Friday, 15 September 2017

The relative age effect revisited

Last year I wrote this article on the relative age effect. Since then, for my dissertation in my degree I researched the impact of the coach as a social agent on RAE and whether their knowledge levels are sufficient in combatting birth bias. If you wish to read my dissertation feel free to contact me or comment below! 

Istvan Balyi, a sports scientist, devised the long-term athlete development model during the 1990s. Balyi recognised that the talent identification process in sport was flawed and that someone who is identified as talented at a young age does not mean they will always become an elite athlete. An easy example is that often a young player would simply be physically mature for their age and stand out as a result because they could use their size as an advantage at that time, leading to smaller talents going unnoticed.

Balyi's model sought to restore the balance between training load and competition during childhood and adolescence, recognising the different stages that young people are ready to develop at. If
fundamental skills were taught during these optimal stages of development, it could help divert the focus away from short terms results (or selecting the current best performers) and focus on long term development. For this reason the Football Association adopted, and adapted, this model in order to create a holistic method for coaches to follow.

This is relevant when discussing the Relative Age Effect (RAE) as the theory suggests that those born earlier in the year, and thus more likely to be bigger in physical size, benefit in the early years of talent identification and selection. But why is it that coaches and scouts identify more physically mature children as 'talented'?

My dissertation research primarily sought to gain an understanding of the knowledge grassroots coaches have of the relative age effect, and furthermore how they impact this and their understanding of the FA's Long Term Player Development model (LTPD). It involved over 200 coaches answering questionnaires and some attending a focus group.

In my results, there was a chasm in levels of understanding of RAE between UEFA qualified coaches and Level 1 grassroots coaches. On the face of it, this is understandable. Coaches who have more time to invest in themselves and coach at a higher level were more likely to have encountered education on RAE. It was also identified in the focus group that Level 1 coaches are more likely to be a parent or family member with less spare time than a career coach who has UEFA qualifications.

However, this is problematic because when children are identified to be selected for a professional club it tends to be in the grassroots game, probably coached by coaches with Level 1 or 2 qualifications. These coaches tend to have less of an understanding of the Relative Age Effect and as a 'social agent' may be allowing RAE to manifest as a result. They may be giving increased and better quality opportunities due to their perception of a player as 'talented'. This is known as the Pygmalion effect. A player who may have more talent but just hasn't been able to showcase it yet because of their current physical disadvantages may miss out on these opportunities. It has been shown in research that "talent" at a young age is not a very good indicator of their chance of making it as an athlete and this could be a possible reason why.

My research found that the majority of coaches (particularly those with the Level 1 and/or 2) felt inadequately educated on the matter. Though there has been an increased emphasis on implementing RAE into coach education, the majority of coaches responding to the questionnaire felt they had not been made suitably aware of the issue. This suggests that although most have encountered RAE not enough time has been spent on it nor has there been much depth to this education. Due to the time constraints of coaches who volunteer in the grassroots games, ideas such as short refresher courses and online modules were recommended for further education on the Relative Age Effect, which could also count towards any FA Licensed Coaches Club (FALCC) members continuous professional development. Details such as ways that coaches can combat RAE were mentioned, as they felt that a lack of solutions were provided for coaches to use at grassroots level. More information on how the FA's LTPD model can reduce RAE would also be hugely beneficial! A holistic approach will reduce the reliance on one area where someone may be forging ahead, such as physical development, which is mentioned is not always a good indicator of future ability.

In the FA's adapted LTAD model they introduced four corners which they believe impact a player's development. Technical, Psychological, Physical and Social. In the questionnaire and focus group, participants were asked to rate which they felt were most important but also which they felt they could impact on the most. The issue with identifying young people as naturally gifted is that this means that they do not believe they can coach this. It is 'nature' after all! However, this is another mechanism that allows RAE to manifest

The physical corner of development was also recognised by the coaches as less important to consider and less likely for them to be able to impact on. Whereas it has previously been an accepted idea that in English football too much emphasis is placed on a player's physical ability to help win games, it might also be a less conscious factor that creates this birth bias. Because coaches do not consider it as important, they are less likely to cater someone who is physically smaller and recognise that they need more time to develop before they are discarded as not good enough! Furthermore, if a coach does not believe they can affect a player's physical development due to it being an issue of 'nature' then that player may suffer more in the future too.

