless of the outcome, the owners made the right decision because this grows his legend more than any other scenario. Let’s say they stayed up and finished 10th, it would have been a pretty eventless finish to his tenure there. Ranieri said that his dream died because he wanted to coach Leicester forever, but obviously we know people are mortal and coaches don’t last very long so this dream was going to die at some point. The owners firing him turned him into this martyr where Jose Mourinho is putting his initials on his shirt at press conferences and people all over the world are speaking out in support of him so his legacy is intact. His legacy will always be about the amazing, humble and gracious gentleman he was in his time there, but the title will always be how he is remembered.

Who will be the winners in Virgil van Dijk situation?

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The situation surrounding Virgil Van Dijk is fast becoming the transfer saga of the summer in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Chicharito to West Ham ]

Last week Southampton’s captain told his manager Mauricio Pellegrino that he wants to leave the club and he has now been told to train on his own back in England while Saints are on tour in France.

Van Dijk, 26, has been chased by Liverpool but Jurgen Klopp‘s men were forced to issue a public apology in early June stating that would “end their interest” in the player following a complaint from Southampton to the Premier League about an alleged illegal approach.

For most of preseason VVD has trained with Saints but the first warning signs arrived on their last trip to Austria where he did not play in their preseason friendly as he was said to be still recovering from a foot injury he suffered in January.

Now the Dutch international center back is effectively on strike at Southampton but with a $70 million pricetag around his neck and Liverpool, his preferred destination, seemingly out of the picture, he doesn’t have a lot of options. Chelsea and Manchester City were said to be interested but they have spent big elsewhere on defenders, so it’s Liverpool or bust for van Dijk.

Now that he’s an outcast at Southampton, many would suggest that’s that for van Dijk at Saints. Hold your horses.

As often as Southampton have sold star players over the past five seasons (Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne to name a few) they’ve also held firm when they wanted to. They insist van Dijk is not for sale and have done so since late last season season when Pro Soccer Talk spoke to their chairman Ralph Krueger.

“We do not need to sell a player this summer,” Krueger said. “Any transfer in and out now will be to increase the quality of the squad and do what is best for the club. I have to tell you, straight up, we do not have to sell anybody. We will do our best to retain the core, solidify the core and move with some synergy into next season.”

With past players Morgan Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane, they were all told to give Saints one more season before moving on to some of the biggest clubs in the world in Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool respectively. They did that and had their best seasons in a Southampton shirt knowing they were in the shop window and great play would help shape their future.

Could the same happen with van Dijk? This situation is slightly different but Saints have no interest whatsoever in selling him.

The Dutchman signed a new five-year contract last summer and has been named team captain following his impressive displays since arriving from Celtic in the summer of 2015, plus he also signed on with a new agent over the summer. He is the face of this team and settling back into the squad and being accepted by fans just a few weeks after stating he did not want to play for the club won’t be easy.

An added layer to all of this is that it’s Liverpool involved, the club who has bought more Southampton players than any other over the past four seasons, plus some of Liverpool’s club legends have spoken in the media and told Van Dijk to go on strike. Animosity levels are high.

It’s unlikely van Dijk will be adored by Southampton’s fans anytime soon, and if he leaves he will booed and jeered just like Lallana and Lovren who reportedly pushed for a move away in 2014 and are still given that treatment every time they touch the ball from Saints’ fans.

Van Dijk’s name was sung loudly at every Southampton game and he is the one true world-class player they possess. They still possess him, but the dilemma for Saints here is do they buckle to pressure and sell him or do they keep hold of van Dijk and hope he changes his mind and wants to play for the club again?

If he doesn’t do the latter he will rot in the reserves while being one of the top earners at the club. Nobody wants that. Not van Dijk. Not Southampton. Nobody. But Saints can live with it if they have to.

That’s why they will hold out and hope that time away from the team will sway VVD’s mind into sticking around and help them push for another top 10 finish under new manager Pellegrino.

It is tough to stand in the way of a player when a team can offer him UEFA Champions League action and his talent clearly deserve that, but if Southampton don’t want to sell him, why should they?

Many would suggest player power is at an all-time high in the PL with contracts not worth the piece of paper they’re written on. Yet if you look around the league there are similar situations playing out at mid-sized clubs who are now benefiting financially from the PL’s riches and have no need to sell their stars to fund new signings and other projects.

Swansea are holding on to Gylfi Sigurdsson despite his refusal to go on their U.S. tour. Leicester aren’t prepared to sell Riyad Mahrez on the cheap despite his public declaration he wants to leave. And then there’s Southampton who don’t want, or need, to sell van Dijk.

Yes, Southampton are playing hardball and their manager Pellegrino has taken the drastic action to cut van Dijk from first-team training for the foreseeable future, but what else could they do? If it was any other player wanting to leave they would do the same.

Speaking to local journalists from the Daily Echo last week about his decision, Pellegrino summed up the situation, and his strong stance, perfectly.

