Leicester City’s decision to sack Claudio Ranieri nine months after he won the title is “unforgivable”, says former Foxes striker Gary Lineker.
Ranieri took the Foxes to the title in 2015-16 despite them being rated 5,000-1 shots at the start of that campaign.
Leicester are 17th this season and lost to League One Millwall in the FA Cup.
“After all that Claudio Ranieri has done for Leicester City, to sack him now is inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad,” said Lineker.
The Match of the Day presenter, who played for his hometown club for seven seasons, added Ranieri’s sacking had shown the “game’s gone”.
Former Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, speaking on BT Sport, said: “I wasn’t that surprised, but am disappointed. He has done an amazing job.
“When teams are down there now, with what’s at stake, owners do make those changes and panic. I’m sad to see it. He can walk away and hold his head high.”
Ex-England striker and Match of the Day pundit Ian Wright said the Leicester players may feel they are responsible for Ranieri’s dismissal.
“Unfortunate news,” tweeted Wright. “I wonder how I’d feel if I was a Leicester player right now? Could I have done more? At least Claudio left them as champions.”
Former Wales striker and Match of the Day pundit John Hartson said: “Very hasty and very harsh. The owner/board are obviously having a major panic and feel a change in a relegation battle is needed.
“Will the sacking of Claudio Ranieri seem so mad if Leicester appoint a manager who keeps them in the Premier League?”
Former England striker Michael Owen said the sacking was a “total and utter disgrace”. He added: “I’ve lost a lot of love for the beautiful game today. The players and fans of Leicester have been massively let down.”
What did Leicester say?
On 7 February, Leicester issued a statement saying Ranieri had their “unwavering support”. Sixteen days later they sacked the 65-year-old Italian, who had signed a new four-year deal in the summer.
His departure came a day after the Foxes won praise for their performance despite losing 2-1 in their Champions League last-16 first-leg tie at Sevilla.
Foxes vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha said: “This has been the most difficult decision we have had to make in nearly seven years since King Power took ownership of Leicester City.
“But we are duty-bound to put the club’s long-term interests above all sense of personal sentiment, no matter how strong that might be.
“Claudio has brought outstanding qualities to his office. His skilful management, powers of motivation and measured approach have been reflective of the rich experience we always knew he would bring to Leicester City.”
Srivaddhanaprabha added: “His warmth, charm and charisma have helped transform perceptions of the club and develop its profile on a global scale. We will forever be grateful to him for what he has helped us to achieve.
“It was never our expectation that the extraordinary feats of last season should be replicated this season. Indeed, survival in the Premier League was our first and only target at the start of the campaign.
“But we are now faced with a fight to reach that objective and feel a change is necessary to maximise the opportunity presented by the final 13 games.”
‘Dilly ding dilly game’s gone’ – social media reaction
Analysis – ‘Leicester have shown a cruelty’
Ranieri was told he was sacked on Thursday afternoon in Leicester once the team returned from Spain, but the suggestion is the owners decided before that defeat by Sevilla.
The decision was taken very reluctantly but the club’s owners are desperate to avoid relegation and its consequences.
A news conference with Leicester City assistant manager Craig Shakespeare will take place at the stadium at 13:00 GMT on Friday.
Pat Murphy, BBC Radio 5 live
I remember the Thai owners at the Everton game when Leicester got the trophy, the players couldn’t get the trophy out of their hands. They loved dining at the top table and that’s what they are worried about.
Has Ranieri lost the dressing room? Probably. They are clearly in trouble, sinking like a stone. But my word, they have shown a cruelty in this decision.
Ranieri deserved everything. It sums up modern football. The owners have their eye on staying up.
The chairman was at the Swansea game shaking his head a couple of weeks ago, making it quite clear how he felt. It was only a fortnight ago they promised unwavering support.
Surely in terms of decency, respect and integrity, Ranieri should have been allowed to get them out of this mess?
A year (and nine days) in the life of Ranieri
14 February 2016: Leicester lose 2-1 at Arsenal, their final defeat of the 2015-16 season before a 12-game unbeaten run.
2 May 2016: The Foxes are crowned champions of England for the first time in their history as Tottenham draw at Chelsea.
16 July 2016: Midfielder N’Golo Kante leaves to sign a five-year deal with Chelsea.
13 August 2016: Leicester lose their first game of the 2016-17 season – a 2-1 defeat at Hull City.
15 October 2016: The Foxes are hammered 3-0 by table-topping Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
22 November 2016: Leicester secure top spot in their Champions League group with one game to spare.
18 December 2016: Ranieri is named Coach of the Year at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards.
7 February 2017: After a run of two wins in 15 league games, Leicester give Ranieri their “unwavering support”.
22 February 2017: The Foxes lose 2-1 to Sevilla in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
23 February 2017: Ranieri is sacked.