One of the most charismatic managers to grace English football bowed out earlier this year, with Claudio Ranieri dumped like a refuse bag just a few short months after helping Leicester City achieve a miracle in winning the Premier League.
The 65-year-old Rome-born Italian has left an enormous impression on these shores, with his effervescent personality and smiley demeanour making him a sheer delight for sports journalists week in, week out.
In fact, to some sports writers, Ranieri is viewed as somewhat of a ‘cartoon’ character – a parody of a successful football manager – when, in truth, he has enjoyed a glittering managerial career with some of the biggest clubs on the planet.
This article delves a little deeper into Ranieri’s managerial career to give the Italian the credit and respect he rightly deserves.
Taking Serie A by storm
Ranieri is no stranger to managing big names and getting a tune out of them – just take a look at one of his first jobs in Italian football with Fiorentina back in 1993.
After winning Serie B in his first season at the helm of the Florence outfit, Ranieri then won Serie A and the Coppa Italia in 1996, coaching some enormous personalities such as Gabriel Batistuta and Manuel Rui Costa.
An encouraging initial spell in La Liga
Following two and four-year spells with Napoli and Fiorentina respectively, Ranieri sought to try his luck in Spain with Valencia in 1997. With an impressive crop of young players coming through the academy at the Mestalla, Ranieri guided Valencia to a fourth-placed finish in La Liga, earning a place in the Champions League in 1999.
Even today, Ranieri is heralded for being the man that put Valencia on the road to the European success they enjoyed in the post-Millennium era.
Ranieri then moved on to Atletico Madrid which did not work out for either party, largely due to the crippling financial problems at the club. Ranieri jumped ship before being pushed, but he did not have to wait too long before being snapped up once again.
The love affair with England begins
In September 2000, Ranieri became head coach at Chelsea, helping the Blues to a UEFA Cup finish in his first season in charge. The Italian spoke very little English upon his arrival at Stamford Bridge which led to numerous funny press conferences. Armed with a £30 million war chest, Ranieri snared the likes of Frank Lampard, Emmanuel Petit and Boudewijn Zenden, as well as William Gallas in the close season. They lost the FA Cup final in the second season and qualified for the UEFA Cup once again.
Roman Abramovich’s takeover of the club in 2003 was the turning point in Ranieri’s reign at Stamford Bridge, helping earn the club’s highest league finish in 49 years as runners-up to Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’. Ranieri had earnt a reputation as a ‘tinkerman’ with the Blues, with a penchant for rotating his starting line-ups too regularly – a nickname that’s stuck to this very day.
Although Ranieri also steered Chelsea to a Champions’ League semi-final, that wasn’t enough for the ambitious Abramovich, who promptly replaced Ranieri with Jose Mourinho – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Flirtations with Spain and Italy once again
A second, albeit brief, spell with Valencia followed, with the Italian lasting just over half a year before getting the boot following a UEFA Cup exit at the hands of Steaua Bucharest. Ranieri’s ‘tinkerman’ habits were evident at the Mestalla in 2004, as his constant changes of playing systems and players led to frustration on the terraces – particularly with the mistreatment of Argentine wide man, Pablo Aimar.
Ranieri would then go on to manage four Serie A outfits – firstly with lowly Parma on a short-term basis in February 2007. Parma were staring relegation to Serie B firmly in the face but Ranieri earnt almost two points per game to help the club escape relegation and secure a 12th place finish.
A largely frustrating two-year reign at Juventus followed and was characterised by a long-running feud with Jose Mourinho, then the new Inter Milan chief. Mourinho regularly mocked Ranieri for failing to win a major league title.
Ranieri then managed his boyhood idols Roma in September 2009, again coming a close second to Mourinho’s Inter in both Serie A and the Coppa Italia final.
Claudio Ranieri then led French Ligue 2 moneybags, Monaco, back into the top flight at the first time of asking before leading the Monte Carlo outfit to a runner-up finish in the 2013-14 campaign behind eventual champions, Paris Saint-Germain.
A failed foray into international football
Ranieri then took his first international football job as boss of Greece, lasting just four games into a two-year contract. A home defeat in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign to minnows, the Faroe Islands signalled his demise and a huge dent to his reputation.
The tinkerman becomes the magician
There is no doubt eyebrows were raised at the appointment of Claudio Ranieri as boss of Leicester City, replacing Nigel Pearson in July 2015. Reporters felt the Foxes had gone for the wrong option for a manager with the qualities required to keep City in the top flight – but how wrong they were.
Helped by a solid, dependable spine of Kasper Schmeichel, Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, N’Golo Kante and Jamie Vardy, the Foxes defied all odds to clinch the 2015/16 Premier League title, with Ranieri nurturing a winning team environment and hailed for his handling of the media by completely taking the pressure off his key players.
Ranieri also played a key role in this season’s Champions’ League run, culminating in a quarter-final tie with Atletico Madrid – after Ranieri had already been ousted in February for the club’s poor league form. As Oddschecker predicted for the second leg of their tie with Atletico, the Foxes were still very much in the contest having lost only by a single goal at the Vicente Calderon, but a 1-1 draw at the King Power Stadium wasn’t enough to secure a place in the last four.
Ultimately, Ranieri’s short-term replacement Craig Shakespeare steadied the ship well and got City’s big-game players firing again on all cylinders. One thing’s for sure, however – King Claudio is a man who’ll stay in the hearts of the Foxes faithful forever more. His next managerial stop remains unknown – watch this space.