LONDON - Leicester City enter four days that promise to define their season, with Craig Shakespeare insisting he can be the club’s long-term manager and Claudio Ranieri preparing to break his silence on the Premier League’s most controversial sacking.
Shakespeare takes Leicester to Everton on Sunday aiming to extend his 100 per cent record in all competitions to seven matches and in doing so effectively confirm the side’s safety ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg against Atletico Madrid.
Already Shakespeare has enough credit in the bank for sources to tell The Mail on Sunday that the former assistant is expected to be offered the No 1 role beyond this summer once the campaign is complete. But positive outcomes from both games might hasten that move.
Tomorrow, though, the man whose shock dismissal just six weeks ago opened the door to Shakespeare will for the first time give his detailed opinion on the episode. As revealed by Sportsmail, Ranieri will appear as a pundit on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football for Arsenal’s visit to Crystal Palace and the plans are for the 65-year-old to be grilled on losing his job just nine months after lifting the title.
It is expected that Ranieri will maintain his noble demeanour rather than point fingers at players who lost faith in his abilities. But the Italian, who has been in England this week attending Chelsea’s match against Manchester City and training sessions held under compatriot Antonio Conte, will back his tactical decisions. ‘We feel all that has been and gone and whatever he says will be dignified,’ said Leicester midfielder Marc Albrighton.
Ranieri was sacked after the 2-1 Champions League defeat by Sevilla and the club will fly back out to Spain in very different circumstances. Amid claims that a meeting between players and owners after the game spelt the end for Ranieri, the reality is any chats were cursory and the call had already been made.
Foxes owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha decided to act after witnessing the 2-0 loss to Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium. A fifth straight Premier League defeat put Leicester into the relegation zone by the time that Shakespeare took charge.
What followed has been well-documented, Leicester sweeping all before them to become the second team in Premier League history, after Tottenham in 2004, to follow a run of five losses with five wins. They have moved from 18th to 11th and however unpalatable it might be to those neutrals who fell in love with Ranieri’s dilly-ding dilly-dong, Srivaddhanaprabha has been vindicated in his application of sense over sentiment.
During the period Shakespeare was only in temporary charge, a number of managers were spoken to via intermediaries, including Guus Hiddink and Roy Hodgson, and there remains a theory the Thais would like to appoint a figurehead with the same type of global pull as Ranieri.
But Shakespeare’s impact has fuelled belief he is the best long-term candidate for a squad who know and respect his methods. The 53-year-old has been taking a proactive role in recruitment — engaging with staff looking ahead to the summer transfer window — and has revealed that former boss Nigel Pearson told him to seize the chance.
‘He has done in the past,’ said Shakespeare. ‘We’ve spoken a couple of times but nothing at great length.
‘I think I can do the job and it doesn’t faze me. I try and make sure that I review my own performance as well as the players, and things I can do better. It’s been a real good learning curve so far. I really don’t get carried away too much and I know that in the run we’ve been on there could easily have been a couple of defeats in there. The contract is purely until the end of the season and I’ve openly stated that any time the owners want to speak, I’m there. If not, then we’ll sit down at the end of the season.
‘Enjoying it? If I said no, you’d think I was a right strange one with the results that I’ve had. The answer is yes, I’ve really enjoyed it, in and around the training ground and the games. But the other bits are very, very time consuming.
‘What I have been given is a chance to bed in slowly because at the start it was one game at a time. Now it’s until the end of the season. So I’m on a little rolling contract if you like.’
Shakespeare will take on Everton without captain Wes Morgan, who will also miss the Atletico match with a back injury, and more changes are likely to be made. Broadcasters have dictated Leicester will have only two days to prepare for the biggest game in their history and they are the only team in the Champions League last-eight still to play this weekend.
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, who will keep the captain’s armband in Morgan’s absence, said: ‘It’s been a dream of mine every since I was a kid to play in the Champions League so I relish every moment.
‘I’ve not studied Atletico closely but they are a top-class team. But when you see what we are about on any given day we could beat anyone. We are confident going into any game, especially the form we are in. It’s what you play for, those type of high-pressure games where everything is at stake.’
Mail on Sunday