Claudio Ranieri was sacked as Leicester City manager on Thursday night, nine months after guiding the club to the first top-flight trophy in their 133-year history.
Ranieri returned to East Midlands Airport from Seville in the afternoon to be given the news by Leicester’s director of football Jon Rudkin in a ruthless move which has stunned football as much as their remarkable title win.
The 65-year-old has struggled throughout a feeble title defence, bewildering players with tactics and team selection and allegedly marginalising backroom staff, but Leicester’s Thai owners are still facing severe criticism after opting to dismiss the Italian.
Earlier this month they had released a statement declaring unwavering support for Ranieri, but the 2-0 defeat against Swansea is thought to have seriously alarmed the club hierarchy and forced a swift rethink.
And with Leicester only a point off the Premier League’s relegation zone the club have acted in a desperate bid to avoid relegation to the Championship. The decision comes less than 24 hours after a creditable 2-1 defeat to Seville in the Champions League first leg.
Guus Hiddink, the former Chelsea manager, and Nigel Pearson – sacked by Leicester in June 2015 – are understood to be under consideration to replace Ranieri, while there is also thought to be support for Craig Shakespeare, the assistant manager, to take charge for the remainder of the season.
But the departure of Ranieri is certain to polarise opinion, even though his second season has been excruciating. Gary Lineker, the former Leicester striker, tweeted shortly after the decision: “After all that Claudio Ranieri has done for Leicester City, to sack him now is inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad.”