A friend cracked a joke with me shortly after Leicester City parted ways with its most successful manager in history, Claudio Ranieri, Thursday night. He remarked that Carlo Ancelloti won the Premiership with Chelsea in 2010 and got sacked the next season (2011).
Roberto Mancini achieved the same feat with Manchester City in 2013 in one of the most dramatic ending of a season. He got the boot the next season. In 2015, it was Manuel Pellegrini’s turn.
His tenure ended the season after his Premiership victory just as it happened to Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. My jovial friend concluded that it was for that wisdom that Arsene Wenger has been ‘smart’ enough not to win the premiership!
That joke must have found good expression in Mourinho who also jocularly remarked at Chelsea’s manager: “I think Antonio Conte has to think about whether he really wants to be champion this year.”
That speaks volume on the burden that coaches always carry. A hero today for winning may become a villain the next day if results fail to square with expectation.
It points to the fact that managing teams remains the most unstable of all arrays of roles in football business. Recall that Chelsea’s owner, Roman Abramovich, until recently appeared always having the sack letters in his pockets.
Being handed appointment letter to handle a team is like a new marriage. First the honeymoon, especially if you deliver the goals on time. Then expectations will rise, as it has happened to Ranieri.
The coach begins to experience the turbulence that attends every football manager’s career. Like Ranieri, you then begin to learn how to cope with ever-expanding expectations of team owners, the demanding fans, and the officials as well as the media.
Another classic example is Roberto Di Matteo as a care taker coach steered Chelsea to double title success, winning both the FA Cup and the club’s first UEFA Champions League title in 2012 only to be dismissed later that year.
Niall Edworthy’s book, “The Second Most Important Job in the Country”, which is the story of England football managers from 1982 to 1999, is a classic example of the kind of pressure that football managers often face.
In the case of Leicester City, a club not used to winning trophies just suddenly feel, the Champions League has become its birth right just for becoming a surprised winner of the English Premier League.
Even though club owners are yet to come up with actual reasons for Ranieri’s sack, it is easy to conclude that the away loss to a more popular Sevilla in first leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 was the immediate cause despite still having chances of turning the table at home.
It is the height of highhandedness by Leicester City’s management considering that the man unexpectedly delivered the League title to the over a century old club for the first time.
Little wonders coaches were surprised. Liverpool’s manager, Jürgen Klopp whose team faces Leicester in a Premiership duel on Monday saw the sack as more mystifying than last year’s Brexit and election of Donald Trump in the US.
Maverick Jose Mourinho turned up at his weekly news conference inscribing “CR” on his shirt.
It was in tribute to the Italian Ranieri. Hear him: “my little homage to somebody that wrote the most beautiful history of the Premier League, somebody that would deserve the Leicester stadium to be named ‘Claudio Ranieri.’ ”
He went on to conclude that Ranieri’s achievement in winning the Premiership title as 5,000-to-1 favourites, was bigger than all the three titles he won in his two spells at Chelsea.
If one considers the spate of sacks attendant to coaches, even after big success, I keep asking myself, “Who still want to be a coach?”