Claudio Ranieri and the Question of Variance

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26th February, 2017.

A Shakespearean tragedy.

Football has lost its soul.

The English are ungrateful (Italian press).

The above are just several quotes that I've heard in the media over the last few days, as the football world was rocked by the sacking of Claudio Ranieri at the defending Premier League Champions.  The irony of the first quote was presumably not lost on many, with Assistant Manager Craig Shakespeare now stepping up to be Leicester's interim manager until a new manager is found.

Craig Shakespeare will take 
charge of Leicester City in the interim...

Looking at the latter two quotes, it's a bit harsh to label ingratitude towards the English when Leicester City are owned by Thai nationals, while a closer look at Ranieri's managerial career and detailed data would suggest that football (the media in particular) is more likely to have lost all rational sense, as opposed to its soul.

This examination of Ranieri's managerial data indicates that he is not nearly a top manager.  Undoubtedly, he is a nice gentleman - a quality which was also recently deemed unsackable by the media in the case of Manuel Pellegrini - but this isn't even a pre-requisite to being a successful football manager, or sports player.  

It's probably pretty reasonable that Sir Alex Ferguson - arguably the most successful manager of all time - would have taken offence to being described as 'nice', while another extremely successful manager, Jose Mourinho, is likely to have a similar perspective on the matter.  If we are looking at being a nice guy as being required of a football manager, perhaps Linvoy Primus might wish to apply for a few jobs - he'd have lifetime job security.

Jose Mourinho wore a CR emblazoned top, in support for the sacked Italian.  Perhaps he may wish to wear 'DW' on another top, when I benefit from some positive variance...

Ranieri's managerial data can be viewed in detail at wikipedia, but to summarise, a win rate just above the 45% mark looks reasonable enough, until you establish that his numbers are extremely skewed by high percentages at Chelsea, Juventus, Roma and Monaco - all clubs where he had significantly larger budget resources than almost all competing clubs.  Prior to his stint at Leicester, Ranieri had a four match spell as manager of the Greek national team, in which he won zero matches, and lost at home to the Faroe Islands.  Certainly, it's reasonable to assume that the Italian is not fondly remembered in Greece...

This failure in Ranieri's first foray into international management was part of the reason why his initial appointment as Leicester manager was criticised by many of the people who are now lamenting his departure.  Gary Lineker's tweet below is one example, and he also described Ranieri's appointment as 'uninspiring' in this article :-

Robbie Savage's opinion was again brought into question, with the ex-Leicester midfielder fuming over Ranieri's sacking last night on a radio phone-in, yet just 18 months ago, he said that Leicester should have hired Neil Lennon instead of the Italian - read here.

Perhaps some readers may consider that I'm being a little bitter and twisted, with no heart, at this stage, but the objective point I am trying to make is that Ranieri is not a world-class manager by any means, and at best, is a slightly above average one.  At the age of 65, he's very unlikely to have somehow realised the eternal secret of football management overnight.  If he did, it would be similar to a 32 year old Challenger Tour regular in the tennis world suddenly starting to win high profile ATP Tour titles, a feat which happens pretty much never.

This slightly above average manager won the title last season for numerous reasons.  Examples of these are a high team confidence factor when he took over, due to the superb end of Nigel Pearson's tenure, huge under-performance from high-profile clubs and extreme positive variance.

It would be ambitious to credit Claudio Ranieri with much of Leicester City's improvement...

To address the subject of positive variance, this article from the excellent Statsbomb does it superbly - ranking Leicester's shot conversion in the top five teams of the decade, while they only conceded from 4.2% of opponents shots in the second half of the season. The writer describes this as "Two huge non-sustainable skews".   I couldn't have put it better myself.  It's like a Tennis player converting 10% more break point chances than expectation yet saving break points way better than big-servers Ivo Karlovic or John Isner could, over the course of one season. 

In other words, practically impossible.

These numbers cannot be attributed to Ranieri's influence.  They are simply the most incredible variance that you are ever likely to see.  This season, this variance, and Leicester's results, have mean-reverted, and indeed, given an increased budget leading to expectation that Leicester should be mid-table, has possibly over-corrected the other way.

There is very little evidence that Leicester's success last year was down to Ranieri's influence, and it certainly would take a very creative imagination - something that the print media are not averse to - for anyone to make the case that all of Leicester's recent success was due to the Italian, with their failure being solely down to the players.  This would be simply unfair and not pay any heed to any statistical evidence whatsoever.  As the 1930s New York Yankees player, Lefty Gomez once famously commented - 'it's better to be lucky than good'.

Finally, on the subject of Leicester's players, they have been the subject of vitriol in the press, with speculation suggesting that they got Ranieri sacked, in a display of 'player power'.  Let's think about this for one minute.  

If you were a supporter of a club, and your club's senior players knew that the club was in big trouble with Premier League relegation a possibility (or probability), wouldn't you want them to try and do something about it, as opposed to sit in their mansions keeping quiet?  

If this 'player power' was indeed the case, Leicester's players should have been lauded, not slated - but that doesn't fit the media agenda.