On the door to the treatment room at the Belvoir Road training ground, Dave Rennie, the Leicester City physio, had posted a handmade sign. ‘Closed due to unforeseen circumstances,’ it read. Beneath was a picture of the Premier League trophy and the message ‘Champions’.
A corridor or so away, in a room usually occupied by the parents of academy trainees, the man who more than any other made that miracle happen was informally holding court. Claudio Ranieri had celebrated with his players, dined with his employers and now sat before the sceptics, vindicated.
Those who doubted Leicester’s staying power, many who doubted Ranieri’s appointment last summer, could only offer sincere applause. Revenge is not his style, though.
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Leicester physio Dave Rennie left this note on the door of the treatment room at Belvoir Road on Tuesday
Leicester players celebrate winning the Premier League title during their training session on Tuesday
Claudio Ranieri was polite and generous in his credit to others when he spoke to the media at Belvoir Road
He was, as always, polite, generous in his credit to others but with a sense of validation that comes from being a title-winning manager at last. He said he did not bear grudges over some of the unkind statements that greeted his return to English football.
‘I was busy with the team,’ he said. ‘I did not know what was spoken about. But if they ask, “Why Ranieri?” if they say, “Others are much better”, I say, “OK Claudio — show. Show what you can do”.’
There it was: the same quiet certainty he took into the Leicester dressing-room.
‘Always show me everything you’ve got, and every now and again I will explain a little football to you,’ he told one players’ meeting.
‘You maintain this spirit, and on it I will put my Italian tactics,’ was another message.
Behind the geniality and generosity is a man who is absolutely sure of his methodology. Ranieri has taken a team with some of the worst pass completion and possession statistics in the league and turned them into champions with two games to spare.
When Ranieri (centre) arrived at Leicester, many doubted whether he would be able to keep the club up
Ranieri (second left) insists he does not forget where he started in management, and his other ‘fairytales’
This is a manager who knows exactly what he is about, who assessed and organised his players to perfection almost from the first game of the season.
Listening to him explain it on Tuesday, the league won, the secret out, was to hear Leicester’s story with all the romance removed, reduced to good coaching, good man-management, good planning, expert analysis. The fundamentals of the job.
Changing from three to four at the back; finding room for Marc Albrighton and Riyad Mahrez; switching his full-backs. Come on, how do you think it happened? Nobody wins the League with Leicester just by shouting dilly-ding, dilly-dong.
‘When I was in Austria, pre-season, I watched the group,’ he said. ‘I was sensitive to the feeling in the dressing room and I said to them, “It is not important that you understand 25 people here — it is important that you understand me, only me. If you understand me, we could do something good”.
Ranieri is mobbed by hundreds of Leicester supporters as he leaves an Italian restaurant after lunch
Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (left) was in attendance at the training ground and clearly delighted
All season, Ranieri has been humble and respectful, even when the odds were against him in the early stages
WHAT IS DILLY-DING, DILLY-DONG?
It’s Claudio Ranieri’s catchphrase which he first used as a novel way of keeping his players alert in training.
The Leicester manager explained in March: ‘I tell them, “Dilly ding, dilly dong” when they are sleeping. From the beginning, when something was wrong, I said, “Dilly ding, dilly dong, wake up” during training sessions.’
Ranieri bought the players a little bell for Christmas and recently used the phrase to play down the pressure of the title race. He said: ‘Dilly ding, dilly dong, we are in Champions League man!’
‘I decided to play 4-4-2 then. I told the players they ended the season fantastic with three at the back, and I started like that, but I didn’t feel that football.
‘Look, I played it, I played it at Valencia, we won the Copa del Rey, we qualified for the Champions League, and in my first Leicester game we had three, but I didn’t like it and I changed. In England a lot of teams play 4-3-3 and then you have three defenders against one.
‘Then I watched Mahrez and every time he made a difference it was coming in from the right side. But Albrighton can make a lot of crosses from the right side, too. So I changed, with Albrighton playing on the left to come inside.
‘Then I realised we were so fast on the counter-attack, so good. I told them, “We are like the RAF, come on”. They believed in this and we started winning our first matches, so there was confidence and enthusiasm. Then I changed the full-backs. I put Danny Simpson on the right, Christian Fuchs on the left and we were more solid.
