Claudio Ranieri: The man who defied the odds!

claudio-ranieri-the-man-who-defied-the-odds

Dilly Ding, Dilly… gone! Claudio Ranieri has been sacked as Leicester City manager, but nothing will deprive him of last season’s fairytale title.

Ranieri defied all expectations to guide Leicester, who required a great escape to merely stay in the league a season earlier, to a sensational Premier League title.

The figurehead of arguably the greatest sporting achievement of all time was relieved of his duties nine months after winning the title. The owners opted to part company with their manager just 16 days after publicly offering their ‘unwavering support’.

However, though the owners may have gone against their words, fellow managers and many football fans alike have offered their support to a man who defied odds from the moment he arrived at Leicester City Football Club.

The 65-year-old’s arrival to the King Power Stadium was widely criticised after their incredible run to survival under Nigel Pearson. Even Foxes’ fanatic Gary Lineker was wholly underwhelmed by the club’s decision to hire the ex-Chelsea boss.

Nevertheless Claudio proved his doubters wrong, and he did it in style!

He was a manager who, in more ways than one, defied logic.

As if winning the league with a team that were 5000/1 by bookmakers to win the title was not illogical enough, what was also wonderful about this particular fairy-tale was the manner in which the manager conducted himself throughout the entire journey.

Despite criticism of his appointment (which, considering his disastrous reign as head coach of the Greek national team, was understandable) and the intense pressure of a title fight, Ranieri merely smiled through it all.

“It is very sad. It is inexplicable to me. It’s inexplicable to a lot of football fans who love the game. I shed a tear last night for Claudio, for football and for my club.” – Match of the Day presenter and Leicester City fan, Gary Lineker

That is my overriding memory of Claudio Ranieri’s reign at the King Power, he could not stop smiling. He smiled through the good, the bad and the ugly.

He was methodical and calm despite what was perceived as Leicester’s one chance of achieving a Premier League crown. In spite of the Foxes’ stunning start to the 2015/16 season, Ranieri was clear, 40 points was the target. Only until after match 34 of 38 did the smiley Italian admit to targeting the Premier League title. He even offered his players pizza as a reward for their first clean sheet under his leadership.

Ranieri was a manager who would always look to the positives. One notable example was when a journalist asked him about the title race; Ranieri’s answer was golden! Instead of the pressure cooker of a title fight, Ranieri wanted to enjoy the fact that Leicester City would be enjoying Champions League football to the King Power Stadium, leading to this iconic quote

“Hey man, we are in Champions League. Dilly ding, dilly dong. Come on. You speak about blah, blah, blah but we are in Champions League. Come on man, fantastic.”

We’ve become so used to managers of the usual suspects dealing with a title battle through mind-games, belittling their rivals, making excuses, whinging and whining about referees. Ranieri was a refreshing change.

The 65-year-old and Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino created a title rivalry without any mud-slinging. No mind-games, no insults, just enjoying the moment and bouncing off the confidence of their respective players.

“I’m scratching my head, like everyone else is, asking myself how someone who delivered the finest achievement in football last year could now be sacked.” – Aston Villa manager, Steve Bruce

Ranieri brought the best out of players who nobody could have felt had a Premier League winners medal or Ballon d’Or nomination within them. Every Foxes player was nothing short of sensational last season but a few examples in particular will always stand out.

His management helped Riyad Mahrez, bought for a mere £400,000 from French second tier outfit Le Havre, win PFA Player of the Year. He brought the best out of Jamie Vardy, who went from non-league football in 2012 to breaking a Premier League record, scoring in 11 consecutive league fixtures.

Plus, as far as legacies go, N’Golo Kante is one heck of a legacy. The diminutive French midfielder was Ranieri’s first ever signing, and was arguably signing of the season at just £5.6m from Caen. Claudio’s first ever Leicester signing is now on the verge of becoming the first outfield player in Premier League history to win back-to-back titles with different clubs.

