There’s currently a wave of xenophobia in British society that’s reached a new crescendo in the aftermath of the referendum. The discourse over the course of the 2016/2017 football season has reflected this. It’s worth remembering that football is Britain’s working class sport and this relationship defines a lot of the rhetoric that permeates the game. When Hull City sacked Sir Alex Ferguson’s old sidekick, Mike Phelan, ex pros like Paul Merson and Phil Thompson delivered the most vitriolic of rants denigrating the appointment of lesser known foreigner, Marco Silva.Silva’s arrival has seen an uptick in Hull’s performances. Merson and Thompson still have their television careers allowing them do ‘drunk uncle at the pub’ impressions.
There’s a tinge of racism in all this too. Raheem Sterling finds himself receiving the most brutal of character assassinations from the tabloid press for having the audacity to view Liverpool as incapable of fulfilling his ambitions. That crime meant that when last summer, England failed at an international tournament (as they inevitably always do), Sterling was the scapegoat. Wayne Rooney, the constantly underachieving Captain with a track record of undermining his managers got off scut free. Or compare and contrast the coverage of Luis Suarez’s diving in Barcelona’s historic triumph over Paris Saint Germain and Jamie Vardy’s playacting in Leicester’s victory over Sevilla. Suarez was condemned for diving to win penalties while England’s most prominent journalist described Vardy’s cheating as “streetwise”. You get the picture.
In comes Ahmed Musa. Over the years, Musa has grown to be one of Nigeria’s most visible players. Blessed with blistering pace – his turn in the 2014 World Cup when Nigeria took on Lionel Messi’s Argentina is one of the most memorable individual Super Eagles performances in recent history. Featuring for perennial Champions League participants, CSKA Moscow also enhanced his clout. Leicester’s game plan in last season’s League win was built around a deep block defence, a pacy top and Ngolo Kanté taking everything in between. Naturally, the challenge for Leicester would be following the success up. Leicester saw Musa as a good fit for their debut Champions League season and someone to help reduce the burden on the likes of Riyad Mahrez and the racist Jamie Vardy whilst replicating the impact. So much that when his transfer was sanctioned, he became the club’s record signing. The problem? Ranieri’s attempt to evolve Leicester and the revolt from the old guard meant that Leicester’s season has been a middling mess.
In the aftermath of Ranieri’s sacking, as the spin wars started, Musa was an obvious victim. Henry Winter wrote in Those who brought Italian down now have duty to keep club up
But it was Ranieri’s decision to play Musa in the vital Champions League round-of-16 first leg on Wednesday, leaving Gray on the bench, that really tested the players’ patience. It occupied their thoughts beforehand when they should have been focusing on the game. Gray is highly regarded in the Leicester dressing room, has done well in training, has given impetus when arriving off the bench, while Musa has looked bereft of confidence.
A £16 million signing from CSKA Moscow, Musa looked all right in pre-season but has laboured since. He was particularly poor on Wednesday, partly culpable for Seville’s first goal by failing to track back with Sergio Escudero and lacking influence in possession.
Gray’s arrival energised Leicester, and Ranieri was applauded on the night for making the switch in the second half, but in the cold light of day yesterday, the Italian’s decision to start Musa was mentioned again. The Thai owners had stayed loyal to Ranieri, releasing a statement a fortnight ago backing him, but faced with signs of dressing-room dissent, they acted. Dilly ding, dilly gone.
In the same paper, George Caulkin wrote of the impression Musa made on his teammates;
“The addition of Musa, with the speed he has got, add that to Vardy, Shinji Okazaki, Leonardo Ulloa, those type of players, I am sure we will have a very good season,” Kasper Schmeichel, the goalkeeper, said. “He has been fantastic,” Wes Morgan, the captain, said. “He has made a real impact and definitely caught the eye. I’m sure it’s a sign of things to come from him.”
Looking through a lot of the press coverage in the wake of Ranieri’s sack, the aforementioned decision Winter referenced featured heavily. Reading between the lines, it’s obvious that it’s a line the press have been fed. However, saying it so much does not make it true. Musa has not started enough games to determine whether he’s had a definitive impact on the side either way. The team’s struggles have meant that when he’s gotten a run, he has struggled to make decisive impact. Can it truly be said that any of Leicester’s players have covered themselves in glory this season? It’s a similar story for the summer signings. Nampalys Mendy hailed as the closest fit to Kanté has struggled. Islam Slimani has also failed to deliver the goods. The notion that a player with 7 league starts has been culpable for the side’s slide down the table is preposterous. The changes in Leicester’s style should also add more nuance. Ranieri opted for Leicester taking a more reactive approach by sitting off teams as opposed to the speedier, more direct approach that had won them the league. The failure of his manager to deploy him appropriately is not his fault.
So back to the question, why is Ahmed Musa been persecuted for Leicester’s failure this season? Well, he’s a foreigner who’s been added to a successful team with a homegrown core. When shit hits the fan, it’s easier to pin it on the ‘other’. The Musa/Gray incident is convenient as it reduced the scrutiny on the likes of Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater as some of the de facto leaders of the Leicester side would have gotten for effectively downing tools.