Today is the first of a series of articles from our match reporting team looking back at last season and forwards to what we want next time around and we kick off with the view of Colin Murrant who made his reporting debut with Hull away and covered 9 away games in total. Colin’s article is split into two parts.
Before the season started what were your hopes on what we could achieve?
My expectations were a top 10 finish in the Premier League and getting out of the Group Stages of the Champions League. If it had not been for an incorrect offside decision by the linesman in the last game of the season against Bournemouth, Vardy’s goal would have stood and we would have finished in 9th. The Champions League (CL) was amazing and we not only comfortably got out of the group but progressed to the quarter finals.
So on that basis out of 10, how would you rate last season overall and why?
On that basis, it should be a 10 if viewed against my expectations but, in reality, it was a disappointing Premier League (PL) campaign when at times I came away thinking we could be relegated, Southampton and Swansea away come to mind. So, 10 for the CL and 6 for the PL, with a weighted average of 7 given the PL makes up the majority of the matches.
Starting with the CL, the Group was relatively week compared to others but City cruised it. The only real problem was Porto away when City had qualified and Ranieri put out a very weak team. The first fixture in Bruges was surreal listening to the UEFA Champions League Anthem live for the first time, and then the match, a 3-0 win, and the realisation that we could compete at this level. The rest of the group stage, Porto away apart, was very competitive with a back to the wall performance in Copenhagen being particularly memorable for Schmeichel’s wonderful performance with a broken hand.
The last 16 in Seville saw City played off the park in the first 60 minutes, then a goal from nowhere when Drinkwater set up Vardy, lifted the team (Drinkwater and Vardy in particular) and City then looked far more comfortable. It was interesting that Claudio, subsequent to his dismissal, said he thought that goal was the moment in the season when he sensed our season changed. I fully agree with that, the confidence oozed back in players and supporters alike; talking to fans after the match, there was confidence that we would turn the tie around in the return leg. That we did so is history, and the Blue Army re-assembled in Madrid to take on the nemesis of our European dreams for the third time. A wonderful adventure and beating my expectations, 5 Champions League home matches with 4 wins and a draw. My only disappointment being we didn’t play one of the real giants, Barca or Real or Bayern.
Apart from home matches against Manchester City, Liverpool and Stoke, the latter 2 after Ranieri’s departure, I cannot recall any PL performances that came near to the title winning standards. Away was a virtual disaster with only 2 away wins all season against a struggling West Ham at the abysmal football arena that is the London Stadium, and WBA which is becoming a regular 3 points. When I came away from The Etihad in February ’16 I had that realisation that we could win the PL, when I came away from the Liberty Stadium in February ’17 I had the realisation that we could get relegated.
I should also mention the FA Cup. After good performance at Everton, a replay win over Derby, to go to Millwall and play as badly as we did there in the sixth round was a huge let down.
In terms of why this happened it is not one single thing, the fact is the players did not play for Ranieri (ditto Chelsea players for Jose Mourinho twelve months earlier), the loss of Kante, the poor integration of the new players. The distractions of accolades ongoing throughout the season all contributed.
Why do you think we had relative success in the Champions League while struggling in the Premier League ?
Above all else, the fact we were in the CL was for most of the players and the fans alike way beyond their expectations. This was an opportunity to eat at the same table as the best in Europe, a chance we might never have again; it just had to be our priority. There were some alarming results before each CL group match; all away matches. The first three were 3 goal margin losses at Liverpool, Man Utd and Chelsea; all shocking performances. We then drew at Tottenham but then lost at Watford and Sunderland as the rot truly set in. In the knock out sages, defeats at Millwall and Everton continued the pattern with a draw at Crystal Palace and a win at home to Hull being the only positive results.
Having said the CL had to be our priority was OK if, as expected we had a relatively comfortable passage in the PL, this did not transpire. Ranieri tried to change tactics and we lost our way. I remember doing the report for Southampton away and not realising what the formation was until
I got back home and watched the match on MOTD2. Danny Murphy explained it was a diamond shape, this seemed obvious at kick off, but then immediately disappeared. At one time a table cloth could have been thrown over the 4 midfielders …. All on the left touchline. Stoke away was a creditable performance with a second half fight back after Vardy had been harshly sent off, and City were 2-0 down at half time. As the teams went off at half time, Kasper pulled Claudio away from the referee and there have been strong rumours, that the former took over the dressing room at half time dictating tactics and rallying the troops. Whatever the truth it was an inspiring second half.