“The club was clear. The club told me they will not sell Virgil,” Pellegrino said. “I translated the idea of the club to the player and for me it was easy because I had to manage the dynamic of the team. Now he is not involved with the team because psychologically he is not 100 per cent. If you are not 100 per cent with the team I need to work with the players who are 1000 per cent to defend Southampton. It’s easy for me.”

These situations are never fun for anyone involved but van Dijk now has a decision to make. Southampton have made theirs and he is not for sale.

It’s now up to van Dijk to accept that or continue to refuse to play to force a move away. It may eventually happen later in this window or even in January, but he will lose not only playing time but respect from all corners.

Chelsea lose to Bayern Munich in Singapore

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Bayern Munich beat Chelsea 3-2 in an entertaining Inernational Champions Cup clash in Singapore on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Mbappe to Real Madrid?

The German giants struck three times in the first half four with Rafinha opening the scoring and Thomas Muller grabbing two for himself.

Antonio Conte‘s side were stunned but pulled back a goal just before half time with Marcos Alonso hammering home. New $95 million signing Alvaro Morata made his Chelsea debut in the second half but it was Michy Batshuayi who scored his second goal in as many preseason games to make it 3-2.

Next up for Chelsea is a game against Inter Milan in Singapore on Saturday before they head back to the UK for the Community Shield against Arsenal at Wembley on Aug. 6.

Chelsea went behind early on as Rafinha put the German champions 1-0 up with a low shot from the right which took two bounces and skipped inside the far post and past Thibaut Courtois.

Soon it got worse for Chelsea as Muller scored twice in quick succession, the first a volley from Franck Ribery’s fine cross, the second a brilliant curling effort from over 25 yards out to give the Germans a 3-0 lead with just 27 minutes on the clock.

Chelsea improved before half time with Conte’s men creating chances on the break and Alonso then smashed home Victor Moses‘ cross as the Blues trailed 3-1 at the interval.

Both teams soon made subs with Kingsley Coman replacing Robert Lewandowski for Bayern, plus David Luiz came on for Andreas Christensen and Alvaro Morata made his Chelsea debut, replacing the impressive Jeremie Boga.

Gary Cahill then denied James Rodriguez with a great block but Chelsea couldn’t find a way back into the game as Morata lined up on the left of a front three with Michy Batshuayi in the middle.

Batshuayi went close to pulling another goal back but couldn’t get on the end of a cross, then James’ twice went close for Bayern but Courtois denied him.

Luiz hit the post for Chelsea late on and then Batshuayi finished after Morata’s flick on from a Cesc Fabregas corner to make it 3-2, but the west London club couldn’t grab an equalizer and tasted defeat for the first time in preseason after beating Arsenal 3-0 in their opening last weekend.

PHOTOS: Man City reveal stunning new away kit for 2017-18

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Is it pink? Is it maroon? Let’s go with cerise…

Whatever color it is, Manchester City have a bold look for their new away kit for the 2017-18 season.

[ MORE: New PL kits for 2017-18 season

City revealed their new jersey on Tuesday with Pep Guardiola‘s men taking on Real Madrid in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Plenty of new names will be on the back of these jerseys with Guardiola making five big-money signings so far this summer with Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy, Danilo, Ederson and Bernardo Silva all arriving for a total of $265 million.

Here’s the new away kit they’ll be wearing next season.

 

Report: Kylian Mbappe to Real Madrid for $208 million

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Reports in Spain say Real Madrid have agreed a fee of $200 million for Monaco teenager Kylian Mbappe.

[ MORE: Chicharito to Hammers ]

Marca claims that the two-time reigning European champions have agreed the fee with Monaco just days after the French champs made a formal complaint to FIFA about illegal approaches towards Mbappe and his representatives.

Per the report Mbappe will sign a six-year deal and earn $8.1 million net per year at the Santiago Bernabeu.

If it went through the transfer would be a clear world-record by almost doubling the fee Manchester United paid Juventus for Paul Pogba last summer, however via Sky Sports in the UK, Monaco have denied any deal has been agreed for Mbappe.

Mbappe, 18, burst onto the scene last season, scoring 26 goals as Monaco won Ligue 1 and reached the UEFA Champions League semifinals.

After selling Bernardo Silva and Benajamin Mendy to Manchester City for a combined total of $123 million, plus Tiemoue Bakayoko to Chelsea for another $55 million, Leonardo Jardim is seeing his talented squad ripped apart.

That said, the likes of Fabinho, Thomas Lemar and until this point Mbappe are still around at the Stade Louis II.

Mbappe has been chased by Manchester City, Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and Real all summer long with the powerful, pacey French international able to lead the line and finish clinically when given the chance.

He is mature beyond his years but this bid from Real seems outrageous after just one season in the spotlight for Mbappe.

That said, Zidane’s men have offloaded plenty of talent this summer with Danilo and Alvaro Morata sold, plus James Rodriguez sent on loan to Bayern Munich for two years. The departures of Morata and Rodriguez suggest space has been opened up for Mbappe’s arrival.

Given his form last season he would certainly flourish at Real and with Cristiano Ronaldo now 32 and Karim Benzema 29, the Spanish champs have to start planning for the future.