Soccer

Column: Leicester's fall doesn't tarnish an improbable title

  • A man walks past a mural of Claudio Ranieri in Leicester city center, England, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. There was an outpouring of dismay and incredulity when Ranieri's firing was announced on Thursday evening. He reportedly was informed of his departure by Leicester's board immediately after his return to England after the Champions League match at Sevilla, where Leicester lost 2-1 in the first leg of the last 16 on Wednesday. (Chris Radburn/PA via AP)

    A man walks past a mural of Claudio Ranieri in Leicester city center, England, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. There was an outpouring of dismay and incredulity when Ranieri's firing was announced on Thursday evening. He reportedly was informed of his departure by Leicester's board immediately after his return to England after the Champions League match at Sevilla, where Leicester lost 2-1 in the first leg of the last 16 on Wednesday. (Chris Radburn/PA via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this Monday, May 16, 2016 file photo, Leicester's manager Claudio Ranieri shows the Premier League Trophy to fans at Victoria Park during the victory parade to celebrate winning the English Premier league title in Leicester, England. Leicester City announced Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 that they have sacked manager Claudio Ranieri less than a year after their incredible run to the Premier League title. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira, File)

    FILE - In this Monday, May 16, 2016 file photo, Leicester's manager Claudio Ranieri shows the Premier League Trophy to fans at Victoria Park during the victory parade to celebrate winning the English Premier league title in Leicester, England. Leicester City announced Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 that they have sacked manager Claudio Ranieri less than a year after their incredible run to the Premier League title. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira, File)  (The Associated Press)

These are ugly times at Leicester.

The Foxes head into the weekend with a new manager and barely above the relegation line in the English Premier League, seemingly doing everything they can to eradicate whatever good vibes are left from their inspiring run to the championship just nine months ago.

But despite all the outrage over the ridiculous sacking of Claudio Ranieri , Leicester's place in sporting history is secure.

In the years and decades and centuries to come, we'll barely remember how it all fell apart so quickly for Ranieri and this team.

Or even care.

"I don't think it taints his story at all," Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe said. "He is still the manager that led them to the league and he will always be remembered for that historic achievement and rightly so."

None of this should be surprising. The Premier League has always been dominated by a small of group of big-spending teams, and they've predictably risen back to the top of the table.

If Leicester had somehow remained a title contender this season, it might've taken some of the luster off its glorious romp to the top as a 5,000-to-1 longshot . You know, made the title run seem a little more probable.

Now, with the team in disarray and ownership deciding to dump the manager who made it all possible, we can truly appreciate what the Foxes accomplished: one of the most improbable championship runs in the history of sports.

Any sport.

For those who would pick the U.S. victory over the mighty Soviets at the 1980 Winter Olympics, that doesn't really compare to Leicester's triumph. Yes, a group of American college kids came together for a once-in-a-lifetime performance on a single night, but the Foxes triumphed against all odds over an entire season.

Nothing tops that.

"The adventure was amazing and will live with me forever," Ranieri said in a statement Friday, singling out the club's supporters. "No one can ever take away what we together have achieved, and I hope you think about it and smile every day, the way I always will. It was a time of wonderfulness and happiness that I will never forget."

What we're seeing at the moment is just another example of the instant-gratification, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world that we live in.

That's not meant to let Leicester's ownership off the hook for its buffoonish decision to fire Ranieri, who certainly had earned the right to keep running the team at least through the end of the season, no matter how bad things got.

For that matter, Ranieri deserved a shot at leading the Foxes back to the Premier League even if they got relegated to the second division as one of the three lowest-finishing teams. They are currently 17th in the 20-team league, just one point ahead of the demotion line.

On Friday, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho paid tribute to his fallen colleague by turning up for his news conference in a shirt with the letters "CR."

"They did the most beautiful thing in the Premier League and one of the most (beautiful things) in football history," Mourinho said. "It is my little homage to somebody that wrote the most beautiful history of the Premier League. Somebody that deserves the Leicester stadium to be named Claudio Ranieri Stadium, and he is sacked."

Those feelings were pretty much universal throughout English soccer and the world, which is understandable.

But let's face it: this is really nothing new, in soccer or any other sport.

Coaches are always the convenient fall guys when things go wrong. Terry Crisp was fired a year after leading the NHL's Calgary Flames to their first Stanley Cup title in 1989. Tony Dungy was let go in 2002 because he couldn't get the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the hump in the NFL playoffs. Heck, Mourinho was dumped by Chelsea in 2015 — just seven months after directing the London team to the Premier League title.

Yes, Ranieri's firing comes across as particularly cold-hearted, but that's just the way it is when athletes earn tens of millions of dollars and wield wide influence over everything from personnel decisions to who runs the team . As the losses piled up, Ranieri faced increasing resistance in the locker room. The owners, mindful of how many millions they will lose if the Foxes are relegated next season, predictably hit the panic button.

"Am I surprised that things like this can happen? No," Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said. "Not just in football. There have been a few strange decisions in 16-17. Brexit, Trump and Ranieri."

No matter what happens the rest of this season, it won't diminish what Ranieri did a year ago.

That's what we'll remember.

Not this.

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Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry@ap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 .. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

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AP Sports Writer Steve Douglas in Manchester, England contributed to this report.