Ranieri returned to East Midlands Airport from Seville in the afternoon to be given the news by Leicester’s director of football Jon Rudkin in a ruthless move which has stunned football as much as their remarkable title win.
Claudio Ranieri was sacked as Leicester City manager on Thursday night, nine months after guiding the club to the first top-flight trophy in their 133-year history.
The 65-year-old has struggled throughout a feeble title defence, bewildering players with tactics and team selection and allegedly marginalising backroom staff, but Leicester’s Thai owners are still facing severe criticism after opting to dismiss the Italian.
Earlier this month they had released a statement declaring unwavering support for Ranieri, but the 2-0 defeat against Swansea is thought to have seriously alarmed the club hierarchy and forced a swift rethink.
And with Leicester only a point off the Premier League’s relegation zone the club have acted in a desperate bid to avoid relegation to the Championship. The decision comes less than 24 hours after a creditable 2-1 defeat to Seville in the Champions League first leg.
Guus Hiddink, the former Chelsea manager, and Nigel Pearson – sacked by Leicester in June 2015 – are understood to be under consideration to replace Ranieri, while there is also thought to be support for Craig Shakespeare, the assistant manager, to take charge for the remainder of the season.
But the departure of Ranieri is certain to polarise opinion, even though his second season has been excruciating. Gary Lineker, the former Leicester striker, tweeted shortly after the decision: “After all that Claudio Ranieri has done for Leicester City, to sack him now is inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad.”
However, the Daily Telegraph revealed earlier this month that Ranieri’s methods have been confusing and angering the playerswho last season lifted the title for some time.
They included the bizarre instruction to train on the morning of the FA Cup tie at Derby County, while he has also frequently changed tactics without warning less than two hours before kick-off.
In the 0-0 draw in Copenhagen in November, he angrily confronted a popular member of the backroom staff over a row about the players wearing the wrong football studs.
It is also understood that earlier this year when Leicester’s players held talks to force a return to the tactics of last season – essentially 4-4-2 with the plan to counter-attack – Ranieri waved them away and insisted there should be only one voice at the club.
His treatment of Demarai Gray has also been a constant source of irritation, with Ranieri dropping the talented winger in favour of £15million signing Ahmed Musa, who has horribly underachieved since joining from CSKA Moscow.
Sources have also claimed that the mood in the dressing room in recent months has been “totally flat”, with some players even accepting that relegation was inevitable unless Ranieri left the club.
It is a scenario which reeks of player power, similar to Jose Mourinho’s demise at Chelsea last season, yet there has been a growing sense that Leicester were only heading one way.
Leicester’s vice-chairman, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, said: “This has been the most difficult decision we have had to make in nearly seven years since King Power took ownership of Leicester City. But we are duty-bound to put the club’s long-term interests above all sense of personal sentiment, no matter how strong that might be.
“Claudio has brought outstanding qualities to his office. His skilful management, powers of motivation and measured approach have been reflective of the rich experience we always knew he would bring to Leicester City. His warmth, charm and charisma have helped transform perceptions of the club and develop its profile on a global scale. We will forever be grateful to him for what he has helped us to achieve.
“It was never our expectation that the extraordinary feats of last season should be replicated this season. Indeed, survival in the Premier League was our first and only target at the start of the campaign. But we are now faced with a fight to reach that objective and feel a change is necessary to maximise the opportunity presented by the final 13 games.”
Ranieri was rewarded with a new contract for his part in the title win, doubling his pay to around £3million a year, but the problems arguably started in pre-season.
Leicester’s tour of Los Angeles, to take part in the International Champions Cup, irked players and even Ranieri’s genial demeanour slipped at times during their stay.
The club’s recruitment – so highly revered in the past – has also been a disaster and signings such as Musa, Islam Slimani, Papy Mendy, Ron-Robert Zieler and Luis Hernandez (the latter has already left) have all struggled despite a spend of over £60million.
Steve Walsh, the man who helped discover the likes of N’Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, departed to join Everton as director of football in a clear sign of friction at the top.