Claudio Ranieri was a victim of football’s loss of loyalty after Leicester sacking
It’s hard to say exactly when football changed and when some of the romance and loyalty were lost to the game to be replaced by hard-head commercialism. But it probably wasn’t last week, however shock and saddened I was by Claudio Ranieri’s dismissal.
It felt brutal, given the miracle he had achieved for them last season. And it didn’t feel right, coming after that late goal against Sevilla had given them hope, even if it was evident there were tactical problems in recent weeks. Of all people, you would have thought Ranieri had at least earned the right to take them through to the end of the season.
But then I think back to my first manager at Tottenham, Keith Burkenshaw. I was just 18 when he took over at the club and we were relegated in his first season in charge. It’s unthinkable that a manager in charge of a major club such as Spurs could survive that now.
And yet he was kept on, we came back up next season and challenged for league titles, won two FA Cups and the UEFA Cup, playing what many people regarded as some thrilling football, with Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa in the team.
However, by 1984, there had been a change at the club. Irving Scholar, who later would become a friend of mine, had taken over. He saw where football was going. The club became the first to be floated on the stock market and to build a stand with executive boxes for corporate entertainment.
And at the end of the 1984 season, with Tottenham having won the UEFA Cup, which was more prestigious then than the current Europa League, Burkinshaw was dismissed. The chairman wanted more control over transfers and to prepare the club for a new era which he could see was coming.
There is a famous line, attributed to Keith upon leaving White Hart Lane for the last time: ‘There used to be a football club over there.’ It was the 1980s and the City of London and Yuppies were discovering the sport.
There have always been harsh sackings in football but Keith’s career probably spans a period of change. The loyalty shown to him in 1975 had disappeared by 1984. It would still be maintained at other clubs, the most famous example being Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards sticking with Alex Ferguson, despite winning no trophies between 1986 and 1990. But it has been eroded over time.
But the very fact that football has changed though doesn’t mean we should simply accept that Leicester did the right thing in the face of relegation. I don’t believe they would have gone down. And I think Ranieri had earned the chance to show that.
It wasn’t just that they had scored that late goal in Sevilla, which seemed a potential turning point; it was the identity of the scorer: Jamie Vardy. A team with an excellent striker in scoring form has a great chance of staying up. Jermain Defoe showed that last season.
Vardy hadn’t scored since the hat-trick against Manchester City in early December. But now he’s broke that duck, you can imagine him going on a run. And if he’s on a goal-scoring run, Leicester will improve.
It’s just very sad Ranieri won’t be there to oversee it and at least get to the end of the season. That would have been a more dignified exit.
But nothing can take away from what he achieved. Nothing is ever likely to surpass it as a Premier League shock. He can be stand proud as he leaves the club even if he knows, as every manager does, that the kind of loyalty you might need to succeed these days is in short supply.
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