This was an interesting topic to cover for my dissertation and one that I consider very important in the grassroots games, particularly at the younger ages. Players are picked up (wrongly in my opinion) at ages as young as four and five nowadays. Everyone is in a rush to beat each other to talent and therefore these decisions are made in an instant. Subconsciously, are these people going to identify the smaller, younger, possibly less noticeable players or the players who make an impact on the game in that moment in time? Hopefully this is a trend that will begin to change and more due diligence will be made!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

VIDEO: England DNA - Bearing fruit?

There was plenty of disappointment as England crashed out of the semi finals in the Women's european championships against Holland.

Expectation was high following the progress Mark Sampson's side had made over the last two years. Prior to the game, England had been the tournament's best side with emphatic wins over France and Spain in particular. Though they lost 3-0 in the end, and lessons must be learned, it is important to also recognise the development of a side that had exuded confidence during the competition.

Across the board, this has been a summer of success for England national sides. Great strides have been made where previously as a nation we have found it hard to compete. At youth level too there have been some fantastic performances, where the style of play has been clear to see. Too often England teams have struggled to dominate games, where the opposition have had the lion share of possession and territory.

In my blog last year before the Men's European Championships I wrote how what fans truly wanted to see was positive performances that hinted at a brighter future, and I think this is what we are beginning to see now.

While we are still waiting for players to find more of a pathway into their club's first teams (blog on that to come soon), there have been individuals that have shone this summer.

Solanke - u20 World Cup Best Player
In the u17 European Championship, it was Jaden Sancho who won 'Best Player' while his club team mate Phil Foden also starred. Dom Solanke won player of the tournament in the u20 World Cup, no mean feat in which several others impressed such as Jonjo Kenny and Freddie Woodman. At the other end of the 'international journey', Jodie Taylor looks set to finish as top scorer at the Women's European Championship when only a few years ago she had been cast into international wilderness.

There is plenty to be positive about following this summer's events, that is for sure. Hopefully in the future our teams will continue to grow, become more confident and make their mark on tournaments to come.

The link below is to a video I have made in an attempt to capture this summer's success. I made one last year (link) and this is what I hope is a progression of that.

ENGLAND DNA - BEARING FRUIT 

If you have any feedback, please comment below!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

No ball games

This blog is inspired from my journey walking back home as I came through a car park one afternoon last week. Empty, bar one car in the corner , through this long open space I thought to myself about what a great place this would be to have been able to play football on the streets with friends.

A high bush to stop the ball (in most circumstances) going out onto the road behind it, markings that you could use for goals and enough space to fit at least a five a side, if not more! To me it seemed ideal. That was until I saw the dread sign: NO BALL GAMES and this brought back some memories of my own.

In the council estate that I lived in as a kid, there was a great open space (partly on the road) where we could play football. Specifically, we used to play 'four goals' in which the loser is knocked out and generally replaced by someone else. This space lent itself perfectly for that with bollards, railings and speed bumps marking the goals. In this game you had the perfect risk/reward dilemma. Sit back and defend your goal and you allowed the opposition to attack you, play offensively without fear and one mistake would mean your empty goal was badly exposed! You could play in doubles if the numbers demanded so, add restrictions to make sure the game doesn't get out of hand and change the size of the goal if needs be.


However, this area had the same 'no ball games' sign that I saw the other day in the car park. And we were reminded of it by people who were not even remotely impacted by us playing football there. But we began to grow tired of this, playing in the hope that someone wouldn't come and yell at us wasn't as fun.

Furthermore, if our ball went over the fence and into someone's garden it was not coming back. If we were lucky, on the right day it would be thrown back but we played carefully trying not to kick the ball too high knowing that if it went over the grumpy man who lived there would pop it. Bye bye 2006 World Cup Teamgeist ball.


