Sport Soccer

Monday 24 October 2016

Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri overwhelmed by Chelsea welcome

Published 15/05/2016 | 22:31

Claudio Ranieri shakes hands with Guus Hiddink, right, after the final whistle
Claudio Ranieri shakes hands with Guus Hiddink, right, after the final whistle

Roman Abramovich congratulated Claudio Ranieri on Leicester's Premier League title success, but the reality is still sinking in for the Foxes boss.

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Chelsea owner Abramovich, who sacked Ranieri in 2004, greeted the Italian before Sunday's 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, which was preceded by a guard of honour for the Foxes.

"The emotions were at the maximum, because there was a fantastic welcome back, a warm welcome back from everybody," Ranieri said.

"From the owner, Roman Abramovich, I met him here, and when I went out (on to the pitch), our fans, also the Chelsea fans.

"It was an amazing moment for me, at the beginning (of the game), also at the end."

Asked what Abramovich said to him, Ranieri said: "'Welcome champions'. It was very warm."

Chelsea had a decisive say in anointing their successors as champions. Eden Hazard's goal 13 days ago earning a draw with Tottenham which ended Spurs' hopes.

And Leicester will play Champions League football next season, after Monday's open-top bus tour and a post-season trip to Thailand.

Ranieri said: "After we have a break. And then I can realise what happened this season. Maybe."

Ranieri knew this season was Leicester's opportunity to exploit the failings of the established elite and he is uncertain what the future holds.

He does want his side to make an impression in the Champions League, though.

"We know if there is a fairytale next season it will be not a nightmare, but different," Ranieri added.

"Of course, we know very well we are fighting between, I don't know, 10th or 11th to the high position.

"I'm sure the big teams will go back. We'll continue to fight. That is our destiny.

"It was important to be ready when the other big teams, together, were not.

"Champions League will be a very good experience for all my players. No-one has played Champions League (before).

"It will be a very good atmosphere with the (Champions League) music. I hope we are ready, not to listen too much to music, but to do some music."

Leicester fought back from a goal down, to Cesc Fabregas' penalty, to draw when Danny Drinkwater drilled in an equaliser eight minutes from time.

Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel had earlier made a number of saves to frustrate Chelsea.

"We wanted to keep a clean sheet, to help Kasper go to the 16th clean sheet of the season. It wasn't possible," Ranieri added.

"First half Chelsea created a lot of chances and Kasper made fantastic saves.

"Second half we played better. The match was open. It was very hard to play fast.

"I'm very pleased with our performance and with our character."

Ranieri had changed formation - to have three players in central midfield - in the first half, but reverted to 4-4-2 after the break.

The Foxes finished 10 points clear of the rest, with consistency the difference.

Ranieri added: "We were so consistent during all the season. And the other teams, no.

"We are all happy because we lost just three matches during this season. It's an amazing achievement."

Chelsea finished 10th after a miserable campaign.

Jose Mourinho, who was appointed by Abramovich to replace Ranieri 12 years ago, was sacked in December, a loss at Leicester ending his second spell.

And Guus Hiddink restored stability, but ends his second caretaker stint with just one Premier League home win, against relegated Newcastle.

Hiddink laughed off suggestions he could be back for a third spell if Antonio Conte's reign does not go as planned. Conte will begin work as Chelsea head coach once Italy's European Championship campaign has concluded.

"It would be very bad if I was called in early December," Hiddink said.

"That would be bad for Chelsea. I have full confidence they will go up now in this period, make their analysis and strategy and go where they belong: fighting for silverware and being in the top four."

Hiddink will be available to Chelsea in an advisory capacity.

"I won't say a dramatic crying goodbye because every now and then I will be back," he said.

Press Association

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