Can Shakespeare add another chapter to Leicester tale?
LONDON (AP) — Like his famous namesake, English playwright and poet William Shakespeare, Leicester City’s manager Craig Shakespeare is hoping he can add a few blockbuster dramas to his own story.
Appointed caretaker manager after the English champion sacked Claudio Ranieri last month, Shakespeare has brought such a revival over three games that the 53-year-old will stay in the job until the end of the season.
Events at Leicester City Football Club have some uncanny resemblances to William Shakespeare’s works. The playwright was born just 40 miles away from Leicester in Stratford-upon-Avon and the unfolding tragedies and comedies at the club suggest some of the Bard’s most famous plays.
‘Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow’. (Romeo and Juliet)
In the wake of Ranieri’s unceremonious departure, Shakespeare denied a player revolt was behind the Italian’s demise.
Amid media reports of treachery and betrayal, senior players were forced to deny they had met with Leicester’s owners to ask that Ranieri be replaced.
“There was a lot of frustration because of the results, but he had not lost the dressing room,” Shakespeare said.
“A lot of the talk of unrest has been speculation. I’ve not had one problem with the players.
“I always feel sorry when people lose their jobs. My relationship with Claudio has been fine all along.”
Eyebrows have certainly been raised at just how quickly Leicester has returned to last season’s form, with some prominent commentators saying it was unpalatable.
After beating Liverpool 3-1 in its first game after Ranieri left, Sky Sports pundit and former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher castigated the Leicester players by saying they should “hang their heads in shame”.
‘Cry “havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war’ (Julius Caesar)
The old Leicester of 2016 Premier League winning-vintage appears to be back, with added bite and menace.
Energy, spark and passion. All those qualities apparently lacking this season have returned in the three games since Ranieri’s departure.
Why they were missing for the majority of this season will remain a mystery.
Some said Leicester’s struggles this season were because it had lost the element of surprise - Premier League teams had simply worked out how to nullify its traditional 4-4-2 formation and counter-attacking game.
Missing the intensity that carried the 500-1 outsiders to a stunning title triumph, Leicester has struggled week after week in the league.
When the club’s Thai owners, to the surprise of many, pulled the plug on Ranieri, Leicester had slipped into a relegation battle. For the Leicester money-men, demotion to the Championship (second-tier) was unthinkable.
But since Shakespeare stepped up, Leicester has been reinvigorated, beating Liverpool and Hull at home in the Premier League, then seeing off highly-fancied Sevilla to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.
Foxes vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha has certainly been impressed.
“He has initiated the type of positive response that we hoped change would bring, showing great leadership qualities and composure under considerable pressure to produce two very important results,” he said of Shakespeare.
‘Off with his head!’ (Richard III)
Ranieri’s sacking, nine months after winning the title, showed that in the fickle world of soccer, no job is safe. One minute a hero, the next a villain with your head on the (managerial) chopping block.
Shakespeare has begun brilliantly and has another 11 Premier League games, as well as a Champions League quarter-final, to make his case to continue in charge next season.
If Leicester maintains the improvement shown and continues to ease away from relegation danger then the job is surely his.
Leicester is reported to have sounded out former England manager Roy Hodsgon about becoming manager and the club’s hierarchy are bound to have some names in mind should the Midlands club slip back into strife.
Of course, no-one expects Leicester to progress further in the Champions League but its debut in the continent’s elite competition has proved a rollercoaster ride so far.
Few gave Leicester a chance of upsetting Sevilla and not many will against Atletico Madid, Champions League finalists in two of the last three seasons. But Juventus’ veteran keeper Gianluigi Buffon probably spoke for other teams when he said before the draw that Leicester were a team to avoid.
‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.’ (Twelfth Night)
Shakespeare has stepped out of the shadows and into the managerial limelight. Now he has to deliver.
History has shown that great coaches do not always make great managers. Think Sammy Lee, Mike Phelan or Carlos Quieroz.
Shakespeare spent his playing days in the lower leagues and has carved out a reputation as a well-liked and respected coach. But his first stint in management, and the huge pressure it brings, will see if he can cut it.
In his favour is that he knows Leicester well, having worked firstly under Nigel Pearson, and then Ranieri.
He also clearly has the support of the players. Defender Christian Fuchs said of his appointment: “He was always the person to go to for the players and the players are trusting him.
“It feels good working with him -- obviously he’s a nice guy, he has a lot of knowledge -- and the results are speaking for themselves.”
Whether Shakespeare can achieve great things at Leicester, time will tell.
‘All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players’. (As You Like It)
In the modern world of football where Premier League games are broadcast around the globe, millions of fans will already be familiar with Leicester. More so now it has rubbed shoulders with the likes of Porto and Sevilla in the Champions League.
Now Atletico Madrid get to see first-hand what Leicester is about and will surely not relish the red-hot atmosphere at a raucous King Power stadium in the English Midlands.
Atletico, of course, are European aristocrats having been Champions League runner’s up in 2014 and last year. With Argentine manager Diego Simeone at the helm, Atletico has shown that Spanish football is not just about Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Shakespeare is relishing the clash.
“Facing a team who have reached the final in two of the last three seasons is a massive challenge but it’s just the kind of tie you expect in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Atletico Madrid are a very good team with some fantastic individuals with experience in the competition, but we’ll be ready to give everything to progress,” he said.
“It will be a brilliant occasion for our supporters and for everyone at the Club but, before the players can begin to think about these games, we have Premier League matches to come that are of huge significance to our season. They will be our sole focus.”
The clubs have met twice before in Europe - in the second round of the European Cup Winners’ Cup during the 1961/62 campaign (Leicester lost 3-1 on aggregate) and in 1997 when the Spaniards prevailed 4-1 over two legs in the first round of the UEFA Cup.
Simeone may not yet know much about Leicester but after today’s draw will be delving into the archives to look for himself. Hopefully he doesn’t look up the wrong Shakespeare.