Ranieri managed Chelsea but was unable to secure a league title; he has now managed it with the Foxes
Riyad Mahrez is one player who has benefited from Ranieri’s management; the Italian found him a spot
‘When I arrived, they all thought, “Oh, new manager, different philosophy, maybe I will go here instead, maybe I go there”. Robert Huth said there would be two training sessions every day but I told them, “Don’t worry, I want to continue with your style, but with my ideas”.
‘And I changed things slowly. It was important for me to show them Italian tactics. I told them not to worry about mistakes. We’ll watch the video together, it will get better.’
So there’s the science bit. What remains is the unquantifiable, the X-factor that has separated Leicester from the rest.
‘They work so hard,’ former England coach Fabio Capello said at the weekend. ‘N’Golo Kante, Danny Drinkwater. They never stop.’
THE MAN WHO TURNED LEICESTER CITY INTO THE CHAMPIONS OF ENGLAND
The Italian had a 13-year playing career, where he starred for his boyhood heroes Roma (pictured), Catanzaro, Catania and Palermo
By Anthony Joseph and Nicholas Godden for MailOnline
Leicester City boss Claudio Ranieri was born in San Saba in Rome on October 20, 1951 and began playing football at his local church.
He was a lifelong fan of Roma and childhood friends described him as being quiet and reserved.
The Italian had a 13-year playing career, where he starred for his boyhood heroes Roma, Catanzaro, Catania and Palermo.
His family home is still in Italy and he is constantly travelling back and forth from the UK. He even spent last night in Rome after taking his 96-year-old mother out for lunch, before returning to England as a title-winning boss.
The new Premier League winning manager, now 64, is married to antiques dealer Dr Rosanna Ranieri, who he describes as a saint.
He told the Leicester Mercury last year: ‘My wife is a saint, an absolute saint. When I am not working she tells me to relax and go on holiday, but it is not a holiday for me.
‘My holiday is now when I work hard every day, from 8am to 8pm. My mind is racing and always thinking about football.
‘When there is a little holiday then I enjoy that for a couple of weeks but when it is three or four months that is no holiday for me. I love to work.
‘I have hobbies. I love films and music, but above all I love football. Football is my life. My wife says ‘you no work now, come,’ but she knows it is my hobby, my life.’
In 1986 he began his managerial career, which has had its ups and down – but has proved much more successful than his playing days.
It was at third tier Cagliari that Ranieri made a name for himself as a coach. He led the Italian side to the top flight with consecutive promotions, clinching the Serie C1 title and cup in the 1988-89 campaign.
After guiding the club to safety during their first season in Serie A, Ranieri had plenty of suitors and decided to leave the club and join Napoli.
Ranieri led Napoli to a fourth-placed finish during his first season, earning qualification to the UEFA Cup. His second season wasn’t so successful, though.
Napoli finished the season way down in 11th place, only two points above the relegation zone. Ranieri was sacked that summer.
The 64-year-old dropped back down to Serie B to join Fiorentina ahead of the 1993-94 season. He won the second tier to see the Viola promoted to Serie A.
He went on to win the Coppa Italia, his first major trophy as a coach. Ranieri also got his hands on the Italian Supercoppa (the Italian Charity Shield) at the start of the 1996-97 season. His last with the club.
Ranieiri left Fiorentina and said goodbye Italy to take charge of Valencia in La Liga. During his first full season at the club they finished ninth,a slight improvement on the previous campaign.
Claudio Ranieri and his wife Rosanna attend the Golden Foot Award 2012 ceremony at Monte-Carlo Sporting Club on October 17, 2012
The Italian manager made a name for himself as coach of Cagliari in the late 1980s, later leaving for Napoli. Ranieri’s first season at Napoli was successful, but it was downhill from there and he was sacked in 1993
At Fiorentina, Ranieri won his first major trophy as a coach – the Coppa Italia, before resigning in 1997. Ranieri is unlikely to look back at Atletico Madrid as a successful part of his career – he lasted less than a year
The following season Ranieri led Valencia, who had Santiago Canizares and Gaizka Mendieta in the side, to a fourth place finish and qualification to the Champions League. Valencia also won the Copa del Rey the same season.