It made me think, nevertheless, about the complaints of a lot of grassroots coaches these days. One of the main ones I hear is that kids do not play on the streets like 'we' used to do and that Generation Z are more concerned about playing on their consoles. But is this a rather simplistic excuse for those who do not want to take responsibility for a supposed lack of 'love of the game' from young children?

Do less and less children play on the street because of technology or because of the conditions of modern society, in which parents prefer to keep them where they can see them? And as highlighted, the restrictions on places nearby you can play? What if there is no local park and a parents doesn't feel comfortable sending a child on their own to play further away?

Someone I really respect said to me that in England, particularly in football, we are great at listing problems but not so keen to provide solutions. In this discussion, I think that is pertinent. How about we set our minds on how we can recreate these conditions that allow street football, which many great footballers have been born out of, rather than complaining that the youth of today aren't as interested?

How about we encourage our players to play football outside of sessions, which it feels like they do less and less? Those who do so will notice the difference, as will their peers. Creating unstructured play opportunities is becoming more and more popular. At Feyenoord, they leave footballs on their pitch for an hour before training for those who want to come early and play. Bristol Rovers recently developed a very interesting initiative where they gave ownership to their players and let them play on the street with various obstacles.

Hopefully we can begin to consider how we can engage young people and create conditions for them that replicate the classic street football games but also encourage them to go out and 'play' more!

On the same estate where I used to play, it slowly became deserted where once lots of kids would play football. I noticed recently when I went back there that more and more kids are back playing football (and various other games to include others who are not football fans) accompanied by parents who come down to watch and talk with other parents! Maybe that bodes well.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Youth football: Where do we draw the line?

This blog post is inspired from reading Michael Calvin's latest brilliant book 'No Hunger in Paradise'.

The book does a fantastic job of capturing youth football and its realities within the professional game. At times it is heart-warming, at others it makes you despair.

And while reading it, it reminded me of everything that is wrong in youth and grassroots football.

Four, five, six year old boys are sold the dream. They are invited to 'academy development centres', promised contracts once they turn eight, their heads are filled with ideas of the riches that come with the game.

The reality is, barely any of these players will end up in the professional game as footballers. That is the cold reality. So why are these young people so unprepared for this? The percentages are tiny, minuscule. To be clear, I have never stopped a player progressing to an academy that I have coached, nor would I ever. It is a wonderful opportunity. Nevertheless, the reason I am so passionate about coaching in grassroots football is because although children do not all become professional footballers, they do all become members of society.

Do kids truly get to learn to love the game?
And inevitably, whether it be at eight, ten, twelve or as they approach the potential offers of scholarships, these players are discarded by their respective clubs. On a visit to AFC Ajax last September (blog here), their academy recognised that by releasing players, they are admitting that they have failed the players and that the coaches are not doing their own job.

I see similar parallels in grassroots youth football. Young children are released for not being 'good enough'. Firstly, good enough for what exactly? Secondly, why do they need to be good enough? The very definition of grassroots football is the introduction to and enjoyment of the sport.

How do we change the ever growing commodification of academy footballers, though?

I firmly believe players shouldn't be registered with professional club until fourteen years of age, but we know that this is never going to happen, nor is it practical. Clubs find loopholes round the fact that clubs are not allowed to sign players until they are eight as it is, as identified earlier in this article. An alternative might be that you can not release players on the grounds of ability until the age of fourteen. That way, you my get some degree of patience. For example, some players may struggle through a growth spurt (or a lack of one). Quite often clubs will get rid of a player like this whereas all they need is someone to give them the opportunity once their body settles down. I would be interested to hear people's thoughts on this!

Another cause for the concern in the growth of young players becoming commodities for clubs, if they are not already, is the presence of intermediaries. I find this abhorrent, simply put. As players approach sixteen they no doubt need some form of support in this area but surely that should come from the club providing education? That way we will get less players getting caught in a tug of war battle, incited by an 'agent' which would let them get on with their development with minimal distractions.

No doubt there are good agents about, as highlighted in Calvin's book, but does a nine year old really need an agent? There are too many people looking to milk the next superstar for everything they have and it is a stain on the game.

As players become shifted from club to club looking for the 'best' offer, this throws up many issues not just for the child as a footballer but as a person. Is this really what is best for the child?

