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LONDON, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Leicester City's owners had hit the panic button when they sacked title-winning manager Claudio Ranieri, former player Gary Lineker said on Friday as English football reacted to news of the Italian's stunning fall from grace.
Five straight Premier League defeats have left Leicester, who were League winners last May with 5000-1 odds against, just above relegation and the club's Thai owners fired Ranieri on Thursday, weeks after saying he had their "unwavering support".
Former England captain Lineker, who spent the first seven years of his career at hometown club Leicester, scoring 95 goals, said he was struggling to comprehend Ranieri's departure.
"What he did last year was extraordinary," Lineker said in a BBC radio interview. "I think the lack of gratitude from the owners or whoever was involved in the decision beggars belief.
"I shed a tear last night. I shed a tear for Claudio, for football and for my club. It's inexplicable to me.
"You could explain it in some ways as a panic decision, and for me a wrong decision. It's very sad."
Leicester, who stunned the sporting world last season to land an improbable title in Ranieri's first season in charge, could be in the relegation zone by the time they face Liverpool at home on Monday, depending on the weekend's results.
Lineker said that changing the manager now was no guarantee that they would avoid relegation.
"It's a bit of a myth to say that a new manager who comes in has an immediate impact," he said. "It happens sometimes but the statistics suggest it doesn't alter it very much."
Other managers offered their opinions on Friday as Ranieri's exit dominated pre-weekend news conferences.
"It doesn't taint Claudio's story and he will always be remembered for that historic achievement and rightfully so," Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe told reporters.
"I was shocked. I've got a lot of time for Claudio, a real gentleman and a positive person." (Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Louise Ireland)