Remember Claudio Ranieri? The man who penned the most romantic story in football’s annals by making Leicester City English champions and who walked away from Sevilla’s stadium last month believing he could write another in the Champions League.
Well, if a week is a long time in football, three weeks between last-16 legs in Europe’s elite competition is a positive eternity with Ranieri already fondly consigned to history.
It is to the chagrin of many in Leicester that their Italian folk hero has gone, denied the opportunity to try to guide them into the quarter-finals at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday.
Instead, in his old assistant Craig Shakespeare, who on Sunday was handed the manager’s job until the end of the season, a city — and an impatient club board — now trusts.
At 2-1 down and with Jamie Vardy’s away goal offering a raft to cling to on a night when Leicester were outplayed, Ranieri had not unreasonably felt the result might be the turning point in a woeful season.
Alas for the Italian he was right. The next day Leicester’s Thai owners ditched Ranieri and from that moment the entire complexion of this knockout tie was transformed.
After the ‘Shakespearean’ age dawned, Leicester managed to find fresh belief to chisel out two crucial Premier League wins that have eased them away from the relegation zone.
At the same time, Sevilla’s refreshing drive for the Liga title hit alarming roadblocks with two draws so undistinguished that their demanding fans booed them off the pitch on Saturday after the home match against lowly Leganes finished 1-1.
The setback prompted hand-wringing from coach Jorge Sampaoli, who warned that if they did not rediscover their fluidity in a hurry they would exit the Champions League.
In Leicester’s revival, with 3-1 wins over Liverpool and Hull City, Sampaoli has noted with concern how they appear to have reverted to their disciplined, title-winning best.
“We have a group of analysts who have produced a clear report of what happened in the Ranieri era, and what’s happening now with the complete about-turn in morale,” he told reporters.
“The team (Leicester) is now back to being as dangerous as they were last year.
“Leicester have demonstrated that they’ll play this game as if it were a World Cup final and we know that by not winning by the margin we deserved in the first match, we’re going to be under a lot of pressure,” Sampaoli added
However, it is also a chance for Sampaoli’s own five-time Europa League champions to move closer to their long-cherished goal of proving they are good enough to annex a rather more significant continental trophy.