The glory of the Claudio Ranieri era is fading away as sadness sweeps Leicester, writes IAN HERBERT

The remains of a mural a few miles from the football stadium capture the current melancholy of Leicester, a city feeling resignation and not much hope ahead of a weekend of huge significance.

The artwork, created around two exterior walls of an electrical showroom soon after the team had won the Premier League, was a 12ft depiction of Claudio Ranieri and his all-conquering heroes — who had made Leicester an emblem of how anything is possible in life.

But the showroom was sold, the mural was half painted over in grey, and though an outcry drew this act of desecration to a halt, only the faces of Jamie Vardy and Andy King remain. The premises, in Kate Street, were closed yesterday and in a state of refurbishment. A note pinned to the door stated: ‘Call if you want a plasterer.’

It seemed the whole world wanted a piece of Leicester in that golden summer of 2016 when the title was won. The remains of Richard III had recently been unearthed in a car park, too. That moment of archaeological significance has provided a rich and lasting legacy — a beautiful visitor centre, built at the spot where the king was found. But the glory of Ranieri and his boys feels like a distant memory after a particularly brutal nine months.

They’re still remembering it in the club shop at the King Power Stadium, of course. Images of the players holding the trophy aloft dominate the box of Leicester City Monopoly and the mugs and a book commemorating 20 years at the stadium. Framed images of the trophy-winning side are also selling at £65. But there’s such a state of readiness for a negative outcome on Sunday that you wouldn’t even know that City will escape relegation if they defeat West Ham, and Everton don’t beat Bournemouth.

Leicester City’s relegation from the Premier League could be confirmed this weekend

It is a far cry from the peak of the Claudio Ranieri era, which saw the Foxes lift the 2016 title

It is a far cry from the peak of the Claudio Ranieri era, which saw the Foxes lift the 2016 title

A season like this one can feed such resignation. It’s been testament to how quickly things can unravel in football, if decisions are poor. The shrewd judgment and decisive action of the club’s late owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha allowed Leicester to believe that they would be kings for the a very long time. Consecutive fifth-place finishes and an FA Cup followed the title. But the helicopter crash which claimed his life in 2018 has proved pivotal in so many ways.

Vichai’s son, Aiyawatt ‘Top’ Srivaddhanaprabha, has simply not possessed the instincts of his father, whose benign image belied a capacity for necessary ruthlessness. It is hard to imagine Vichai, the man who sacked Ranieri, allowing the tenure of Brendan Rodgers to extend to the point where players were demotivated and the fans infuriated by his implication that they were partly to blame.

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It would perhaps be easier if Leicester were able to rage against an owner who must assume ultimate authority for decisions which leave the stricken club with one of the biggest wage bills in the Premier League and eight first-team players out of contract at the end of the season. But they can’t seem to summon any anger for Khun Top.

At Leicester’s famous covered market yesterday morning, the only animated people were the traders, shouting out their wares in Leicester vernacular: ‘Three for a paaaand — come on Leicester, have a look.’ Those queuing up for the grapes and broccoli, near the spot where the Lineker family once sold fruit and veg, were philosophical about all that might be about to pass.

‘If we are relegated then it’s no more than we deserve — the way things have been run,’ said Dave Woolton, a supporter in his 20s. ‘I don’t blame the Thais after all they’ve brought to us here.’

Amelia Harris, a young mother with a toddler in tow, did not contest this view. ‘It’s sad what’s happened but it can’t take away what that family have done for us and our city,’ she said.

Fans have been calling for the board to act as far back as October to try and fight their slump

Fans have been calling for the board to act as far back as October to try and fight their slump

The benevolent, smiling image of Vichai on the side of the King Power Stadium, overlooking Filbert Way, distils why people here feel this way — as does the bronze statue of him in front of the ground. ‘The Possible Man’ states the plaque beneath it. His vision included the club’s recently opened £100million training ground — so substantial that it’s best toured by golf buggy and is one of Europe’s finest.

