PICS: ‘Dead man’ Ranieri strolls back smiling

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Twelve years since Claudio Ranieri called himself “a dead man walking” when recognising sagely that new Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich would sack him as manager, the Italian returned to his old club as the all-conquering hero of Leicester City.

There certainly appeared to be no hard feelings as Ranieri admitted that, along with all the Chelsea fans and players, Abramovich had given him a “fantastic welcome back”.

Earlier this season, Abramovich had for the second time sacked Jose Mourinho, the chosen one he had earmarked back in 2004 to take over from Ranieri.

So, surely, the Italian could have been forgiven for feeling just a smidgeon of satisfaction that he was now back at the Bridge in charge of the fairytale outsiders Leicester, who had, quite astoundingly, taken Chelsea's title.

Of course, Ranieri is better than that, though.

The man who was a popular figure with Chelsea fans, taking them to a runner's up spot in the Premier League and the semi-finals of the Champions League under Abramovich, was at his most diplomatically charming best as he lapped up all the fuss before and after the 1-1 draw.

Asked what the Russian owner had said to him, Ranieri smiled: “'Welcome to the champions!' Very warm.”

It had, he reckoned, been a day of “maximum emotion” as he was reminded just how popular he had been in the four years he had been with the London club, with the Chelsea fans serenading him with “There's only one Ranieri.”

Ranieri and his side were given a guard of honour by the Chelsea players and he was then presented with a silver salver from the Blues' former Italian goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini.

“It was a fantastic welcome back from everybody. From Roman Abramovich, then from all our fans and all the Chelsea fans. It was an amazing moment for me,” added Ranieri.

The only thing to spoil his day was Leicester's inability to keep yet another clean sheet as Cesc Fabregas put Chelsea ahead from the penalty spot only for Danny Drinkwater to earn a late equaliser for the Foxes.

Ranieri had a special word of tribute for his indefatigable captain, Wes Morgan, who completed their unreal season having played every second of every game.

“Wes is a fantastic man. He was our leader in the dressing room and he doesn't speak so often but when he does everybody is quiet. Not only him, all the lads. They are intelligent. And with intelligent men you can improve.”

But how can you improve on a season like no other? 5 000-1 outsiders winning the title by a 10-point margin?

“It will be difficult next season,” Ranieri, who will join the players on an open-top bus parade around Leicester on Monday, pondered. “This was a fairytale. I hope the next one is not a nightmare.

“We are fighting between 10, 11 teams for the high positions. But we will continue to fight.

“Champions League will be a very good experience for all my players. Not one has played the Champions League. It will be a very good atmosphere with the music.

“I hope we are ready and don't listen to too much of the music but make some music of our own.”

Reuters

Original source: PICS: ‘Dead man’ Ranieri strolls back smiling

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