It all came too soon for Sonny Pike
Clubs ask players to relocate at young ages to be near enough to the training ground - otherwise they may not be asked to stay on. I have witnessed parents share a genuine concern for having to move their child just to play for a professional club's academy at just ten years old. Equally, there are some parents who push their children too far. Taking them to clubs left, right and centre. Are they being given sufficient education on their child's welfare and what is truly best for their development as a player?

I am indeed aware that this is the 'nature of the beast' that is academy football and the professional game, but does that make it okay? Clubs are going above and beyond now, seemingly having no shame in the length they will go to sign a player. Two huge clubs now have been punished and yet it feels like we are only just scratching the surface here.

And finally, is it all a bit too much? Children can not cope with the same strains as adults, battering them year in year out, is it a dangerous game to be playing with their mental health, as well as physical? These players train up to four times a week plus a game. Will they be able to form a stable social life? Are they getting as much time to concentrate on other areas in their education? As I said, not every child can become a footballer.

I guess my question is, where do we draw the line? And are we currently crossing it?

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Review: The FA Youth Award

On Friday 7th April, I was delighted to undertake (and pass) my FA Youth Award assessment. This was the completion of a 'journey' that I had begun in 2013, having just turned eighteen and coming out of the level two course I had completed at college. 

With the introduction of the youth module content into the level 1, level 2 and soon to be UEFA B, I thought this represented a good time to review the FA Youth Award, and the impact I have seen it have on myself (and others). This blog will hopefully give an accurate account of the course, and the messages it hopes to give coaches. 

Youth Module 1 - Developing the Environment

A lot of people I talk to, who have been through at least two of the youth module courses, claim that this is the better of the courses in the FA Youth Award. From my perspective, I think this is due to the way it changes people's perceptions. 

The youth module one is a fantastic introduction to the award, and the course overall, as it starts with the most important thing. The kids. And more specifically, how we allow them to enjoy football. 

Our very neatly prepared 'Space Recognition'
session on the Youth Module 1!
The four days on this course were intense, but fun! We were being educated in the exact way that would be expected of ourselves when working with our players back at our clubs. The exercises we were shown were fun, but worthwhile. A game as simple as 'skills corridor' had your technical focus for players to practice but with a fun element and challenges to it (depending on how you adapted it). This is a session that I used with under eights that I coach just a couple of weeks ago, albeit slightly adapted and renamed 'skills volcano'! 

As with the title of the course, the environment created by a coach is the key focus here. How do you manage mistakes? This in particular was something of an eye opener for candidates, as we began to recognise mistakes as learning opportunities. Looking back, this seems so obvious but it is not always as simple as that. Looking after a player's self-esteem is equally as important, and ties in well with this. This was something I connected well with, as it has always been my belief that you should make each and every player you coach feel valued. You will always see more development than berating them for mistakes, in my opinion. Have you ever seen a player perform better in tears? Probably not. 

Youth Module 2 - Developing the Practice

I attended the second module of the youth award almost a year later, a good time between having attended module one. This gave me the chance to consolidate my learning from the first course, and I was raring to go for the next instalment. It didn't disappoint. 

We were now moving onto 'the practice' and this was a great course for working on how we design our sessions. The practice spectrum (Constant, Variable, Random) was introduced and it was time to consider the returns we wanted from our sessions. High levels of repetition (constant/blocked practice) with less realism or less repetition but more context to the game (Variable, Random). There is no right or wrong answer, only appropriateness for YOUR players based on their needs and stage of development. It is important to remember that these courses were largely centred around being age-appropriate, which forced us to justify everything we did in our coaching, an example of good practice we should try to do as often as possible. 

Another area of focus was in our planning and evaluating. This is an area, where I think now we make some key mistakes, as highlighted on this module. We love to plan, to the smallest details but this creates a rigidity, and means we do not adapt the session to our players needs. In comparison, we do not put as much time in to our reflections. Our evaluation is usually the journey home, or in the de-brief with players after a training session or match. If anything, I think we are doing it the wrong way round. We need to have a flexible plan for the players which can be adapted and moulded, whereas we need to be more stringent in our evaluation. However, it has to be said that for volunteers, which we mostly are in grassroots football, time constraints can make this process difficult.

