Leicester City raised a few eyebrows when Nigel Pearson was relieved of his duties after an impressive campaign and no doubt raised a few more after appointing Claudio Ranieri. Many onlookers were anticipated a long and tough campaign to follow, tipped for relegation and Ranieri named the bookmaker’s favourite as the first manager to get sacked of the EPL season. While still only 3 games in to the season and a long way still to go, the foxes have no doubt impressed with their purposeful attack and disciplined defence.
The decision to appoint the Tinkerman was not only questioned but also laughed at. Beyond hiring a manager with such a contrasting personality to Pearson. A man who can only be described as overtly aggressive – many pundits considered it was this mentality and intensity on the sidelines that drove Leicester’s performances, only to replace him with someone renown for his calm and happy nature and has a cloud of “failure” hanging over him (one this is incredibly harsh and ill-informed).
Mourinho is no stranger to firing shots at his rivals, even going so far as to label him as a “loser”, as Ranieri has never secured a domestic title in his professional career as a manager. While he is not wrong, in stating this fact (the Italian has only ever managed to win two minor domestic trophies), it really comes down to context and when you gather and report only certain elements of a story you can alter the very nature how it is interpreted. For example; there is a youtube video that portrays Daniel LaRusso as the REAL antagonist of the Karate Kid francise, described as a violent sociopath who terrorizes Johnny and his friends from the Cobra Kai.
This story is no different we’re Mourinho points the finger specifically at Ranieri’s time at Chelsea, Roma and Juventus, but lets assess this in its entirety. Ranieri had Chelsea performing well, improving on their points total season on season, long before a certain Russian billionaire decided he wanted a new-play-thing – lets not forget beyond all the aimless spending, Frank Lampard is unquestionably Chelsea’s greatest player was recruited and moulded by Ranieri before the club had any significant funds. Within one year of being actual contenders with adequate funding he was sacked for finishing second to Arsenal’s Invincibles – being sacked for not building a team within 12 months to defeat one of the strongest sides in the modern era (they were literally unbeatable and there isn’t an Arsenal fan alive who doesn’t like reminding us of that fact).
Enter Mourinho who goes on to win the league the following season (for the record Arsenal lost 5 matches that season – stark in contrast to an opponent that lost none). Mourinho loves bringing this up every opportunity he gets but he conveniently leaves out the fact that the core of the Chelsea team which won two Premier League titles under his reign, including John Terry, William Gallas, Wayne Bridge, Claude Makélélé and Frank Lampard who were all brought to Chelsea by Ranieri. Even during his final months at Chelsea, Ranieri specifically identified Didier Drogba and Arjen Robben as players Chelsea should sign, both of whom went on to become key players at the club. But inheriting a readymade side is nothing new for the Special One.
His UCL triumph with surprise winners Porto is perhaps his greatest feat. Though it’s not publically well-known that the bulk of the squad went on to join Chelsea and Barcelona and were just as successful at their new respective clubs. Essentially Mourinho fell into a job where he had a wealth of untapped talent most of whom were also finalist at Euro 2004. It’s not really a romantic story of an unlikely victory for the underdog when it’s looked at objectively.
It’s a similar story to when the pair were in charge of Inter Milan and Roma respectively. Mourinho lifted the title with an Inter side he inherited from Mancini and Ranieri finished a close runner-up after taking over a giallorossi side that was rock bottom of the Serie A. From the point of Ranieri taking charge, Roma had a greater points/match ratio than Mourinho and was within 20 minutes of lifting the Scudetto until a solo run and goal by Diego Milito gave Inter the 3 points on the final match day of the Serie A. However history books are not written with asterisks and it is ignored in pub-talk.Despite “losing” to Mourinho, Roma’s title challenge was solely down to Ranieri’s tactical astuteness, most characterized when he was hailed by the press after substituting both club legends and icons; Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi while trailing 1-0 to sworn enemy, Lazio. It was a move that had it not paid off would have seen him instantly sacked and the streets of Roma off limits to him personally. However Roma overturned the result winning 2-1 and Ranieri was hailed as a tactical genius having masterminded Roma’s passage back into the title hunt.
Back to today; this season has started brightly for the foxes, earning 7 points from the opening 3 games after impressive wins against Sunderland and away to West Ham and an impressive point against Tottenham in a fighting display. Many are critical of caliber of side they have come up against but forget that Arsenal also played and lost to West Ham. All the while we’re about to learn if Mourinho actually has what it takes to re-build a Chelsea who are due for a revolution by my calculations. More than results, it’s their performances that have been most impressive and with the upcoming fixtures to Bournemouth and Aston Villa, there is reason to suggest this bright patch could run just a little longer. At present Leicester are a side who not only play with heart, they are capable of attacking with pace and intent not to mention the fact that they genuinely look like they play with pure enjoyment.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not guaranteeing that the foxes are going to win the league, but they will mount a serious title challenge. It’s a long season and their lack of depth and experience may be an obstacle, but at the very least should be targeting a UCL place, considering the competition. Excluding Arsenal and Manchester City who should occupy 2 of the 4 places, there is Tottenham, who are a solid side but ultimately one that I'd say is less clinical than Leicester in attack. They themselves do not have great depth and are also currently involved in continental football. Manchester United look like a side that has forgotten how to score, and thus will struggle to win games – a fifth place finish seems most probable for the red devils. Should I even bother mentioning Liverpool? Their owners seem to have little idea what they want to acheive or how they plan to make it a reality. Chelsea seem to be in utter turmoil. While we're only a few weeks in, I’m predicting worse things to follow for Mourinho – I wouldn’t even rule out mutiny, with a sacking to follow ultimately leading to a midtable finish. With that being said; is it really that unfathomable to see Leicester finish in 4th place or better?
Ultimately time will tell, but I’m going to go out on a limb and state, Leicester will certainly finish top 4 (utter certainty), and may even go on to shock the world lifting the title at season's end. It will surely be a credit to the man bookmakers callously made favourite to get the sack first.