I loved the Leicester City story as much as any of you. Well, maybe not just as much. Leicester’s title win was astonishing, but it was no fairy story. They outperformed far wealthier clubs, sure, but this was achieved by spending the kind of money Celtic couldn’t dream of parting with.
Apart from their league win, Project Leicester was typical of the financial chicanery which has been prevalent in English football for so long, and which Financial Fair Play seeks to end.
Right now they are in freefall. If they go down, loaded with an underperforming squad on eye-wateringly high salaries, they will find it impossible to downsize sufficiently to give anyone sitting around the King Power Stadium boardroom table that they will be able to achieve stability in the Championship.
Once you drop out of the Enland and Wales Premier League, the biggest parachute in the world simply isn’t big enough. Two of the three Championship relegation places are currently occupied by recent Premier League clubs. Aston Villa, twice the size of Leicester but with a far smaller wage bill, are currently 17th. Leicester will look ominously at Blackpool, 14th in League Two, and appreciate how rapidly a Premier League relegation fight can turn into something altogether more serious.
Claudio Ranieri is a football hero, but even from the outside it has been plain to see that something has been seriously wrong under his control in recent months. His comments before the Sevilla game, “we know they are the better team”, spoke of a man who didn’t believe in himself or his players anymore.
It is never easy to spot when a managerial hero should move on from a club where he’s loved, exect in hindsight. Clough was the greatest English manager, but stayed on far too long at Nottingham Forest. Relegation was his reward.
Jock Stein’s sacking as Celtic manager in 1978 was shabbily handled, as was the way at the club back then. I was too young to know the best of Jock’s years at Celtic, but I remember the grief he got from the terraces during his last four seasons, when Rangers (remember them?) won three titles and two trebles.
No one will tell you they got on Jock’s case back then, but it happened. Football fans in the 1970s took no prisoners.
Looking back, Jock stayed too long at Celtic. He produced miracles for five years then managed decline for eight. He should have taken the Manchester United job when offered. Clough squeezed two League Cups out of his squad in 1989 and 1990 and should have headed for this hills right then.
As for Claudio, he should have bowed out a champion in May. He didn’t have managerial alchemy after all, it was inevitable that performances would return to his normal trend this season. Someone at Leicester had to take responsibility. That’s football – and it’s not even a modern aspect of it.