Monthly Archives: February 2017

The curious timing of Ranieri’s removal

What do Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the owner of Leicester City Football Club, and Jo Moore, once a special adviser to Tony Blair’s government, have in common?

They both know that a busy news day is a good time to bury embarrassing stories.

Moore will forever be associated with the phrase that “this is a good day to bury bad news” which she uttered after the attack on the World Trade Centre on 9/11.

Her only fault was to state baldly what every corporate and political organisation does: ensure there is a clear run for good news and plenty of distractions when an uncomfortable announcement has to be made.

This approach explains the strange timing of Vichai’s announcement that he was sacking the Leicester City’s manager Claudio Ranieri.

The team had just performed well in the Uefa’s Champions League and has a good chance of winning the second leg. Nor was there a high-profile replacement to slot in later that day. And Ranieri was not sacked after a humiliating FA Cup exit the previous weekend, which might have made sense.

The only explanation is that the manager’s sacking was carefully orchestrated by the owner, the ceo Susan Whelan and the director of football Jon Rudkin to take place when there was strong competition for lead story in the media.

So, it is a fair assumption that when Ranieri received the dreaded vote of confidence a couple of weeks ago (all too often a forerunner to the sack), the question was not if, but when he would be fired.

And you can be certain that, from that moment, Vichai, his management team and PR advisers would have been looking for the best timing to minimise the wider impact of a decision that was always going to cause anger and distress that would extend beyond the football world.

February 23rd would have been pencilled in as an early target date. Media and public attention would have been diverted by the two of the most important parliamentary by-elections in many years – and the fallout from the results was certain to last for the rest of the week.

The date began to look even more attractive last Monday with forecasts (later fulfilled) that Britain would be ravaged by Storm Doris a few days later.

Add in the bonuses of the Iraqi government attack on Mosul (with lots of headline grabbing film coverage of the fighting) as well as the decision to sentence the murderer of a popular children’s author and the case for a Thursday announcement becomes irresistible.

If further proof of the strategic plan were needed, it came with the meeting between owner and players after Wednesday’s Uefa Champions League match.

The timing appears nonsensical as it is ridiculous to expect a coherent response from players who were physically and mentally drained after one of the toughest games of the season.

Unless of course you have decided to sack the manager the next day, need to spin a story about player discontent and have to act before any challenges can be made to that version.

There is of course a limit to damage limitation – social media went into meltdown (though the timing of the announcement ensured the impact was minimised) and it was the lead sports story on radio, TV, on line news sites and the written press.

But the sacking had to fight hard to get near the top of the main news agenda – let alone to lead it. On a quieter day, it would undoubtedly have been the top story.

That does matter. Remember that the owners have a global commercial brand to protect as well their image as football owners.

Ulimtately, the removal of Ranieri was a reminder of the way owners and their chief executives like to spin failure as the fault of the manager, while being all too ready to bask in the fruits of success.

At the end of last season, VIchai’s media managers were careful to ensure a careful branding of the owner and his senior managers as the publicity shy unsung heroes without whom Ranieri could not succeed.

No newspaper was more complimentary in lauding this faux modesty than the Telegraph

And even the Guardian, usually a reluctant fan of global business tycoons, was grudgingly generous

Failure of course is a different matter. Ranieri alone is paying the price with his departure is presented as “painful but necessary”.

But that will always be the case in the modern Premier League.

Owners and chief executives will always bask in the glory of success, but, even though they hold the purse strings and ultimately set the club’s culture, they will always blame the manager when things go wrong on the pitch.