Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri: The other teams want to kill us now
Claudio Ranieri was not his usual light-hearted self when it came to discussing the special delivery awaiting his Leicester City players at the King Power Stadium yesterday.
Less than 100 days after completing one of the most remarkable sporting triumphs by winning the Premier League title, Leicester's Thai owners had chosen to reward Ranieri's squad by ordering 19 Azure blue BMW sports cars - one for each player deemed to have contributed to the title success - and having them delivered to the stadium ahead of Sunday's Community Shield encounter with FA Cup winners Manchester United at Wembley.
Last season was unforgettable for Leicester, but forget is exactly what Ranieri wants his players to do, and the fleet of sports cars was not helping.
"There are some gifts, only for them?" Ranieri said. "Let me think about the match, not the cars. It's not important to me to think about cars."
Team spirit and an incredible work ethic were crucial components of Leicester's title victory last season, but success can often prove to be the pre-cursor to failure - just ask Jose Mourinho, whose failure to halt Chelsea's incredible fall from grace sees him aiming to rebuild his reputation after the sack at Stamford Bridge with United this season. But with Leicester's owners still looking to last season, Ranieri insists that he has already moved to eradicate signs of complacency among his players.
The Italian is determined to ensure that last season was not a one-off, but some of his squad, it seems, have required a reminder of what will be required this time around.
"I have spoken with the players and I have told them that I know them very well and I want more from them," Ranieri said. "Forget what we achieved, I want more and this is not the maximum.
"I want more than the maximum, that's why I was not happy in Los Angeles (during the pre-season tour). I did not see the same mentality together. Everybody worked hard, but not as a team, and that is the difference.
"I didn't get angry with them, but they know. I want to see more, I want everybody together. Against Barcelona (in Stockholm on Wednesday), we lost, but I knew I was watching a team. Barcelona are fantastic champions and can score more goals than anybody.
"But look, I forgot what happened one month ago, two months ago. Now, my focus is on the new season. I am very concentrated and ambitious, but we know it will be hard."
Despite their status as champions, Leicester go into the new campaign with few expecting the club to repeat last season's heroics. Indeed, the general consensus that Ranieri will do well to keep his team in the top ten.
But with only N'Golo Kante leaving the King Power Stadium this summer, the core of the title-winning team remains in place, with key additions such as forward Ahmed Musa, who scored twice in the 4-2 defeat by Barcelona.
And Ranieri insists he expects his players to confound the doubters once again.
"I was satisfied at the end of last season, but now I am hungry again," he said. "I am very curious about what can we do this time. I don't know, but I want the maximum.
"The other teams want to kill us now, but that's normal. That's football. It is hard to repeat what we did, but I want it. I don't want my players to ever give up against the big teams or anybody. We can lose, but I want to see them playing together and helping each other. Suffer for your team-mates, that's the philosophy.
"But after I build something, it has never been destroyed. I think we have built a good foundation and we have now built the first floor."
Ranieri, who revealed he had received phone calls and letters from rival managers congratulating him on his success last season, goes up against Mourinho at Wembley, eight months after a 2-0 defeat at Leicester signalled the end of the Portuguese's tenure a Chelsea.
And the Leicester manager admits he expects Mourinho and United to be strong again this season, starting with the Community Shield tomorrow.
"I expect to meet a very strong team, organised, big champions, on the pitch," Ranieri said. "So we will take it very seriously. It is no friendly, the Community Shield is never a friendly and we will give it the maximum. Manchester also. It will be a true match to win the cup, and it is my first time at Wembley, so I am very excited. (© Independent News Service)
Independent News Service