London (AFP) – Former Leicester City and England striker Gary Lineker said the club had taken an “unforgivable” decision in sacking manager Claudio Ranieri on Thursday, less than a year after he led them to a shock Premier League title success.

Ranieri’s position had come under intense scrutiny this season during a slump that has left the Foxes just a point above the relegation zone following last term’s starting title triumph, with Leicester 5,000/1 no-hopers before the start of the 2015/16 campaign.

Shortly before Leicester’s Thai owners confirmed the 65-year-old Ranieri’s exit from the King Power Stadium, Lineker, in an affectionate tribute to the Italian’s distinctive use of English, tweeted: “Claudio Ranieri? Sacked? Really? Dilly Ding Dilly Game’s Gone.”

But once it was clear the man who had guided Leicester to their first English championship title had indeed been sacked, BBC television football presenter Lineker said: “After all that Claudio Ranieri has done for Leicester City, to sack him now is inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad.”

Meanwhile Lineker’s fellow former Leicester strikers Alan Smith and Tony Cottee also questioned the timing of the decision, which came just a day after the Foxes’ gutsy effort in only losing 2-1 away to Sevilla in the first leg of a Champions League last 16 tie.

“We’ve seen some surprising, shocking decisions over the last 10 years maybe as things have heated up in the Premier League. I think this one tops the lot given his amazing achievements last season, along with the players,” Smith told Sky Sports News.

– ‘Flabbergasted’ –

“I just thought that unless they did go down they would stay with the manager that engineered the finest moment in the club’s history and the most romantic story we’ve ever seen in football over the last 20-30 years or so.

“(I am) absolutely flabbergasted that they didn’t hold their nerve and stay with that man.”

Smith, himself a former England forward, said Leicester’s players also had to take their share of responsibility for Ranieri’s departure. 

“As always in these situations, the players have got to take a long, hard look at themselves,” he insisted. “These are the same players he was picking last season.”

Leicester have 13 games left in which to make sure of their top-flight status, starting with Monday’s match against Liverpool.

“From that point of view the timing couldn’t have been any worse,” Cottee told Sky Sports. “They’ve got a massive game coming up against Liverpool on Monday night.

“I can only think that something’s gone on somewhere or there’s been a disagreement and they’ve obviously come to this decision.”

He added: “To press the button tonight it sounds like a real panic decision. The one thing I don’t know, I don’t know what’s happening in the dressing room. It’s a brave decision but it’s a bizarre decision as well, bearing in mind where they are and the stage of the season.”

Cottee also warned the decision would provoke an angry response from Leicester’s fans.

“Personally I don’t think it’ll go down too well (with the Leicester supporters),” he said.

“I think Claudio Ranieri gave the Leicester fans last season a season that will never be matched. I think Claudio should have been given a little bit more time, a little bit more respect.”