Claudio Ranieri says he made a deal with Leicester City’s players not to bombard them with tactical theories before plotting their remarkable bid for the Premier League title.
Leicester achieved a crucial 3-1 win at Manchester City on Saturday, denying their rivals a chance to relieve them of top spot and establishing a five-point advantage over Tottenham and Arsenal, who are level on 48 points in second and third respectively.
The Foxes occupying top spot with 13 matches of the league campaign remaining represents a truly staggering state of affairs for Ranieri, whose appointment as Nigel Pearson’s successor at the King Power Stadium received a lukewarm reception during the close-season.
The former Chelsea manager has revealed how he set about establishing a bond of dressing room trust that has helped Leicester’s season to flourish beyond all expectations.
“When I spoke with the players I realised that they were afraid of the Italian tactics,” Ranieri told Corriere della Sera. “To an Italian coach, football means trying to control the game by following the ideas and systems of the coach. You talk so much about football.
“They did not look convinced and neither was I. I have great admiration for those who build new tactical systems but I always thought the first job for a good coach is to build the team around the characteristics of his players.
“I told the players I trusted them and I would talk very little about tactics. For me the important thing was that they all ran hard as I had seen them do towards the end of last season.”
Along with taking unnecessary complexity out of his early approach with the Leicester squad, Ranieri prescribed plenty of rest to combat the rigours of a Premier League season.
“My boys are training a lot, but not too many times,” he said. “In England the game is always high intensity, it exhausts. You need to recover.
“I make sure the players have at least two days away from the ball each week. This is the pact I made [with the players] on the first day – I trust you, I’ll explain some football ideas to you once in a while, you always give me everything.
“I do not think it’s a perfect formula but football is not chemistry, [there are] no universal rules. What matters is getting the best out of the squad you have.
“Here at Leicester everyone feels they are participating, so playing badly means betraying the others. They are free men, aware that they have a job and responsibility. They enjoy maintaining that. This is what makes me proudest.”
It is an approach that has produced stunning returns but among what Ranieri claims to be a grounded squad.
“When they train, they treat it like a game. I never once had to tell someone off for laziness,” he added.
“They expect calm and respect in the dressing room. If you want to be a prima donna, they won’t forgive you.”
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