Trump, Ranieri and the unpredictability of success

Just when you thought Old White Men had had their day, they are heading for the top

In November 2012, just as Barack Obama was beating Mitt Romney to be re-elected US president, betting opened on who would become president in 2016. Donald Trump was then quoted as 200/1. This week he is the second favourite at 3/1.

Last August the odds on Leicester City winning the English Premier League this season were 5,000/1. This week they’re the runaway favourites at 4/6.

The novelist and screenwriter William Goldman famously said "nobody knows anything".

He was referring to the vagaries of Hollywood and the unpredictability of making hit films. Sport and politics are now having such a moment of clarity.


Apart from taking the spoils and the headlines this week, Donald Trump and Claudio Ranieri, the Leicester City manager, have something quite specific in common as they come in from the margins and upset the mainstream: both are white men at the wrong end of their 60s.

The events of this week will not necessarily push them over the line to become the next US president and the unlikely manager of a Premier League-winning side.

Still, the reaction to their success tells us not only that nobody knows anything but also that the class of people who think they know something actually know less than nothing.

After Romney’s drubbing in 2012 a brains trust of Republican “advisers and strategists” from the party’s elite held a postmortem and came up with a plan: the Growth Opportunity Project, complete with several new edicts.

To increase the Republican vote in 2016 the Grand Old Party must reach out to Hispanics in particular and minorities in general.

The strident right-wing voice of the party needed to be softened and become more “inclusive”.

And, noting that Romney was a millionaire investor, the party believed itself too closely tied to wealthy interests.

Four years later the billionaire Trump, who kickstarted his campaign by referring to Mexicans immigrants as “criminals and rapists”, is many Republican voters’ preferred choice to win the presidential nomination.

Far from being inclusive, he repels many people.

Last July, after his remarks about immigrants, the “party elite” summoned Trump and ordered him to tone down his rhetoric.

In response he ramped it up – much to his electoral profit. The experts knew nothing.

Similar pattern

A look back at what the “experts” of the sporting world had to say about Ranieri on his appointment as Leicester manager, last July, shows a similar pattern.

The commentary was barely disguised mockery.

Much was made of the fact that Ranieri, in his previous job as manager of the Greek national side, had overseen a home loss to the Faroe Islands.

They reminded us that the president of the Greek football association apologised to the nation for “this most unfortunate choice of coach”.

In August a British national newspaper asked 11 of its football experts to predict which team would be relegated from the Premier League this season.

Ten picked Leicester. Many also guessed that Ranieri would be the first manager of the season to be sacked.

In an echo of the counterintuitive approach that is working for Trump, Ranieri has explained his unforeseen success as down to “keeping tactics to a minimum, not training too much, letting the players eat as much as they want, and guaranteeing them at least two days off a week”.

He points out that “in an era when money counts for everything, I think we give hope to everybody”.

He is the simple country cousin at football’s high table, an outsider who dreamed big prevailing against the odds.

As a graduate of reality TV Trump knows all about selecting a made- to-measure narrative and running with it.

Despite being a billionaire and, as one commentator put it, “the coddled scion of a New York real-estate baron”, he is not thought of as “one of them” – that is, the Washington establishment.

His folksy use of vernacular language, his bawdy humour and the “journey” he is on are all TV tropes.

Both men offer a form of redemption. Ranieri, with Riyad Mahrez, his star player picked up for next to nothing from the French second division, is sticking it to the financial man; he’s the zero to hero.

Trump just wants to “make America great again”, and his “No one likes me, but I don’t care” shtick cements his status as a maverick.

Every time someone refers to his supporters as “uneducated” they are burnishing Trump’s image among his followers.

At their age both Ranieri and Trump may have a better sense of what is past, or passing, or to come.

As can others of their Old White Men tribe, such as Jeremy Corbyn, who is 66, and Bernie Sanders, who is 74.

In the normal course of events Corbyn would be giving talks about solidarity in a room over a pub in Islington.

Trump would be a contestant on I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! Ranieri would be managing a team in Azerbaijan. And Sanders would be walking up and down Wall Street, shouting into a megaphone.

Instead they are capturing the imagination of millions.