From jubilation to despair in a matter of months, Leicester City’s magical run in the Premier League last season has recently culminated in the sacking of Claudio Ranieri. The mystical man from Italy, with his proud “Dilly Ding, Dilly Dong” isms and light-hearted attitude, was shockingly relieved of his managerial duty on February 23rd, following the fox’s loss to Sevilla in the first leg of the last-16 round, 2-1. This decision, ultimately made by Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, came as a surprise to most for multiple reasons. A few weeks prior to this seismic decision, the Thai ownership of the club released a statement of “unwavering support” of Ranieri, in response to Leicester’s indescribable poor performance in this season’s premier league. Adding to the surprise, it has been less than a year since Ranieri lead his 5000-1 odds squad to title victory in stellar fashion.
Jubilation: Achieving the Unachievable
The Leicester City fairy tale became world famous, with Ranieri being at the forefront. The side was promoted to the Premier League after winning the Football League Championship in the 2013-2014 season, under the leadership of club-patriot Andy King and manager Nigel Pearson. Pearson then managed the side in their return season to a very slow start. But in a turn of events, the side found its form and secured its spot for the next season in the England’s top flight. Pearson was then sacked before the 2015-2016 season, due to a poor relationship with the club’s owner and board of directors. Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha then looked to former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri to lead the foxes into the new season. Nobody could have imagined what was being set forth that day.
Leicester had mainly been comprised of youth talent that matured into unfulfilled prospects. However, Leicester’s true hero, came from the non-professional football world just a few years prior. Jamie Vardy, the daft 29 year-old, became world-famous for his blistering pace and relentless hard-work. But Vardy found his goal-scoring touch early on in the season, replacing Ruud Van Nistelrooy as the record holder for most goals scored in consecutive games, scoring 13 goals in 11 straight games. The former part-time factory worker spurred his side into an improbable run, with the help of some “unearthed gems.” Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kanté, among others, joined Vardy in the spotlight as the new heroes of Leicester. Algerian Winger Riyad Mahrez started his career in the 4th division of French football before making his way to 2nd division team Le Havre. In 2014, during the January transfer window, Mahrez signed a deal to join Leicester City, the rest is history. Mahrez would go on to score 17 goals and have 11 assists, being Leicester true play-maker. He was named the PFA Player of the Year award, being the first African to earn this award. Mahrez and Vardy found their strength in arguably the most important player of the team, N’Golo Kanté. The small French midfielder became infamous with tireless running, marking, intercepting, and crunching tackling. He, along with Mahrez, were courted by the likes of Barcelona and Madrid during their team’s improbable run, but the two remained at Leicester to see out the trophy. The team’s function of steadfast defense and long balls into the channels to be scooped up by Vardy and Mahrez allowed for the foxes to score quick counter-attack goals while being resolute in the back with Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, and the net-minder Kasper Schmeichel. All of the stars aligned to create this romantic sporting story and the legacy of this team will live on forever.
Despair: What Has Gone Wrong
As the old adage prescribes, all good things must come to an end. But in this instance, the end came very quickly. Leicester’s current form holdS them at 27 points, maintaining the 15th spot, just 3 points above the relegation zone (if you don’t understand British football, here’s a video for you https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KeG_i8CWE8). This form caused all loyalty to be thrown out into the street, along with the beloved Claudio Ranieri. Nevertheless, one force has been present in Leicester for a long time: Shakespeare. No, not the playwright from Stratford-upon-Avon, but the stoic Craig Shakespeare, Leicester’s long time Number 2. Shakespeare has been the main assistant for the last 6 years, seeing the rise from the 2nd Football League to Champions of England. He has been given the reigns to steer Leicester away from relegation and possibly taking them further into the Champions League tournament.
A New Hope
The foxes have responded positively to Shakespeare’s leadership, winning the last two PL games against the mighty Liverpool, 3-1, and the struggling Hull City, 3-1. However, Shakespeare’s first major test will come tomorrow, when Leicester try to stay alive in the Champions League, behind 2-1 on aggregate to Sevilla. If the Leicester players can harness their form from last season, they may be able to advance to the next round of the most coveted competition in Europe. Shakespeare will try to add to the accolades of the modern era of the club and maybe, if he can find his inner (William) Shakespeare, inspire the team to step up to the task of achieving another incredible feat. If I was a betting man, I would give the “boys in blue” my backing, as they will have their proud fans roaring them on in an unfamiliar territory for Sevilla with temperature possibly getting close to freezing. There is no doubt that tomorrow’s tie will be a riveting game to watch.