Kyle Martino: Leicester City, Claudio Ranieri let us believe in romance again
A week after Leicester City decided to part ways with Claudio Ranieri, ProSoccerTalk spoke with Kyle Martino about Ranieri’s sacking and how the manager will be remembered at Leicester.
Q: How does Ranieri’s firing affect his legacy and the legacy of Leicester City?
Kyle Martino: I don’t think it affects his legacy negatively at all and I think that’s been the biggest misconception fueling the outrage in the aftermath of what was the biggest decision these owners have had to make since they took over Leicester Football Club. What he did last season, as Jose Mourinho said can’t be deleted, but in a way the mess and the potential of relegation that they were headed toward was really the only thing that could dent his legacy. An equal and opposite accomplishment, maybe just a bit less because it’s happened one time before, would have been the title winner getting relegated the season after they won the title, which happened to Manchester City in the 30s. So the 5,000-1 odds to win, the accomplishment was absolutely spectacular, will probably never be matched in Premier League history, but a close second in terms of incredible feats would have been getting the team relegated this season.
I argue in a way the owners have protected him from the stigma and pardoned him from this incredible mess that no one can wrap their head around right now. Was he entirely responsible for the tailspin that Leicester are in right now? No, but definitely culpable and although one game isn’t going to tell us everything, the Liverpool game confirmed what the small minority who thought this was a good decision expected. What the small minority of us who were looking at the evidence of this season and the downturn wondered was would the team perform without him and it’s clear that they did. Not only clear that they performed better without him, but went back to being the team before Ranieri even got there.
Q: Do you think the team’s struggles this season say anything about their accomplishment last year and the role Ranieri played in it?
KM: I don’t think they could have won the title without Ranieri. Ranieri was a piece of it, he was an important part of it and I think it would be wrong to not give him credit and make arguments that there shouldn’t be a statue of him at some point and that this all could have happened without him. That being said, I think one of the most important things Ranieri did in the season, which is atypical if you look over the balance of his entire career, is he stepped out of the way a little bit. He really did, I think the smartest thing Ranieri did was recognize that in the ‘great escape’ and even going back to the team getting promoted, there was a brotherhood, there was a bond, there was a momentum and something special built under Nigel Pearson that he knew just needed tiny, little tweaks.
[ MORE: Ranieri returns to say final goodbyes ]
The humility he showed in sort of getting out of the way a bit. There were reports that players came to him initially and said you know this is who we are, this is what we’ve done, don’t change it and Ranieri respected that and then added his little sprinkles in. So I think that’s his greatest accomplishment. It’s like when they say what makes an amazing jazz musician isn’t the notes he plays, but the ones that he doesn’t, the times that he rests for a beat and stays out and doesn’t try to fill it all with notes.
[ WATCH: Kasper Schmeichel talks Ranieri ]
In a way, Ranieri, for the first time in his career, was able to win a title by kind of not coaching. That could be looked at as a negative and this could be twisted to mean I’m insulting him when in reality I think he just accepted and realized that the team had something special and he just needed to make, as I said before, minor tweaks which I think alludes to what has gone wrong this season.
Q: In the aftermath of Ranieri’s firing we saw a pretty unprecedented outpouring of support from the soccer world, but it appears that Leicester’s players didn’t fully support Ranieri. Why do you think that is?
KM: Well, let’s start with the outpouring of support for him and the outrage. I think the bigger sort of 30,000-foot picture is with the modern game strangling the romance out of the game, you know whether it be players turning in transfer requests or managers fielding weakened teams for the FA Cup or these gigantic salaries, all of these things have slowly contributed to this modernization of the game that everyone’s been fighting against. I’ve seen some articles saying the soul of the game is dead and Ranieri’s sacking confirms that. So I think the outrage is that the Leicester story let us believe in romance again. It was such a fairytale, it was such a romantic experience and it was anachronistic in the sense that it was a throwback. It took us to a time before all those things that I just mentioned and I think some people have used words like ‘disgusting’ and ‘disgraceful’ and ‘classless’ because they got drunk on this fairytale and they forgot that this is the modern game, this is nothing new. This is nothing new not only in the last 10 years, this is nothing new in the last 30 years. This cut-throat, results-based business is what the modern game is.
So many people expected Ranieri to have complete immunity based on last season’s miracle but that’s so incongruent with the way the game works now and in a weird way I think it’s incredibly hypocritical because that sentiment dispels another very romantic, ancient idea of the game which is no one person is bigger than the club. If Ranieri gets to keep his job even though it’s clear the players aren’t playing for him and the results are leading toward relegation, isn’t that more disrespectful to the game than firing someone based off of merit because any argument to keep him in his job was based off of a very sentimental look at last season.
Q: How will Ranieri be remembered at Leicester City?
KM: Very fondly. Very fondly, because you know here’s the reality, they still have a job to do and they still could get relegated. If they were to get relegated, because they’ve done this so early, Ranieri for me will be completely pardoned from that mess. They have enough time to get out of this, they have a good enough team to get out of this and they should get out of this. So if they don’t, all of the speculation on whose fault this is I think falls entirely on the players and that obviously will excuse Ranieri of the negative consequences of relegation. If they stay up, all the supporters will still argue that they would of under Ranieri anyway.
[ LISTEN: 2 Robbies on Ranieri sacking ]
So it’s sort of a win-win for him at this point, but I still think regardless of the outcome, the owners made the right decision because this grows his legend more than any other scenario. Let’s say they stayed up and finished 10th, it would have been a pretty eventless finish to his tenure there. Ranieri said that his dream died because he wanted to coach Leicester forever, but obviously we know people are mortal and coaches don’t last very long so this dream was going to die at some point. The owners firing him turned him into this martyr where Jose Mourinho is putting his initials on his shirt at press conferences and people all over the world are speaking out in support of him so his legacy is intact. His legacy will always be about the amazing, humble and gracious gentleman he was in his time there, but the title will always be how he is remembered.