From mighty heroes to ultimate zeros

Our beloved sports writers talk through those who have gone from the top of the heap to rock bottom

Toby Bryant
13th March 2017
Gone but not forgotten: where next for the Tinkerman? Image: Wikimedia Commons

With Leicester  City sacking Claudio Ranieri just nine months after lifting the Premier League title our writers take a look at Ranieri and 4 other sportspeople who fell from the highest of heights to the lowest of lows.

Claudio Ranieri

2016 was a year of many sporting highs all over the world but no-one touched so many hearts as Claudio Ranieri and his Leicester City side.

The minnows of the Premier League shot to the top and stayed there to become Champions. Ranieri’s side won 23 fixtures and lost a mere 3 in the league.

The Italian boss picked up a number of awards for his coaching including the Premier League Manager of the Year, BBC Sports Personality of the Year Coach Award and three Premier League manager of the month awards.

It was truly a heart-warming story and gave all football fans hope that the beautiful game had not been fully lost to business owners and prima donna players. However, halfway through the 2016-17 campaign, the Foxes were sitting in the relegation zone and their Thai owners were fed up.

"Many players, current and former, came out to share their heartbreak at the decision"

The team managed to keep their biggest stars in Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, after fighting off intense interest in the summer, but the side’s ‘never say die’ attitude had vanished.

Despite an impressive Champions League run, the owners needed a scapegoat and, rightly or wrongly, manager Claudio Ranieri was the one to be axed late last month.

Many players, current and former, came out to share their heartbreak at the decision. The Italian Press printed the headline “Ungrateful English”, former Leicester star Gary Lineker “shed a tear last night… for football and… for my club” whilst Jose Mourinho re-assured Ranieri that “nobody can delete the history you wrote”.

Claudio Ranieri may have gone from practically a superhero to jobless in less than half a year but his legacy and the regard with which he is looked upon marks him as an all-time great.

The Italian may be a ‘zero’ at the moment but he is a ‘hero’ in the hearts of all football fans.

Toby Bryant

Dmitri Payet

The French midfielder and wizard of the ball, Dimitri Payet has had a fluctuating  experience in London. Last season he was the fans’ favourite and his shirt was a must in every Hammer’s wardrobe; now though the claret and blue top ‘Payet 27’ is presumably exhibited outside West Ham supporters’ front door as a mat, or in their kitchen, chucked in the bin.

What caused all this hatred was the player’s very explicit and unexpected desire to leave the club during the January transfer window. Payet refused to play for the team and spent the whole month in isolation, threatening to break his knee ligaments if he wasn’t sold to Marseille. Not only the fans were let down by their ‘star’, but Dimitri’s behaviour also irritated all his teammates to a point that ex-Sampdoria midfielder Obiang eliminated the Frenchman from the squad’s WhatsApp group chat.

"He was probably already starting to miss the French Riviera and the vibrant port of Marseille"

Payet scored 15 goals last season for West Ham and delighted Upton Park with some exquisite free-kicks which are known to be his speciality. He helped the Hammers reach the Europa League preliminary stages and was expected to shine even more during the 2016/2017 campaign, after very consistent and convincing performances at Euro 2016 with Les Bleus.

However, the Hammers’ European dreams fell apart straight away and their Premier League form was inexplicably poor. Although Payet scored a memorable goal against Middlesbrough, he wasn’t as prolific as he used to be – he was probably already starting to miss the French Riviera and the vibrant port of Marseille. That’s when he went from riches to rags, from hero to zero.

The Stade Vélodrome is once again the midfielder’s home and Les Phocéens can once again enjoy Payet’s quality and skills. However, there is something Monsieur Payet must be aware of – the Queen Elizabeth Stadium will not be cheering or blowing bubbles to him next time he visits London.    

Oliver Ross-Assogna

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong was once one of the most inspirational sportsmen ever. After recovering from a potentially fatal form of cancer he went on to win seven consecutive Tour De France titles from 1999-2005.

The American was seen as a beacon of hope in the sport’s darkest hour, with his main rivals all receiving doping bans Armstrong was the only ‘clean’ athlete at the top. Despite continually receiving doping allegations the American remained firm, and stressed he had never tested positive for any banned substances.

After retiring from the sport in 2005, following his seventh Tour De France victory, these allegations continued tirelessly. In late 2008 Armstrong announced he would be returning to cycling with the intention of competing in the 2009 Tour De France, in which he finished third. He then announced his second retirement in early 2011.

