Days off and simple methods behind Claudio Ranieri's Leicester revival
Claudio Ranieri has revealed the secret behind Leicester City's unexpected title challenge is keeping tactics to a minimum, letting the players eat as much as they want and guaranteeing them at least two days off a week.
In a far-reaching interview with the Italian newspaper 'Corriere della Sera', the 64-year-old chronicles his time in the East Midlands, citing mutual trust and a relaxed atmosphere as key to their success which sees them five points clear at the top of the table.
"I arrived in August and started watching the recordings of their games from the previous season," he said. "When speaking to the players, I realised they were afraid of Italian tactical approaches. What football means to an Italian coach is tactics, trying to control the game by following ideas and systems.
"They didn't seem convinced and neither was I. I have a lot of admiration for those who build tactical systems, but I always thought the most important thing a good coach must do is build the team around the characteristics of his players. So I told the players that I trusted them and would speak very little of tactics. It was important to me that they all ran hard, just as I'd seen them running towards the end of last season."
Ranieri, who coached Roma, Juventus and Internazionale, admits to finding the differences between the Italian and English games jarring but has adapted more than a decade after leaving Chelsea, although he finds the players' eating habits hard to comprehend when compared to their Italian counterparts.
"Sometimes we sit at the dinner table and I am frightened by how much they eat. I've never seen players so starved! The first time I was surprised, but now I learned to smile. If they run that hard they can eat what they like.
"Fitness training isn't that important in England, as they all train with such intensity anyway and have a competitive edge when just sprinting. The matches are all hard-fought, too. Players need to recover first, train later.
"I believe in training, and this might seem like heresy in Italy, but I also feel it's all relative. My lads train a lot, but not too often.
"In Italy it has become a struggle for the players to enjoy football, they train with less intensity, less belief. It's more of a duty than anything else. In England they are aware they're young, healthy and in a great job. It would be stupid to waste all that. When they train they put in the same effort as a match. I never once had to tell someone off for being lazy.
"I make sure my players have at least two days off football each week. This is the pact I made with the players, 'I trust you. I'll explain some football ideas to you every now and then, as long as you give me everything'. Everyone feels they are participating, so playing badly means betraying the others. They are free men, aware that they have a job and responsibility. They enjoy maintaining that. I have a player who arrives from Manchester, one from London," he added. "It would be unthinkable in Italy, but frankly in England it's very odd too. At Leicester it can be done because the team allows it. That is what makes me proudest."
The peculiar openness to this Premier League, Ranieri said, is down to its competitive nature. "In England they always play as if it was a derby. I saw Milan-Inter last week and it was an English-style game with running, hitting, teams stretched out and a lot of competitive spirit. It's not very Italian. I tell my players a chance like this will never come around again - find the fire within, don't be ashamed of it. And they are not ashamed, if anything they demand to dream.
"In an era when money counts for everything, I think we give hope to everybody." (© Independent News Service)