There really are no words to describe Leicester City and this seasons Premier League title triumph.
With a rampant Tottenham Hotspur hot on their heels for the last few weeks of the league season, the title was finally clinched last night after Chelsea claimed a 2-2 draw over Mauricio Pochettino’s young guns following a fiercely competitive, perhaps a little bit nasty, London Derby.
Not only were the Foxes’ a 5000-1 long-shot at the start of the season, they were head-and-shoulders above the rest of the competition from start to finish, making fools of the supposed ‘top four’ that have depressingly made England’s top division a predictable money market.
Whilst every part of the Leicester story is remarkable in its apparent impossibility, plaudits must be first of all be paid to the calm collected figure of the manager.
Just 17 months ago Claudio Ranieri was ending a disastrous employment as Greece manager.
Four matches into his tenure, the former Euro 2004 Champions were left rock bottom of Group F. The real nail in the coffin however was a humiliating defeat to European whipping boys the Faroe Islands.
It was the minnows’ 20th win in 28 years as an established side, a superb feat for essentially a band of schoolteachers, bank clerks and lumberjacks.
The result was so painful it led to Hellenic Football Federation president Giorgos Sarris announcing:
Following today’s devastating result for the national team, 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.
The governing board will convene and take responsibility among all the members to make the necessary changes needed to avoid a repeat of such an embarrassing night.
Harsh words indeed, however not completely unwarranted. Ranieri’s Greece were truly a horrific sight.
Yet the ‘Tinkerman’ was defiant.
My pedigree was down but how is that possible? I trained with Greece for 15 days, split four times. Three or four training sessions. What can I do? I am not a magician.
The players are good, but if you don’t have the time to speak with them…. they play, then they go home. After that it was ‘Ranieri is no good, go home’. I was sacked.
The sacking followed a period of reflection for the Italian. Before another job opportunity would arise he requested to attend training with various top level managers such as Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.
Ranieri after all understood you could never be to too old to learn from the game. The period of reflection seemingly paid dividends.
This seasons Premier League crown is 64-year-old’s first major trophy. Too few for those of Mourinho’s ilk, however Claudio has never had it easy – his ability as a ‘firefighter’ perhaps his strongest feature in the eyes of many a club owner.
Tenures at host of European clubs, Juventus, Monaco even his beloved Roma, were usually at great times of uncertainty.
Whilst the Italian would be labeled in England as indecisive, the ‘Tinkerman’ by some, on the continent Ranieri was known for his steady hands.
Something Leicester City would soon require.
Last season saw Leicester City run rampant over Manchester United in an early season 5-3 Premier League classic.
Whilst the confidence inspiring victory was rousing, somehow the Foxes capitulated for much of the remaining games until they staring relegation in the face.
Despite such trivialities as Ostrich-gate, Nigel Pearson impressively turned rotten form into a sparkling late run, seven wins in their last nine games in fact, to save his sides Premier League skin.
However, after already falling a foul of the owners due to his erratic nature, not to mention an unsavoury incident involving his son, Pearson was soon given the old heave-ho the following summer.
Prior to his Leicester City appointment, you could easily put your ear to the ground (not an Ostrich joke) at any location in the country to hear the collective groan of Foxes’ fans ready set for another season of struggle.
To put it mildly, Ranieri was seen by many factions as a manager from the which the game had moved on, a Louis van Gaal or Fabio Capello if you will.
If Leicester City were going to stay in the league for another season, Ranieri would surely have to effect his new side with some backing in the transfer department. Leicester strengthened their squad superbly with first team name stays Christian Fuchs, N’Golo Kanté and Shinji Okazaki.
Ranieri’s main focus however was the squad that he had inherited, namely the untapped potential of Riyad Mahrez, a 2014 signing from modest French club Le Havre, Danny Drinkwater, an unused midfield engine and Jamie Vardy, a former non league striker who had shown flashes of genius the previous season.
The former Chelsea boss had previously become a fan favourite during his first spell at Valencia for making his side place with efficiency and defensive solidity in his tactically rigorous 4–4–2 formation, as well as their use of high pressing to win back possession, and their ability to score from counter-attacks.
Very much the template for his success this season.
Some may call it luck that the Italian had the perfect players to implement this ideology, Nigel Pearson certainly deserves his plaudits for the introduction of many of the first team, the mind bogglingly consistent nature that Leicester went about their jobs however sinks any notions of fortune.
This league season Leicester won the league with two matches remaining and, two everyone’s surprise, played everyone off the park doing it.
Not too bad for a ‘70-year-old, who’s old and hasn’t won anything‘, ay?
I am 64 years old, I’ve been fighting for a long time, but I was always positive and had positivity on my side.
I always thought that I’d end up winning a league title somewhere eventually. I am the same man who was fired by Greece, perhaps someone there had forgotten about my career.
It’s not as if anyone will forget, but I like to point out I am the same man who was on the Greece bench. I haven’t changed.
– Claudio Raniero – del Lunedi show