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Saturday, 17 November, 2018

It's wrong for Ranieri to carry can for Foxes flop

Wise words from the Soccer Boffin

Claudio Ranieri was sacked by Leicester last week
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There is a good reason why Leicester should not have sacked manager Claudio Ranieri. But he could not say what it is. I will in a moment.

Tonight Leicester play Liverpool in the Premier League. They are in the relegation zone. Last season they won the Premier League.

Leicester should not have sacked Ranieri because there are no grounds for thinking he was responsible for their bad results this season. He could not say that because it would mean acknowledging something else – there are no grounds either for thinking he was responsible for their exceptionally good results last season. I can and I do.

Leicester’s success last season was perhaps the most sustained fluke in the history of sport. It was enjoyable to watch, and brought fame around the world to a loveable manager and his players. But it was still a fluke.

Most pundits do not get this. They keep telling Leicester to play like they did last season. Trevor Sinclair is typical. On Match of the Day he said: “We all know the Leicester players can play, having won the Premier League last season.” Leicester’s results last season were much better than their play deserved.

Only Jamie Carragher seems to understand this. He says that if Leicester stay up this season he would expect them to be involved in another relegation fight next season.

When Leicester were promoted in 2014 most of us would have expected them to be in the lower reaches of the table if they were still in the Premier League in 2017. It is only the freak success of last season that has distorted so many perspectives.

Do not read me wrong. I am not saying that Ranieri contributed nothing to Leicester. Otherwise I would have to agree with Leicester’s owners who sacked him, albeit for a different reason, and even though I do not like to see anybody lose their job. But why should somebody be paid for doing nothing? I do not think Ranieri was.

I think he is a good coach. You do not work for 30 years in five countries, sometimes with top clubs, unless you have something about you.

What I am saying is that there is a hopelessly fuzzy relationship between the quality of coaching and results. It is neither instant nor exact. When Leicester lost it did not mean Ranieri had worked badly that week, and when they won it did not mean he had worked well. Even a season of high or low results does not mean that the manager’s work was unusually good or poor.

Leicester recruited Ranieri in July 2015. Eight months earlier he had been sacked by Greece after they lost at home to the Faroe Islands. I suspect Ranieri coached as well with Greece as he did last season with Leicester, and that this season he has coached as well as he did last season.

Football, they say, is a results business. Fair enough. Football can do whatever it likes. Only do not equate results with just desserts. Variations in results may not correspond with variations in performance.

Sacking managers for bad results might be justified if owners knew the precise reason for every result, and assigned blame and praise justly. But they do not. Nobody does. There is uncertainty over the causes of effects, in football as in almost everything else.

Samuel Johnson understood this, and told others in 1759 in The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia. Rasselas said: “Wisdom surely directs us to take the least evil in the choice of life?” Imlac, a wise old man, replied: “The causes of good and evil are so various and uncertain, so often entangled with each other, so diversified by various relations, and so much subject to accidents which cannot be foreseen.”

Some managers are better than others, just as some players are better than others. Picture those with similar ability being put into pools – the very best in one pool, the next best in another pool, and so on. For each club there will be a pool from which they are likely to be able to fish, and from that pool it may not make much difference who they do fish. Leicester will be lucky to improve on Ranieri.

Watching your team is unlikely to be relaxing

Every sociological explanation for football’s popularity is wrong. Or at least every one I have heard. I realised that last Tuesday as I watched Manchester City beat Monaco 5-3 in their Champions League round-of-16 first leg.

Sociologists, in my experience, say football is a popular spectator sport because it gives people a release the stress of work.

Looking through my television screen at the faces of Manchester City supporters, I could not believe that they would leave the stadium less frazzled than when they entered. City led 1-0, trailed 1-2, drew level at 2-2, then trailed 2-3 before scoring three more goals and winning 5-3.

Okay, this was unusual. It must have set in motion an unusually heaving rollercoaster of emotion. But it got me thinking about other matches, even ones we would characterise as perfectly ordinary. How often really do supporters leave a football ground more relaxed than when they arrived? Work for many of them must be a helpful distraction from the stress of watching football.

Gunners' blow is nothing new

Arsenal's 5-1 defeat at Bayern Munich in another Champions League round of 16 first leg was described as their lowest point, as bad as things could get.

Last season Arsenal also played at Bayern Munich in the Champions League. They lost 5-1.




When Leicester lost it did not mean Ranieri had worked badly that week, and when they won it did not mean he had worked well
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