LONDON – If nothing succeeds like failure, Claudio Ranieri will remain in a job for a long time. At the highest level, managers tend to be judged on their record . . . what they have won . . . how much success they have brought to clubs or national teams.
Ranieri, 63, has proved to be one of football great survivors, somehow able to find another job despite winning only the Coppa Italia with Fiorentina in 1996 and the Copa del Rey in his first spell with Valencia three years later. He is the compensation king of European football, a multi-millionaire as a result of various clubs and one national association paying him off handsomely.
Since leaving Chelsea, he has been sacked from six of his last seven posts, the last being Greece, where he was in charge for four months with a record of P5, W0, D1, L4, one defeat being at home to the Faroe Islands. Giorgos Sarris, president of the Greek Football Association, said Ranieri was “the most unfortunate choice of coach.”
The news of Ranieri’s appointment at Leicester was certainly surprising as the Italian wasn’t even on the bookmakers’ list of candidates.
Few transfers or managerial arrivals escape the radar of the media, but Leicester pulled this one out of the hat, though the announcement was greeted with disbelief, head-scratching and even laughter. Lovely man, shame about his record. Former Leicester striker Gary Lineker called it “uninspiring.”
Ranieri is no stranger to English football, of course, having managed Chelsea for 3½ years, the takeover by Roman Abramovich in 2003 effectively ending his time at Stamford Bridge where he was tagged “a dead man walking” before Jose Mourinho took over as manager.
While Ranieri won nothing at Chelsea, where he was given the nickname “Tinkerman” because of his almost addiction to making team changes, it would be harsh to say he was a failure. Abramovich wanted Mourinho, who had just won the Champions League with FC Porto so his days were numbered. Ranieri conducted himself with dignity and Chelsea players speak fondly of him.
Leicester had escaped what appeared to be certain relegation by winning seven of their final nine games last season. Nigel Pearson, while a bit of a loose cannon, was sacked, his departure owing more to a Thai sex video involving his son, James, a fringe player at the club, than his record.
If it was understandable that chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, a Thai billionaire, would not be impressed by James’ activities, sacking his father and then naming Ranieri as his successor seemed managerial madness.
Oh to have been a fly on the wall when Srivaddhanaprabha and his directors discussed their next manager.
“Does anyone have Ranieri’s CV?”
“Here it is.”
“OK, so since leaving Chelsea 11 years ago, he was sacked by Valencia, Parma and Juventus. He resigned from Roma, was sacked by Inter Milan, Monaco and then Greece. All in favor? He’s our man, then.”
After two games Leicester is second in the Premier League after beating Sunderland (as most teams do) and West Ham. What will give Ranieri particular pleasure is Leicester being five points ahead of Chelsea.
Ranieri and Mouninho were involved in several verbal battles when they managed in Italy, and after one defeat Ranieri said: “I am not like Mourinho. I don’t have to win things to be sure of myself.”
Mourinho’s response had all his usual charm: “Ranieri? I guess he’s right with what he said. I am very demanding of myself and I have to win to be sure of things. This is why I have won so many trophies in my career.
“Ranieri, on the other hand, has the mentality of someone who doesn’t need to win. He is almost 70 years old. He has won a Super Cup and another small trophy and he is too old to change his mentality. . .
“I studied Italian five hours a day for many months to ensure I could communicate with the players, media and fans. Ranieri had been in England for five years and still struggled to say ‘good morning’ and ‘good afternoon.’ “
Rubbing shoulders with the big boys at the top of the league is unlikely to last too long for Leicester, which plays Tottenham on Saturday. No one will begrudge the hugely likeable Ranieri this early success even if reality is probably not far away.
Pedro’s move: We will never really know precisely why Pedro signed for Chelsea rather than Manchester United. All concerned will trot out the party line which suits them, with the truth somewhere in the middle.
A fee of £21 million for a 28-year-old World Cup winner who has won five La Liga titles, three Champions Leagues and two Copa del Reys with Barcelona is hardly excessive. United unconvincingly claims it walked away from the deal, but this was only after Chelsea became serious players in the transfer market.
More likely is that Pedro realized that Spanish-speakers have not flourished under Louis van Gaal, a former Barcelona coach who has had various problems with Angel di Maria, Victor Valdes, David de Gea and Rademal Falcao.
One skeptical fan tweeted: “United saying they ended their interest in Pedro is like saying I ended my interest in Angelina Jolie so she had to marry Brad Pitt instead.”
No doubt Pedro would be flattered to be compared with Pitt.
Piqué’s punishment: The Spanish Football Federation handed Gerard Piqué a four-game suspension after the Barcelona defender told an assistant referee: “I’ll s**t on your f***ing mother,” according to the referee’s report.
He was arguing about an offside decision not being given in the Super Cup second leg against Athletic Bilbao.
Barcelona denied Piqué, who was shown the red card, said this, effectively calling the official a liar and making it up. I wish the English Football Association would make public the insults English match officials have to endure. It may shame players into being more careful with their language if they knew their tirade of abuse would be published.
There is no reason why such things should be kept private and the paying customers have a right to know exactly why a player has been sent off.
Quick wit: Ian Wright, who played for both clubs, was asked by a BBC 5 Live presenter what he made of Arsenal’s performance in its 2-1 win at Crystal Palace.
His response showed the value of having played the game at the top level of English football.
“Arsenal done what they did,” he said.
How can mere footy hacks possibly compete with such inside knowledge?
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.
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