“Claudio has brought outstanding qualities to his office. His skilful management, powers of motivation and measured approach have been reflective of the rich experience we always knew he would bring to Leicester City. His warmth, charm and charisma have helped transform perceptions of the club and develop its profile on a global scale. We will forever be grateful to him for what he has helped us to achieve.” – Leicester City Vice Chairman, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha

Leicester’s owners clearly have their reasons for making what they called “the most difficult decision” since King Power took ownership of the club.

The Foxes are currently hovering above the relegation zone by a single point with 13 matches remaining and – providing any one out of Hull City, Crystal Palace and Sunderland win on Saturday – the reigning champions could enter their Monday night clash with Liverpool in the bottom three.

Amongst the justifiable sadness to see Ranieri wave goodbye, it is easy to forget that their recent form has been extremely concerning, so it is understandable why the owners felt they needed to take drastic action.

But after his amazing achievement last season, it really is a massive shame to see Ranieri forced out of the King Power Stadium, where he made even the wildest dreams come true.

The manner in which he both managed, and ultimately left, the club oozed in class, as his emotional statement reaffirmed.

Ranieri’s statement read: “Yesterday my dream died. After the euphoria of last season and being crowned Premier League champions, all I dreamt of was staying with Leicester City, the club I love, for always.

“My heartfelt thanks to everybody at the club, all the players, the staff, everybody who was there and was part of what we achieved. But mostly to the supporters. You took me into your hearts from day one and loved me. I love you too.

“No-one can ever take away what we together have achieved, and I hope you think about it and smile every day the way I always will.

“It was a time of wonderfulness and happiness that I will never forget. It’s been a pleasure and an honour to be a champion with all of you.”

Not only did Ranieri ask his fans to continue smiling, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho offered kind-hearted words of support for a manager who he had often come to blows with during their time in Serie A.

Donning a shirt with Claudio Ranieri’s initials, Mourinho said: “I thought last season, when I was sacked as a champion, I thought it was a giant, negative thing. Now I realise that was peanuts compared with what happened to Claudio.

“My words are my shirt – with his name. My little homage to somebody who wrote the most beautiful history in the Premier League.

“[He is] somebody that probably deserves to have the Leicester stadium named ‘The Claudio Ranieri [Stadium].’ And he’s sacked.”

The Portuguese was one of many managers who expressed their disappointment at the decision of the Leicester owners.

It is a decision that has stunned the world of football and confirms more than ever that there is no longer any room for sentiment in the beautiful game.

Would relegation have been inevitable had Ranieri stayed? Would he have turned their fortunes around? The answer to both of those questions, we will never know.

“Leicester City is an amazing story, I feel a lot of sympathy for Ranieri. You can understand why us coaches are looking over our shoulders.” – England Rugby Union coach, Eddie Jones

What we do know however, is that Ranieri, whether his owners have faith in him or not, is an undisputed Leicester City legend. What can only be described as a controversial P45 should not tarnish what is a truly incredible legacy.

Thursday should not be the day that defines Ranieri’s Leicester reign. It should be the day that began with Andrea Bocelli and ended with Wes Morgan’s hands on the Premier League trophy, with yet another Premier League victory in between.

Not only should he go down as a hero to Leicester fans, he should go down as a hero for fans of any football club with a glass ceiling.

He, along with a hungry group of players, proved that glass ceilings can be broken. He proved that dreams can come true, no matter how huge they may seem. He proved that hard work, humility and pure team spirit can defeat the rich and famous.

He took a club that looked a dead cert for relegation a season earlier, who were 5000/1 to lift the title, who were playing Championship football only two years earlier, to the Premier League title.

He grabbed the eyes – and the heartstrings – of football fans all over the world. He made Leicester everyone’s second favourite team and he created a refreshing change from the status quo. He and his players epitomised the beautiful side of sport and created belief that, no matter how big or small someone may be, anyone can achieve great things.

He did all of that, and he did it all with smile.

In the words of Jose Mourinho, “keep smiling amico. Nobody can delete the history you wrote.”

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