One noticeable change on the touchline this year was the increasingly fall off in communication between Ranieri and Shakespeare. The previous season there had been close and regular conversations during the match. It was noticeable that this was not happening anymore, you sensed a distancing between the manager and his assistant.
Other issues arose, there seemed to be awards every other week for City and Ranieri, it seemed we were still celebrating the title: SPOTY Team award, Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco, the prestigious Gianni Brera award, Fifa Best Male Coach in Zurich etc. Even after his sacking Ranieri received an award from the Mayor of Rome. Perhaps we celebrated too long!
Leonardo Ulloa had a rant when he was denied a move to Sunderland, accusing Ranieri of betrayal. Word was out that Ranieri was only turning up to training occasionally and then changing tactics for the upcoming match; other rumours that he was getting more involved with training from the outset this season: these seemed to contradict and we may never know but something was not right.
Summer signings had failed to integrate with only the impressive Ndidi signed in January getting a regular start. It appeared we have squandered £70m on Mendy (injured most of the season), Musa (seldom has he shone), Kapustka (not fancied by Ranieri), and Slimani (looked less than interested at times). Ranieri continued to play Musa when the crowd wanted to see more of Demari Gray who was showing directness and pace if, albeit, a little naivety at times.
The African Nations Cup in January impacted City more than most although the hope was that Mahrez and Slimani would come back refreshed after a successful tournament. In the event Algeria got knocked out in the Group Stages and the two returned to the King Power with more disappointment and weight on their shoulders.
When it was announced, did you agree with the sacking of Claudio Ranieri?
I can answer this very clearly as I was interviewed on Premier TV the day after the Liverpool match when we won 3-1. My response was, it was like someone dying suddenly (without wishing to trivialise death and at the fear of upsetting those that mourn). Ranieri loved us, we loved him. The wonderful things we had done together, the dreams we had lived, beyond our dreams in reality. The harshness and suddenness of his departure shocked, the decision didn’t.
The results, the risk of relegation, no one and no Board can just let relegation happen. It was, as Albert Einstein said, Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results: the same drivel was being served up every week. It annoyed me that pundits, ex-players were lining up against the club and the players with quotes to the effect that, because of the previous season triumph, Ranieri had earned the right to take Leicester down. The players had betrayed him, meetings with owners had helped seal the decision. Pundits, how dare you? This is our Leicester; your views do not matter one iota.
The night of the Liverpool match was emotional but no measurable protests, the 65th minute shining of phone lights and the singing of the Ranieri song was a lump in throat, sand in eye moment. Like so many other moments on this wonderful journey I will never forget: Andrea Bocelli singing, 3-1 at Man City (my most enjoyable match ever), Victoria Park, lifting the Trophy, The CL, your part in, at 2 years, the longest party I have been to. We have witnessed things probably no other fans have or ever will.
I will forever love you Claudio for what you gave me but the time was right to end it, City stayed in the PL and your legacy is assured.
And now with the benefit of seeing the results, were the owners proved right?
The owners are foremost business men, they appear amicable, they have supported the club and the city, but as businessmen they need to protect their brand and the club. They made the right decision although it could well have been handled better.
I would love Claudio to be invited back one day to receive the applause and appreciation from the fans. Just build that statue!
What was your personal highlight of the season?
Easy, Sevilla away.
- · Going to the ground in a horse and carriage with my son and friends
- · Great camaraderie on the plane from Glasgow (yes, lots of City fans on there, really), drink and conversation with Foxes fans at Malaga hotel, banter on train to and from Malaga to Sevilla.
- · Lovely atmosphere around town on day of match and engagement with Sevilla fans who were a friendly lot.
- · Beautiful City.
- · Watching the match in shirt sleeves in February and superb atmosphere inside the stadium.
- · Excellent result and optimism of progressing to next round.
- · The Blue Army singing ‘I’m a Believer’ when locked in after the final whistle.
- · After the match, walk uptown and eating a late-night meal with two new friends we now call the ’Pizza Boys’ (David Luiz look alike and his brother).
- · All personal memories but unforgettable.
Part B of Colin's views will appear later this week
The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation