I do hesitate before adding to the piles and piles of stuff that’s already out there on Leicester right now. Amongst the last things the world needs today are more superlatives to describe their achievement, truly monumental though it is, emanating from bandwagon jumpers like me and 99% of the mainstream media who have only meaningfully written about four or five different English clubs in the last 20 years!
But it is a special achievement in the world of sport, and at the heart of it is a man I have held in the highest regard for the last five years – Claudio Ranieri.
Why only five years? Because five years ago he took over as manager of my favourite football club – AS Roma. And, like many Leicester fans were when he was unveiled as their manager, at the time I was completely underwhelmed.
He arrived at the end of the first tenure of our current coach, fan favourite Luciano Spalletti. We were replacing an exciting character who preached fun attacking football, with someone perceived as boring and old-fashioned. In his previous job at Juventus Ranieri had failed to win a trophy – a cardinal sin there – and his signings for ‘La Vecchia Signora’ uninspiringly consisted mostly of English Premier League cast-offs.
During his first press conference as Roma manager, he famously quipped “I don’t do Champagne football” – a comment that was interpreted as a dig at his widely adored predecessor.
In his first few weeks at Roma, his saving grace was the fact that he’s a true Roman. Born and bred in the working class neighbourhood of Testaccio, he played two seasons for Roma in the mid-seventies and describes himself as a Romanista.
After that, while he didn’t win any trophies at Roma, he certainly won us over with his ‘simpatico’ personality and the way he turned our languishing fortunes around.
He only lost 4 times as manager in his first season at the Olimpico and, in conjunction with a run of 24 games unbeaten, this resulted in a final league position of second – just two points shy of delivering our club its fourth scudetto. We also finished runners up in the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa that year.
He couldn’t repeat his success in his second season with us. He resigned on February 20 2011 after a 4-3 loss at Genoa – our third on the trot – and was replaced by Vincenzo Montella.
In the final analysis of his stint with us, Ranieri just couldn’t shake that ‘always the bridesmaid never the bride’ tag that, to be fair, goes hand in hand with our club at times as well – which didn’t help.
The reaction of almost every Roma fan to his appointment at Leicester was “they’ll be thrilled with second!”
Of course, he went on to exceed both our real expectations and the joke ones – and not for the first time.
From a Roma fan’s perspective, it has been such a joy to see his success. His smiling face delivering such brilliant new Ranierisms from “YEEEEEEEES BIG REVENGE, I WANT TO KILL HIIIIIIM” to “DILLY DING DILLY DONG” made us remember why we loved him so much and still do. He is unquestionably one of the nice guys of world football.
It will be fascinating to see for how long he can, not to mention if he can, keep it going this time.
Lots of challenges await – not least building a squad capable of competing across multiple competitions with mid-week Champions League fixtures to factor in now.
I really hope he can do it though, because there is literally nobody in the world I would rather see achieve every success in life than Claudio Ranieri.
Except perhaps Spalletti. 😉
A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: http://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/