Jamie Vardy has emphatically denied having any influence in Leicester City's hugely controversial decision to dismiss manager Claudio Ranieri, describing such speculation as "completely untrue, unfounded and extremely hurtful".
Last season's Premier League champions, plunged into the dreaded relegation zone courtesy of Crystal Palace's victory over Middlesbrough yesterday (25 February), will be prepared by assistant boss Craig Shakespeare and first-team coach Mike Stowell for Monday night's visit of Liverpool to the King Power Stadium, after sacking Ranieri a nine months after the eccentric Italian guided the club to a fairytale top-flight title triumph. The announcement came just 24 hours after a spirited 2-1 defeat in Sevilla that gave the team every chance of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Leicester's players were conspicuous by their absence from social media in the aftermath of Ranieri's departure amid reports of a revolt against his management. However, several have now broken their silence, with Vardy following goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel by insisting that, other than performing well below expectations, the squad did not contribute to his sacking.
"I must have written and deleted my words to this post a stupid amount of times!" he wrote on Instagram. "I owed Claudio to find the right and appropriate words. Claudio has and always will have my complete respect! What we achieved together and as a team was the impossible! He believed in me when many didn't and for that I owe him my eternal gratitude. There is speculation I was involved in his dismissal and this is completely untrue, unfounded and is extremely hurtful!
"The only thing we are guilty of as a team is underachieving which we all acknowledge both in the dressing room and publicly and will do our best to rectify. I wish Claudio the very very best in whatever the future holds for him. Thank You Claudio for everything."
With Ranieri gone, speculation has now inevitably turned to who the Leicester hierarchy will appoint next in an attempt to stop them from becoming the first English top division champions to follow title success with immediate relegation since Manchester City in 1938.
Former loanee Roberto Mancini, Guus Hiddink, Roy Hodgson, Alan Pardew and even former manager Nigel Pearson all figure prominently in the latest bookmakers' odds, although Martin O'Neill, who won promotion and two League Cups during a successful five-year stint with the Foxes between 1995-2000, has now ruled himself out of the running as he targets a World Cup berth with the Republic of Ireland.
"I am really enjoying being an international manager and we have a job to do," he told BBC Radio 5 Live. "We have got a big World Cup qualifying game coming up in a couple of weeks' time against Wales and I couldn't be distracted.
"I want to see if we can try and get through, whether we don't, whether we fall flat on our faces, I don't know but the Euros last year were great and I am getting so much enjoyment out of this. I wouldn't be going [to Leicester]. I am enjoying this at the moment."