Premier League Clubs Managed: Chelsea (2000-2004), Leicester City (2015-2017)
On Friday 14th November 2014, Claudio Ranieri’s management career looked all but over. After 28 years in football management, he had just experienced his most embarrassing evening in the game. The tiny Faroe Islands had just beaten his Greece side 1-0 through a Joan Edmundsson strike. At the time, the Faroes were ranked 187 in the world. With one point from four games, Greece’s hopes of qualifying for the 2016 European Championships were all but over. A day later, Ranieri was fired.
Eight months after the Greek nightmare, he was appointed Leicester City manager to the surprise of many, who even mocked the appointment. On Tuesday 3rd May 2016, Ranieri had completed the impossible dream, taking 5000-1 outsiders Leicester to the Premier League title in the greatest story ever told in English football.
The Leicester adventure was cruelly ended less than a year later but Ranieri has won many friends for life thanks to his achievements at the King Power Stadium.
Claudio Ranieri began his managerial career in his homeland during the late 1980s, making his name at Cagliari whom he achieved back-to-back promotions with on a shoestring budget.
Outside of English football, he has managed many of the top clubs in the European game, though his success in terms of honours was limited mainly to cup triumphs. He won the Coppa Italia with Fiorentina in 1996 and the Copa del Rey in 1998 as manager of Valencia. The only titles he achieved were in the second-tier with Fiorentina in 1994 and AS Monaco 19 years later.
Actually, his best win rate ratio came at AS Roma, winning 55.5% of matches during his reign there from September 2009 to February 2011. However, silverware eluded him at the Stadio Olimpico at a time where Inter Milan was the dominant club in Serie A and in the UEFA Champions League under the guidance of a certain Jose Mourinho.
Ranieri has also managed Atletico Madrid, Parma, Juventus and Inter Milan in his career.
He was appointed manager of Chelsea in September 2000, succeeding Gianluca Vialli. His first match in charge saw the out-of-form Blues’ recover from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 at Old Trafford with reigning champions Manchester United. He arrived with only limited English language capabilities so communication in the early months between him and the players wasn’t the most free-flowing.
In the summer of 2001, he started to reshape the squad, bringing in the likes of Frank Lampard, Emmanuel Petit and Bolo Zenden, spending over £30 million on new talent for the men from Stamford Bridge. There were some eye-catching results, including a 3-0 away win at Manchester United and 4-0 humbling of Liverpool FC at home but also, shock defeats at home to Southampton and away at Charlton Athletic. Chelsea also lost 5-1 at White Hart Lane in a League Cup semi-final to Tottenham Hotspur. A second successive sixth place finish wasn’t what the club were hoping for. He did take Chelsea to the FA Cup final but even that ended in disappointment, losing 2-0 to Arsenal at the Millennium Stadium.
During his reign in west London, Ranieri was given the nickname ‘The Tinkerman.’ His team selections were at times baffling and inconsistent. Frank Lampard seemed to be the only definite selection on a weekly basis. He had to make the most of his options in 2002-2003. Only one signing was made all season and that was Enrique de Lucas on a free transfer from Espanyol. The club were in financial peril, yet Ranieri achieved UEFA Champions League qualification on the final day of the season. A 2-1 victory over Liverpool FC was enough to earn Chelsea a fourth place finish. It set the Blues up for the financial bounty they were about to receive that summer.
On borrowed time
In July 2003, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea Football Club and things were changing. Chelsea went on a summer spending spree not seen before in the history of football, shocking pundits, journalists and supporters alike.
Ranieri now had a wealth of options at his disposal. He also was on borrowed time. There was constant speculation that his job was now up for grabs and being touted to the likes of England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson. He had to do well in 2003-2004 or face the consequences.
He guided Chelsea to a runners-up position with a Premier League highest points tally for the club and the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. However, that wasn’t deemed good enough by Abramovich and he made a tearful goodbye on the final day of the season to the Stamford Bridge faithful, who really had taken Claudio to their hearts. He was sacked two weeks later and replaced by the FC Porto boss Mourinho.
