By Dillon Meehan
Just 11 months ago, Leicester City were capturing the headlines as the greatest underdog stories in the history of sports. A perennial mediocre club and Claudio Ranieri, their heavily criticized manager, somehow managed to win in the toughest league in the world.
Their three best players were Jamie Vardy, a 29-year old striker who was playing in amateur leagues just a few seasons prior; Riyad Mahrez, a winger who was forgotten about due to his short stature and small frame; and N’Golo Kante a defensive stalwart who was incredibly undervalued while playing in France’s Ligue 1.
Vardy finished with 24 goals, only one behind leader Harry Kane. Mahrez finished with 17 goals and 10 assists and the PFA Player of the Year. And Kante finished with more tackles at 175 and interceptions at 157 than any other player in the Premier League.
Heading into this season, there was a variety of opinions on how Leicester would finish. Some believed that despite losing their best midfielder, they would still be able to compete for a spot in the top four and a chance to play in Champions League. Others believed that they would return to mediocrity and the club would be relegated by this time next year.
While the season is not over yet, it is looking as though the latter. Until their win on Monday against Liverpool, the club hadn’t won a game since Dec. 26 and had only scored a handful of goals in 2017. It looked as though the team had simply given up and were in free fall.
Some called for Ranieri to be fired, others wanted the players benched. Unfortunately for Ranieri, it is far easier to blame a manager and replace him than get rid of a club’s best players. On Thursday, Feb. 23, the club announced it had fired Ranieri. The announcement was met with both applause and jeers from fans, pundits and former players. Gary Lineker, the club’s former striker, called the move a “panic decision” and admitted to crying after hearing the news.
Ranieri was given the nickname “the tinkerman” due to his inability keep a consistent squad and often making changes and disrupting chemistry. It was often meant as a slight and it was something that stuck with him his entire career. This season saw Ranieri often make several changes to the teams lineup in hopes of saving the season and his job, but ultimately it was what cost him. While he will go down as the man who managed the greatest underdog story in sports history, he unfairly lost his job.