Were Leicester right or wrong to sack Claudio Ranieri?
The board have been branded 'snakes' for firing title-winning boss, but others say the fairytale was already over
Leicester City's decision to fire their manager Claudio Ranieri nine months after he guided the Foxes to the most extraordinary title triumph in Premier League history has stunned the football world.
The shock announcement has prompted a furious reaction in some quarters. BBC pundit Gary Lineker led the condemnation, calling it "inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad".
Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail goes further, railing against Leicester's owners, calling them "snakes" for knifing the Italian manager.
"It is hard to imagine a more pathetic, dispiriting, thoroughly depressing decision has ever been made," he rages.
"Leicester were the greatest story football ever told, yet this is its bleakest coda. The weasel words of the club statement should only harden the sense of disgust around this decision. Leicester may not be the favourites to go down; but, after this, it is quite likely they will be the people's choice."
There will be little sympathy for Leicester if they end up getting relegated, agrees Stuart James of The Guardian.
But never mind the ethics, it's the timing that's "bizarre", he says. Why did Leicester choose to "cut Ranieri loose on the basis of what had been happening in the Premier League, given that Leicester's last match in the top flight was against Swansea 11 days earlier? Why wait for the Champions League anthem to play again before loading the gun?"
Perhaps it was because they were convinced Ranieri had lost the faith of his players.
"First rule of modern football: the players always win," says Paul Hayward of the Daily Telegraph. "Faced with a choice between sacking a manager or striding into the dressing-room to confront the millionaires who caused the problem, owners will take the easy route and drop the pilot."
But make no mistake, it's the Leicester players who are to blame, he says. Ranieri may have antagonised them this season but "no team goes from winning the league to losing 14 of 25 games in their very next campaign if the players are doing their jobs; if the players are trying".
Matt Dickinson of The Times agrees. They have become "fat" on their new contracts since the title triumph, he says.
"Yes, it falls to the coach to inspire the players, but what a pitiful bunch they have been, saving themselves for Champions League games and acting as though they are too good for anything as humdrum as scrapping for top-flight safety."
Tony Cascarino, his colleague at the Times, disagrees. "Ranieri has got everything wrong," he says. "Allowing N'Golo Kante to leave was a disaster, his acquisitions have been awful... he has been too loyal to his leading players and allowed nostalgia to linger.
"Although Leicester's players share responsibility for the team's plight, it is the manager's job to get his team to overachieve, to find answers... Leicester's directors put down the fairytale and picked up the ledger. There is nothing magical about relegation."
Should Leicester sack Raniheri? Debate as Foxes face the drop
Premier League champions Leicester City face a shocking but genuine battle against relegation after defeat to fellow strugglers Swansea left them one point and one place above the bottom three.
Their predicament has also prompted a debate over the future of Ranieri, who is in danger of going from hero to zero as his title-winning team falls apart.
The affable Italian was given the dreaded vote of confidence by Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha last week, and with relegation a very real threat some believe it's time for him to go.
Former Blackburn Rovers striker and BBC pundit Chris Sutton believes the champions are in "enormous trouble" and that it would be a "huge risk" to persevere with Ranieri.
"I don't see how Ranieri can keep his job," he told BBC Radio 5 live. "Had they finished 12th last season and they were on this run of form everyone would be saying he has to go. Football is a ruthless business. The players are not playing for him."
However, Match of the Day presenter and former Leicester striker Gary Lineker thinks otherwise. He believes the Foxes should give Ranieri a "job for life", reports the Daily Telegraph.
"Even if they went down, it would leave a bad taste in the mouth if he was sacked after everything he did for the club last season and the way he handled everything.
"If they go from staying up, after being on the brink of relegation, to champions the following season and going down the next, it almost improves the miracle of winning the title."
A poll of football writers at the Daily Mirror is inconclusive. Some, including Mike Walters, believe he should go. "The ship is sinking, they have not even scored a Premier League goal in 2017 and the only bells going dilly-ding dilly-dong now are chimes of doom," he says. "For Leicester to survive, they are probably going to need at least another 15 points. They have collected only one in the last two months... These Foxes never quit – they just stop running for their manager."
His colleague Simon Mulloch blames the players. It's they "who are to blame for this season's fall from grace rather than the manager", he says. He notes that Ranieri was brought in to keep Leicester in the Premier League not to win it. The least he deserves now is some loyalty.
"Ranieri took the burden of expectation off his players brilliantly last season. Now it's up to them to repay their manager," he argues.
Jeff Powell of the Daily Mail is equally convinced that Ranieri deserves to remain in his position. "To sack this manager so soon after he inspired the impossible would be an obscenity," he says.