Youth Module 3 - Developing the Player

The third and final course, this was a really good four days to tie everything together. I attended a CPD event which was an introduction for what to expect and also gave lots of information about the assessment that you can chose to do at the end of it. What it was really good for was bringing together the elements from the level 1 (top tips), level 2 (STEP principles) and the content covered in the youth modules one and two. What it would allow us to do, was select the right tool at the right time. 

I wrote a blog about the first two days of the module three course which you can read HERE. What I will say is, looking back, that this gave us the chance to think about how we develop players specifically. In my planning for my portfolio, I have become more player specific with my planning, and my challenges. The trial and error method through challenges is a really good way of developing players individually I find. But when you begin to make loads of challenges, it will dilute it somewhat. Be meticulous in what you do!  In your planning, if you focus on individuals it will also allow you to manage difference in your group. How often do we extend, and challenge players further who are forging ahead? Can we help those who are striving to keep up?
A challenge card I created for players! 

After the third module I also began to focus on the principles of play in greater detail. I am lucky in that the group I have been working with towards the youth award assessment has some eager learners, and they enjoyed learning about the principles of play, defending and attacking wise. This is where you can see that as you go onto module three, it makes the link from level two to level three/ UEFA B.  It also introduces the whole-part-whole methodology, which you are expected to use in your portfolio (and if not justify why!). I enjoyed trying this in my sessions, as it was something new and that I have been able to add to my repertoire. This design of practice aims at giving the session as much context to the game as possible. It encourages the coach to give players practices that look like the game. This is important as it can be easy for coaches to get drawn into creating fancy sessions that have lots going on but look nothing like a game of football. 

The assessment

The assessment is optional. At the end of the module three you can, if you wish, not take the assessment and get a certificate for attending. The assessment however, is not straight away, or during the course. The first part, the portfolio gets you onto the second part (practical session) and that gets you onto the final part, the question and answering. 

For my portfolio, I had tried to keep a good flow with the session topics, whilst catering it towards my players needs. We started with four in possession sessions, followed by four out of possession session, with as logical an order as possible. I then had a transition session, with another attacking session to complete it. I think this is a pretty good mode of assessment, however in future I would suggest a visit at some point during the sessions, like with the new level two. I think this would give a good opportunity to ensure the candidate is on the right path. That being said, I was able to send my sessions in to an FA tutor to do just that, minus the visit! 

The practical is fairly straight forward in what is expected of you. I was asked to deliver an arrival activity, part practice and whole practice from my portfolio. As it was on a different topic for each I had to stop and explain at the beginning of each to my group but in general this was fine. And it should be, as they should have already done it in your previous sessions! In between the 'part' and 'whole' I had a quick chat with the assessor, to see what I needed to do more to pass and this was massively helpful I felt. Assessment sessions can die a death because the coach has no idea towards the end what box they need to tick and it turns into a bit of a mess. This way, the coach has a clear focus and they don't have to get anxious. This helped me massively.

Finally, the questions as the final part of the assessment. I spent many a night revising from my different learner packs and pre-course reading. What I will say is that if you have got to this point, you probably will know the answers to these questions. So do not worry! 

Overall thoughts

Here are some overall thoughts that I like about the course, or what I gained from it. 

Pre-course reading - This is a useful idea, as coaches will often turn up at a course not truly knowing what to expect. The pre-course reading in each of the youth award modules gives a good indication of what to expect. However, they only usually covered the physical corner of development in these booklets. I understand why, as it may not be the most interesting to discuss in a workshop during the course, and saves time, BUT I do think the pre-course reading could give more information of what candidates will be doing on the actual course in a bit more detail. I think that is a minor detail and overall this is a very positive idea. 

Quality of tutors - My experience of the FA tutors through this process has been overwhelmingly positive. I have been fortunate to have Matthew Joseph, Jamie Godbold, Keith Webb, Mark Leigh, Ray Lee on the courses and also Mike Antrobus who came out to assess me. In addition, other tutors and coach educators would stop by to observe and help. I learnt a lot from each and every single on of them in different ways. 