Ranieri left Valencia and joined Atletico Madrid ahead of the 1999-00 season but endured a disastrous nine months in charge at Vicente Calderon.
Ranieri was sacked with the club languishing near the bottom of the table. Atleti were unable to recover and dropped out of the top flight.
It was during his four years in England that Ranieri picked up the nickname ‘The Tinkerman’ following criticism for over-rotating his squad. He led Chelsea to a an FA Cup final in 2002 and was also responsible for signing club legend Frank Lampard.
In 2003, Chelsea were taken over by Roman Abramovich and Ranieri splashed £120million on new talent that summer. He broke club records for highest points and fewest goals conceded on their way to finishing runner-up. It wasn’t enough and Ranieri was sacked and replaced by Jose Mourinho.
Ranieri picked up the nickname ‘The Tinkerman’ at Chelsea following criticism that he over-rotated his squad
Ranieri returned to Valencia, replacing Liverpool-bound Rafa Benitez, who had led the club to a La Liga and UEFA Cup double the previous season
Ranieri returned to Valencia, replacing Liverpool-bound Rafa Benitez, who had led the club to a La Liga and UEFA Cup double the previous season.
Ranieri made a bright start during his second stint at the club, but they soon hit a slump that saw them eliminated from the Champions League and slip down the table. Ranieri was sacked in February just seven months into a three-year contract.
After two years away from management Ranieri returned to take charge of Parma in February 2007 following the sacking of Stefano Pioli.
The club were facing the threat of relegation but an impressive run of results that saw Parma take 17 points from 10 games was enough to steer them to safety.
After guiding Parma to safety Ranieri was a wanted man again. He was heavily linked with taking over at Manchester City, but he remained in Italy and was named Juventus coach on a three-year deal.
The Italian boss took two years away from management, before returning to take charge of Parma in 2007. Ranieri grew up supporting Roma and he got the chance to manage them at the start of the 2009-10 season
At Inter Milan, Ranieri started well with a run of seven straight league wins, but the team faded after that
Ranieri led Monaco to the Ligue 2 title, before taking them to second – behind PSG – in Ligue 1 the following year
During his first season with Juve, who were back in Serie A for the first time following the Calciopoli scandal that saw them relegated to Serie B, Ranieri led the club to a very respectable third place finish. The following season Ranieri engaged in a war of word with Inter boss Jose Mourinho and a run of one win in seven games left him fighting for his job. He was sacked at the end of the season.
Ranieri was appointed coach of Roma, the club he had grown up supporting, two games into the 2009-10 season after Luciano Spalletti had suddenly resigned.
That season Ranieri was again in a battle with Mourinho’s Inter Milan. Roma led the championship going inot eh final weeks of the season but were pipped to the title by Inter and also lost to them in the Coppa Italia final. Ranieri resigned midway through the following season.
Ranieri took over Inter Milan after Gian Piero Gasperino was sacked after losing four of the first five games of the season. Inter put together a run of seven straight league wins in December and January as talk of a tittle challenge surfaced.
In his first – and so far only – job in international management, Ranieri took charge of Greece for five months
After joining Leicester City last year, he was favourite to be sacked at the start of the season with most bookies
That soon died down after a poor run of results and Ranieri left the club by mutual consent before the end of the season.
Ranieri took over at cash-rich Monaco in the summer of 2012 and led them to the Ligue 2 title for the first time in their history.
In their first season back in Ligue 1 Ranieri led the principality club to second, finishing runner-up to Paris Saint-Germain. It wasn’t enough to save his job though and he was sacked with the club’s sporting director wanting to take the club in a different direction.
Ranieri took over the Greece national side after 2014 World Cup, signing a two-year contract But he was in charge for just five months before being sacked.
The Italian lost his job after suffering a humiliating 1-0 home defeat by the Faroe Islands in a Euro 2016 qualifier.
After joining Leicester City last year, he was favourite to be sacked at the start of the season with most bookies.
