Ranieri Reign Makes Case for Manager Rules Review

Ranieri Reign Makes Case for Manager Rules Review

Claudio Ranieri – the man responsible for taking Leicester City to dreamland – was brought crashing back to reality with the ruthless nature of the Premier League once again being displayed by a twitchy chairman. He becomes the fifth top flight manager to leave his post this campaign, and the fourth out of the last five to win the title only to be axed the following season. The time to analyse each individual case on its merits has passed – if Ranieri can be sacked, there is no measure of safety to consider – it’s time to question the staff system as a whole.

Before offering an alternative to the current way of life for football managers, it’s worth noting every club making a change has clear (if cold) reasons for doing so. Swansea believed Bob Bradley was in a sink or swim scenario with his lack of Premier League experience and showed no signs of doing even a doggy paddle.

Mike Phelan on the other hand, had shown signs of improvement at Hull City. His seemed a thankless task: a small squad, no money, an eleventh-hour appointment. Despite the cards being stacked against him, he soldiered on. That aforementioned improvement didn’t translate into the only element club owners care about when faced with relegation: points.

That’s why Crystal Palace replaced Alan Pardew with Sam Allardyce. The former went on long runs without collecting many, the latter almost guarantees survival.

It’s the fear of not surviving that prompted Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha to wield the axe at Leicester. (Yes, the chairman’s name was copy and pasted.)

It’s the players at the King Power who should be taking ownership of a change in their application and work ethic. It’s clear to see their interest levels have only peaked in the Champions League. They used player power, regardless of what Craig Shakespeare says in press conferences, to avoid taking direct responsibility for their attitude and performance.

Ironically, the man favourite to replace Claudio Ranieri – Roberto Mancini – left Manchester City for the same reason.

He lost that dressing room and Manchester City hired a pussy cat. The Foxes have gone the opposite way, fired Mr Nice Guy and hired a disciplinarian. Makes sense when people need whipping into shape but the players who lacked professionalism will rue the day they got a good man fired.

All these managers needed the same thing: Time.

The panic of losing Premier League status, and all its rich financial rewards, has chairman all too eager to press the panic button. The League Managers Association (LMA) have a thankless task. They have no negotiating power in the boardroom and can only transition managers into the job market. The chance of them ever taking a big club to tribunal is on the same scale as it was for Leicester to retain the title and win the Champions League this season.

If the managers and the LMA can’t enable a fairer work place, who can?

Well, it has to come from the top. It would require UEFA to make it law or for the Premier League to take a bold step and make rules for clubs on these shores that would remove the equal playing field they currently enjoy with the rest of Europe.

And while this sounds outlandish at first, it’s worth remembering the Premier League has set out to differentiate itself from its European equivalents. The new branding seen this year, without the need for a sponsor, was an effort to make the Premier League a global symbol like the NFL or NBA.

It’s from those American counterparts they could take inspiration.

Before we get to their methods, there is already a system in place that could afford managers protection: the players’ transfer window. Seen as an awkward disruption nowadays (ask a West Ham fan about Dimitri Payet) and a way for clubs to inflate prices, it does offer one thing to players – a settled block period without the threat of being moved on.

Of course, a club can fire a player by releasing him from his contract, but they see the financial loss as too great to ever do this. Unless the player involved is Joey Barton. This gives players a fighting chance to prove themselves. And when the writing is on the wall, at least they have time to prepare and fashion a deal with their agent for a new club.

The modern day manager goes week-to-week – sometimes day-to-day – with the threat of the chop in the background. If they were afforded the same protection by only being removable during the player transfer window, clubs would have to show the same commitment they gave on day one of the manager’s reign.

Maybe it would only result in the January transfer window becoming a crazy merry-go-round of players and managers, but there’s also a chance clubs would buckle in for the season. Clubs that still felt the need to part ways when relegation loomed would only be able to promote from within, giving backroom staff a chance and some form of continuity.

But maybe the Americans have got it correct. In NFL, coaches are fired on the first day of the regular season. It’s known as Black Monday and several sackings is seen as harsh. A regular debate within NFL is whether firing bosses actually improves results. They still make changes during the regular season but across American sports it’s not as prevalent as it is in football.

So, what if there was no transfer window for managers in football because clubs couldn’t replace a Head Coach with an external appointment at any point in the season?

It would ensure clubs got behind their managers 100%. They’d have to make it work. The time, and undue pressure a lack of it brings, would be afforded to coaches often struggling against resistant waters. Some players don’t like a new ethos or coaching methods and in today’s football world, they know all the power lies with them.

If a chairman had to retain his manager, that power would swing back to where it should be: with the boss.

These ideas are the extreme end of the spectrum but the results they offer would please fans and clubs alike. Currently agents have more influence than the people that work long hours coaching teams and preparing for matches. A safety net and legal assurances for managerial staff would reduce this ugly side-effect of today’s game.

It seems far-flung right now, but everything has a breaking point. If the Premier League carries on its current trajectory, it will buckle under its own weight. The manager sack race is just another indication football is in silly season.

It’s time for calmer heads to prevail, and loyalty and respect to have more bearing than the potential of a few short-term victories to snatch the pound signs flying around.

Team of 2016: Leicester City

Team of 2016: Leicester City

It should come as no surprise that Leicester have taken the Football Reflective’s team of the year accolade. Greatest Achievement in League Football covered that story but the title explains all you need to know. Their Premier League success defied all reason and logical, it was the thing of movie scripts. But 2016 is a calendar year, not a season, and this means some will question the choice and put forward others.

The main rival comes from the idea Portugal deserve it for winning the European Championship. There are a number of problems with this. Ignoring the direct comparison – Portugal were never 5000/1 outsiders and they did have the best player in the world fighting their cause – the gulf across class and expectation was never stacked against the Portuguese.

