Tuesday 27 September 2016

Claudio Ranieri: The Tinkerman who became a champion

Published 02/05/2016 | 22:06

Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri has won the first top-flight title of his career with the Foxes
Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri has won the first top-flight title of his career with the Foxes

In November 2014 Claudio Ranieri was sacked by Greece.

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"A most unfortunate choice of coach," said the FA after defeat to the Faeroe Islands cost Ranieri his job.

The Italian lasted just five games, winning none, and left with the contempt of a nation and their Euro 2016 hopes in tatters.

But finally, he has a prize which has eluded him for 30 years.

An improbable, stunning and almost unfathomable Barclays Premier League title with Leicester ends his runner-up tag after second place finishes with Chelsea, Juventus, Roma and Monaco.

His first top-flight title after 16 jobs, including two spells at Valencia, comes at the most unlikeliest of clubs.

When Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha bought Leicester in 2010 he told the players - who felt he was optimistic having just seen Nigel Pearson end his first spell by joining Hull - they would win the Premier League in five years.

The Thai billionaire was a year out but even he would have struggled to believe the Foxes would win as they sat 5,000-1 outsiders to win the league in August.

Ranieri himself was one of the favourites to be sacked when he replaced Pearson in July, ending an 11-year exile from the English game.

Some sneered, others questioned the appointment of a 64-year-old who had not managed in England since he was replaced by Jose Mourinho at Chelsea.

But it is Mourinho's record he breaks, winning the Premier League just 294 days after being appointed. Mourinho took 332 days to achieve the same feat at Stamford Bridge.

Ranieri inherited a squad who had won seven of their final nine games last season to survive under Pearson, who returned from Hull in 2011 and won the Championship three years later.

The Tinkerman was expected to change but his best move as boss was to maintain the status quo.

Craig Shakespeare and Steve Walsh, Pearson's long-time lieutenants, stayed - as did the squad. N'Golo Kante and Shinji Okazaki arrived after Christian Fuchs signed before Pearson was dismissed.

They were likely to join regardless of the boss but Ranieri listened to head of recruitment Walsh, who he worked with at Chelsea, rather than ripping up the blueprint.

Pearson's legacy of spirit, work and hunger remains but Ranieri and his staff have added the touch of panache and class which has elevated them above the establishment.

Danny Drinkwater has become an England international, two 30-something centre-backs in Robert Huth and Wes Morgan form one of the best partnerships in the league and Riyad Mahrez won the PFA Player of the Year.

Jamie Vardy scored five goals last season, this term he will go to Euro 2016 with England having become the first Leicester player since Gary Lineker in 1985 to score over 20 top-flight goals.

Pearson nurtured them but under Ranieri they have blossomed.

He allowed the dressing room to run itself, headed by skipper Morgan who handles any issues the players have an acts as a reliable mouthpiece for the squad.

He gained their trust, difficult given their fierce loyalty to Pearson, and has shielded them from the spotlight.

Pearson's brash nature took some of the heat, as the headlines fell on him following bizarre ostrich comments and touchline spats with fans, but Ranieri's charming and approachable manner made him the anti-Pearson.

Rather than getting into rows with journalists, he shakes hands with every one before his pre-match press conference.

He also has a picture of every Premier League manager on his office wall because he wants them to feel welcome.

Offers of pizza for clean sheets - when Leicester finally managed their first shut out of the season in October - are as bizarre as they are shrewd.

The squad bonded further under Ranieri, who would routinely give players unscheduled days off if he felt they were tired. He looked after his team.

When Okazaki passed his English exam in April Ranieri made a point of celebrating it, even pretending he had called the team meeting especially.

That was in private but his calculated public game kept a lid on expectations and he ticked off their ambitions only when it was right.

The former Inter Milan boss comes across as everyone's favourite uncle but the wheels are always turning.

Only when Leicester had four games left did he admit they could win the title.

Tottenham's slip 72 hours after Ranieri had made his ambitions clear gave the Foxes a clear run to the league and it is one Leicester and the Italian deserve.

A maiden major title represents the most glorious of triumphs for a man who began his managerial career with Lametini in 1986.

Under two years ago he was on the scrapheap, a failure with Greece, leading to their FA's damming "unfortunate" barb.

Fortunately for Leicester, Ranieri has completed his resurgence.

Press Association

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