There may be trouble ahead for Claude Puel. And he knows it. When a football manager starts defending his record, a sharpened axe is surely glinting nearby.
“In my work there is no pressure because it doesn’t change my philosophy,” he said, ahead of Leicester City’s final home match of the season against Arsenal on Wednesday. “I will continue to build and perform and develop young players, this is not a risk, it is my job.”
Last week, Puel received a variation on the dreaded vote of confidence. Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the club’s owner, asked for all involved with Leicester to “come together, to support our team, support our manager and to create the kind of atmosphere that has made King Power Stadium our fortress”.
That hardly ruled out the possibility the 2015-16 Premier League champions are set to make a third managerial change in 16 months. Having two years ago lived a dream as fantastical as any in English football history, Leicester is a club struggling to live within its new reality.
That once-in-a-lifetime season now casts a sincerely heavy shadow. Nothing can ever match it, yet there is no way that fans, owners or even the players who were at the club can reset expectations to what they were before.
Meanwhile, Srivaddhanaprabha and his Thai duty-free magnate family have invested serious cash in the East Midlands; even before the title, Leicester was a well-funded club on steady financial ground and actually made more TV revenue from last season’s Champions League run to the quarter-finals than winners Real Madrid.
Has the success that Claudio Ranieri delivered two years ago made Leicester almost impossible to manage?
The Italian could not live with such demands himself, and though his February 2017 sacking was condemned as a callous act, his defending champions were a single point above the relegation zone when the bullet came.
Leicester had spent over £77m on players, but none of Nampalys Mendy, Ahmed Musa, Islam Slimani, Bartosz Kapustka or even Onyinye Ndidi, Ranieri’s final signing, could make up a N’Golo Kante-shaped hole in the team.
Ranieri was thus dilly ding, dilly gone, and Craig Shakespeare, his former assistant, having revived matters as a caretaker, similarly failed to revive the magic.
Puel was the steady hand brought in, and was initially successful, but four wins in 19 matches have him staring down the barrel of Premier League sackings in successive seasons.
When the Frenchman was in the process of hauling Leicester from the bottom three, where Shakespeare had left them in October, the wisdom of Southampton firing the Frenchman was called into heavy question, with Saints themselves fighting a relegation battle they are now just about escaping. Such talk has dimmed.
At St Mary’s, Puel was not popular, despite an eighth position the club can now only dream of.
Saints’ style of football was too ponderous, and especially at home, where they scored just 17 goals in 19 league matches, to win admiration.
Leicester’s paying public has developed a similar view. Stability may be enough for money men and those in the media, but football fandom is about expectation, and Puel is at a club where that remains elevated in the light of miracles that remain fresh in the mind.
The Languedocian who talks at a volume that makes Arsene Wenger sound like the late Reverend Ian Paisley is not the inspirational type to harness that elemental force. The safe pair of hands have lost their grip.
Since Leicester exited the FA Cup when losing to Chelsea on March 18, they have collected just four points in six league matches, and have no victories in five. A 5-0 defeat to Crystal Palace and Saturday’s 2-0 loss to West Ham began a circling of vultures with plenty of whispers of backroom disquiet. Meanwhile in the stands, the contempt is being made plain.
Leicester is not a club with lofty, unrealistic pretensions of attacking football. Instead, supporters demand the team works as hard as it did during that title season and the preceding season’s great escape from relegation under Nigel Pearson.
Jamie Vardy remains the embodiment of that fighting spirit, but even though the England striker has kept scoring, the team-mates around him are not supplying the passion play demanded.
Puel is being held responsible and is likely to be the next victim of a club struggling to live with the consequences of an impossible success in the all-too near past.