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In defence of Claudio Ranieri

It is fair to say that Claudio Ranieri wasn’t the most popular choice for the job following the sacking of Nigel Pearson with high profile fans like Gary Lineker pouring cold water on the appointment. Richard Hinman defends the Italian and outlines his past exploits.

Claudio Ranineri 2015

“An uninspired choice”. This was how Leicester’s favourite son Gary Lineker reacted to the news that his hometown club had appointed 63 year-old Claudio Ranieri as their new manager. Lineker is not the only person to be less than impressed with Nigel Pearson’s successor at the King Power stadium. Numerous columns and articles have appeared in recent weeks opposing Leicester’s decision to employ the Tinkerman’s services after his 11 year absence from English football.

Often labelled as a loser or a second place man, not many have the admiration for Ranieri that he deserves. It is too easy to view a manager’s trophy collection and jump to conclusions about their career as a whole. As Jose Mourinho elegantly put it, “He is nearly 70 years old and has won a Super Cup and another small cup.” Mourinho said this when Ranieri was 58 and he was completely wrong. Ranieri has won 9 honours as a manager although most of them were not at the elite level of the European game. Although Ranieri’s medal collection can be seen as quite bare, Ranieri has achieved more success than meets the eye.

Ranieri has never had an easy job. He has twice been in charge of clubs with unrealistic expectations following the arrival of multi-millionaire owners. The first was at Chelsea over a decade ago, the second was his most recent job in the European club game, at Monaco. He has also taken on jobs where there has been a dominant and almost unsurpassable team in the league. He did so twice in a post-Calciopoli Serie A where he guided both Juventus and Roma with distinction competing against an Inter side who won five league titles between 2006-2010. Ranieri also took charge of Valencia against the might of Barcelona and Real Madrid, a tenure during which he achieved both domestic and European success.

The most contentious part of Ranieri’s managerial career, certainly amongst the English press, is his time at Stamford Bridge. Ranieri spent four years at the club and despite not having a trophy to show for it, the Tinkerman worked wonders at the West London club.

Ranieri built the foundations that would led to a decade of success for Chelsea in the years after he was sacked by Roman Abramovich. The signings that he made at the club were inspired. Frank Lampard, Damien Duff, Claude Makelele and Joe Cole were all brought in under Ranieri and would prove to be vital first team regulars for him and his successors. Despite never playing under Ranieri, it was the Italian who signed Petr Cech for Chelsea, who went on to become a legend at the football club. Although Mourinho would never admit it, he would not have won the title at Chelsea without the work of Ranieri, at least not in his first season at the Bridge. It was also under Ranieri that club icon John Terry was first given the armband, in the absence of Marcel Desailly, although it was Mourinho who gave Terry the captaincy on a full time basis.

Ranieri also achieved success on the pitch as well. He took a team which was used to finishing outside of the top four and made them title challengers. It is important to remember that Ranieri only had the millions of Abramovich’s wealth for one season during his time at Chelsea. The vast majority of his best signings were made before the Russian took over the club. It also has to be said that Ranieri was up against some incredible competition. During the early period of his time at Chelsea, it was Manchester United’s treble winning team which dominated the Premier League while in his final year, Ranieri’s Chelsea were pipped to the title by Arsenal’s Invincibles. Ranieri came up against two of the best teams in the history of English football and pushed them all the way.

The Italian did in fact defeat the great Arsenal team. In the Champions League quarter finals in the 2003-04 season, Ranieri beat the invincibles. After a 1-1 draw in the first leg at the Bridge, in which they had been down to ten after Desailly was sent off, Ranieri and his side went to Highbury with everything to do. Early in the game, Arsenal went 1-0 up and Chelsea were on the brink. But two goals, including a late winner from Wayne Bridge, were enough for Chelsea to knock out the favourites. In doing so Chelsea had ended their 17 match winless streak over their London rivals which had stretched back over six years.

Chelsea were unable to progress past the Semi-final stage but Ranieri had turned the club into a European force. Mourinho, in his four full seasons at the club, has only ever reached the semi-final stage once and never gone beyond it. Ranieri undoubtedly achieved success at Chelsea. He has done likewise in both Spain and his native Italy.

In the first stages of his managerial career Ranieri won a league and cup double in third tier of Italian football with Cagliari. Then the Tinkerman achieved remarkable success with Fiorentina. He won the Serie B title and in the following season won the Coppa Italia. Imagine the praise a manager in England would get if he won the Championship and the FA Cup in consecutive campaigns.

His big move came when he joined Valencia. During his time in Spain he secured Champions League qualification and developed young talents including Gaizka Mendieta who would be sold by the club for a world record fee. Ranieri claimed the Copa del Rey in 1999 and the Intertoto Cup was won in the previous season.

His next job in Italy would be at Parma. The side looked doomed for relegation after picking up just 15 points in their first 23 matches. But Ranieri inspired a turnaround which would see them finish 12th in Serie A and collect 17 points from the final 10 games of the season.

Ranieri then took over at Juventus. He guided Juve to a 2nd and 3rd place finish in the two seasons after they were promoted from the second tier, a remarkable success. The fact that the club finished 7th in the two seasons after Ranieri left the side speaks volumes of how well he had done during his time in Turin.

The Tinkerman went home to Rome in 2009. He loved his time at the Olimpico despite being sacked after a disappointing end to his spell in charge. He would lead his boyhood club to an incredible season in 2009/10. They pushed Mourinho’s treble winning Inter all the way. The Serie A title race went down to the final day as Roma missed out of their fourth Italian championship by just two points. Roma also reached the Coppa Italia final where they were again beaten by Inter.

Ranieri most recent club job was with Monaco. Joining the French side in 2012, he led the club to their first ever Ligue 2 title. Then the following season he guided the club to second place in Ligue 1 with an incredible 80 points on their return to the French top flight. Ranieri was rather harshly sacked in the summer of 2014.

It is not the case that Ranieri has enjoyed success wherever he has been. He enjoyed a disappointing time at Atletico Madrid before joining Chelsea and his return to Valencia in 2004 was a disaster. Worst of all was his most recent job as head coach of Greece. Ranieri lasted only four games as Greek coach and was unpopular amongst players and fans alike. The recent failures, however, of Guus Hiddink and Fabio Capello, as coaches of the Netherlands and Russia respectively, shows even the best can endure disappointing spells in the modern game.

After over a decade away from the English game, Ranieri finds himself back where he wants to be. “I have dreamt of another chance to work in the best league in the world again.” Ranieri told reporters as he was presented as Leicester’s new manager. The Italian has the experience to cope with anything that comes his way in the Midlands. He also has the track record to take Leicester to the next level, like he has done on so many occasions during his long career at the top of the European game.

Written by Richard Hinman

Richard Hinman

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