It was only one year ago this month that Claudio Ranieri’s Greece were humiliated by the Faroe Islands at home in a Euro 2016 qualifying match.
The collapse of the Greek national team has been even more spectacular than that of the Greek economy and Ranieri facilitated that decline. They have gone from a team that made it out of the group stages of the 2014 World Cup to a team that lost to Luxembourg and the Faroes in the past year.
There is little doubt that the Italian deserved to be sacked for a terrible job at Greece. Yet so soon after doing so poorly, he finds himself second in the Premier League with Leicester, managing a team that cost a fraction of their nearest rivals.
The ‘Tinkerman’, as he was mockingly called when manager of Chelsea, is seen as the mastermind behind the Foxes’ rise up the table. The attacking football of Ranieri’s Leicester has been exciting to watch and his team are currently 15 points ahead of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. It was Mourinho who replaced Ranieri at Chelsea all those years ago and amidst Chelsea’s current struggles, some Chelsea fans are re-evaluating how good of a manager Ranieri was for the club.
In truth, it is hard to discern whether Ranieri is a top quality manager or not. His career to date has been one of hits and misses.
In a 30-year management career, we can say he did good jobs at Cagliari, Fiorentina and Parma. We can say he did bad jobs at Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan and Greece. He had a lot of jobs, including at Chelsea, that were somewhere inbetween.
The thing is that this is quite a typical managerial career. It is incredibly difficult for a manager to survive a career without a few blemishes, especially when it is usually the manager who will inevitably have to pack his bags when the team under performs, rather than the players or those who work behind the scenes at the club.
In the book Soccernomics, it argues that managers are not as important as is believed. It said that statistics show that most of the variation in league performance can be explained by wage spending. Those that were statistically significant only improved league performance by a small amount.
Figures from June 2013 showed that the average Premier League manager lasted for 417 days if you exclude the anomalies of Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson. Coaches have just over a year then on average to make an impact and most teams do not collapse when a manager is sacked.
For example, Swansea have maintained a mean level of performance in mid-table since promotion from Martinez, Rodgers, Laudrup and finally through Monk, who is in his first ever managerial role. There is talk of Monk losing his job if he loses a few more games, which would seem very harsh on the face of it, but it is hard to see the next Swansea manager not bringing the Swans to a similar position by the end of the season.
With managers so easily discarded, it means that managerial reputations are often rated on a murky scale akin to ‘who’s hot, who’s not’ in entertainment magazines. At the moment, Ranieri, who is riding the crest of a wave at Leicester, is ‘hot’ while poor old David Moyes, who is at the bottom of the barrel after two tough managerial gigs, is ‘not’.
It seems thus that most managers are, more than they would happily admit, reliant on incredibly small margins and a nice old chunk of luck for good measure. While we can safely say that some managers are better than others like any other profession, the curious case of Ranieri proves that the act of recruiting a successful manager remains an inexact science.