Perhaps we should have known better. When Darius Henderson became the first opposition player to score a league hat-trick at the King Power Stadium since Ruud van Nistelrooy, it should have been clear. Ambition + Money + Bad Results = Trigger Finger.
Sven-Göran Eriksson knew he was close to the chop. The Gurdian reports a meeting held with the players in which they were told the Swede was lucky to still be in his job. The reaction of several players on Twitter yesterday suggests their shock at the confirmation Sven had gone was, like that of many fans, genuine.
Plenty of critiques of Sven’s year in charge have been offered. The most obvious is that, having spent more money in a transfer window than any Leicester manager in history, the owners and fans had a right to expect a better return than five wins in 13 league matches. Indeed, this was a slump that had carried over from last season. Despite keeping in touching distance with the playoff chasers until the final weeks of the campaign, the Foxes had only won four of their final 14 league fixtures.
Another favourite of the Sven out brigade was that the former England boss ‘had no Plan B’. When it came to tactics, this was always a more curious criticism. Leicester began Sven’s reign playing a 4-3-3 / 4-5-1, but as early as October last year Eriksson was experimenting with a 4-4-2 in a drab 1-0 victory over Preston. Later that season at QPR, Foxes fans saw a 4-1-3-2 which would evolve into the diamond City play today.
Perhaps the criticism of Sven should not have been that there was no ‘Plan B’, but that there were simply too many Plan A’s. Sven’s dealings in the transfer market certainly suggested the latter.
Sven handed Leicester City league debuts to no fewer than 26 players. That list in full reads;
Sol Bamba, Jermaine Beckford, Roman Bednar, Jeffery Bruma, Greg Cunningham, Neil Danns, Curtis Davies, Gelson Fernandes, Michael Johnson, Diomansy Kamara, Chris Kirkland, Paul Komchesky, Ben Mee, Matt Mills, Kyle Naughton, David Nugent, John Pantsill, Lee Peltier, Ricardo, Jeffery Schlupp, Kasper Schmeichel, Sean St. Ledger, Darius Vassell, Miguel Vitor, Yakubu, Patrick van Aanholt.
Of the 26 names above, 14 remain on the books.
But those names, in whatever combination had achieved some remarkable things under Sven. Last season City had won five league matches in a row at this level for the first time since Micky Adams was in charge. They’d also gone unbeaten at home in 13 league matches, a record not bettered at this level in 54 years.
This year Leicester had shown they were more than a match for the best sides in the division. Leaders Southampton came to the KP and were beaten 3-2. Their replacements at the top of the table, Brighton, were sent home with nothing three weeks later. Derby were thumped to comple a hat-trick of victories over the Rams, matched in recent times only by Martin O’Neill. Fellow promotion hopefulls Middlesbrough and Cardiff were held on their own grounds too.
But for all those victories were nagging doubts. Four times this season Leicester could have made the top six with a victory, and four times they failed. The implosion at Birmingham and the failure to beat the likes of Barnsley and Bristol City have soured Sven’s other achievements, leaving the owners to conclude that the best they could expect from Sven was consistent inconsistency.
Was it the right decision? The record of clubs who sack their manager mid-season with the hope of reviving their promotion challenge is not promising. Just once in the last seven seasons, at Sunderland, has a team been promoted after replacing their boss during the campaign.
Leicester might have improved under Sven. After Saturday, it’s arguable that they could hardly have got much worse. But the irony of the decision to sack Sven now is that it will probably guarantee the very thing the owners were seeking to prevent – another season in the Championship.
Perhaps only St. Martin could change that.