Claudio Ranieri was sacked as Leicester City manager on Thursday night, nine months after guiding the club to the first top-flight trophy in their 133-year history.
Ranieri returned to East Midlands Airport from Seville in the afternoon to be given the news by Leicester’s director of football Jon Rudkin in a ruthless move which has stunned football as much as their remarkable title win.
The 65-year-old has struggled throughout a feeble title defence, bewildering players with tactics and team selection and allegedly marginalising backroom staff, but Leicester’s Thai owners are still facing severe criticism after opting to dismiss the Italian.
Earlier this month they had released a statement declaring unwavering support for Ranieri, but the 2-0 defeat against Swansea is thought to have seriously alarmed the club hierarchy and forced a swift rethink.
And with Leicester only a point off the Premier League’s relegation zone the club have acted in a desperate bid to avoid relegation to the Championship. The decision comes less than 24 hours after a creditable 2-1 defeat to Seville in the Champions League first leg.
Guus Hiddink, the former Chelsea manager, and Nigel Pearson – sacked by Leicester in June 2015 – are understood to be under consideration to replace Ranieri, while there is also thought to be support for Craig Shakespeare, the assistant manager, to take charge for the remainder of the season.
But the departure of Ranieri is certain to polarise opinion, even though his second season has been excruciating. Gary Lineker, the former Leicester striker, tweeted shortly after the decision: “After all that Claudio Ranieri has done for Leicester City, to sack him now is inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad.”
However, the Daily Telegraph revealed earlier this month that Ranieri’s methods have been confusing and angering the players who last season lifted the title for some time.
They included the bizarre instruction to train on the morning of the FA Cup tie at Derby County, while he has also frequently changed tactics without warning less than two hours before kick-off.
In the 0-0 draw in Copenhagen in November, he angrily confronted a popular member of the backroom staff over a row about the players wearing the wrong football studs.
It is also understood that earlier this year when Leicester’s players held talks to force a return to the tactics of last season - essentially 4-4-2 with the plan to counter-attack - Ranieri waved them away and insisted there should be only one voice at the club.
His treatment of Demarai Gray has also been a constant source of irritation, with Ranieri dropping the talented winger in favour of £15million signing Ahmed Musa, who has horribly underachieved since joining from CSKA Moscow.
Sources have also claimed that the mood in the dressing room in recent months has been “totally flat”, with some players even accepting that relegation was inevitable unless Ranieri left the club.
It is a scenario which reeks of player power, similar to Jose Mourinho’s demise at Chelsea last season, yet there has been a growing sense that Leicester were only heading one way.
Leicester’s 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.
“Claudio has brought outstanding qualities to his office. His skilful management, powers of motivation and measured approach have been reflective of the rich experience we always knew he would bring to Leicester City. His warmth, charm and charisma have helped transform perceptions of the club and develop its profile on a global scale. We will forever be grateful to him for what he has helped us to achieve.
“It was never our expectation that the extraordinary feats of last season should be replicated this season. Indeed, survival in the Premier League was our first and only target at the start of the campaign. But we are now faced with a fight to reach that objective and feel a change is necessary to maximise the opportunity presented by the final 13 games.”
Ranieri was rewarded with a new contract for his part in the title win, doubling his pay to around £3million a year, but the problems arguably started in pre-season.
Leicester’s tour of Los Angeles, to take part in the International Champions Cup, irked players and even Ranieri’s genial demeanour slipped at times during their stay.
The club’s recruitment – so highly revered in the past – has also been a disaster and signings such as Musa, Islam Slimani, Papy Mendy, Ron-Robert Zieler and Luis Hernandez (the latter has already left) have all struggled despite a spend of over £60million.
Steve Walsh, the man who helped discover the likes of N’Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, departed to join Everton as director of football in a clear sign of friction at the top.
The January window was also excruciating, with £15million spent on Wilfried Ndidi and a deadline day capture of Molla Wague from Udinese – a player who had not made a competitive club appearance since November.
Ranieri is understood to have harboured serious concern over Leicester’s failure to recruit a top centre-half, with the club reluctant to pay £25million for Burnley’s Michael Keane in the summer. Without strengthening that position, Leicester have had no option but to stick with captain Wes Morgan and Robert Huth, who have a combined age of 65.
Now Leicester must mount a revival after only five league wins all season, with a home game against Liverpool on Monday night.
Last season’s champions then face Hull City a week on Saturday in a potentially crucial encounter at the King Power Stadium. For Ranieri, it is a case of Dilly Ding, Dilly Gone.
Leicester City's decline in numbers
32 - the Foxes are 32 points worse off than at this stage last season, with 21 as opposed to 53.
14 - they have lost 14 games, compared to only two last season. They also have only five wins as opposed to 15.
24 - their goal tally tells a similar tale of woe, having scored 24 this season against 47 through the same number of games last term.
0 - away wins this season. They have taken three points from 13 away games - only Burnley, with one from 11, have a worse record on the road.
0 - also the number of Premier League goals they have scored in 2017, in six games which have brought them only one point.
11 - in all, Leicester have drawn a blank in 11 games this season - it happened just three times in the whole of last season.
3.2 - Leicester's average for shots on target per match this season, the third-worst record in the division. Last season they ranked fifth with an average of 4.8.
343 - minutes the Foxes have spent in the lead in matches this season, compared to 863 at this stage last season.
5 - England striker Jamie Vardy, who scored in 11 consecutive league games last season on his way to 24 goals for the season and a Euro 2016 place, has just five this time around.
17/11 - PFA player of the year Riyad Mahrez's goal and assist tallies from last season. He has three goals and two assists this term.
What a difference two weeks make
Remember way back on February 7 when Leicester City wanted to make “absolutely clear” the “unwavering support” for Ranieri?
Here's what they said all of 16 days ago:
While there is a collective appreciation from everyone at the club that recent form needs to improve, the unprecedented success achieved in recent seasons has been based firmly on stability, togetherness and determination to overcome even the greatest challenges.
The entire club is and will remain united behind the manager and behind its players, collectively and firmly focused on the challenges ahead.
The final part of Leicester City's statement:
First team preparations for Monday’s Premier League fixture against Liverpool will resume on Saturday, with assistant manager Craig Shakespeare and first team Coach Mike Stowell taking charge of the squad until a new manager is appointed.
Assistant manager and first team coach Paolo Benetti and first team sport science and conditioning coach Andrea Azzalin have also parted company with the club and leave with our thanks for their service and best wishes for the future.
'Most difficult decision of last seven years'
Leicester City vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha has had this to say:
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.
Claudio has brought outstanding qualities to his office. His skilful management, powers of motivation and measured approach have been reflective of the rich experience we always knew he would bring to Leicester City. His warmth, charm and charisma have helped transform perceptions of the Club and develop its profile on a global scale. We will forever be grateful to him for what he has helped us to achieve.
It was never our expectation that the extraordinary feats of last season should be replicated this season. Indeed, survival in the Premier League was our first and only target at the start of the campaign. But we are now faced with a fight to reach that objective and feel a change is necessary to maximise the opportunity presented by the final 13 games.
Here's the confirmation
This has just landed from the Leicester City website:
Leicester City Football Club has tonight parted company with its First Team Manager, Claudio Ranieri.
Claudio, appointed City manager in July 2015, led the Foxes to the greatest triumph in the Club’s 133-year history last season, as we were crowned champions of England for the first time. His status as the most successful Leicester City manager of all time is without question.
However, domestic results in the current campaign have placed the Club’s Premier League status under threat and the Board reluctantly feels that a change of leadership, while admittedly painful, is necessary in the Club’s greatest interest.