Matt Lawton for the Daily Mail

On a wall in his private lounge at Leicester City’s stadium Claudio Ranieri has photographs of the 19 other Premier League managers.

Many of the faces have changed since he was last here in English football, but peering over his left shoulder is the man who was lined up to replace him at Chelsea all those years ago while he was endeavouring to beat Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ to the title and Monaco to a place in the Champions League final.

‘Jose Mourinho was the first person to send me a message saying, “Welcome back Claudio”,’ says Ranieri. ‘He’s a nice boy.’

Claudio Ranieri has photographs of the other 19 Premier League managers in his private lounge

Claudio Ranieri has photographs of the other 19 Premier League managers in his private lounge

Ranieri has had the photos installed so he can 'welcome' his opposing managers into the King Power Stadium

Ranieri has had the photos installed so he can ‘welcome’ his opposing managers into the King Power Stadium

Ranieri says the first boss to send him a message after his Foxes appointment was Jose Mourinho 

Ranieri says the first boss to send him a message after his Foxes appointment was Jose Mourinho 

Sitting here is a nice man. Too nice, some might argue. Certainly too forgiving when you consider how shoddily he was treated by Roman Abramovich. There was the meeting with Sven Goran Eriksson, then the England manager. The not-so-secret pursuit of Mourinho. All rather humiliating for the affable Italian and something that seemed to re-surface when he engaged in a rather public spat with Mourinho during their spell as rivals in Serie A.

‘Football managers are like lawyers,’ he says. ‘People like to change them. I remember talking to Trevor Birch, the chief executive. I was in the car, heading to London to prepare for pre-season. And he called to tell me there was a new owner and so on. And I said remember, you are the first and I am the second to go home. Because with a new owner I knew that was normal.

‘Roman arrived in the summer of 2003 and we were starting to build a new team. I had signed players like Lampard, Makelele, Petit. I talked to Roman. I said, “Buy Drogba”. In the previous year I wanted Eto’o. We arrived second and reached the semi-final of the Champions League. 

Ranieri waves an emotional farewell to Chelsea fans following his last game in charge in 2004
Ranieri waves an emotional farewell to Chelsea fans following his last game in charge in 2004

Ranieri waves an emotional farewell to Chelsea fans following his last game in charge in 2004

A young Jose Mourinho (left) was being groomed for Ranieri's position, even when the Italian was still in the job

A young Jose Mourinho (left) was being groomed for Ranieri’s position, even when the Italian was still in the job

Ranieri was responsible for the signings of Frank Lampard (left) and Claude Makelele while at Chelsea
Ranieri was responsible for the signings of Frank Lampard (left) and Claude Makelele while at Chelsea

Ranieri was responsible for the signings of Frank Lampard (left) and Claude Makelele while at Chelsea 

‘We lost the title to the Arsenal team that was unbeaten. I think it was good. But I understood from the beginning that Roman wanted to change things. He wanted to take Eriksson. It didn’t happen. He said, “OK Claudio, continue with your job”. But I knew at the end of the season that my job would be finished.

‘I understood. It was no problem for me. This is the life of the football manager.’

At 63 it has been a rich and varied life. Leicester is his 15th job in 28 years in football management and he remains as passionate about it now as he was when he followed a brief spell in amateur football by taking charge in 1987 of Campania Puteolana, a small club in Pozzuoli. Indeed, he says he even hopes to ‘continue as a football manager’ in the ‘afterlife’.

‘I believe in the afterlife,’ he says, having just explained why Ghost, complete with its infamous pottery scene, is his favourite movie. ‘I believe in something else,’ he explains. ‘It’s a positive film.’

Ranieri oozes positivity. ‘I am a positive man!’ he declares with a broad smile, even if he does admit that losing to the Faroe Islands in his previous, all too brief, life as the manager of Greece was far from his finest hour.

