Leicester City must be the very first club to ever be on the brink of disaster despite sitting perfectly comfortable in ninth position in the Premier League. If not for the actual league table, casual viewers would be forgiven for thinking the mayhem surrounding the club was due to the coming threat of relegation or even administration.
All the usual tropes are clear to see: a 5-0 defeat to a bottom-half side, the hastily acquired manager on his last legs, key players desperately leaking their complaint to the press. If there was any semblance of normality at Leicester it seems to have left them the day they paraded around the King Power Stadium with the league trophy.
Alas, with just four victories in their last 18 matches, Leicester seem to be on a downward spiral of epic proportions, and the head on the chopping board is that of coach Claude Puel. With reports stating that the French manager has just two games – a home tie to West Ham United and a trip to Tottenham Hotspur – to prove he’s the man to take them forward next season.
Inpatient board members and triggerhappy fans are nothing new in football and they’re certainly not exclusive to Leicester, but they rarely identify the problems at clubs with the accuracy and precision needed to turn things around. While the buck may stop with the man picking the team each week, the team itself may be at fault. Especially if the coach only arrived six months ago.
Yet that probably won’t stop the desire for blood, and as such a new manager will most likely be on his way to the King Power Stadium before the summer is out. So who could the Foxes turn to for next season’s ambitions?
The favourite and perhaps most sensible option is Newcastle United manager Rafa Benítez. Although the former Liverpool and Chelsea manager was at the helm when the Magpies were relegated from the division, the Spaniard has brought the Magpies back to the Premier League and, aside from a few bumps and bruises, established them as a competent, top-tier side.
Indeed, the rise of Benítez’s Newcastle up the table is not only a testament to the club’s long-term approach to giving the 58-year old enough time and space to implement his ideas, but also to his attributes as a manager.
This season, Newcastle have thrived in the games that really matter. West Ham, Southampton, Stoke City, Swansea City and Crystal Palace have managed to take just three draws from Benítez’s side in eight games.
That might not seem like much, but it’s a solid platform for any team hoping to claim a mid-table spot and steer well clear of relegation. When the ex-Napoli and Real Madrid coach is given time and resources, he does build squads that achieve his goals. And that’s exactly what this error-prone Leicester side need right now.
Another smart, albeit bold, move would be to approach Sean Dyche at Burnley. The Turf Moor side are in the middle of their own dream season under the English coach, currently sitting six points clear of eighth place and with the very real possibility of European football next season.
Under Dyche, Burnley have somewhat characterised the famous Leicester side of yesteryear, with bold performances against some of the Premier League’s biggest sides and a clearly identifiable style of play. And in many ways portray a degree of success that clearly showcases a good squad but also an even better coach.
What Dyche would bring to Leicester above all else is a strong, defensive system that would once again allow them to bully sides with quick, counter-attacking football. Burnley may not have scored too many goals this season, but they’ve conceded fewer than Chelsea and Liverpool and just one more than Tottenham. Meanwhile, Leicester share an identical defensive record to Swansea and Southampton.
Of course, Dyche would initially seem completely out of reach for eighth-placed Leicester but there’s no denying that Burnley’s possible seventh-placed finish should prove just as fleeting as Leicester’s own title win.
As the pragmatic coach from Kettering knows fine well – at Watford he was quickly sacked after taking them to their highest position in the Championship in the 2011/12 season – all that goes up must come down, and before that happens he’ll most likely have to find a more stable Premier League side to leapfrog towards. Perhaps Leicester, and the security of Premier League mid-table stability, can offer that.
A whole list of the usual names awaits Leicester if they were to look beyond these two candidates. The evergreen Manuel Pellegrini remains a firm favourite, with the bookmakers despite now making his fortunes in China.
Similarly, Marco Silva – who has never held a notable managerial job for more than two seasons – is also a routinely spotted name when such speculation is drummed up. And, bizarrely, recent Sunderland manager Chris Coleman also makes an appearance.
There are some names that may cheer up Leicester fans but they’re perhaps beyond Leicester’s scope at the moment. Brendan Rodgers, who has spent the season denying the temptations of Arsenal is probably out of Leicester’s reach, while Martin O’Neill’s new two-year contract with the Irish national team probably means he won’t be showing up at the King Power Stadium any time soon.
As such, it remains to be seen how Leicester get themselves out of this mess. As tempting as a new manager sounds, the man that ends up coming in to replace the last guy is rarely as exciting or productive as the hopes and speculation that circulate fan forums and radio phone-ins the moment a clean break is announced.
Puel might not be the best manager in the Premier League right now, but he might be exactly what Leicester can get at this moment in time.