Claudio Ranieri’s decision to start Ahmed Musa instead of the in-form Demarai Gray in Seville on Wednesday bemused senior Leicester City players, who raised their concerns about the manager in a meeting with Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the club’s owner, in the Spanish city yesterday morning.
The distance between Ranieri and his squad had been growing all season, partly due to a frustration in the below-par quality of some of his signings since the club won the Premier League title, such as Musa, tweaks to life at the club, with chicken burgers taken off the menu, and also his constant tinkering with the team.
Some of his substitutions were strange, especially those against Millwall in the FA Cup on Saturday when Ranieri removed Gray, sending on Jamie Vardy, which made sense, but leaving on Musa, who was struggling. Ranieri also sent on a full back against Swansea City.
But it was Ranieri’s decision to play Musa in the vital Champions League round-of-16 first leg on Wednesday, leaving Gray on the bench, that really tested the players’ patience. It occupied their thoughts beforehand when they should have been focusing on the game. Gray is highly regarded in the Leicester dressing room, has done well in training, has given impetus when arriving off the bench, while Musa has looked bereft of confidence.
A £16 million signing from CSKA Moscow, Musa looked all right in pre-season but has laboured since. He was particularly poor on Wednesday, partly culpable for Seville’s first goal by failing to track back with Sergio Escudero and lacking influence in possession.
Gray’s arrival energised Leicester, and Ranieri was applauded on the night for making the switch in the second half, but in the cold light of day yesterday, the Italian’s decision to start Musa was mentioned again. The Thai owners had stayed loyal to Ranieri, releasing a statement a fortnight ago backing him, but faced with signs of dressing-room dissent, they acted. Dilly ding, dilly gone.
* Henry Winter (The Times).