Time for Foxes flops to step up
Falling Foxes must show up in Europe to rescue season
At the end of the season, Claudio Ranieri may be rewarded with either a statue or the sack.
Whether he ends up with one or both depends on which Leicester City show up against Sevilla tomorrow morning (Singapore time.)
The Champions League offers salvation. But the tie may also hand the Italian a final, rusty nail in the coffin.
And it's a coffin made by the undertakers in his dressing room.
To say that the Foxes over-performed last season is an understatement second only to the suggestion that they are under-performing in the current campaign.
Ranieri has hardly covered himself in glory, as the indecisive tinkerman has returned with a vapid indifference.
But, equally, his players have shamed him.
The idea that Leicester's on-going travails are some sort of course correction is patently nonsense.
No one was under the misguided impression that Ranieri's champions would mount a serious title defence.
But no one anticipated the abject poverty in Leicester's wretched performances either.
No victory in 2017, no away win all season long in the English Premier League and then the defeat by Millwall in the FA Cup aren't just incidences of normal service resuming, but a mutiny within the ranks.
"For some people, we are the underdogs, but that doesn’t have to be bad for us." Leicester goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler, who was part of the Hannover team that were the last to stop Sevilla from progressing in Europe, back in 2011
Losing N'Golo Kante was a tremendous blow.
But he didn't make the saves, clear the corners, slip passes to the front two, score the goals or carry out any of the other basic duties that are now being woefully neglected.
Kasper Schmeichel, Robert Huth, Wes Morgan, Danny Drinkwater and, most damningly, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, haven't come close to replicating their consistency of last season.
Only Kante has maintained his form - albeit at Chelsea - which superficially points the finger at Ranieri and his eccentric motivational techniques.
But the problem perhaps rests not with their club manager, but their bank manager.
Vardy and Mahrez were rewarded with eye-watering contracts with lots of zeroes, but Mahrez still insisted on a get-out clause.
If a bigger club came along, he was off. Indeed, the Algerian signed the new deal only when other offers failed to materialise. He has played with one eye on the exit ever since.
We are in much better form, but we have to prove that on the pitch.Sevilla forward Pablo Sarabia on his side who are third in La Liga
Perhaps it's no coincidence that Mahrez has found his impish swagger only in the Champions League, like many of his teammates.
The Foxes were out-played at Swansea a fortnight ago, where they never looked like scoring or keeping a clean sheet, and yet finished top of their European group, conceding just one goal.
For Ranieri, the Champions League has offered a welcome distraction. For Mahrez, it's been a shop window.
The mercurial playmaker owes it to his struggling manager and supporters to rediscover the alchemy and share it around.
Mahrez never featured in the Millwall debacle, presumably rested for Sevilla.
Islam Slimani, the £30-million (S$53m) forward with nine goals in 23 appearances, came on in the second half and hopes to shake off a groin injury.
Vardy started at Millwall and was hopeless, a wearyingly predictable storyline of late.
All three, along with their dozing colleagues, must wake up against Sevilla and smell the stench of their season.
Comparisons have been made to Blackburn Rovers in 1995 and even the treble triumphs of Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich and the inevitable anti-climax that must come after a one-off pinnacle is reached.
But Blackburn didn't have the finances that Leicester now boast, thanks to Thai ownership and TV revenues.
And, unlike United, Barca and Bayern, the Foxes aren't expected to challenge for trophies every season.
But they are expected to retain at least a slither of dignity. That is what's really at stake now.
An embarrassing Champions League exit against high-flying Sevilla obliterates whatever confidence remains in the dressing room and accelerates the demise.
The momentum of misery becomes unstoppable.
The Foxes will go on to be relegated and Ranieri will be sacked, reluctantly, but he'll be sacked nonetheless.
If the players care little for their manager, then perhaps they should take an interest in their legacy.
Leicester's success was never going to be repeated, but the fairy tale doesn't deserve such an ugly epilogue.