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24th Feb 2017

NIALL QUINN: Success has made a failure out of Leicester City, on and off the field

Claudio Ranieri deserved to pick his own time to go

Niall Quinn

Sometimes, like last May when Leicester grabbed the Premier League with 10 points to spare, it is easy to fall head over heels back in love with beautiful game. Fairytales do happen. Nice guys don’t always finish last. 

Most days though the game tells you that there is no romance, no loyalty and no ideals. Nice guys get the sack regardless of what they have done for you. In a world where money matters more than men, you watch your back.

Claudio Ranieri was the man who didn’t just keep his head when all around were losing theirs last season, he was the one who kept smiling. He bought pizzas. He flew home to his mother in Italy. He turned the careers of journeymen players into million pound concerns.   

By sacking Ranieri Leicester City’s directors put a fairly brutal end to the notion that all that amounted to a bond that could never be broken.   

We should have seen it coming but we thought that Leicester were different. We thought they knew better. We got that wrong. 

Andrea Bocelli would hardly have finished singing ‘Nessun Dorma’ last May when a queue of sharp-eyed agents would have gathered, rapping on the boardroom door at the King Power stadium. Contracts were handed out, paying players more than they had ever dreamed of earning. N’Golo Kante moved on to Chelsea. Many others stayed but their heads had moved on.  

They believed their own hype.     

Anytime I have seen Leicester this season their decline was obvious. The intensity, the pressing, the counter-attacking urgency was gone.  These are players who have got a scent of themselves as big timers and they quite like it.  

In the past few weeks at Leicester, we have seen the ugly side of football. Players and their agents leaking mischievous stories to the media. The board issuing an emphatic and well-deserved vote of confidence in their manager. Those words look more hollow now than even the hardened cynics among us could have imagined.  

The strangest thing is that Ranieri was knifed so soon after his team had pulled off a more than decent result in Seville.    While the team has struggled (only slightly more than most expected) in this season’s Premier League, the adventure they have enjoyed in getting to the knockout stages of the Champion League was their escape.      

Vardy, of all people, getting the away goal in the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium wasn’t just a reminder of what Leicester could do if they pulled together but it might have been the corner they needed to turn in terms of morale and confidence.   

Their season still has a lot of life in it. Thirteen league matches to go and a huge Champions League second leg tie to come.

leicester city

It was time I thought for the players to gird themselves for a big finish to the season. Any difficulties there might have been should have been put aside by now. Sevilla was a chance for them to start showing their pride on the field again. 

The players would have expected that after last year anything other than a repeat performance would mean that people were going to re-evaluate how good Leicester actually were.  That should have been a huge motivation in itself. To carry themselves as champions no matter how tough the times got.

By sacking Claudio Ranieri, even if their statement is flooded by crocodile tears, the Leicester board have given into spoiled players and into their own addiction to status and money. Even if Leicester had taken the drop there are many of us who feel that come what may, Claudio Ranieri had more than earned the right to decide the moment of his exit. 

A few weeks back after another defeat, Kasper Schmeichel gave a very honest interview where he firmly put the onus back on his colleagues in the dressingroom. He hoped to prick their consciences and draw a response. He will be dismayed with the answer his teammates gave him.

Kaspar said that his teammates needed to “stand up and be counted because this season from top to bottom hasn’t been good enough… we are reigning champions and quite frankly it’s been embarrassing”.

leicester city

Well it just got even more embarrassing. They have let down a great man who gave them the most memorable season any of them will ever enjoy.    

How has success changed Leicester?  It’s only two years since these Leicester big name stars were in a far worse situation than they are now. At the start of April 2015 they were anchored at the bottom of the Premier League with seven points between them and survival.  

Leicester stood by Nigel Pearson though. The players responded with pride and they dug their way out of the basement and ended up finishing 14th.

Those players who are still at Leicester face finishing the season with a different manager. It’s a no win situation for their reputations now. If they get what people call “the new manager bounce’ we are entitled to wonder why they wouldn’t up their performance out of loyalty to Ranieri instead of improving out of fear of some new gaffer famed for sorting out the back four.  

Lest we forget, that back four, according to one of their own, was embarrassing two weeks ago. Their board have just joined them in the stockades.    

We don’t know who will step into the space Claudio Ranieri leaves behind but not only will he always be haunted by the graceful Italian, he will be taking over at a club which has lost its soul. Success has made a failure out of Leicester City on and off the field. 

Niall Quinn is a former Arsenal, Manchester City, Sunderland and Republic of Ireland striker. He currently works as a pundit and co-commentator for Sky Sports, and also writes for Sportsvibe.

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