But somehow, he has turned the side which finished a lowly 14th place into the champions of England.
Marc Albrighton (second right) was moved to the left and allowed to come inside under Ranieri’s management
N’Golo Kante, pictured looking relaxed on Tuesday, is another player who has received widespread praise
Ranieri continued: ‘There are so many keys to this. Humility, the strength of the dressing room, they help each other at important moments, they play with the heart, the soul, they play 11. There was a good blend. I told them, “I love the English spirit”, because when I was a player I was an Englishman.’
He smashed a fist into a palm. ‘Every time, to fight — you have to kill me if you want to win. I love this kind of spirit. There are two games: with the ball and not with the ball, and in modern football everyone must work, and work hard. So I told them, “Play like this against the others and look what happens”.’
The day he knew, Ranieri finally admitted, was February 6. Manchester City 1 Leicester 3. Ranieri did not tell his players. He understood where he was and what the odds were, but that day he saw a spark of possibility.
Sweeping City aside, Leicester’s players looked like champions. Not novelty front-runners. Not fairy-tale dreamers. Champions.
‘I was so satisfied,’ Ranieri recalled. ‘It was an unbelievable performance. Maybe then they started to believe in something. We can win, we can fight until the end. I never spoke about it after. If I get crazy I transmit the nerves.
Mahrez (second right) slams home Leicester’s second on February 6; the turning point of their season
Ranieri says he started to believe his players could win the title after they beat Manchester City
Eden Hazard fires in a strike that will go down in history as the goal which secured Leicester the league title
‘We were like climbers, if you look down: “Oh God. No, come on, look up”. But that was the day I believed something fantastic could happen, yes.’
The confirmation that something fantastic had happened came on Monday night with Eden Hazard’s equaliser for Chelsea. Asked where he watched it, Ranieri said first the armchair, then the ceiling, once that goal went in.
Soon after came a call from Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink, an old friend. Congratulations had been many and varied since. It has been like that all year, Ranieri recalled. Messages from South America, from Asia, from his home country.
‘This club attracts a lot of people,’ he said. ‘In Italy, everybody’s second team is Leicester. In Thailand, the first team is Leicester. I am getting letters from Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil.
Hazard celebrates in front of the fans; Leicester supporters will have been jumping around with delight
Ranieri says he has received letters from around the world; the European papers have been covering Leicester’s story in depth, too – including L’Equipe (left) and Corriere dello Sport
Fans of Leicester City are in dreamland after the club secured their maiden Premier League title
‘Everybody knows the Premier League is big money and big teams and they win the League. But now they can say maybe 99 per cent of the time those teams win.
‘I love it when I see everybody so happy. We have been in the city centre very close to the stadium and the fans are crazy. Crazy with happiness. I’m so glad when I see this happiness and I understand it now because all the people in the world are asking about Leicester, and all of your colleagues come here to find out what happened.
‘This is a moment to live longer, to taste like a good wine, to savour. Now is not the time to think, “Look what we have done”. Maybe in one or two years we will know.
‘When you start as a manager, you hope you can win a league. So, yes, this is one of the best moments. But I don’t forget where I started, in which division I started. I came from the non-league, and when I arrived in Cagliari in the third division, that was my first fairytale. And I still have love for this fairy-tale. It is still in my heart.
‘Now I have won the most important league in Europe, maybe the world. I won the Premier League. My career is fantastic. But I want to achieve a little more. At the moment I don’t cry but I’m a very strange man. On Saturday, maybe. Inside me there are two people.
Leicester players gathered in Jamie Vardy’s (right) house on Monday night as they secured the title
There was a party atmosphere in Leicester on Tuesday as the players went out for lunch in the city centre
‘One, I want to win. I want to win on Saturday (against Everton), I want to win the Premier League, I want to win again, I am never satisfied.
‘The other says, “Claudio, how many managers are there in the world? Too many. And not everybody is Sir Alex Ferguson or Fabio Capello or Carlo Ancelotti”. So this is a good career. We have done something impossible — so maybe the bookmakers will not try to sack me first. Maybe second.’
The odds on that? Well, they should be 5,000-1.
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