Leicester City prove Claudio Ranieri sacking was the correct decision
Former Italy, Roma and Valencia manager Cesare Prandelli revealed over the weekend that he had turned down an approach from Leicester City to replace Claudio Ranieri. This wasn't on the basis that he didn't want to move to England, or that he wanted time off after his chastening experience in Spain with Valencia, but rather in what seems to be a moral objection to the circumstances in which that job became available.
"I said no," Prandelli told French TV station SFR Sport. "There was an approach, but I immediately said no. You don't go to a place like that after seeing how Ranieri was treated. You don't go there. Full stop."
Prandelli went on to make some perfectly sensible points about the nature of coaching and how putting too much emphasis and pressure on a manager is not sensible, and indeed his reticence about talking to a club who have made such a ruthless decision is perhaps understandable from a self-preservation point of view.
But Prandelli was the latest to speak as if Leicester's decision was inexplicable, an ethical no-no that could not be justified. "I have no idea why Leicester did this," said Jurgen Klopp, grouping the dismissal with the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president and Brexit in the ranks of recent "strange decisions." Jose Mourinho, a man previously not shy about deriding and mocking Ranieri, offered his offended solidarity. Before this weekend, Slaven Bilic declared it as a "bad" decision while simultaneously acknowledging that it had worked.
Because that's the important thing: it has worked. Before Ranieri was dismissed, Leicester had lost five games in a row. They hadn't won away from home all season. They were a point off the relegation zone and only heading one way. They were out of both domestic cup competitions and had just lost the first leg of their Champions League tie with Sevilla.
Since the decision was made, Leicester have beaten Liverpool and Hull at home, won at West Ham and completed a comeback against Sevilla to put them into the Champions League quarterfinals. They now have 30 points, six clear of the bottom three: realistically, they will probably only have to win two of their remaining 10 games in order to survive.
There might be a parallel universe in which all of that happened without the club taking the emotionally tricky call of getting rid of everyone's favourite uncle Claudio, but it's a place in which the rules of likelihood and plausibility are rather different to this one. The chances are that Leicester would have carried on down the same path had they not acted.
Few will argue that the decision was not ruthless: you could also say it was cold, harsh on a human level and savagely unsentimental. But it has undoubtedly worked: Leicester were heading for relegation, and in four games under Craig Shakespeare, they have all but avoided it.
For this, the Leicester board should be given some praise. When Ranieri was dismissed, vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha said: "This has been the most difficult decision we have had to make in nearly seven years since King Power took ownership of Leicester City. But we are duty-bound to put the club's long-term interests above all sense of personal sentiment, no matter how strong that might be."
That was quite right. Sentiment is particularly understandable where Ranieri is concerned, the avuncular soul who even in his last days at the club would individually shake the hands of journalists at his news conferences; who brought in opera singer Andrea Bocelli to celebrate the title win; who, after his sacking, invited a couple of fans into his house for coffee. But if the Leicester board had allowed that sentiment to cloud their dispassionate judgement, they would not have been doing their jobs.
This is not even to say Shakespeare should necessarily be given the job beyond this season. His success might just be down to changing the unpopular parts of Ranieri's management this season, to implementing a more direct style of play, to simply giving the players what they want. That might be unpalatable for those who thought the players stopped trying for Ranieri, but changing a manager is a quicker, easier and more practical way of reversing bad form than changing the minds of a whole squad.
Shakespeare might not be a good long or even medium-term choice for Leicester, but in the short-term he has vindicated his employers.
Relegation would not have sullied the memory of last season's implausible, magnificent title win, but then again, Ranieri's sacking won't either. There will probably be a statue of him up in the city one day, and rightly so: he helped them achieve the impossible. But that doesn't mean he should have stayed. Leicester have already been proved right.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.