Learning from other candidates - This was equally as important. On the module one, I produced a session as part of a group of three with Anthony, an A License coach who is a county coach developer and Gillian, who at the time was working with a similar age group to myself. While putting on a session as part of a three can be quite difficult, the planning and evaluating was a valuable experience and as a young coach I learnt a lot from both. I have been fortunate to keep in touch with several people from the different modules, one example of the benefit of this was me being able to observe a UEFA B assessment day as a result. Put the effort into talking to other coaches as much as you do with the coach educators! 

The cost - I have been fortunate in my experience that I was able to do two of the modules through my charter standard club (and McDonalds, oddly) in order to attend the course for a minimal fee, possibly even free in fact. However, this is not the same for everyone and I think the FA need to become more creative in their pricing. With the content of these courses going into new Level 2 and 3 courses we may see a welcome change as it is asking a lot of coaches who put a lot of time and money into grassroots football as it is. While I do think you get value for money, the cost can be quite prohibitive I feel. 

Realism - This is not so much a limitation of this course but a problem for all coaching courses. When candidates are asked to produce sessions on a course, they do so in an environment that does not match the one they work in with their squads. This is why the new FA coach education course assessments are being done with visits to coaches' clubs, which is a positive. On the second day of my module three, one of the coaches invited his players as it was a half term, which was a great idea. It meant that we practice sessions closer to what we usually do, with children! 

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience the FA Youth Award has given me. It has helped me stand in good stead for future courses and further coaching experiences!

I think it is interesting from my perspective as these courses are now being implemented into the level two and three. For anyone who is going through these courses currently, I would be very interested to hear your views and thoughts on these courses in the comments section below. Equally, if you have any questions, or would like to see my portfolio, feel free to ask! 

Saturday, 8 April 2017

You are the ref: what next?

I have always had very strict principles when coaching my players about how they 'communicate' with the referee. This is someone who is giving up their time in order to help them have an organised game of football. Dissent will not be tolerated. 

Although it is slightly different in the professional game, as the art of refereeing becomes professionalised too, I still believe in similar principles. Even if you feel a referee performs, in your view, 'badly' they should not be used as a scapegoat for your team's failure to win a football match. 

If you google 'Mourinho referee' there are
loads of pictures  just like this one.
These are people who in comparison to the players and even managers, make far fewer mistakes. The issue they have, not too different to the role of the goalkeeper within a football team, is that if they make a key mistake it is magnified.

The referee's performance provides an easy excuse for under pressure managers (looking at you, Jose) or a way to deflect from a poor team performance (and again, Jose). 

Being a Wolves fan, much has been made of the standard of officiating in the Championship and it was difficult not to be bemused at the events that occurred this week in the Newcastle -Burton game

Keith Stroud's decision to give a free kick for encroachment at a penalty was one of the strangest decisions I have seen for a good while. Understandably, due to the pressures that come at this level; fans, players and managers were in uproar. 

The easy and standard thing to do here is to make a generalisation about how poor referees in the football league are, and that we have a problem with their knowledge of the game. However, I see more of a cultural issue that is deeper rooted. 

Retrospective punishment provides a simple example of this. When a referee does not spot something contentious in the game, it can go one of two ways. If he admits he did not see it and that is why he did not take action, retrospective punishment can be enforced. That is fine. But when the referee claims he did see it the powers above will do nothing. In principle, I can understand this, they don't want to over-rule the official or look as if they are throwing them under the bus. 

What I feel this does however, is make the situation worse. What they are allowing the referees to do is not admit to mistakes. Having recently read Matthew Syed's Blackbox Thinking (highly recommended) this is an example of a 'closed loop'. This is a fixed mentality where failure does not lead to progress. If the referees feel as if they can not admit to mistakes (usually as they know they will be given a weekend off or be demoted to a lower division) then progress will be stunted. 
We may not be seeing Mr. Stroud for a few weeks

If mistakes are not identified as learning opportunities, how can we expect the standards of refereeing to improve? This is a key issue that I feel that the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Official's Limited) and the Football Association have. Within their inner circles, it may well be that referees have mentors that help them following mistakes, but the way it is dealt with publicly does not give this image at all.  

