Claudio Ranieri, “the tinkerman”, a nickname he acquired from the British press during his time with Chelsea is the man working wonders with this spirited Leicester City team. On 13 July 2015, Leicester City announced the Italian as the club’s new manager amidst mixed reactions from the press and fans alike. He signed a three-year contract. He debuted in a 4-2 win over Sunderland. The new coach admitted to the press after the game that he inspired his new charges by giving them motivation from the rock band Kasabian.
At 64 and having spent most of his life in football, first as a player and then as a coach, this is a man who knows his stuff – indeed a willy old fox. A career that includes stints in Italy, Spain and England, some pundits saw Leicester’s decision to appoint him as their coach as a no-brainer, an absolute coup if anything! It seems there were right.
Ranieri’s time in Spain was his most successful as he brought Valencia back from the dead. Memorable was the fortnight in early 1999 when Louis van Gaal’s Barcelona was beaten again and again by the Italian’s Valencia. “I remember it well,” Ranieri said in response to the three back-to-back defeats Barcelona suffered at the hand of his rejuvenated Valencia side. A 3-2 away win in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-final was followed by a 4-2 Valencia win at the Mestalla, and then again, this time three days later, Barcelona was beaten 4-2 in La Liga at the Camp Nou.
Rightly so Mahrez and Vardy keep getting all the plaudits. Why wouldn’t they? They have been in the form of their lifes, each getting on the score sheet against Chelsea on Monday. As supremely talented as Mahrez is, which was made evident against Chelsea as he glided through the match with extraterrestrial fluidity, grace, panache and vision, every good player needs a good coach to mentor. The man of the moment Vardy, who seems to score for fun and plays with such quality that it would be a walking-on-water level miracle if Leicester manage to keep hold of him next summer, not so long ago was without a team. Pep Guardiola was to Lionel Messi, what Claudio Ranieri is to Mahrez and Vardy. A father figure with enormous experience in the game, his man management of the whole Leicester City squad has been crucial to their unbelievable position atop of the English Premiership. Ranieri is a man whom Frank Lampard describes as one he “loves.” He is direct with his players, he shows a caring patient attitude, always wanting to encourage his charges and giving them confidence in themselves, his man management is one of his biggest positives.
Is it finally time to consider Leicester City as legitimate title contenders? Well, Ranieri for one does not think so, “For our fans we are top of the league, for my players we need another five points… Don’t laugh. It’s true”. He continued, “I don’t know when we can achieve these five points. Now there is Everton away, Liverpool away, Manchester City at home and Bournemouth, who are a fantastic team, at home – four very tough games. Let me achieve 40 points, then I’ll think about what is the next goal. But until 40 I think only 40 points.” An intelligent response, but how much longer can he stay on top of the league without admitting that indeed his side can challenge for the title…