The job of a manager in football is akin to that of a replaceable battery in a phone. Unless the battery is good, the phone will not last long, but the battery is replaceable. The manager is also replaceable. He is the only replaceable interface between the fans and a team, as well as between the board and the team. Leicester City, the 2015-16 champions, are the latest trigger-happy club having sacked two managers in the span of a season and ten games.
When Claudio Ranieri was sacked earlier in the year, the team was hurtling towards relegation and media was full of news of dressing room disturbances. Ranieri’s assistant – Craig Shakespeare became the caretaker manager when the Italian was sacked in February. Leicester extended Shakespeare’s contract in the summer and made him the permanent manager.
After this display of extreme confidence in the manager during the summer, Leicester City decided to part company with Shakespeare earlier this week after his side slipped to 18th in the league following a home draw against West Bromwich Albion. While there could be several justifications for the board to sack Shakespeare, but I think Leicester were hasty in parting company with Shakespeare. Here are three reasons why I think so.
Leicester’s Tough Start to the Season
In the first eight games, which have left the Foxes in the eighteenth position in the league, Leicester faced four of the last season’s top six teams. They lost three of those four games by a single goal margin and the fourth by a two-goal margin. In fact, it could be argued that both Arsenal, as well as Liverpool, barely managed to scrape their wins against Leicester in the league. Leicester, in fact, defeated Liverpool in the League Cup. Of the other four games, they won the game against Brighton but could not win against Huddersfield, Bournemouth and West Brom.
While the draws against Huddersfield and Bournemouth were disappointing, the draw against West Brom cannot be called disappointing as Leicester have not beaten West Brom at home since 1994. So, of Shakespeare’s first eight league games, four were expected losses, one was an expected draw, one was an anticipated victory, and two were unexpected draws. The Foxes are still alive in the League Cup as well after defeating Sheffield United and Liverpool in the last two rounds. After looking at these details, one can certainly ask if Shakespeare was sacked only because of two unexpected draws?
Out of Form Players
Leicester’s amazing performance in 2015-16 was based on a few individual players having a superlative season. But, since the last season, either those individuals have moved on to larger teams (Kante, Drinkwater) or they have lost form (Vardy, Mahrez). For Riyad Mahrez, his expected goals per 90 minutes have dropped to 0.23 this season from 0.35 in 2015-16 and expected assists per 90 minutes have dropped to 0.11 from 0.33. Similarly, Jamie Vardy has also become less effective in the attack. His expected goals per 90 has dropped marginally to 0.54 in 2017-18 from 0.63 in 2015-16. His expected assists have also halved to 0.09 per 90 minutes from 0.18 per 90 minutes.
So, did the drop in the form of his key players lead to Shakespeare’s sack? If so, was the sack justifiable? I feel that after all the strategising a manager manages to do pre-kick-off, it is up to the players to play up to those tactics during a game. Shakespeare’s players managed to execute the tactics well during the last three months of the previous season. This is why he was able to save the Foxes from relegation. But this season, perhaps due to their form, Leicester’s key players have not been able to play up to those past levels. I feel that sacking the manager, for this reason, is unwarranted.
Apparently, Leicester’s board are trying to replace Shakespeare with Tuchel or Ancelotti, top ex-Bundesliga managers. If this is true, we can still understand why they let go of the manager who kept them up last season. But if they replace him with someone like Alan Pardew, then the sack seems to be completely unfair. Whatever happens in future, I do feel that Leicester City could have turned a corner under Craig Shakespeare had slightly more time.