Sunday 17 December 2017

Owners feared relegation, Ranieri reveals, as Foxes close in on 'safety'

Manager Claudio Ranieri has overseen an exciting season at Leicester Photo: Stephen Pond/PA Wire
Manager Claudio Ranieri has overseen an exciting season at Leicester Photo: Stephen Pond/PA Wire

John Percy

Claudio Ranieri has put Leicester City's remarkable season into stark perspective by revealing that the club's owners were discussing the prospect of relegation in the summer.

Ranieri admits he was even asked by vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha if he would be prepared to stay as manager in the Championship if Leicester suffered the drop. But the Italian will take his squad to play Everton at Goodison Park today top of the Premier League and with Leicester's success proving one of the most refreshing stories in English football for years.

Leicester have won seven of their past nine games, including a victory over Ranieri's former club Chelsea, which proved the final blow for Jose Mourinho, and have even been backed for the title by Sir Alex Ferguson. It is an amazing turnaround from earlier this year, when the club were rooted to the bottom of the league and on course for the second tier. But a stirring revival enabled Leicester to secure safety and even the departure of the man who masterminded it, Nigel Pearson, has not damaged their progress.

Ranieri's reputation has been successfully repaired, following a disastrous experience with Greece, and not even the club's Thai owners could have predicted the season so far.

"I didn't believe when I signed my contract that in December we would be top of the league," said Ranieri, 64. "But two things were very fantastic for me - one to listen from my owner [Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha] that he wanted in the next two years to maintain Leicester in the Premier League, then grow and try to achieve the top places.

"The other is that when the son [Aiyawatt] asked me, 'If everything goes wrong, you stay with us in the Championship?' and I said, 'Yes I will stay here'. So the father and the son wanted to know. This was amazing for me because there was a balance - there was a big project but also they wanted me to stay even if everything is wrong."

Ranieri is sticking to his mantra of reaching 40 points, however, and has warned his players to focus on a difficult fixture list over the Christmas period.

After the trip to Goodison, they travel again to Merseyside for a clash with Liverpool on December 26 before entertaining Manchester City at home on December 29. "It will not be easy and I'd be very happy to get those points," he said.

And what of Gary Lineker's promise that he will present 'Match of the Day' in his underwear if Leicester win the title?

"That is not good. When Roma won the Scudetto, there was a nice girl [who also stripped] - that would be much better than Gary Lineker ..."

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