Today four years ago Claudio Ranieri was unveiled at Leicester City. A group of players had seen the “great escape” as an unbelievable achievement, but probably had no idea of what was coming next.
Claudio was so different to Nigel Pearson, who had lost his job, for non-footballing reasons and Leicester City fans were probably a bit in shock as the club had to find a new manager and again the same old names were mentioned.
Claudio had been out of a job for a little while after a tragic period as national coach for Greece, but in some way TCF believed this could work with a man returning to English football for a 2nd period, 11 years after leaving Chelsea.
He might not be as gentle as he looks in many respects, but his presence is just fantastic and he really fitted in at this moment taking over from Nigel Pearson who at times could be a bit “stressed” by journalists in his post match talks, and to get a new face, a smiling and always charming guy to just take the “power” off, was such a great switch.
Claudio had since leaving Chelsea, been in charge of some of the best clubs in Europe. Valencia, Roma, Juventus, Inter Milan and Monaco were all on his “cv” as he travelled around and often made good impact, but also had difficulties in settling his ideas for a longer period of time.
The squad starts the pre-season match campaign just a day after Ranieri’s arrival, going away to play Lincoln City. After playing two different teams in each half, the game ends in a 3-1 win. Mahrez, Kramaric and Vardy scored the goals. Shinji Okazaki and Christian Fuchs are in the starting line-up, so are Dean Hammond, Liam Moore and Jack Barmby.
The pre-season continues with games against Mansfield Town (1-1), Burton Albion (2-1), Rotherham United (2-1) and finally a 3-2 win over Birmingham City. A fun fact in the pre-season games this summer is the inclusion of Ben Chilwell. He is playing in three of the five pre-season outings, but has to wait 1,5 year to get his PL debut.
N’Golo Kantè was an unknown player to most Leicester City fans and also to the Premier League when he arrives late, from Caen, in the pre-season campaign missing all games and is a late squad inclusion for the opening game at home to Sunderland.
Kantè makes his first start in the Leicester City team away to Bury in the EFL Cup, winning 4-1. His three first appearances, all in PL, are as a sub. Andy King is starting all games as Ranieri get’s of with a great start, two wins and a draw.
Few remembers all players involved in the first team at Leicester City in that 5000/1 season and on the bench against Bury, you find such names as Harry Panayiotou and Andrè Olakanmi. Jacob Blyth is another youngster who gets a squad appearance in the EFL Cup games v. West Ham and Hull, without playing.
All of the three “young men” leaves the club after the 2015/16 season and today does their trade in football at lower levels. Blyth is at Macclesfield, Olakanmi plays for Mickelover Sports FC and Panayiotou has just joined Aldershot from Aittitos Spata in Greece 4th level.
After a good run of games in the Premier League, Claudio Ranieri is getting the most out of a Leicester City team settling fast as a difficult opponent with special relations build up all over the field.
The back four is one concrete and defensively robust. Danny Simpson is a quick and accurate tackler of the ball and his presence at the right back is seen as one defensively covering areas few other right backs could do, not needing to much support to stop his opponent. The former Man Utd and Newcastle player does his job, but for some reason is seen as a weak link in the line-up.
The partnership between Robert Huth and “captain” Wes Morgan is also working well with the German international really playing to his highest strengths and even scoring goals, Morgan does the same and really makes his big breakthrough as a top player, but again not really seen as the ideal partnership going years forward.
At the left back a certain Christian Fuchs makes this his own position. The Austrian international and nations captain has solid experience and what is written on paper is not the same as what is performed out their on the field, they are rock solid and the experience mixed together is a formula of a great defense.
Danny Drinkwater is a player that has shown his quality over the last couple of seasons and just starting to find his path in the Premier League. He is that midfielder who can link up player and make the perfect passes either in between or out wide as Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy are served perfectly.
Marc Albrighton and N’Golo Kantè takes up the challenge as Andy King and Jeff Schlupp both makes room for changes when needed. The last little “pin” in this perfect set up is a new signing done, Shinji Okazaki. The hard working forward or “link up” specialist, which he himself later has said he is not, makes this team a perfect set-up.
