Leicester confusion: Shakespeare tipped to replace Ranieri
Foxes sacked manager without earmarking a successor, which gives interim boss a chance of getting the job
Leicester begin life after Claudio Ranieri tonight as Liverpool visit the King Power Stadium.
With their title now officially gone – Chelsea's win at the weekend made it mathematically impossible for the Foxes to retain it – Leicester now have only their Premier League status to play for, but it's their managerial situation that dominates the headlines.
First team coach Craig Shakespeare will lead the team for the visit of Liverpool, with some suggesting that he could be in the frame to take the job on a full-time basis.
Shakespeare has spent eight years as a coach at Leicester, where his "warm personality and sharp sessions" have made him popular with the players, says the Daily Mail.
"Having spent a career in the Football League, he knows the language that will get a reaction and his humour went a long way to fostering the team spirit pinpointed as crucial to last season's miracle. It will be interesting to see how he fares taking on the senior role, making team selections and potentially delivering a sterner side."
The confusion at the club could help his chances, says The Independent. "Leicester City were in such a rush to sack Claudio Ranieri that they had no real successor lined up for the Premier League-winning manager, placing Craig Shakespeare in a strong position for an extended tilt at the role," says the website.
But it's the man who first brought Shakespeare to Leicester in 2008, former manager Nigel Pearson, who remains the bookies' favourite for the job, says Sky Sports.
"The 53-year-old left the Foxes in controversial circumstances at the end of the 2014-15 campaign, having clashed with fans, an opposition player and the media during a remarkable battle against relegation, which saw them defy the drop with seven wins from their last ten games.
"The club's board said their relationship with Pearson, who also led them to promotion, was 'no long viable'. But he is now favourite for the post with the bookmakers, followed by former England boss Roy Hodgson (6-1) and caretaker manager Craig Shakespeare (7-1)."
Roberto Mancini, who was the early favourite, "has no desire to speak with the club where he ended his playing career", says Sky.
Pearson is "wanted by several influential senior players, although any return to the King Power Stadium remains unlikely given the circumstances of his departure", says The Guardian.
Instead, Leicester are "hopeful of persuading Guus Hiddink to take over from Claudio Ranieri until the end of the season, although the Dutchman is understood to be reluctant to take on the role at such short notice, meaning the Premier League champions could turn to caretaker manager Craig Shakespeare on a permanent basis."
Disbelief and fury as Leicester sack manager Claudio Ranieri
Nine months after defying logic to lead Leicester City to an extraordinary Premier League title Claudio Ranieri has been sacked. As the headline in The Sun screamed: "Dilly Ding Dilly Gone".
The Italian was dismissed on Thursday evening, shortly after he and the squad returned from Spain, where they lost 2-1 to Sevilla in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 match. It wasn't a bad result, one that gives them a chance of overturning the deficit in next month's return leg at the King Power Stadium, but it wasn't enough to save Ranieri's neck.
He was sacked because Leicester lie just one point and one place above the relegation zone and, with 13 league matches remaining, the club's owners believe there is time for a new man with fresh ideas to come in and ensure their top-flight status.
"This has been the most difficult decision we have had to make in nearly seven years since King Power took ownership of Leicester City," said the club's vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha. "But we are duty-bound to put the club's long-term interests above all sense of personal sentiment, no matter how strong that might be... we are now faced with a fight to reach that objective and feel a change is necessary to maximise the opportunity presented by the final 13 games."
While the search begins for a new manager - with Roberto Mancini the favourite - assistant manager Craig Shakespeare and first-team coach Mike Stowell will be in charge on Monday when Leicester host Liverpool.
Reaction to the news that Ranieri, who had signed a new four-year deal last August, has ranged from disbelief to sadness to fury. "After all that Claudio Ranieri has done for Leicester City, to sack him now is inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad," said Gary Lineker, a former Foxes player.
Another ex-Leicester star turned TV pundit, Alan Smith, asked: "Is that it then? Has the game officially gone??"
Former England striker Michael Owen called the decision to sack Ranieri a "total and utter disgrace.. I've lost a lot of love for the beautiful game today. The players and fans of Leicester have been massively let down."
There was even a message of condolence from Manchester United manager and long-time sparring partner of Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, who posted a photo of the pair on Instagram reminding him "nobody can delete the history".
Much of the analysis in the coming days will focus on the players part in their manager's downfall. According to The Sun the Italian, who last season inspired his players by ringing a bell in training and coined his catchphase "dilly ding, dilly dong", is "furious" at his dismissal and feels "betrayed" by the board and his players.
The paper says that his relationship with striker Jamie Vardy and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel has "deteriorated", although the former did manage to find the net against Sevilla on Wednesday for the first time since early December.
It is only six weeks since Ranieri was named Fifa's coach of the year, and just 16 days since he was given the Leicester boards "unwavering support", but according to the Daily Telegraph the mood in the dressing room has been toxic for a while with the Italian increasingly alienating his squad with his decisions and tactics. In the end, says the paper, "it is a scenario which reeks of player power, similar to Jose Mourinho's demise at Chelsea last season".