Leicester City have appointed Craig Shakespeare as their new manager on a three-year contract, but they might look back at this as a missed opportunity.
The 53-year-old is a popular choice at the King Power Stadium, where was assistant to Nigel Pearson when they performed the great escape to avoid relegation from the Premier League in 2015. More impressively so, he was Claudio Ranieri’s right-hand man when the Foxes, against all odds, pulled off one of the great stories of all time to win the title the following season.
When it became apparent that City were headed for another fight against the drop last term, they made the sensitive decision to sack Ranieri and turned to Shakespeare to guide them for the rest of the campaign. And he did exactly what he was asked – by winning eight of his 16 games in charge, including his first five, he kept them up with fixtures to spare.
So, it’s only right that he is given the job on a long-term basis…isn’t it?
Well, maybe not.
Because with that miraculous title win still very much fresh in the mind and many of that squad still together, Leicester were in a unique position this summer. Despite their struggles of last season, a feel-good factor still surrounded the club due to their feat of 12 months ago. And their run to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League also provided a lasting injection of joy.
So, as well as Shakespeare performed last season, this was their opportunity to think big.
Did Roberto Mancini, for example, ever cross their minds? A former – albeit fleeting – Leicester player back in 2001, the Italian won the Premier League with Manchester City as recently as 2012, a year after he led them to FA Cup glory. Before that he won three Serie A titles and two Coppa Italia’s for Inter Milan, and more recently, in 2014, the Turkish Cup with Galatasaray.
And he was available.
That was until last week when he signed a deal with Zenit St Petersburg.
Keeping to the Italian theme, how about Luciano Spalletti? The 58-year-old is well regarded in his homeland, where he has led Roma to two Coppa Italia’s and has provided the sternest threat to Juventus’ dominance of recent years. He has also won two Russian titles with Zenit. He too was free at the end of the season, until he agreed a deal to coach Inter last week.
Another option was Frank de Boer. The former Holland international defender has in the past been linked with jobs such as Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, so why not the team that 12 months ago were crowned champions? The 47-year-old led Ajax to four successive Dutch titles, speaks fluent English, and is thought to be keen on testing his ability in England.
Maybe the Foxes could have even looked within the Premier League. Has Mark Hughes run out of steam at Stoke City? The Welshman has a track record of attracting top players – who would have thought the likes of Ibrahim Afellay, Xherdan Shaqiri or Bojan Krkic would ever have rocked up at the Britannia Stadium? Or why not make a daring move for Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe, a coach rated so highly that he has widely been tipped as a long-term successor to Arsene Wenger at Arsenal?
Talking of the Gunners, it wasn’t that long ago when, as the tabloids considered potential appointments should Wenger leave, Thomas Tuchel was touted as an option. The German is regarded as one of the most forward-thinking coaches in European football, and is available after leaving Borussia Dortmund. He has, today, been linked with succeeding Carles Puel at Southampton – could Leicester fans be casting envious glances towards the opposition dugout when the Saints visit next season?
Shakespeare is well-liked by the Leicester players, who will no doubt be sending him congratulatory text messages upon news of his new contract. But is his appointment enough to persuade the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Kasper Schmeichel to abandon any thoughts he has of leaving this summer? Or would a more adventurous appointment have given them more reason to stay?
Maybe such candidates – and others – will present themselves when Leicester are next looking for a new manager. All being well, this won’t be for another three years at least. But when they are next in the market to fill such a position, it is unlikely they will be in such a position of strength as they are in now.
So it’s hard not to think they have missed a rare and golden opportunity.