"Although he confessed some allegations were true we never really found out the full extent of his drug use"

The cyclist continued to deny any wrongdoing until January 2013 when he refused to contest the USADA’s charges against him due to the potential toll on his family.

Although he confessed some allegations were true we never really found out the full extent of his drug use, his results were thus void from 1998 onwards.

Armstrong’s confession was a moment cycling fans will never forget, and many have fallen out of love with the sport since. Although Armstrong was a cheat he was no worse than any of his rivals, there is a good chance in a perfect world with no doping he could have still dominated the sport.

Armstrong’s Live Strong Foundation has also been very successful raising money and awareness for the struggles of cancer’s survivors. Once the greatest cyclist ever Lance Armstrong’s name will never be forgotten, but it will not be covered in glory like he would have wanted.

Tom Cox

Oscar Pistorius

Few falls in sport have been as tragic as that of Oscar Pistorius. Once the greatest of Paralympic icons, his world changed forever on Valentine’s Day 2013.

The ‘Blade Runner’ was just 11 months old when he had both legs amputated below the knee after being born with fibular hemimelia. At 15, Pistorius’ mother and inspiration, Sheila, died. Still, Pistorius made things work and used his hardships as motivation. His refusal to let his setbacks break him was the defining characteristic that propelled him to the top.

In 2004, just eight months after being introduced to the sport, the South African won gold in the T44 200 metres. It would be the first of six Paralympic golds. What would thrust him to superstardom though was what he would achieve away from parasport, as he pushed to compete alongside able-bodied athletes.

"Disability was no longer a restriction. That was Oscar Pistorius."

In 2008, the IAAF concluded that prosthetic blades provided an unfair advantage, banning them from the Olympics. However, a hard-fought appeal from Pistorius had the decision overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, allowing the South African a chance to compete. He failed to reach the qualifying time, but he had achieved greatness in opening a door that had been previously sealed tight.

After becoming the first ever amputee to win a non-disabled world track medal at the Daegu World Championships in 2011, Pistorius once more set his sights on the Greatest Show on Earth. Four years of hard work was rewarded at London 2012 when Pistorius became the first double-leg amputee to compete at the Olympics.

At the Paralympics the following month, he was the poster boy. More golden glory came, but it was not his medals that made that summer so special for Pistorius and the world. He had led parasport into a new dimension and inspired millions of young disabled boys and girls. Disability was no longer a restriction. That was Oscar Pistorius.

In the early hours of 14 February 2013, Pistorius shot and killed his then girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, at his home in Pretoria. The world mourned for the Steenkamp family and the disabled community wept at the downfall of its finest hero in such tragic circumstances. Pistorius is currently serving a six-year sentence, after a culpable homicide conviction was amended to murder in 2015. His inspiration had transcended sport, but his fall so sadly rocked a family and the world.

James Harris

Mohammed Amir

When Mohamed Amir, a tall and pacey left arm bowler from Pakistan, burst onto the international Cricketing scene aged just 17, he immediately made headlines as an invaluable member of the Pakistan side that triumphed in the 2009 ICC World Twenty20.

His niggling line, keen pace, sharp bounce and an ability to move the ball both ways, made him one of, if not the most exciting bowling prospects of his generation. He was even singled out by such illustrious names in Pakistani cricket as Wasim Akram, with former Pakistani batsmen Rameez Raja also praising Amir’s supreme cricketing intelligence at such a young age.

Amir’s early promise was backed up by some outstanding performances in unfamiliar conditions, picking up three 5-wicket test march hauls in the space of a just a few months (5/79 v AUS; 5/52 v AUS ; 6/84 v ENG).

"He agreed to the scheme and was subsequently suspended by the ICC"

His cricketing career was thrown into turmoil however as a result of spot-fixing allegations during a test series against England in the summer of 2010. Following a News Of The World investigation, it was accused that Amir had intentionally bowled a series of no balls to the English opening batsmen.

Amir, coerced by his, at the time, captain Salman Butt, senior bowler Mohamed Asif and agent Mahzer Mahmood, he agreed to the scheme and was subsequently suspended by the ICC under the Anti-Corruption Code.

After a series of failed appeals and general uncertainty Amir was given a 5-year ban form all cricketing activities. Reaction to his ban, and subsequent criminal conviction, was varied. Former players Atherton and Hussain had sympathy for Amir and plead for leniency on behalf of his young age, whereas names including Flintoff and Vaughn advocated a life ban.

Amir made his return to international cricket in 2015, and has since re-asserted himself as Pakistan’s leading bowler in all formats, but is yet to recapture his pre-controversy promise.

Elliott Jones

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