But the best-laid plans can somehow work against you when the football decisions aren’t right. Some now feel that the vast new complex doesn’t foster a team ethic like the intimate old Belvoir Drive site, set amid suburban streets, where the players were on top of each other and in it together. Investing in a training facility was the elementary part. The complexities lay in the evolution of the squad.

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Leicester broke the mould of continually selling key players, spent nearly £60m on average ones last summer and offered lucrative contracts to those who were not worth them.

When Manchester United played at the King Power on September 1, the ravens were circling around Erik ten Hag after his team’s terrible start to the season. But in hindsight, that was an evening of grave significance for Leicester.

Khun Top used his programme notes to indicate that there would be less money available. Rodgers declared in his post-match press conference that it would be a struggle to keep the club up with the players at his disposal — but he would endeavour to reach 40 points. It set the tone for all that has followed.

Chief executive Susan Whelan and Jon Rudkin, director of football, must carry responsibility for a sequence of calamities.

A January window which Leicester went into needing more wingers but emerged from with one fewer. The dither before Rodgers was sacked in April. The notion that first-team coaches Mike Stowell and Adam Sadler could somehow shepherd the club to survival when they had no experience. The subsequent appointment of Dean Smith, who had been sacked by mid-table Championship club Norwich.

The sight of Leicester throwing everything at defence in Monday’s goalless draw at Newcastle, with James Maddison and Harvey Barnes not even starting, seemed an emblem of their diminution, though a first clean sheet in 21 games was something.

A series of events like that has left some supporters actually welcoming the chance to reset in the Championship. ‘Everything is cyclical. We will come back,’ said another of them, Rohan Bedhi, at the market.

The mood of resignation is no different in the Market Tavern in the city centre, which carries the club crest above the door. Or in The Lanes shopping centre, where no one seems to be heading for the Indoor Axe Throwing range on Cank Street to get the frustrations of their system.

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The city is full of murals highlighting the great successes of 2016 - but it may all be over soon

The city is full of murals highlighting the great successes of 2016 – but it may all be over soon

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The mood reflects a place whose people are not generally ones for bombast. ‘We know we’re an average to small-sized city and we don’t shout about ourselves,’ said one local. ‘You might say we know our place in the world. Though we do feel that we can sometimes surprise people and do great things — 2015-16 proved that.’

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There’s an agony for many in how other East Midlands clubs are prospering, precisely as Leicester struggle. Nottingham Forest’s survival, taken with the possibility of Coventry City making the leap back up, could mean the region’s outstanding club become the poor relation overnight. Some see the advance of Coventry as evidence that demotion may be temporary. ‘We have a much better infrastructure than Coventry,’ Bedhi said.

There’s an inconvenient detail that he’s not aware of. Leicester’s Premier League parachute money would be swallowed up by repaying a loan to an Australian bank, taken out against Premier League revenue.

The search for a little more local optimism reaches the Local Hero pub, a short walk from the ground, which will be packed with Leicester supporters on Sunday, all praying that Vardy, Maddison and others can create a new piece of history. Some up here have not given up hope.

Supporter Finn Jackson, sporting a 1984-85 season top, lacks faith in Smith but his friend Oliver Walker believes that a little of the 2015 spirit should still be there. ‘It was so special that year — people actually responding when you told them you were from Leicester,’ he said. ‘Our little place being famous and representing something special.’

Three of the title- winning team remain: Vardy, Daniel Amartey and Marc Albrighton, on loan at West Brom.

Three of Leicester's title winners remain with the Foxes as Dean Smith tries to get them safe

Three of Leicester’s title winners remain with the Foxes as Dean Smith tries to get them safe

Inside the pub, Ben North is wearing a current replica Leicester top and mustering some belief. ‘I think we’ll do it,’ he said.

‘Last year there would be no problem beating West Ham so it should be the same this time if we start strong. If we don’t do it, look at the last seven years we’ve had. It might be the start of another chapter.’

Perhaps it’s the spirit of Richard III they’re all looking for — the last English king to have been killed in battle.

He left it all out on the field, just like Leicester must do when the moment of truth arrives on Sunday.

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