The later World Cup finalist Andrej Kramaric is not given a good chance to make his talent flourish as he has to see himself in the shadows of a team perfectly build together. Leo Ulloa is the preferred man to put on and Kramaric sees his only option to “fly” and join Hoffenheim on loan and later making a permanent move.
Claudio Ranieri finally comes to grips with the fact that his Leicester City team is sailing and sailing above the waves and other clubs as they in the end of the season have a gap of 10 points down to their strongest contestant, to be Arsenal after Tottenham lost their form and ended third.
To look at the table becomes a bit absurd with Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd and Liverpool, all of them struggling so far behind that you would start to ask yourself “what is going on”. Instead of calming down and look realistically and logically on the situation, making a plan that for all would have kept Leicester City up there 10 points above the rest, “The Awakening” tells a story of disbelief, problem seeking and realism talk.
Leicester City played in a very counter attacking style, not having the ball much and really didn’t like the idea of a formula that was a bit “away” from Claudio Ranieri football, how he would like his teams to play. It was something “odd” about everything and fans didn’t really believe in the idea either, celebrating the triumph as “once in a lifetime” and not really seeing any point of dreaming on.
The team and the squad put together by Claudio Ranieri had a total transfer cost of around £40million. It was a team build on experience, youth and a number of “misfits” who had been at top clubs before.
Just as the final whistle of the season had gone, transfer rumours appeared all over and new contracts were given to almost every player. Vardy and Mahrez were both linked to Arsenal, Kantè to Chelsea and especially those three who had been the trio of excellence became “hot as hell”.
Players, agents and other clubs throw themselves into a battle that in a way destroyed the calmness and joy build up by Claudio Ranieri, and to see this was not enjoyable. Players flirting with other clubs and not really honoring the owners and the manager for the great job done together, working on and taking on Europe in the Champions League.
Claudio had to see Kantè leave, but managed to keep Mahrez and Vardy, probably not 100% certain of their commitment to next season. They were told almost everywhere that this would impossible to copy.
The way forward was seen by Claudio Ranieri, as change, change and change. He had still a good group of players but without N’Golo Kantè. The fresh France international had joined a team that was not to compete in Europe. Strangely Kantè left behind fans, manager and owners in a very difficult situation, he was not replaceable. The role of Kantè became the tricky part. The solid and concrete role, was now the problem. Experiments became the solution and Ranieri again became “Tinkerman”.
Claudio also decided to make Shinji Okazaki a problem instead of building on his strengths and involving him in the same way as he had done. The signings of Ahmed Musa and Islam Slimani made it difficult to slot in Okazaki in Ranieri’s 11.
Despite getting a good start in the Champions League, the Premier League form was not as good as one would have hoped. Without a hard working Kantè and no longer depending on Okazaki it all fell apart. Musa and Slimani had totally other skills and delivered another type of quality.
Looking in the back mirror, you cannot really depend on what has been, but has to look forward and without Kantè everything looked a bit difficult. Leicester City with or without Kantè are two different teams, and the gap would always be seen as problematic.
We all know that Claudio struggled to find a solution but in January 2017 he signed Wilfred Ndidi from Ghenk. Ndidi is not Kantè, but as we have seen covers a lot of ground and slotted in well with Danny Drinkwater. Sadly Claudio Ranieri was not to be part of that future plan, with players, owners and probably a changed staff, not really believing in his project anymore.
Since Claudio got the sack, he has been out travelling, doing three different jobs, first with Nantes in France, then taking up the impossible task of trying to keep Fulham in the top flight and last being in caretaker charge at Roma.
Leicester City has since the departure of Claudio Ranieri been in a bit of a “limbo”. Not really knowing were they are, where they want to go or what the future will bring, but all in all they are in good hands with Brendan Rodgers at the helm.
Some have described the 5000/1 season as a “lucky one”, but all in all why did the rest of the clubs fail? Leicester City continued their ride being the best English team in the Champions League the season after. For god sake Leicester City were 10 points in front of the rest of the teams in the league. But the disbelief and media talk stopped the dream from going on, and when you stop believing in something you will of course “kill the dream” and just “go around” and wonder what happened.
TCF would have just liked that great season to continue, and hopefully seen a replacement for N’Golo Kantè as the only new signing. The fact that Wilfred Ndidi arrived a few months late, was probably a key reason for Claudio’s departure.