Leicester have sacked manager Claudio Ranieri less than a year after their incredible run to the Premier League title.
With the Foxes hovering just one point above the relegation zone, the Italian was relieved of his duties after the team returned home from Wednesday night’s 2-1 Champions League defeat to Sevilla.
In announcing Ranieri’s departure, the club paid tribute to his achievements as the club’s “most successful…manager of all time” but said their perilous league position required action.
— Football365 (@F365) February 23, 2017
Leicester 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.”
Last season, Leicester defied 5000-1 odds to lift the Premier League trophy just one season after a late escape from relegation under Nigel Pearson.
But this season the Foxes have been thoroughly unable to replicate such form, and the problems have grown in recent weeks.
They have not tasted victory in their last nine outings, since a 2-1 away win at Everton in the FA Cup on January 7, with their last league victory a 1-0 win over West Ham on December 31.
Assistant manager Craig Shakespeare and Mike Stowell will take interim charge ahead of Monday’s match against Liverpool.
Former Leicester striker Tony Cottee has claimed the club pressed the panic button by sacking manager Ranieri as other ex-Foxes also expressed their surprise at the Italian’s departure.
Alan Smith and Gary Lineker were others questioning the timing of the decision by the club’s Malaysian owners.
With Leicester at home to Liverpool in a crunch Premier League game on Monday, Cottee expressed his surprise.
He told Sky Sports News: “From that point of view the timing couldn’t have been any worse. They’ve got a massive game coming up against Liverpool on Monday night.
“I can only think that something’s gone on somewhere or there’s been a disagreement and they’ve obviously come to this decision.”
He added: “To press the button tonight it sounds like a real panic decision. The one thing I don’t know, I don’t know what’s happening in the dressing room. It’s a brave decision but it’s a bizarre decision as well, bearing in mind where they are and the stage of the season.”
Cottee also said he felt there would be a backlash from Leicester’s fans.
“Personally I don’t think it’ll go down too well (with the Leicester supporters),” he said.
“I think Claudio Ranieri gave the Leicester fans last season a season that will never be matched. I think Claudio should have been given a little bit more time, a little bit more respect.”
Smith said he was “flabbergasted” at the decision to sack Ranieri.
“We’ve seen some surprising, shocking decisions over the last 10 years maybe as things have heated up in the Premier League. I think this one tops the lot given his amazing achievements last season, along with the players,” he said on Sky Sports News.
“I just thought that unless they did go down they would stay with the manager that engineered the finest moment in the club’s history and the most romantic story we’ve ever seen in football over the last 20-30 years or so.
“(I am) absolutely flabbergasted that they didn’t hold their nerve and stay with that man.”
Smith said some of the blame should be taken by the Leicester players, adding: “As always in these situations, the players have got to take a long, hard look at themselves. These are the same players he was picking last season.”
Lineker took to Twitter when the news of Ranieri’s departure first broke. The former Leicester and England striker and current Match of the Day presenter first tweeted: “Claudio Ranieri? Sacked? Really? Dilly Ding Dilly Game’s Gone.”
After the club confirmed the news he added: “After all that Claudio Ranieri has done for Leicester City, to sack him now is inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad.”
Lineker’s fellow BBC presenter Dan Walker added: “Claudio Ranieri sacked by Leicester City. What a sad end to one of THE greatest football stories.”
Good Morning TV host and Arsenal fan Piers Morgan added: “Claudio Ranieri sacked???? Most disgraceful decision in the history of football.”
TV presenter Jake Humphrey added: “Feb 7th 2017. ‘The club want to make clear it’s unwavering support for Claudio Ranieri’. Feb 23rd 2017. Leicester sack Claudio Ranieri.”