Leicester: From champions to a step down from Burnley

Date published: Thursday 19th October 2017 8:21 - Matthew Stead

There is Sam Allardyce, the experienced firefighter, ruing the timing of this particular emergency. David Moyes and Alan Pardew are similarly unemployed, eminently more attainable, but evidently less suitable. David Wagner, Marco Silva and Sean Dyche are the expensive options, over-achieving and raising their respective stocks with slightly less illustrious sides. Carlo Ancelotti and Thomas Tuchel are the continental choices, the sort that fit snugly into Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s remit for a ‘big name’. Roberto Mancini and Chris Coleman are the wildcards.

The Foxes seem to have overlooked the irony of their ‘shortlist’ of candidates to replace Craig Shakespeare, but then they are not the first to hedge their bets as far and as wide as possible. Steve Parish considered “37 managers” for the vacant role at Crystal Palace this summer. He eventually settled on Frank de Boer.

“It’s fantastically exciting for this football club, an amazing milestone for us,” the chairman said upon unveiling the first foreign permanent manager in Palace’s history. “We have undertaken a thorough interview process to ensure we are in a position to appoint a manager of the calibre of Frank.”

That was in June; by September, Parish admitted his “mistake”, De Boer was sacked, and Roy Hodgson was drafted in to steer a sinking ship. The experiment had failed, and Palace stepped back into recognisable territory after their brief foray into the unknown.

The temptation to employ a ‘big name’ as manager is understandable. The risk of underwhelming and angering supporters by bringing in a reliable but known quantity is often deemed too great; there is no lure, no wonder, no curiosity in picking one of the usual candidates from the Premier League managerial merry-go-round. With Allardyce, Pardew or Tony Pulis, what you see is what you get.

Familiarity can breed contempt, yet mystery can quickly become misery. Bob Bradley, Walter Mazzarri and Louis van Gaal all arrived on British shores with grand plans and even grander reputations, but departed as figures of ridicule. Let it not be forgotten that De Boer was, after all, ‘a bit of a weirdo’ at Selhurst Park.

In choosing the ‘big name’ path, Leicester are praying for lightning to strike twice. Claudio Ranieri helped deliver the Premier League title to this provincial club little over 12 months ago, and while the Foxes do not expect to emulate the impossible, they are still trying to eat at the top table while being escorted out of the building.

It does feel as though the horse bolted months ago. The decision to part ways with Ranieri in February was controversial but warranted – the Foxes won six consecutive games after his demise, having lost the previous five. They sauntered clear of relegation rather than stumbling over the line.

Shakespeare had been placed in interim charge, but his early reign was akin to placing the club under cruise control. The bulk of a Premier League title-winning squad were temporarily buoyed by the exit of an increasingly unpopular manager and the return of chips to their diet.

Then the Foxes made the mistake of appointing Shakespeare on a permanent basis. Like tasking Robin with fighting crime alone after handing Batman his redundancy package, it was a fool’s errand; one Premier League win in their last 11 games suggests as much. The club should have cashed in on what unique appeal still remained; now little separates them from a Swansea or a Crystal Palace. In a matter of months, the champions have become a step down for Silva or Dyche at Watford and Burnley.

Whoever Leicester do appoint as their next manager will not be handed a poisoned chalice, but it will be an uphill battle. Srivaddhanaprabha has now employed and sacked four managers since buying the club in February 2011; if Sven-Göran Eriksson, Nigel Pearson, Ranieri and Shakespeare do not point to a clear strategy, what message does a shortlist including Ancelotti, Mancini and Coleman send out?


Matt Stead

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