Fairy tales are supposed to have happy endings. The hero is meant to walk off into the sunset, with the spoils of victory in their back pocket and a smile on their face.
Under all circumstances, it’s definitely possible to classify Leicester City’s title winning campaign of last season as such. Yet, unlike in story books, fables and tales, there are no endings in real life. The world carries on spinning, people keep on going and, most importantly in this case, they keep on playing football.
With Claudio Ranieri at the helm last season, Leicester achieved something we’re not likely to see for a very long time. Winning the Premier League was something that a club like Leicester thought of as an unthinkable fantasy. Despite this, however, Leicester went and did it, and did so in style mind you.
There are many factors that need explaining when looking at how Leicester went about winning the Premier League under Ranieri, and I explained a few of them here. But it needs to be reiterated just how much of an anomaly it really was. Sky’s Gary Neville called it “a freak”, and whilst it is hard to label 38 separate performances across a league season as such, in the context of last season it’s the reality of the situation.
Almost a year later, however, Ranieri has been fired. Whether justified or not, we can see from his sacking that the board believed that keeping the club in the Premier League to be more important than any romanticism surrounding the manager, and his incredible achievement last season. With the team languishing just outside the relegation zone and in freefall, at this stage they do indeed appear to be heading one way and one way only.
Amongst the furore from fans and pundits alike, two camps can be found and together they raise an interesting question. Should the man who led Leicester to their first major honour be given a free pass, or is no one immune to losing their job over poor performances?
With the almost toxic lack of loyalty in football seemingly rearing its ugly head once more, it is easy to decry the Ranieri’s dismissal as “embarrassing”, “disgusting” and “unforgivable”. Yet it is also true that Leicester are indeed seemingly doomed for relegation, with the Italian reportedly having lost the dressing room months ago.
Since the turn of the new year, Leicester haven’t won a game and have scored just one goal. They’ve looked dismal, bereft of confidence and condemned to the drop. Despite a somewhat positive result in Seville, a 2-1 loss, Leicester didn’t actually look as good as many would like to make out. Although the timing of Ranieri’s sacking is odd, it is unsurprising, and pretending that it’s “shocking” isn’t fooling anyone.
This is what football is. It’s cut-throat, whether we like it or not. The threat of relegation is a real one for Leicester, and one that would tarnish their title triumph a lot more than the dismissal of Ranieri will.
Leicester had a real chance at the start of the season to build and become a club capable of challenging for European football more regularly. As the 24th wealthiest club in Europe, they’ve got the funds, and it’s unsurprising that the board still holds this aspiration a few months down the line, even with relegation looming.
It would have been noble for the Leicester board to fight the good fight against disloyalty in football, and attempt to show that faithfulness can be successful. But the reality is that it’s too large a gamble to take these days, with profit margins to be met and all that.
It’s a damning indictment for English football that winning the Premier League title for a club like Leicester isn’t worth more, but one that is depressingly obvious. Relegation would hit the club financially, it would lead to players leaving and it would most likely mean the club having to start on a clean slate, something that the board clearly wants to avoid.
Some will argue that Ranieri should be have been given a stay of execution, as his achievement is as good as it is ever going to get for the club. However, playing devil’s advocate it’s possible to ask, what’s wrong with having a bit more ambition?
Stories never end in reality, and new chapters are always being written. Although it is hard to not feel aggrieved over Ranieri’s fate, it’s also tough to begrudge the Leicester City board for aspiring to more than their seemingly inevitable destiny, as they attempt to rewrite the chapter of this season.