I've just written a blog with my take on the Shakespeare sacking. For anyone who cares to read you can do so through the following link or just below...
It’s mid-December 2015 and, such is the cyclical nature of football, as one man’s story is just beginning, another’s is ending.
As Jose Mourinho, the man who had once famously described him as: “too old to change his mentality” and ridiculed the absence of a mjor trophy win on his CV, stood in the technical area adjacent to him, powerless to claw back any semblance of influence over his dissenting playing staff, Claudio Ranieri was about to prove that he who keeps learning stays young.
On that balmy night at the King Power Stadium, Mourinho’s second Chelsea chapter closed. The pen depicting Claudio Ranieri’s fairytale was about to start scribbling away.
In a season which dominated headlines and captured imaginations worldwide, this was the first result - a 2-1 home victory over the previous season’s champions Chelsea - that thrust Leicester City into the limelight.
The thing about limelight though, is that it can change complexions.
As this became a tale which just had to be told, football writers, journalists, pundits and supporters scrambled to try and construct the narrative. A club that had built steadily off the pitch and achieved a sumptuous blend of grit and finesse on it - thanks in no small part to the work of predecessor Nigel Pearson and his trusty aides Steve Walsh and Craig Shakespeare - were daring to dine at football’s top table.
The plucky underdog, the perennial underachiever, was wearing the dinner jacket of top dog.
After they’d stayed for the main course following this impressive starter, Leicester City got their just desserts. A maiden top-tier title.
When fairytales come with a dollop of enchantment, they have a tendency to capture the imagination of an entire globe and to break down those linguistic, geographical or political barriers that exist. The Leicester City story became everybody’s story.
Fast forward almost two years and that reader’s grasp of the story remains.
The fairytale came to end in the orange-infused streets of Seville when orange seemingly became the new black as Claudio Ranieri’s sacking led to the kind of widespread mourning reserved for treasures of a national proportion.
The obituaries were as glowing as the pointed words about Craig Shakespeare and the Leicester players were sharp. The fairytale had become a tragedy, the heroes the villains of the piece and everything had all gone a bit… Shakespearian.
Time has passed, Leicester City faded almost back into the background, and those who previously had no reason to speak of them returned to their ‘Big Four’ daily read.
That was until, after four months and 26 games, Craig Shakespeare was sacked earlier this week.
Everyone, again, had an opinion. Everyone wanted their say. This Leicester City story clearly still belonged to more than just those who had been travelling the country to watch underwhelming performances this season.
But had those who cared to criticise the casting directors in this tremendous tale of Leicester City’s, the Thai owners of the club, also taken such effort to travel up to Huddersfield to watch an abject display against a newly-promoted side who Tottenham Hotspur (the same Tottenham Hotspur who finished a full 11 points behind Leicester in the title-winning season) dispatched with ease a couple of weeks later?
Had they been at Arsenal for the season’s curtain-raiser to see what should been an opening day victory turned into ‘nul points’ through some questionable substitutions?
Had they consistently despaired at a sentimental reluctance to change from a predictable and dated 442 formation which only endured through an unwavering sense of loyalty to the self-policing dressing room that had delivered former glories?
As the sequel to the Leicester success story was written, Shakespeare was unable to break character. ‘Shakey’ to the players, he couldn't quite shift those unintentionally undermining tags; ‘nice guy’ and ‘great coach’. Andy King starting games in central midfield over three years after promotion to the Premier League caused some to question his ability to ad lib.
In the wake of Ranieri’s departure, Leicester fans had to endure the mud that was thrown in their club’s direction. The crazy notion that Ranieri had somehow earned the right to take their club to a point lower than that which it was at when he arrived. That consistently poor performances were acceptable just because of what had gone before.
Since Shakespeare departed, the afterword has been much the same. “How could they?” “The game’s gone”. “He deserved more time”.
But is there not something admirable about a club wanting to achieve again? To try and make that fairy tale that brought with it the world’s affection something more than a one-story series? To create, for the likes of Shakespeare and Ranieri, a legacy that reads as more than just one season of wonder instead of the club becoming the old drunk in the corner of the bar talking about how he was once everybody's friend and on top of the world?
It seems as quickly as people were happy to build Leicester up, they are content to just as swiftly tear them down. That old British thirst for a fall from grace.
There is no doubting that the decision to cast aside Shakespeare was ruthless. But also without doubt is the message that it sends: Leicester City are no longer happy to be perennial Premier League strugglers or bouncing between English football’s top-two tiers.
In years to come, as we dust off the cover of the old Leicester fairytale, Craig Shakespeare will be remembered with reverence. Managers will come and managers will go as that football cycle doesn't stop turning. But Shakespeare's name is written in Leicester City folklore.
Just as Mourinho found his, such a respected figure within the football fraternity as Shakespeare is, another role will come calling for ‘Shakey’. And when he looks back on his instrumental part in nine years of unprecedented success at Leicester City he’ll realise that such longevity was the exception and not the rule.
Enter stage left, Leicester’s next protagonist.