Week 133 (30 April - 6 May 2016)
It’s not often that a visiting manager is applauded by Manchester United fans at Old Trafford but that was exactly the welcome Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri was given last Sunday as the Italian took his team to the Theatre of Dreams and secured a 1-1 draw – a result which effectively secured the Foxes their maiden Premier League title and thus sparking a week-long party in Leicester and across the wider sporting world.
Feeding the party atmosphere around Leicester’s astonishing achievement was the British press going into overdrive. Yet whilst the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez received every superlative in the English language, no one has received as much admiration as Leicester City’s manager Claudio Ranieri.
After 30 years manging football clubs, including giants of the game in Italy like Juventus, Inter Milan, Roma, Napoli and Fiorentina, the affable Italian had not won a major league title until guiding Leicester to the pinnacle of English football. The improbability of his and his players’ achievement is highlighted by the fact that Leicester were many people’s favourites to be relegated this season. Their odds on winning the title back in August were 5000–1. The same odds as Elvis being alive.
No-one had given Leicester, or Ranieri, a chance. The BBC’s top football presenter and Leicester fan Gary Lineker summed up most Leicester fans’ feelings at the start of the season when he tweeted “Claudio Ranieri? Really?” The Italian manager has silenced his critics in spectacular fashion.
And he has done it with humility and charm, challenging the convention that football managers must show supreme self-confidence at every turn.
Ranieri played the reverse trick: steadfastly maintaining the perception that his side were not champion material but an ordinary bunch of hard working players playing well. Everyone believed it (perhaps because it was indeed true) and thus everyone believed Leicester’s title challenge would fade at some point. Even as the title was within Leicester’s grasp, Ranieri was taking nothing for granted, saying “I know it is not easy because, in my mind, Tottenham will win all their matches and we will need all five points. Three matches, two away and one at home. We have to be concentrated.”
Whilst Ranieri’s expectations management undoubtedly protected his players from feeling the pressure, he was never short of praise for his team, explaining “these players are like my sons” – and “I don’t want big names here. My lads are special.”
Ranieri’s skilful communications kept his players level-headed, focused and highly, highly motivated in their quest to achieve the seemingly impossible. And so they did.