With Claudio Ranieri now gone it is time for Leicester’s players to put up or shut up, writes Adam Bate.
Success has many fathers but failure is an orphan. So it would seem. For while Leicester’s extraordinary title triumph made heroes of the most unlikely figures, the responsibility for their hapless defence of the trophy has fallen squarely on the shoulders of Claudio Ranieri.
Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez picked up their individual awards, N’Golo Kante and the recruitment staff got their lucrative moves. Danny Drinkwater played for England and just about everyone from Danny Simpson to Marcin Wasilewski was rewarded with a new contract.
The problem was that somewhere along the way Leicester City forgot how to win football matches. Their last Premier League win away from the King Power came in the heady days of last spring. Their last Premier League win anywhere came on New Year’s Eve.
Sometimes a change is as good as a strategy and so, reluctantly, Leicester’s owners have acted out of fear in the hope of sparking the upturn in fortunes that their recent statement in support of Ranieri failed to produce. The dream is done but they have 13 games to stay up.
For Ranieri himself, the adventure is over and having lost his job there is nothing left to lose. If Leicester stay up then the legacy of his amazing title win is strengthened. If they go down, well, he left them outside of the relegation zone and still in the Champions League.
But for these players, their excuse has left the building. The noises from the dressing room – it would be too generous to call them whispers – suggested that the mistakes lay elsewhere. That the manager was making bad decisions. That their own hopes were being hamstrung.
Now is the chance to find out. Ranieri, for what it is worth, can point to a long career and a compelling case for being entitled to feel at home at the top level. Aside from the miracle in which they all shared, the credentials of Leicester’s playing staff are somewhat flimsier.
Eight of the Leicester line-up in Seville featured in the run that left the Foxes seven points from safety at the foot of the table as recently as March 2015. That season, the bookies had them to finish 17th – and nobody felt that would be the mark of a team underachieving.
Two years on and the only wonder is why anyone would be surprised by Mahrez’s fragility or Marc Albrighton’s limitations. While there is talk that some players would welcome Nigel Pearson back, Vardy has already matched the five-goal haul he got under him in 2014/15.
Ranieri’s tactics can be questioned in failing to come up with a structure to provide enough protection for his back four following Kante’s departure. But he cannot be held responsible for Robert Huth’s inability to head a ball away or Wes Morgan’s penchant for lunging in.
Ranieri’s team selections can be debated but few would have anticipated the dependable Drinkwater making the sort of horrendous error that allowed West Brom’s winner at the King Power in November. Regression to the mean can rarely have been so dramatic.
Of course, there is still time for these players to turn things around. Time to pick up the points needed to preserve their Premier League status. Maybe even time to conjure up one of their trademark 1-0 wins of last year’s run-in to see off Sevilla in the Champions League.
But to do that, those apparently disgruntled by goings on at the training ground and in the dressing room, must first deliver on the pitch. Become part of the solution not the problem. Put up or shut up. Prove again that it was they who were the true architects of the miracle.
Ranieri’s fate is sealed, his statue inevitable. The future of the rest of last year’s champions can still be shaped by what happens between now and May. The Leicester tale has been tarnished. The challenge now is to ensure the next chapter is not set in the Championship.