The disease of me

Claudio Ranieri has been sacked and Gary Lineker is reportedly devastated. Lineker shouldn’t feel embarrassed for shedding a tear over the Leicester City manager’s sacking. A whole host of ex-players, managers and pundits took to Twitter to vent their frustration with the state of English football.

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What is happening to our beautiful game?

Well, if we cast our eye further afield, it appears that the epic rise and fall of Leicester isn’t really that extraordinary.

Legendary NBA coach Pat Riley wrote a book in 1993 on the art of winning.

In this book he outlines two patterns of behaviour that he witnessed in basketball: The Innocent Climb and The Disease of Me.

These two conditions are often related, and perfectly encapsulate what has happened to Leicester in the last season-and-a-half.

Part 1, The Innocent Climb

Riley explains that Innocence does not necessarily mean naïvety, but a humility and willingness to put the team first.

Leicester’s team spirit and willingness to work for each other was more than apparent last season. There was a real togetherness in the Foxes that struck a chord with English football fans who love a hard-working underdog.

In the case of Leicester, there may have also been an element of naïve innocence too. The 2015/16 season was a perfect storm. As the usual Premier League contenders went through a collective period of transition, Leicester got caught in a whirlwind of momentum.

It has been reported that Ranieri did less and less tactical work on the training field as the season went on. Instead he acted as more of a motivational facilitator.

He handled press conferences and post-match interviews perfectly, always playing down their chances of actually winning the league. In fact at the end of the season, he said that next season would be all about survival. Spooky.

Part 2, The Disease of Me

Unless you learn to manage the aftereffects of winning, the forces that led your team to the top will turn round and destroy you (Pat Riley, The Winner Within).

In his best selling book, Riley goes on to describe how those same forces that facilitated your success can become your undoing in the following season.

While Leicester’s Innocent Climb may have been extraordinarily innocent, they are not alone in experiencing The Disease of Me.

In the same season that Leicester got the nation to believe in miracles, Chelsea spiralled completely out of control following a championship-winning season.

Riley outlines six signs of The Disease of Me at work, and at least a few of these were certainly evident in the final hours of Mourinho’s time at Chelsea.

  1. Feelings of under appreciation (‘woe is me’)
  2. Focusing on personal playing time and stats
  3. Internal cliques within the team
  4. Excessive joy in a personal performance when the team loses
  5. Frustration from lack of playing time when the team wins
  6. Desire to have more recognition than a teammate

The 2014/15 player of the season Eden Hazard became unrecognisable; in the same way that 2015/16 player of the year Riyad Mahrez has this season.

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The Disease of Me?

Maybe Leicester’s fall from grace isn’t so astonishing after all. It all seems like a little bit of history repeating itself.

Following their defeat to Sevilla in the Champions League, senior players of the Leicester team were reported to have gone to the chairman voicing their dissatisfaction with Ranieri. The likes of John Terry have become notorious for holding similarly damning meetings with Roman Abramovich.

While the relationship may have completely broken down, there is a strong possibility that the players were as guilty as the manager.

The players have seemingly forgotten that they are only as strong as the sum of their parts, and Ranieri has failed to manage a group whose egos will have inevitably inflated considerably following their first taste of success.

The world of football has a tendency to be fickle, and it would be fair to say that many of those who create the narratives have an extraordinarily short memory.

When Mourinho lost his job at Chelsea they were only a few points above the relegation zone. The only difference being that he had a far more talented squad than the one at Ranieri’s disposal.

Of course Riley’s theory cannot fully explain what happened to Leicester. The loss of N’golo Kante has undoubtedly had a huge impact of the Foxes’ inability to reach the levels of last season.

He is effectively two players in midfield, and has gone from strength to strength since joining Chelsea.

What Riley’s observations do highlight is the failure of both Mourinho and Ranieri to manage the more dangerous consequences of creating a winning team.

Ranieri deserves credit for winning the title with Leicester, but as long as there is a sound logic behind their next appointment then the decision is justified.

Leicester have a team that you would typically expect to struggle in the Premier League, and there are no signs that the situation would improve under Ranieri.

Harsh but true.

Sorry Gary.

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