Leicester is the 63-year-old's 15th job in 28 years of football management

Leicester is the 63-year-old’s 15th job in 28 years of football management

The Italian looks relaxed as he conducts a Leicester training session on Thursday 

The Italian looks relaxed as he conducts a Leicester training session on Thursday 

‘It was horrendous,’ he says. ‘To lose to the Island Faroes, of course, horrendous.

‘Now a lot of criticism from Greece. I played four matches. I could train them more or less three days. So 12 days’ training. I am not a magician. A lot needed changing. I read a piece saying Ranieri lost twice to the Islands Faroe. It’s not true! I lost one. Now they want to give me the second. But I am not Jesus Christ.’ He says it was not his professional nadir either. ‘That was my second time at Valencia. I said they are a long way from the team that won the league. It will take time. They said, “Don’t worry, you have time”. I was sacked in the March.

‘But, again, this is football. I arrived at Monaco and they ask me to finish third. I finish second (after securing promotion) and he want to change. OK. What can I do?’

He accepts he could have done more against Monaco in that 2004 Champions League semi-final with Chelsea. Or perhaps less in the circumstances. That first leg, in particular, is remembered as the game when the Tinkerman tinkered too much. When some bizarre substitutions enabled a Monaco side reduced to 10 men to score two late goals and take a commanding 3-1 lead into the second leg at Stamford Bridge.

‘My view is that I make a mistake because we are 1-1 and I wanted to change. I changed Melchiot and I put on Hasselbaink instead.

‘We had two or three chances to score. But after Morientes scores and they score again. And I say, “Oh no, an Italian manager cannot let that happen! One-one, stay, and then you play at home”. That night Roman invited me to join him on his boat. But I said no, I am too tired. I go to bed in the team hotel.’

Ranieri accepts he could've done more against Monaco in the 2004 Champions League semi-final with Chelsea

Ranieri accepts he could’ve done more against Monaco in the 2004 Champions League semi-final with Chelsea

Danish winger Jesper Gronkjaer had given Chelsea an early 1-0 with a long-range effort

Danish winger Jesper Gronkjaer had given Chelsea an early 1-0 with a long-range effort

However, Fernando Morientes scored twice to earn a 2-2 draw and knock Chelsea out of Europe

However, Fernando Morientes scored twice to earn a 2-2 draw and knock Chelsea out of Europe

Eidur Gudjohnsen was left in tears as semi-final favourites Chelsea were eliminated
Eidur Gudjohnsen was left in tears as semi-final favourites Chelsea were eliminated

Eidur Gudjohnsen was left in tears as semi-final favourites Chelsea were eliminated

He nevertheless reflects on his spell at Chelsea as ‘a fantastic time’. There is not a hint of bitterness.

‘I still have the house I bought in London,’ he says. ‘When I arrive it was Zola and his team-mates who said, “Coach, don’t rent because you spend a lot of money in London and at the end you don’t have anything. It is much better to buy”.

‘We never rented it out, so sometimes my wife and I would come to London to visit. I have been many times to watch Chelsea. When I go, Roman said to me, “This is your house so when you want, come back”. My relationship with Roman is very good.’

Not everyone was quite so welcoming when he was announced as Nigel Pearson’s replacement at Leicester.

Gary Lineker, the former Leicester striker, described the appointment at the King Power Stadium as ‘uninspiring’ while Harry Redknapp said he was surprised Ranieri ‘can walk back into the Premier League’.

Match of the Day host Gary Lineker claimed Leciester's appointment of Ranieri was 'uninspiring' 

Match of the Day host Gary Lineker claimed Leciester’s appointment of Ranieri was ‘uninspiring’ 

The former Chelsea man insists he actually quite likes his 'Tinkerman' nickname

The former Chelsea man insists he actually quite likes his ‘Tinkerman’ nickname

This did not stop Ranieri talking to Lineker on Match of the Day last weekend after recording a second win in as many games to leave his side second in the Premier League. ‘I respect everybody,’ he says. ‘I think everything is fine, everything is good. I spoke with Gary last weekend and it was very funny. I forgive everything.

