Claudio Ranieri has never quite been given the plaudits his managerial pedigree should have earned him. When he was appointed last July by Leicester City, the critics came out in full force. The evidence cited as to Ranieri’s inadequacy for the job generally centered around his failed short stint as manager of the Greece national team in late 2014. Often forgotten was the massive success Ranieri has had in top flight European leagues. He’s never won a league title, but has been close, generally getting clubs to punch above their weight. This season in leading the Foxes into the title fight just one year after barely avoiding relegation, he’s proving his worth yet again.
Ranieri’s string of second place finishes in major European leagues over the last 12 years have all been with sides not fancied to win the title that season. Let’s look back at each of them.
Ranieri had solidified the Blues place as an elite English club during his tenure, but the 2003 takeover by Roman Abramovich changed expectations. Ranieri spent approximately £115 million on new players during the summer transfer period. Chelsea broke a club record for most points in a top-flight campaign that season and conceded the fewest goals in Blues history. But it was the year of the Arsenal invincibles, and Chelsea finished second. Ranieri was sacked and replaced by Jose Mourinho who won the next two Premier League titles.
Ranieri took Juve, who had just been promoted to Serie A following a season in Serie B due to the Calciopoli scandal, finished a strong 3rd in the league during 2007-2008 and qualified for the following season’s UEFA Champions League. The rapid return to Europe’s top competition provided Ranieri with plaudits. The following season he guided Juventus to the knockout stages of the Champions League, winning a group that included Real Madrid. The club also stayed at the top or near the top of Serie A table for most of the season.
However, in the Round of 16, they were eliminated by Chelsea, Ranieri’s former club. That was followed by a war of words in the Italian media with Jose Mourinho who had replaced Ranieri as the Blues boss and was now leading Inter. Juventus bottled it down the stretch with the war of words simmering and while they finished second, a ten-point gap with Mourinho’s Inter led to Ranieri’s sacking.
Ranieri didn’t stay unemployed long as he took over AS Roma, his boyhood club, just two games into the 2009-2010 season. Roma surged up the table in the spring and were in pole position with just weeks remaining in the campaign. But Jose Mourinho’s Inter, who would win a rare treble, were able to catch and pass Roma and then defeat Ranieri’s side in the Coppa Italia final. Ranieri was sacked less than a year later.
From UEFA Champions League finalists to being almost relegated from Ligue 2, Monaco had a massive collapse between 2004 and 2012. That summer Ranieri was appointed, and was backed by the big money of Dmitry Rybolovlev. An easy promotion back to Ligue 1 was followed by a real hope that the club could win the top-flight title in the 2013-2014 season. Ranieri’s side was dependent on Radamel Falcao for goals, and until his injury in February, they were within touching distance of fellow big-spenders PSG. But after Falcao’s injury, Monaco fell back. They still finished second but Ranieri was sacked and players were sold.
Ranieri’s firing from Monaco made him available for the Greece job where he failed miserably. He didn’t win a single match and even lost to the Faroe Islands. It was that job that those who questioned Leicester’s appointment latched on to. While it is natural to look at how a manager did in his most recent position, the coaching of a declining international side has little relevance to the world of club soccer.
While critics can claim Ranieri’s teams have often collapsed down the stretch, no side in the current Premier League is from an truly objective perspective as good the Arsenal, Inter or PSG teams that denied Ranieri the four titles listed above. While Spurs and this season’s versions of Arsenal and Manchester City do have quality, they do not have anything resembling the cohesion or strength of those four title-winning sides.
Leicester City, like Ranieri’s previous second-placed teams, are an underdog to win the league. But unlike those teams, the Foxes do not face an unbeatable side, an immovable force or a continental juggernaut on their way to a title. Instead, while lacking the player budget of the opposition, their first XI is comparable to the teams chasing them, which should they stay fit gives Ranieri a real shot to finally win a top-flight title.
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