Claudio Ranieri: How I won the league


‘Closed due to unforeseen circumstances,’ it read. Beneath was a picture of the Premier League trophy and the message ‘Champions’.

A corridor or so away, in a room usually occupied by the parents of academy trainees, the man who more than any other made that miracle happen was informally holding court.

Claudio Ranieri had celebrated with his players, dined with his employers and now sat before the sceptics, vindicated.



Those who doubted Leicester’s staying power, many who doubted Ranieri’s appointment last summer, could only offer sincere applause.

Revenge is not his style, though. He was, as always, polite, generous in his credit to others but with a sense of validation that comes from being a title-winning

manager at last. He said he did not bear grudges over some of the unkind statements that greeted his return to English football.

‘I was busy with the team,’ he said. ‘I did not know what was spoken about. But if they ask, “Why Ranieri?” if they say, “Others are much better”, I say, “OK Claudio - show. Show what you can do”.’

There it was: the same quiet certainty he took into the Leicester dressing-room.

‘Always show me everything you’ve got, and every now and again I will explain a little football to you,’ he told one players’ meeting.

‘You maintain this spirit, and on it I will put my Italian tactics,’ was another message.

Behind the geniality and generosity is a man who is absolutely sure of his methodology. Ranieri has taken a team with some of the worst pass completion and possession statistics in the league and turned them into champions with two games to spare.



This is a manager who knows exactly what he is about, who assessed and organised his players to perfection almost from the first game of the season.

Listening to him explain it yesterday, the league won, the secret out, was to hear Leicester’s story with all the romance removed, reduced to good coaching, good man-management, good planning, expert analysis. The fundamentals of the job.

Changing from three to four at the back; finding room for Marc Albrighton and Riyad Mahrez; switching his full-backs. Come on, how do you think it happened? Nobody wins the League with Leicester just by shouting dilly-ding, dilly-dong.

‘When I was in Austria, pre-season, I watched the group,’ he said. ‘I was sensitive to the feeling in the dressing room and I said to them, “It is not important that you understand 25 people here - it is important that you understand me, only me. If you understand me, we could do something good”.

‘I decided to play 4-4-2 then. I told the players they ended the season fantastic with three at the back, and I started like that, but I didn’t feel that football.



‘Look, I played it, I played it at Valencia, we won the Copa del Rey, we qualified for the Champions League, and in my first Leicester game we had three, but I didn’t like it and I changed. In England a lot of teams play 4-3-3 and then you have three defenders against one.

‘Then I watched Mahrez and every time he made a difference it was coming in from the right side. But Albrighton can make a lot of crosses from the right side, too. So I changed, with Albrighton playing on the left to come inside.

‘Then I realised we were so fast on the counter-attack, so good. I told them, “We are like the RAF, come on”. They believed in this and we started winning our first matches, so there was confidence and enthusiasm. Then I changed the full-backs. I put Danny Simpson on the right, Christian Fuchs on the left and we were more solid.

‘When I arrived, they all thought, “Oh, new manager, different philosophy, maybe I will go here instead, maybe I go there”. Robert Huth said there would be two training sessions every day but I told them, “Don’t worry, I want to continue with your style, but with my ideas”.

‘And I changed things slowly. It was important for me to show them Italian tactics. I told them not to worry about mistakes. We’ll watch the video together, it will get better.’

So there’s the science bit. What remains is the unquantifiable, the X-factor that has separated Leicester from the rest.

‘They work so hard,’ former England coach Fabio Capello said at the weekend. ‘N’Golo Kante, Danny Drinkwater. They never stop.’

Ranieri continued: ‘There are so many keys to this. Humility, the strength of the dressing room, they help each other at important moments, they play with the heart, the soul, they play 11. There was a good blend. I told them, “I love the English spirit”, because when I was a player I was an Englishman.’

He smashed a fist into a palm. ‘Every time, to fight - you have to kill me if you want to win. I love this kind of spirit. There are two games: with the ball and not with the ball, and in modern football everyone must work, and work hard. So I told them, “Play like this against the others and look what happens”.’

The day he knew, Ranieri finally admitted, was February 6. Manchester City 1 Leicester 3. Ranieri did not tell his players. He understood where he was and what the odds were, but that day he saw a spark of possibility.

Sweeping City aside, Leicester’s players looked like champions. Not novelty front-runners. Not fairy-tale dreamers. Champions.

‘I was so satisfied,’ Ranieri recalled. ‘It was an unbelievable performance. Maybe then they started to believe in something. We can win, we can fight until the end. I never spoke about it after. If I get crazy I transmit the nerves.



‘We were like climbers, if you look down: “Oh God. No, come on, look up”. But that was the day I believed something fantastic could happen, yes.’

The confirmation that something fantastic had happened came on Monday night with Eden Hazard’s equaliser for Chelsea. Asked where he watched it, Ranieri said first the armchair, then the ceiling, once that goal went in. Soon after came a call from Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink, an old friend. Congratulations had been many and varied since. It has been like that all year, Ranieri recalled. Messages from South America, from Asia, from his home country.

‘This club attracts a lot of people,’ he said. ‘In Italy, everybody’s second team is Leicester. In Thailand, the first team is Leicester. I am getting letters from Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil.

‘Everybody knows the Premier League is big money and big teams and they win the League. But now they can say maybe 99 per cent of the time those teams win.

‘I love it when I see everybody so happy. We have been in the city centre very close to the stadium and the fans are crazy. Crazy with happiness. I’m so glad when I see this happiness and I understand it now because all the people in the world are asking about Leicester, and all of your colleagues come here to find out what happened. This is a moment to live longer, to taste like a good wine, to savour. Now is not the time to think, “Look what we have done”. Maybe in one or two years we will know.

‘When you start as a manager, you hope you can win a league. So, yes, this is one of the best moments. But I don’t forget where I started, in which division I started. I came from the non-league, and when I arrived in Cagliari in the third division, that was my first fairytale. And I still have love for this fairy-tale. It is still in my heart. Now I have won the most important league in Europe, maybe the world. I won the Premier League. My career is fantastic. But I want to achieve a little more.



‘At the moment I don’t cry but I’m a very strange man. On Saturday, maybe. Inside me there are two people. One, I want to win. I want to win on Saturday (against Everton), I want to win the Premier League, I want to win again, I am never satisfied.

‘The other says, “Claudio, how many managers are there in the world? Too many. And not everybody is Sir Alex Ferguson or Fabio Capello or Carlo Ancelotti”. So this is a good career. We have done something impossible - so maybe the bookmakers will not try to sack me first. Maybe second.’

The odds on that? Well, they should be 5 000-1.

Daily Mail

Original source: Claudio Ranieri: How I won the league