The reason it appeared like they’d overcome insurmountable odds was because how lacklustre they were from one game to the next. They only qualified from the group stage because of the expanded tournament format, finishing third, failing to win a match.

Ronaldo saved their Euros with two goals and an equaliser against Hungary to make it 3-3. Hardly capturing the imagination like a side tipped for relegation that only lost three games all season.

If Portugal want an example of a great upset, a team clinching the Euros against all the odds, they should think back to a final they featured in. Sadly for them, they were on the losing side as Greece took the trophy in 2004.

The Ronaldo story, of winning the Champions League and Euros, gives false gravity to Portugal’s performance. Leicester’s triumph was self-contained and all-encompassing.

But the start of a new season in August 2016 reset a number of things. The expectations were dulled down and the wildly inaccurate pre-season predictions from a year before started to come true. Nobody expected Leicester to retain the title, very few even tipped them to finish top four.

The extra matches in the Champions League cited as the main stumbling block. Those observations have largely come to fruition. Leicester are having the season domestically that Claudio Ranieri predicted twelve months previous. He’ll be genuinely relieved to see forty points this year.

Bizarrely, it is the added Champions League matches that warrant them Team of the Year status. Just like when they stormed the Premier League, they have defied convention and opted out of the usual acclimatisation period clubs require in Europe.

Some will say the changed seeding format favoured the champions but they earned that right and have made the most of the draw. What took Manchester City several years has been accomplished by Leicester in a handful of games. And for a lot less money.

It was the only way to maintain the dream – improbable title defence aside. Europe are a year behind the news and may struggle to work Leicester out in time. It wouldn’t be a shock to see them progress beyond the Sevilla tie, after that, all bets are off.

Could 2016’s “greatest sporting achievement ever” be surpassed by a club floundering at the bottom of the Premier League table taking the Champions League in 2017? Sounds impossible . . . but so did Leicester winning the top flight of English football.

We all should have learnt not to bet against the team of 2016: Leicester City.

Vardy right to remain but Kante Seen Chelsea Move Coming

Vardy right to remain but Kante Seen Chelsea Move Coming

N’Golo Kante has made a £30m switch to London club Chelsea, threatening the start of a break-up of Leicester’s title winning team. At first glance, it makes Jamie Vardy’s choice to reject an approach from Arsenal all the more puzzling. At the time it was believed this was made after consulting key members of The Foxes squad about their future plans. So what does it all really mean?

Firstly, it means Vardy’s seemingly difficult decision, takes on a whole new dynamic. Let’s say during the pause he took from making an immediate choice, he did ask the likes of Kante and Mahrez what their next career choices were going to be. When he turned The Gunners down, it was a sign the squad was about to adhere to the wishes of Claudio Ranieri, and give Leicester one more year before moving on.

Perhaps Vardy was never given that reassurance from the key players. It’s unlikely they would outright lie to him if asked, so at best, he would have gotten an unsure response.

This does mean Jamie Vardy analysed his choices and made what he felt was the best decision for him. And he made the correct one.

He’s at the Premier League champions. Arsenal may be a bigger club, and with a new manager could have offered a fresh alternative, but the reality is they haven’t got a better chance of taking the title than Leicester.

Size and stature mean little if stunted by stubborn ideas.

That lack of desire to change approach is of course driven by Arsène Wenger. Other than teasing Vardy with the grandiose setting and a chance to take his place in the history books along former players like Thierry Henry, there’s very little that made logical sense.

Jamie Vardy is already 29 years of age, everything that is occurring now already supersedes what he would of dared dream a few years ago. From a professional standpoint, other than Arsenal mythology, there is no tangible evidence he would further develop under Wenger’s watch.

The Arsenal boss has a history of taking promising young players from other clubs and freezing their potential in the same room as he keeps his title aspirations.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain must fear he will become another Theo Walcott. The latter now looking for a move to another club to reignite a career the Frenchman killed. One of those clubs is West Ham, where another former Southampton youth talent, Carl Jenkinson, went on loan for the same reason. Calum Chambers will be hoping he isn’t the Oxlade-Chamberlain to Jenkinson’s Walcott.

During this time, Vardy’s talent has risen exponentially.

These must have been considerations the striker took, along with a major one: Wenger was disrespectful trying it on before the Euros.

For Kante things look decidedly different. He’s only 25, and is looking beyond a glory year with underdogs in the Champions League. His new manager, Antonio Conte, was equally absorbed with the Euros and approached at a more appropriate time.

With age on his side, the move should be (using historical data) a wise one. With Roman Abramovich’s desire and resources, Chelsea will get back to the top of the English game. It remains to be seen if Leicester can remain in the top four after coming from nowhere and against all expectation.

Conte is also a close confidante of Ranieri’s, so one has to assume the move was sanctioned, even if somewhat begrudgingly, without any negativity.

With it now looking like Riyad Mahrez will follow N’Golo Konte out of the King Power Stadium, a positive atmosphere is something Ranieri will need to maintain at the club. Losing two-thirds of the important title winning trinity will test his minerals as a manager. Who would have thought, after taking 5000/1 outsiders to championship glory, his biggest test was yet to come?

But it was a title success built on togetherness and shared belief. Whoever comes in must have passed a character suitability test and can converge into the psyche that shook the Premier League.

Leading that line is Jamie Vardy. He’s already living the dream. A move now doesn’t give a Hollywood ending to this story; it would show a betrayal to an ethos that allowed hard work and desire to overcome the odds and those with greater financial clout.

Kante moving on can be understood, but Vardy staying is to be applauded and admired.