Thomas Patterson on a thoroughly modern act of treachery that threatens to taint narrative purity.
Ten months since narrative purity.
Ten months since achieving something so against the odds – there was a better chance of walking past Elvis Presley on the street.
Ten months since the world rekindled its love with football.
Ten months on, and the man who orchestrated all this – Claudio Ranieri has been disgracefully sacked.
Dilly ding, dilly dong.
Never have the alarm bells pealed this loudly for Leicester City.
In 2015, Leicester were odds-on favourite to slip out of the Premier League; alongside QPR and Hull City, and their relegation would not have reverberated too far past the conurbations of the midlands. But then, they rallied – to achieve an escape for the ages, and from there, we all know what happened next: the greatest footballing story in history. A smash-and-grab of epic proportions.
(Sure there have been unprecedented achievements in years gone by – Nottingham Forest for one, were a surprise in 1978, but the club had come very close to the league title just 11 years earlier. Events like Leicester City, though, were simply never meant to happen. Not in the Premier League era. Not during a time where money, TV rights and politics dictated. However, we digress.)
What we’ve learned from the unceremonious sacking of Ranieri is that, a Leicester relegation now would be an utter disaster of a different kind. The fall will be heard across the world.
And should the worst happen come May, the critics won’t hold back. Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher has already publically warned the dangers of legacies tarnished, titles “tainted”.
Before the sacking of Claudio Ranieri I found the logic clear, and hard to argue against in the short term. And, I don’t think the legacy of what Leicester have achieved can/will ever be tainted, but recent events have certainly left a bitter taste in the mouths of many. However, should Leicester not escape the drop, try telling their fans that the enormity of their title win, would somehow retrospectively be devalued by future antics. My guess is that you’ll cop a right old spray.
In any case, the reality that lies ahead for Leicester is ominous. Only one other club in the history of the top division have gone down the season after winning the league – Manchester City’s championship side of 1936-37, who are receiving quite a bit of press at the minute, as comparisons with the current Leicester situation are drawn.
For now, though, the tumble from the, then First Division, just 12-months after becoming champions of England, remains singularly and appropriately city-esque. Yet, the more it’s discussed the more the legacy is enhanced– 80 years on.
Statistically, this would be a once-in-a-lifetime event. But, it hasn’t, and might not even occur. Perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves and splitting hairs. Plenty of champion teams before Leicester have lost their mojo pretty much overnight.
And to castigate a club like Leicester for getting themselves relegated would be missing the whole point. If a club of the statue of Manchester United, or Liverpool, or even Arsenal were the club under threat, this would be news – big news. But the fact is, battling relegation is what Leicester have always, historically done. Their title was always going to be a one off – a beautiful one off. And that’s just fine. Not every squad has the collective energy to build a long-lasting empire. That’s why it’s more or less the same clubs fighting out for the title each year.
It would be completely harsh to retrospectively downgrade Leicester’s remarkable over-achievement should old habits occur this time round, a punishment to an understandable reversion to the norm. The sort of narrow-minded big-club behaviour that got everyone pushing for Leicester last season in the first place.
They might go down. They might not. So what? Bottom line is, nothing can ever tarnish the beautiful legacy of the Leicester City championship season of 2015-16. For many, creating a renewed love affair with the game, during a time where politics and money have taken centre-stage.
It is – and apologies for those who disagree – the greatest sporting story ever told. Yes, the recent sacking of Claudio Ranieri has left a bitter taste in all our mouths. And yes, relegation would, do the same, but a momentary downside; take two steps back, and it would only increase the legend, putting the finishing touches on a three-season act of narrative purity, unlikely ever to be repeated.
But for Leicester fans – and the majority of neutrals worldwide – they will be hoping their fighters regain a little historical perspective, compose themselves, remember why they’re champions, and ease away from the bottom three.
Football is a results driven business – I get that. The sacking of Ranieri was a brutal reminder. There’s no time for sentiment anymore – not even if you win the Premier League with bloody Leicester City, but I can’t help but feel the owners have missed the point on this one.
Whatever their agenda, his legacy will not diminish. And for Leicester they must continue to fight. A relegation low after last season’s high would be far too cruel.
Football eh, bloody hell.
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