The sacking of Claudio Ranieri has been followed by plenty of rumours. This isn’t surprising. Whenever something fails people will be unhappy, other people will want to know why things went wrong, and the two groups will pair off to feed each other tips of the icebergs of truth; everyone, in some incomplete but nonetheless therapeutic way, happy.
With manager sackings, this can take several courses. Sometimes no gossip comes out immediately, but these are usually cases where nothing much interesting happened. Sometimes the firing or fired party will pre-empt rumours by making public statements.
Other times, the ships are a little leakier.
When Brendan Rodgers was sacked, the Daily Mail ran three separate stories from three separate writers all containing vaguely anti-FSG information (Ashton’s ‘Edwards undermined Rodgers and stats are bad’, King with ‘Rodgers was sacked by phone’, Ladyman with info on the transfer committee undermining him). Elsewhere, Tony Evans wrote for ESPN that some of Rodgers’ decisions had annoyed FSG, while David Maddock for the Mirror brought news of how FSG believed that Rodgers had become disillusioned with their long-term vision and overarching system.
One media organisation with a fairly consistent tone, others seemingly getting the go-ahead to release information from the other side (or just saying what they’ve heard from their particular sources).
Louis van Gaal’s departure was very different. Rumours of discontent had been brewing for a while, but upon his actual sacking, it seemed that every major reporter at a major paper had been given the same information. Taylor at the Guardian, Ogden at the Independent, Hayward at the Telegraph, and Cross and McDonnell at the Mirror’s reports all contained information on players’ unhappiness at the manager’s man-management. None were referencing other reports either.
Ranieri’s sacking, at first, seemed to follow the Van Gaal model. Rumours of player discontent had been bubbling for a couple of months, and many of the tweets from major reporters in the aftermath of the news contained similar information: players were confused by tactical decisions; there were rifts between him and backroom staff, notably Craig Shakespeare.
There’s something about the blanket leakage, of both discontent with Van Gaal and Ranieri, that feels a little like a deliberate attempt to undermine, making everybody aware rather than just trusted confidents.
Interestingly though, Mark Ashenden at Sky Sports has reported that Ranieri felt he ‘still felt he held the respect of the vast majority of the dressing room’ and that he ‘only had potential problems with ‘a couple’ of players’. Ranieri’s biographer, Gabriele Marcotti, writes similar in The Times, although the line ‘he would not have recognised Friday’s accounts of players who were said to be demoralised and confused with his methods’ can be read as manager delusion as well as media friendly players hyping up discontent.
On a similar theme, Matt Lawton and Laurie Whitwell report in the Daily Mail that he ‘feels let down by those who were rewarded with significant pay-rises last summer’ (as well as some of his support staff, which seems likely to be linked to the apparent rift between him and Shakespeare). The headline of Marcotti’s article, at the time of writing, also points to this rift with Shakespeare, although the body of the article says little on the matter.
Numerous reports have said that senior players met with the owners on Thursday morning – although this meeting was set up by the owners rather than the players – and voiced their unhappiness. One would imagine that the ‘couple of players’ that Ranieri has a problem may also be the ones he feels let down by who’d had big pay-rises, which may also be the senior players who most vocally raised discontent. It would make sense if the senior players who want Pearson back are the essentially the same group.
Neil Ashton and Neil Custis reported in The Sun that players had met with owners four times about Ranieri, the first meeting being with Director of Football Jon Rudkin in December, with Morgan, Schmeichel, and Vardy players all known to have been consulted.
The Twin Neils’ report is interesting for the wording. Consulted. It may be a word choice on the part of the writers, it may be that this is the information provided, but ‘consulted’ is not quite the same as complaining.
I raise this because Vardy is one of the few Leicester players who doesn’t seem to have received a big pay-rise in the summer – per the Guardian, Vardy’s increase to £100k a week was an increase of ‘just’ £30k. Mahrez and Schmeichel are, according to the Mail, now earning the same amount, although starting from around the £35-40k p/w mark as hinted by the Telegraph (Mahrez) and the Mirror (Schmeichel).
(Other contract changes: per the Mail, Drinkwater at 90k p/w up from 35k p/w, and from other sources Morgan, Simpson, Albrighton, and King all got extensions and presumably pay-rises after being on the £30-35k p/w level too).
If we’re putting faith in the Ranieri reports, Vardy fits the senior player category, but not the big pay-rise. I won’t comment on any of the other players.
John Percy’s Telegraph piece seems to be the closest to a mouthpiece of the disgruntled player faction. It contains two quotes from player sources, that Ranieri had been making crazy decisions all season and that players felt “flat as f—s”.
It also contains a story that players asked Ranieri to return to the 4-4-2 counter-attacking tactics of last season but that they were waved away by Ranieri who ‘insisted there should be only one voice at the club’. Although Marcotti, who knows Ranieri well, has said previously that there is a ‘Bad Claudio’ side to the Italian, the story jars heavily with the public image of the manager, and it’s not as if Leicester had strayed very far from last season’s game-plan either.
One thing that is interesting to note about the Ranieri rumours in contrast to those which emerged during and post-Van Gaal. At Manchester United, stories had players’ names attached. Rooney and Carrick were named as senior players who raised complaints; Ashley Young was one named at being confused about his role at the club (see Daniel Taylor’s article linked earlier).
At United, the tone surrounding Rooney and Carrick as senior players implied they were representatives rather than ringleaders. At Leicester, Ranieri’s belief that he had the respect of all but a couple of players implies something slightly different (or, alternatively, a delusion on the part of the Italian, and no names attached to stories because players don’t feel they can get away with doing so).
Only those at the club will truly know what was going on behind the scenes. I believe them when they say that they were baffled by some decisions, but then I believe that that is likely to happen at most football clubs, particularly when things aren’t working out. Musa, the example cited in the Percy article, proved himself defensively in his time on the pitch against Sevilla, something which Gray has rarely done so far this season.
A final comparison to Van Gaal. Several of the articles in the immediate aftermath mentioned that it was unlikely that he would have stayed even if United had qualified for Champions League football that season, such were the problems with the players.
The impression with Ranieri is that his sacking was more strongly related to results and the likelihood in turning it around. There are leaks from what appears, broadly, to be a pro-Pearson camp, and then information from Ranieri to counter this. Clearly there are problems with at least some of the players, but is this narrative of ‘losing the dressing room’ being over-blown, hyped up by media friendly senior players? Why, I couldn’t possibly say.
Disclosure: I’m pretty pro-Ranieri, which may be influencing my reading of the reports.