‘Why? The life is very short. I love the criticism if I think it’s right. Maybe I didn’t think about it. But I go straight with my idea and then I work hard. Maybe one day they can change their opinion. Harry Redknapp also wasn’t so easy with me.

‘But I love people, not only Leicester fans. I’m very happy.

‘Do I get annoyed? I can look happy and not be. If I’m very angry, you will know. I am a fighter. I’m very positive and happy to be here at Leicester.

‘The chairman is positive with me, I met him in London on Wednesday and he’s very happy with me — I hope!’

Is he not simply demonstrating what he proved at Chelsea and at various other clubs he served — that he is actually a decent manager? That the Tinkerman tag does not exactly do him justice? That he started the job which Mourinho then completed at Stamford Bridge?

‘People forget,’ he says. ‘I am satisfied with that I did. I am very satisfied with John Terry and Frank Lampard.

‘When I came in at Chelsea there were the centre backs who had won the World Cup (Marcel Desailly and Frank Leboeuf), but when I watched Terry in the reserve team I said, “No, this man comes with me”.

‘I put Leboeuf on the bench and Terry played. How many managers do this?

Ranieri pushed a young John Terry (left) into the Blues first team, where he has stayed for 10 years 

Ranieri pushed a young John Terry (left) into the Blues first team, where he has stayed for 10 years 

‘I don’t mind “the Tinkerman”. For me it is a good nickname because also in Italy I change the first line-up, just to surprise the opponent. Now in Italy everyone is doing the same.

‘Also here, in England, you see the same. I bring the flag of the Tinkerman, but now a lot of Tinkermen here. I take this as a positive, not a negative.’

After beating Sunderland and West Ham, after recruiting a player of the quality of Gokhan Inler, he could not be more content. After 11 years away he is also delighted to be back in English football.

Ranieri admits there were other opportunities to return here in the past. At one stage he was even linked with Manchester City. ‘Sometimes there was something but never close in the end,’ he says. ‘But now I’m very happy to be back in the Premier League, and to be here. I found a very good club, a good organisation.

Foxes boss Ranieri shakes hands with his new signing as Gokhan Inler is introduced to the media 

Foxes boss Ranieri shakes hands with his new signing as Gokhan Inler is introduced to the media 

Ilner was chased by several clubs, but Ranieri managed to secure the midfielder's signature

Ilner was chased by several clubs, but Ranieri managed to secure the midfielder’s signature

The Switzerland international is put through his paces during Leicester training on Thursday

The Switzerland international is put through his paces during Leicester training on Thursday

‘I am an old manager and for me the feeling is now important. Between me and the club, between me and the owner, between me and the players and the fans. Here at Leicester it feels good and I hope it is my last job. I have a three-year contract. I am 63.’

He says it was always an ambition to return to English football.

‘I wanted to come back,’ he says. ‘Maybe because of the respect, the stadiums, everything. In Italy, the Premier League is considered the top.

‘When you see the fans, the stadiums are every time full. And big champions, good football. All of this in Italy we find amazing. A lot of fans in Italy watch on television the Premier League.

The Foxes have enjoyed a blistering start to the season and made it two wins from two against West Ham

The Foxes have enjoyed a blistering start to the season and made it two wins from two against West Ham

Shinji Okazaki (right) wheels away after scoring his first goal for Leicester in the win over West Ham

Shinji Okazaki (right) wheels away after scoring his first goal for Leicester in the win over West Ham

‘It’s difficult to say how it has changed after only two matches but when I was here before there was Sir Alex Ferguson and fantastic champions in Manchester United. There was the Arsenal side that was unbeaten. Now a lot has changed. Manchester City wasn’t so high level 11 years ago.’

The faces of those he will meet on the touchline have certainly changed. But why the photographs on the wall?

‘To welcome them,’ he says. ‘I have not done it before. But after the game I invite them into this room. It’s good for them, the pictures.’

 

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