Claudio Ranieri was serenaded by Andrea Bocelli at Leicester City’s title celebrations last May, singing his hit “Time to Say Goodbye”.
Fast forward nine months and many Leicester City fans will have that thought circulating in their heads as the side sits in 16th position on 21 points. A defeat against Manchester United this Sunday, and other results going against the Foxes, last season’s champions could be in the relegation zone by kick off on Sunday evening.
Their title defence is the worst in Premier League history, and the visit of Jose Mourinho’s men to King Power Stadium this weekend will show just how far the champions have fallen with the reminder that this fixture last season saw Jamie Vardy smash the goal scoring record as he struck for the eleventh successive game to draw with Louis Van Gaal’s side. Leicester came away from that game disappointed only to claim a draw as they continued their title challenge, unbelievable as it sounded then.
Leicester came away from that game disappointed only to claim a draw as they continued their title challenge, unbelievable as it sounded then.
With each passing week thoughts have to turn to manager Claudio Ranieri. Is he still the best man for the job? Is he a victim of his own success? Was he always doomed to fail this season?
Many questions will be asked. Jose Mourinho struggled to defend his title with Chelsea in 2015 and he was shown the door before Christmas the following season.
While you cannot compare Chelsea with Leicester (even though they both were champions and deserve the respect they earned), Chelsea are used to success while Leicester’s title win shocked the world of football.
Ranieri was in a predicament after selling his best player, and arguably the best player in the league last year, N’Golo Kante – he was doomed to fail and was highly unlikely to recreate the achievements of last season.
Kante showed on Tuesday night at Anfield what an unbelievable player he is and it is no coincidence that he is likely to be a champion again this season with Chelsea.
Their Champions League campaign was a reward for their success and perhaps the eyes were taken off the ball. While the top sides moved on, Leicester focused on the Champions League and advanced to the knockout stages while their domestic form suffered.
Jamie Vardy has been having a party since last summer and looks nothing like the player of last season. He is not alone, however, with Danny Drinkwater, Marc Albrighton and Wes Morgan among many players who have been nowhere near the level of last season. Leonardo Ulloa trying to force a move away from the club this week shows all is not well in the camp and the title celebrations have well and truly ended.
Star player Riyad Mahrez has only turned up this season when the lights are switched on for Champions League football and his absence last month at the African Cup of Nations with Algeria was hardly noticed.
Fans of Leicester City need to realise the club are where they should be. Last year was a one off, the fairy tale is over. Perhaps those players are now playing at their true level of ability.
The momentum of last season carried them and Ranieri, that momentum has long since gone. Talk of statues and knighthoods for the Italian show how incredible last season was for the club.
Despite their struggles, it would be scandalous to sack the Italian after the major achievements of last year. How many Leicester fans thought they would be playing Champions League football one day as they fought for promotion from League one in the 2008/09 season, only returning to the top flight just under three seasons ago.
However, three of the six teams thought to be in danger of going down this season have already sacked their manager.
The reality is Leicester, while deserved champions last season, should have got nowhere near the top four, never mind winning it. The so called bigger sides let themselves down badly allowing a new challenger to take their unlikely opportunity. Ranieri guided his team to the top and will go down in Leicester folklore.
The Foxes will compete in the knockout stages of the Champions league this month where they will face in-form La Liga side Sevilla. By the time that meeting comes around they might have other matters on their hands with relegation a strong possibility. Not many teams in the relegation zone have the distraction of European football to contend with.
Leicester need a result this Sunday like the shock they imposed on Manchester united in 2014 under previous manager Nigel Pearson (when they ran out 5-3 winners over a big spending United side) if they can start to climb away from danger and salvage their season.
While the majority of supporters may remember where they came from and will forever be grateful to Ranieri, the clubs owners and the money men may soon run out of patience, with a drop from Champions League football to Championship football unlikely to go down to well regardless of past achievements.
Damien McEvoy Pundit Arena