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
There is a reason why football is our game and the most watched sport around the globe. Simply put, it brings inexplicable joy to the people. A game with such emotional pull yet all that is needed is a ball-like object and one player. Ex- Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly, said it best “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”. We have all experienced what sport can do for nations and regions in crisis functioning as a comforting blanket. Examples such as Chile hosting the 1962 World Cup after the 1960 earthquake, France’s 1998 multi-ethnic team enhanced race relations and ore recently, the impact of the new findings in the Hillsborough investigation in 2016. All these and more are a testament to the power of the beautiful game.
Last season, a feat nobody could have envisioned would happen in England (the self-proclaimed best league in the world); Claudio Ranieri and his Foxes won the English league title. It was one of the most beautiful things I have witnessed as a football fan. It truly furnished the feeling of the underdog being alive, that anything is possible if you believe and with a blend of hard work and team-work, all is achievable. That Leicester team was a squad of the most unlikely heroes, including their manager who a couple months before, had been sacked by Greece for failing to the beat the football minnows, Faroe Island. His stock was undoubtedly on the slide – in the age of the new continental type manager, his breed, the old-school father figure is in danger of extinction. Football management is now a young man’s sport they say.
After the Nigel Pearson scandal, Leicester offered Claudio Ranieri a chance when nobody believed in him (he was odds on favourite at the start of the 2015/2016 season to be sacked and 5000/1 to win the League) and Ranieri bought his amicable self to the Leicester driving seat, his charm and charismatic awkwardness guided them to the top of the table as they became unlikely champions of England. Italian classical singer Andrea Bocelli, serenading the King Power stadium before they lifted the Premier League trophy still gives the chills, a near shed-tearing moment – watch again here .
Like the person who has read so many love stories or seen one too many rom coms, we are always waiting for that fairy-tale ending, which in real life hardly comes to fruition- the bad guy usually wins and life isn’t fair. All is well and good being a romantic but in modern football, the only people who are stuck in such an axis are us – the fans, and we will continually get our hearts broken by owners, managers and players at the clubs we love the most.
From an objective point of view, Claudio has no one to blame but himself. Yes, the players have underperformed. Yes, there were rumours flying around the club about dressing room unrest. Yes, there was talk of quarrels between Ranieri and the playing staff. Yet, there’s no valid excuse. Squad harmony is the duty of the manager and when disharmony occurs and results are dire – the manager pays the price with his job. It has been particularly painful to see the core of the team- Huth, Morgan, Drinkwater and Jamie Vardy struggle after the heights reached last year.
Bar Slimani, none of the signings from the summer have proved successful (Mendy and Musa to name a few). Although they may be good players, they’ve mainly failed to make a significant input this year. He has been unable to address the slump and the owners like anyone running a successful business must make decisions albeit at the time unpopular, vital for the business. There has been a lot of animosity directed at the owners of Leicester with fans and stakeholders denouncing the sacking of Ranieri and the “chop and change” culture of modern football, with some romantics even suggesting Leicester getting relegated and winning the Champions League would be some sort of beautiful tragedy. Unfortunately, owners are generally not romantics. The hefty money involved in modern football gives little room for sentiment and pragmatism is favoured, and rightly so.
Leicester were looking doomed with Ranieri in charge moving forward; let’s be realistic and put ourselves in the place of the owners of Leicester, most of us have jobs or some sort of responsibilities and we are given objectives sometimes we perform better expected, sometimes we fall off and face the consequences of our actions. In the cruel business of modern day football, with so much money on the line, Leicester owners could not afford to take the chance. With these new premier league TV deals, the loss of premier league TV revenue would be too significant a reduction in income for most clubs.
According to totalsportek.com, the reigning champions wage bill increased from £44million in the title winning season to £66million at the start of the 2016/2017 season. £66 million wage bill will wreck the club in the championship even with parachute payments, plus you can’t see much of their squad staying if they were relegated.
At this stage of the season, relegation is a realistic threat to Leicester; the team has only gained one point from a possible 18 in 2017. In a period when the other relegation rivals are amassing vital points, Leicester needed a change to giving themselves a fighting chance. The harsh reality of the situation is, Leicester are sliding towards the abyss at the foot of the table and Claudio Ranieri looked a man powerless to stop the decline, chopping and changing his formations and line-ups in the previous weeks all to no avail. They are the only premier league team yet to score in 2017. With Hull, Swansea and Palace making changes to new continental type managers (beneath the big, tough English centre back disguise, Big Sam secretly is a dossier man).
The Sevilla result was encouraging but the performance was one of a team looking inept at the highest level of European football, they didn’t test Sergio Rico in the first half.
Modern football is ruthless and gives no room for sentiment. Whether this is right or not, with the money involved in the game nowadays, the ruthlessness seems justifiable. Claudio Ranieri would live long in the memory of football folklore for his achievements last season but when thinking rationally you would see why he was fired.
The 3-1 away win at the Etihad is still one of the most exciting games I saw last season, Leicester truly deserved to be champions last season but this year, the team has looked lethargic and new refreshing ideas occurring from a change of guard in a relegation battle has been shown to be effective on occasions.
Last season was a big fuck you to the football elitist, who said there is no fairy tales anymore in football? We are football fans and lovers, how dare people tell us not to dream? But maybe sometimes we get lost in dreams? One of the reasons we love football is because of the uncertainty (the quote ‘This is football, anything can happen’ always comes to mind). And it is going to be uncertain period for Leicester from now till the end of the season.