The scenes from the game also do not point to this type of environment. If there was an acceptance of mistakes, surely his assistants or the fourth official would have interjected and the farce that ensued would have been stopped in its tracks? It is likely that they were too worried to undermine the man in the middle. 

When I first saw that Howard Webb was a part of the BT Sports team of pundits, providing an insight on referees during the game, I wasn't sure if I liked it. As mentioned earlier, it might seem as if he is throwing his former peers under the bus. In the long run, it could help. He is not lambasting referees for making mistakes, just making observations on what decision they could have alternatively done.

Hopefully organisations can follow suit and we will see more progress. Otherwise, we will continue to see the same mistakes made over and over again. And isn't that what Einstein said was a sign of insanity?

Friday, 24 February 2017

Ranieri - a victim of his own success

In 2015, with Leicester rooted to the bottom of the Premier League, manager Nigel Pearson appeared to be seriously losing the plot. 

A week wouldn’t go by without a controversial comment, telling a fan to ‘f*ck off and die' or even an incident on the pitch. Most famously he bizarrely asked a journalist if they were an ostrich, and then proceed to tell him that he was more flexible than him anyway.

My thoughts too, Claudio.
Whatever his point was, Leicester were seemingly doomed with their manager unable to stop the rot, he was struggling to come with the intense pressure that comes with being a Premier League manager.

What happened next was incredible. Leicester won six of their last eight games to complete the impossible job and survive relegation, even finishing in 14th. The ridiculed Pearson was now a genius, having turned it all around. 

Although at one point it appeared that Pearson had been sacked, and then reinstated, he had managed to keep his job despite all being lost. 

Pearson would eventually be sacked in the summer following a controversial incident with his son and two other young Leicester players in their post-season tour of Thailand, but it doesn’t detract that he had been afforded the chance to turn it around. Pearson had of course got them up in fantastic style the season before, winning the Championship at a canter.

It was his mess to clean up.

And yet, the same can not be said for Claudio Ranieri. 

Following the miracle season that was 2015-16, Leicester had fast become many’s second favourite team. I was one of many willing The Foxes on to win the league. This was in no small part down to Ranieri. A bubbly character and clearly a real gentleman, you couldn’t help but like him. It was the perfect story for a man who had not won a league title before, despite having managed to a high level throughout his coaching career.

Winning the league with a defence containing Wes Morgan and Danny Simpson is no mean feat. Coaching Jamie Vardy to score 24 league goals, and Danny Drinkwater the lynch-pin a driving force in Leicester’s midfield. You would think a man who could do this would have a job for life, no matter what. 

Apparently not. 

With his side still in the Champions League (with a rather excellent result away at a fantastic Sevilla side), Ranieri has been ruthlessly dismissed.

And in the wake of this news it appears that this has come as a result a set of players forcing the manager out. Let’s just pause on that thought. Who on earth do these players think they are? Without this man, no one would have remembered who you were. Your vastly improved salaries (300% improvement for some) would not have come about without him. 

It is shocking. 

My single favourite moment EVER
Yes, they were in absolute free-fall in the league. But as Jamie Carragher rather excellently made the point; it is not the be all and the end all to be in the Premier League. Leicester have never been a huge club, nor will they be. But they have ruined a legacy. Leicester will probably never win a major trophy again, yet they could have been a shining beacon of what a success like this can do to reward people. Instead, a fantastic person has been thrown under the bus by a bunch of average footballers.

Furthermore, did people really expect Wes Morgan to continue playing like Franco Baresi? Or Jamie Vardy to continue scoring at such a rate? This was a team of Championship footballers, plus N’Golo Kante (who’s absence is more obvious as times go by), what was really going to happen?  

Had Leicester finished 15th last season, no one would be batting an eye-lid at their performances this season. All Leicester City, the club and their players, have done is show great disloyalty to the person who brought them the greatest success in their history. They have become emblematic of all that is wrong with modern football. 

Leicester may well keep their place in the Premier League for another season, but what they have lost is a significant amount of good will. 

Let’s just hope they do the right thing and give that man a statue.