For whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee and it has been dilly dinging again for Claudio Ranieri at FC Nantes.
The favourite uncle of European football began his charm offensive outstandingly well but almost like every tenure under the Italian, it is ending in tears as relationships with the board dissolve beyond repair.
Back at the start of last summer, Les Canaris had a real task on their hands to replace an incredibly successful manager. In half a season, Sergio Conceição had transformed a rag-tag group destined for relegation into European contenders but even a bumper contract was not enough to get him to stay, instead returning home to lead his beloved FC Porto to their first Primeira Liga crown in five years.
The Portuguese’s departure left a sour taste in the mouth but also presented Nantes with a big void to fill on their touchline.
In stepped Ranieri, still fresh off his monumental Premier League success with Leicester City and ready to take on another challenge. Combining that with the fact he had managed in Ligue 1 before with Monaco, the Italian felt like the perfect appointment that fans could have only dreamed of.
Admittedly, it did not get off to the best start after a 3-0 defeat away to Lille and a home loss to Marseille but after that, Nantes began to build up steam. Several strong results, including a victory over Monaco, saw them head into the winter break comfortably in 5th position in the table, with a seven-point gap on their closest Europa League qualifying contender.
Leaning on Ranieri’s more traditional Italian style of setting up tactically to focus on a strong defence, they conceded just 18 goals in 19 games while also recording eight clean sheets in that spell. Plaudits for the defending of Diego Carlos and the debut season of goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu came flooding in, along with Ranieri as Nantes looked destined for Europa League football in 2018/19.
Then it all began to slip through the Britany club’s grasp.
Nantes have won just three times in 2018, keeping just three clean sheets in those 18 games. They have been overtaken by the likes of Bordeaux and Saint-Étienne, who were in relegation trouble at the mid-way point of the season, and now require a seven-goal swing and Marseille to win the Europa League final to reach Europe.
Not only have results not gone their way in the league, matters off the pitch have deteriorated dramatically. The 66-year-old prioritised a leak in his London home over the club’s 75th anniversary celebration while he also went against club president Waldermar Kita’s wishes by playing Lyon-bound club captain Leo Dubois against his new club last month, with the full-back playing a slightly anonymous part of the defeat.
After the game, the Italian stated: “If the President is unhappy with me, there is only one thing to do.”
He has been unable to find goals outside of Emiliano Sala, whose 12 strikes have been vital to Nantes but could also be on their way this summer. Their defence will also require transfer window surgery this summer, with Diego Carlos still garnering rave reviews, whilst Chidozie Awaziem will return to his parent club.
With Ranieri previously being linked with Lyon and even Tottenham Hotspur according to local outlet Presse Océan, it looks like the Italian will rebound back soon enough. Both of those locales seem a little farfetched, given his season at the Stade de la Beaujoire, where he has flattered to deceive, and his side have sometimes lulled the home support to sleep with their monotony.
Ranieri will likely leave without hitting his reputation outside of France too much while Nantes can look to reshape their side under new stewardship next season, who they can hopefully plan around long-term.
Claudio Ranieri’s adventure at Nantes brief, his side uninspiring on the pitch, but effective nonetheless. A mid-table finish for the squad that the Italian has had at his disposal still represents an unmitigated success.