The football world has been in mourning since news broke of Claudio Ranieri’s sacking as manager of Leicester City, a mere nine months on from winning the Premier League title...with Leicester City! (That actually happened!)
It was the first top flight title for both the Italian and the East Midlands club, who are currently mired in a desperate battle to avoid relegation.
As sad as we all were to see Ranieri lose his job, it’s not the first time he’s suffered a brutal sacking at the hands of a club’s owner. He made way for Jose Mourinho in 2004, despite guiding Chelsea to second in the league and reaching the Champions League semi-finals. Later at Monaco, he won the club’s first ever Ligue 2 title before finishing second behind mega-rich PSG the very next season. Although he wasn’t sacked by the French club, their Russian billionaire owner Dmitry Robolovlev chose not to renew his contract.
Ranieri might be able to console himself in the fact that he’s not the first manager to be fired so unceremoniously. Here are a few more that were forced to walk the plank after winning major trophies.
Carlo Ancelotti (Chelsea, 2011 and Real Madrid, 2015)
There is perhaps no manager with greater experience of working with maniacal owners and club presidents than Ancelotti, having worked under the terrible trio of Silvio Berlusconi, Roman Abramovich and Florentino Perez.
The Italian was hired by Chelsea to bring European success to the club, having won two Champions Leagues with AC Milan. After coasting to a League and Cup double in his first season, the Blues finished second in the Premier League the next year, and in typical Abramovich fashion, he was let go just two hours after the season ended.
Ancelotti made his way to Madrid via Paris, where he had his crowning achievement. He equaled Bob Paisley’s record of three European Cup wins for a manager while guiding Real to their tenth victory in the competition. Despite the significance of the trophy, it didn’t garner much currency with Perez, who sacked him soon after the end of the 2014-15 season.
Roberto Di Matteo (Chelsea 2012)
Another Italian, and another Chelsea manager put on the scrapheap.
Abramovich turned to the club legend in 2012 after sacking Andre Villas Boas when the side were flailing in the league and looking on their way out of the Champions League having lost the first leg of their last 16 tie against Napoli 3-1.
Di Matteo somehow turned it around to win the home leg 4-1, before beating every ‘B’ team left -- Benfica, Barcelona and Bayern Munich -- on their way to winning one of the unlikeliest of European triumphs.
The caretaker role turned into a permanent one soon after, but Di Matteo only lasted until November when they lost 3-0 to Juventus, all but eliminating them from the Champions League group stages. To the chagrin of their fans, he was replaced that same day with Rafael Benitez, having lasted just eight months in the job.
Vicente Del Bosque (Real Madrid 2003)
The Spaniard is arguably the best manager Real Madrid have ever had, but was the first managerial casualty in the Florentino Perez era. Del Bosque was an academy product of the club, played 445 games for the senior team, and won seven trophies in four years as head coach. And yet, the board somehow decided it was time to shake things up.
This was THIS team, in case you've forgotten:
Jorge Valdano, the Sports Director General at the time, said “we believed it was time for a change in direction before things stagnate at the club.” Iker Casillas later wrote in the prologue to his former manager’s biography that “his departure from Real Madrid hurt.” His sacking was announced just two days after winning the club’s 29th La Liga title. Los Blancos would not win another major trophy for the rest of Perez’s first tenure as club president.
Fabio Capello (Real Madrid 1997 and 2007)
That barren spell ended with the arrival of Capello as manager in 2006, as new president Ramon Calderon set about restoring success to the club. The Italian (a familiar theme in this article - ed.) had achieved major success at AC Milan where he won the Champions League, and had previously won the league with Madrid ten years previously.
On that occasion he had fallen foul of the fans for demoting Raul to the left-wing and fell out with president Lorenzo Sans. Deja vu struck in his second spell as domestic success wasn’t enough to mask the fact that he liked to play cautious and defensive football. With the attractive attacking style of the Galacticos era still fresh in the memory, Capello found himself out of a job just a month after winning his second La Liga title.
Louis Van Gaal (Bayern Munich 2011)
Much of our recent memories of Van Gaal centre on his crazy press conferences as Manchester United manager, or this high pitched weirdness:
You can easily forget that he paved the way for the current Bayern Munich side, who have swept aside all before them in recent years.
The Bavarian club were still feeling a hangover from the short-lived yet disastrous Jurgen Klinsmann era when they hired Van Gaal in 2009. The Dutchman quickly went about making changes that had long-term effects, such as signing Arjen Robben, moving Bastian Schweinsteiger from the wing to a defensive midfield position, and elevating Thomas Muller from the academy to the senior team.
Bayern were unfancied in the Champions League that year but defeated Manchester United and Lyon on their way to the final, where they lost to Jose Mourinho’s Inter. They won the Bundesliga and DFB Pokal to complete the double, but the next season was not so successful and saw him get the sack a month before it ended.
Van Gaal was less successful at United, but his dismissal was arguably worse. Having won the FA Cup in 2016, the club’s first trophy since Alex Ferguson retired, news circulated the very same day that Mourinho was going to take over as manager. No doubt it left a sour taste in his mouth, but at least Louis could say he had won something with every single club he had managed.
Jose Villalonga (Real Madrid, 1957)
Spain’s most successful team have a gained a reputation in recent years for having little patience and treating the management position as a revolving door. But you might be surprised to learn that they are merely upholding a tradition that has been at the club for a very long time.
Real’s most successful period came in the fifties when they famously won the first five European Cups. What is less well known is that they went through six managers in six years during that era.
At the top of that list was Jose Villalonga, guided Los Blancos to their first two European Cups, but was fired just weeks after the second in 1957.
There is a famous story from the first round of the competition that season involving Santiago Bernabeu. The president came into the dressing room at half-time during the second leg against Rapid Vienna, who are winning 5-4 on aggregate. He practically pushed Villalonga out of the way to give the team a pep talk, warning the players they “haven’t come here on holiday” and that they “wore the shields of Real Madrid” on their jerseys.
Needless to say they won, and Villalonga was on his way a couple of months later.
Luis Carniglia was his replacement, but would suffer the same fate.
When Bernabeu signed the legendary Ferenc Puskas, Carniglia was unhappy at the sight of the overweight Hungarian signing for the club. “I don’t know what I'm supposed to do with this guy,” he told his boss. “That’s your job,” Bernabeu supposedly shot back, “it’s your job to make him prettier.”
The coach would guide them to a third European Cup, but left Puskas out of the starting line-up as they didn’t get along. It would his last act as manager of Real Madrid, unsurprisingly.