The impossible dream
Ranieri was quick to accept his mistake in taking the Greece post following the 2014 World Cup. Shortly after being confirmed as Nigel Pearson’s successor at the King Power Stadium, he gave an interview to the Leicester Mercury where he admitted he’d made a bad move.
“I made a mistake when I was manager of Greece. I wanted to look because it is a different job at a club to a national team. I had four matches and for each game I trained the players for just three days. That is 12 days of training. What can I do in just 12 days? I had to rebuild a national team in just 12 days. What could I do? I am not a magician.”
His aim was simple; for Leicester City to claim one more point than they’d managed the previous season. New arrivals included Gokhan Inler, Christian Fuchs and most importantly, N’Golo Kante. Leicester started the season with three wins and three draws in their opening six matches which included a thrilling comeback win over Aston Villa.
The fear was Ranieri would repeat his ‘Tinkerman’ approach from the Chelsea days at Leicester too, but in fact, their team selection was so consistent with the fewest starting XI changes in the league in 2015-2016. His decision to change the full-backs early season worked. Ritchie de Laet and Jeff Schlupp began the campaign but the 5-2 defeat at the hands of Arsenal at the end of September exposed a brutal weakness. From October, into the team came Danny Simpson and Fuchs. Simpson had been discarded by Queens Park Rangers and Fuchs shown the door by FC Schalke 04. Their consistent performances made them two of the club’s unsung heroes.
Even when Ranieri was forced into changes, he came up smiling. When Jamie Vardy was banned following his dismissal against West Ham United in April 2016, Ranieri changed tactic by bringing Schlupp into the team to counteract the pace he would lose from Vardy against Swansea City. Leicester won the game 4-0 and Schlupp was one of the star players on the day.
Even Claudio’s substitutions often worked. Leonardo Ulloa, Andy King, Nathan Dyer and Demarai Gray were often used from the bench. None of them complained. They did the job asked of them and were a full part of this team spirit ethic. Ulloa scored most of his goals from the bench, whilst Dyer’s home debut goal against Aston Villa wasn’t overlooked.
Leicester topped the table on Christmas Day and continued to defy the critics who were expecting the bubble to burst. In February, they went to title favourites Manchester City and blew them away, winning 3-1 and becoming the new team to beat with the bookmakers. This was the day people started to believe that it was their destiny to win the championship.
They entered April on top of the table and secured UEFA Champions League qualification with an away win at Sunderland. Tottenham Hotspur did put the pressure on but their 2-2 draw away at outgoing champions Chelsea handed the title to Leicester City. It was the first time in their 132-year history that they’d won the top-flight title in what has to be considered as one of football’s most incredible stories in our lifetime. Ranieri proved that nice guys do win and that is a rare commodity.
A sorry sequel
The summer of 2016 was always going to be crucial for Leicester. They managed to hold onto the services of Vardy and Riyad Mahrez but Kante did leave for Chelsea. The challenge was great and whilst it was going to be almost impossible to repeat the title triumph, no-one could have forecasted the disastrous sequel after the fairytale moment.
By the end of November, Leicester had lost six times already, picked up just one point away from the King Power Stadium and were only sitting two points above the drop zone. It seemed like the players had stopped playing for the manager, especially after pitiful displays away at Southampton and Swansea City in the first two months of 2017.
Just 24 hours after a narrow 2-1 defeat to Sevilla in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League round-of-16 tie, Ranieri was sacked by Leicester’s owners. The decision was brutal, seen as a savage call by the majority of people within the game. The players were accused of getting the manager sacked. A lot of love the club had gained in the title-winning season seemed to have been lost. Ironically, Leicester won their next five Premier League matches in a row and reached the Champions League quarter-finals after the Italian’s departure.
Ranieri is now in charge of French club Nantes and has guided them into a top six position at the halfway point of the current campaign in Ligue 1.
Claudio Ranieri won many hearts for his achievements first at Chelsea and then for the miracle at Leicester. He was hailed as ‘King Claudio’ after guiding the 5000-1 outsiders to the title in 2015-2016 and the Premier League success he enjoyed couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke.