In case you still can’t believe it, I can confirm that Leicester City did indeed win the 2015-16 Premier League title. Much has been written about the remarkable achievement of Claudio Ranieri and his players, so I won’t be going on too much about that here. Instead, I want to talk about a potential unintended consequence of the Foxes’ miraculous success story: that is, the effect this will now have on the managerial sack race in next season’s Premier League.
It has long been said that anybody can beat anybody in the Premier League. Whilst on the odd day in the past that has been true, by and large only four to six clubs have ever had any realistic title aspirations – and this is because another long-held truth applied: that smaller clubs can beat the bigger clubs in one-off games, but can’t sustain this over the whole season.
Now clearly Leicester’s title success enjoyed some very favourable circumstances to allow their achievement to become reality – it is not every year that all of the traditional elite in the Premier League have such disastrously poor campaigns. But regardless of this, Leicester City proved this year that it is entirely possible for a smaller club to maintain a title challenge over the course of the season. They could yet win the division by 13 points – that is hardly scraping over the line.
But whilst those at the top may write Leicester’s achievements off as a freak occurrence, clubs of a similar size and in a similar position to Leicester City were in last year might well begin to wonder whether or not they could also have a crack at challenging at the top. For clubs who are able to achieve top ten finishes in the Premier League on much larger budgets than Ranieri, for example, Stoke, Southampton and West Ham United, why should they not be now dreaming big?
Is it possible that Claudio Ranieri’s success at Leicester has now put additional pressure on to managers who before were deemed successful just for keeping a team in mid-table? Can Mark Hughes be content with another 10th place finish if he has another summer of spending upwards of £40 million? This season he spent £5 million more than Ranieri, starting from a much better position, and yet looks likely to come nine places below the Foxes in the final table.
Whilst it is definitely unreasonable to expect every team to challenge (not every team can win the league), is it not possible that pressure and scrutiny on his position will increase if he is unable to get a substantial improvement out of his players? Even if the club’s internal expectations do not get raised too much, the expectations of fans and the media will definitely have increased, and questions will start to be asked much sooner if any of these clubs have a slow start to the season.
It is entirely likely that managers such as Jurgen Klopp, Mark Hughes, Slaven Bilic and Ronald Koeman (plus the next manager of Everton) could fall victim to these heightened expectations next season. It may not be fair, it may not be reasonable or even rational, but in the world of Premier League football, it could well happen.