Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri admitted two weeks back that he’s been too loyal to his title-winning players who aren’t performing up to standards this season. He followed that up by handing starting spots to out-of-form Christian Fuchs, Jamie Vardy, and Wes Morgan in the Champions League loss to Sevilla.
Now Ranieri has been sacked. It’s a sad story, but it’s easy to see why.
Should the eventual replacement truly hope to salvage Leicester City’s Premier League status, he must do what Ranieri failed to, and what he will be better equipped to do: put aside loyalties built from overachieving last season and and sit both Fuchs and Morgan, two critical players from last season’s incredible run who have sorely underperformed since. Just against Sevilla on Wednesday, Morgan gave away a blatant penalty with an ugly, petulant hack at Joaquin Correa’s legs, while Fuchs completely misjudged a cross en route to Pablo Sarabia’s opening goal.
Both have been equally as miserable in Premier League play. Morgan, the Leicester City captain, has looked every bit of his 33 years old, lumbering around the pitch unable to keep up with attackers slicing through the box. His successful tackle percentage is just 33%, and his pass accuracy is 69%, a shambolic combination for a defender. Fuchs, meanwhile, has been just as bad. Turning 31 himself in April, Fuchs was one of the worst players on the pitch in the 3-0 loss to Manchester United, and was yanked at halftime in the 2-0 loss to Swansea as he continued to struggle.
It’s surprising that Ranieri had kept faith in the two players after his comments on loyalty. One of the truest managers to his word in European soccer, the Italian said two weeks ago, “I could be [too loyal], could be. It is difficult when you achieve something so good, you want to give them one chance, two chances, three chances. Maybe now, it is too much. Of course I must change something because it is not possible to continue in this way.” He never backed up his words.
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Ranieri had started his two aging defenders time and time again hoping they will recapture last season’s lightning. That flat out wasn’t happening. Just prior to Ranieri’s comments on loyalty, I wrote about how the failing defense was most responsible for this season’s struggles. Since that moment, despite both the obvious shortcomings of which were written and the manager’s statement on failing loyalty, nothing changed.
Now, after they struggled again midweek, the two must sit immediately to avoid the otherwise inevitable. The last time Christian Fuchs started the game on the bench was the last time Leicester City won in the league, when young Ben Chilwell started at left-back and the Foxes shut out West Ham. Wes Morgan hasn’t sat a single minute in Premier League play, but he was rested for an FA Cup win over Derby County plus the subsequent loss to Millwall.
Obviously sitting a pair of defenders, with the Foxes still goalless in league play since Islam Slimani‘s winner against West Ham an appalling 610 minutes ago. The midfield is being overrun, the attack can’t deliver a competent cross, and set pieces appear to be the only time Leicester looks dangerous. Still, if the Foxes are to give themselves a chance of survival, now it’s up to the new manager to do what is right.
No, you’re right, the manager can’t step out on the field and perform; that is up to the players. The manager must be judged by the players he puts on the pitch, his tactics on the field, and his man-management between fixtures. Ranieri will always have last season to cherish, but he never left the title run behind. With Fuchs and Morgan – and to an extend Vardy and Riyad Mahrez as well – failing to perform to the standards of a Premier League team, Ranieri failed to ignore the human temptation of loyalty and instead base his present decisions on what stared him right in the face.
Claudio Ranieri will always be remembered in Leicester for the miracle he achieved rather than the failures to follow. There’s plenty that isn’t his fault: the thin makeup of the squad, the sale of N'Golo Kante, the failure by the board to truly spend the newfound coffers wisely, and the inexplicable drop in form of playmaker Mahrez. Nevertheless, relegation is a financial doomsday that clubs will attempt to avoid at all costs – even the cost of a newly born legend. The end to the Italian’s Leicester City story is a sad, harsh one, but he only has himself to blame.