From the “uninspiring” proof that the managerial merry-go-round is a closed shop, to the Kasabian love-in and pizza-buying viral clip goldmine, to a bona-fide Premier League great – 2015-16 has been the making of Claudio Ranieri’s legend.
Ranieri landed back on English shores in July after 11 years away as Leicester sought to build on last season’s miraculous escape, only without the “I think you are an ostrich” madness that came with Nigel Pearson.
“Claudio Ranieri is clearly experienced, but this is an uninspired choice by Leicester,” club favourite Gary Lineker said upon the appointment, which followed the Italian’s sacking as Greece boss after a four-game winless reign lurched towards the sack with a defeat to European minnows the Faroe Islands.
Greece’s football chief Giorgos Sarris even went as far as to apologise for hiring Ranieri in the first place: “I take full responsibility for the most unfortunate choice of coach, which has resulted in such a poor image of the national team being put before the fans.”
Now Ranieri is a champion and Lineker faces the prospect of presenting the UK’s ‘Match of the Day’ highlights show in his underwear thanks to a mid-season Twitter wager.
“Oh how wrong I was, how wonderfully, spectacularly, blissfully wrong,” the former England striker wrote in The Guardian in March.
“A collection of individuals who couldn’t win a football match for love nor money a year ago have turned into an invincible force. A team with a spirit and togetherness the like of which the game has seldom seen. All beautifully held together by the canny, inspirational – yes, inspirational – Tinkerman.”
Inspirational, indeed, and far more humble than the abrasive Pearson before him.
That is not to say Ranieri has been any less prolific in filling newspaper columns with his musings as he has built and built and built until Leicester have hit the very top.
“I want to see them as warriors for the fans. Kasabian are a fantastic rock band from Leicester and I think the guitar man, Serge, is Italian,” went one soundbyte.
“We have a training session and I ask them when they want to eat pizza. It’s carbohydrate, good for the muscles. I’m very happy, very glad.”
“Yes, big revenge… I want to kill him!”
WATCH: “I want to kill him,” jokes Claudio Ranieri about Quique Flores. pic.twitter.com/76rkvgE5hK
— BBC Leicester Sport (@BBCRLSport) November 5, 2015
Out of context, the latter quote appears straight out of the Pearson playbook of trembling fear, but it was delivered with a tongue-in-cheek bonhomie that has become Ranieri’s trademark.
Though it is easy to become swept up in the comedy of Ranieri, he has extracted all of the nous that comes with a near 30-year managerial career to perfection this season.
The received wisdom that Ranieri has succeeded by merely aping last season’s approach is far from true.
Marc Albrighton and Danny Drinkwater seemed to be bit-part pieces shunted into Pearson’s 3-5-2 system, but are now key components in the Large Hadron Collider of a 4-4-2 that has won the Premier League.
N’Golo Kante – with a “pack full of batteries hidden in his shorts” – Christian Fuchs and Shinji Okazaki have each added high-octane presences.
Kante, perhaps, best sums up Ranieri’s triumph. From game to game, and even within them, he has the ability to immediately switch between a deep-bursting goal threat, box-to-box ball carrier and a deep-rooted protector of worlds in front of the seemingly magnetised defensive wall comprised of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth.
Leicester’s method has also undergone routine facelifts – starting the season as barn-burning comeback specialists that lost just once despite falling behind in five of their opening nine games and bloody-mindedly burrowing their way to the title on the back of 12 clean sheets in their last 18 outings.
Ranieri is a deserved winner after a career of near misses and shoddy treatment.
He endured pointless final months at Chelsea as Jose Mourinho waited to oust him, before being sacked by Juventus and Monaco despite bringing them Champions League football within a year of them playing in their respective second tiers.
Mourinho once publicly belittled Ranieri by saying he was nearly 70 when the then-Juve boss was in fact 57. The Leicester boss would gain more “big revenge” as Riyad Mahrez jinked, bamboozled and tortured the Chelsea defence before hammering the final nail into Mourinho’s Stamford Bridge coffin.
After that 2-1 win in mid-December, Ranieri said after the match that he was only focused on winning five more points in order to reach the heralded safety milestone of 40.
But Leicester continued to thrive and Ranieri excelled in managing frenzied expectations, making him well worth the place among English football’s legends that is now his forever.
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