Claudio Ranieri believes Leicester City’s shock title triumph has restored his reputation in the minds of his critics ahead of an emotional return to former club Chelsea this Sunday.
The 64-year-old’s appointment last July was heavily criticised by pundits and former players alike but the Italian’s side have since undergone an extraordinary transformation from relegation favourites to Premier League champions.
Sacked at Chelsea by owner Roman Abramovich in 2004 after failing to deliver the title and replaced by Jose Mourinho, Ranieri insisted he didn’t covet acclaim from his former employers following his achievements with Leicester.
“Now I have won the Premier League, maybe everyone looks more positively at what I did,” Ranieri said Friday ahead of Leicester’s match against last season’s Premier League champions.
“It changed not my mind but maybe other minds. I was so happy before because I know very well how I work and what I achieve before,” he added.
“It is not important for to me to have credit, it was so important to bring another team (to the top), to show my passion to the team. I think life is full of opportunity, I think it is important to take the right opportunity.”
Ranieri said his return to west London, where he spent four moderately successful years at Stamford Bridge, would be an “emotional” occasion.
– ‘Hollywood’ –
As Chelsea drew 2-2 with Tottenham Hotspur just under a fortnight ago, a result which confirmed Leicester had won the first top-tier title in the Midlands club’s 132-year history, home supporters were heard chanting the affable Ranieri’s name throughout.
“It is amazing. I have been back there with Juventus in the Champions League but this time is different because this time it is with Leicester, another English club,” said Ranieri.
“It is emotional, I hope my old fans are happy. When I came here I said ‘the last match is at Chelsea… wow’. Now I come back as a champion. It’s a good story.”
Before the club’s annual summer trip to Thailand, the homeland of Leicester owners Vichai and Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, Ranieri will join an open-top bus parade through the city centre with crowds of 60,000 expected to pour onto the streets.
“I expect a lot of people on the street to enjoy with us and we can say thank you to our fans. Everybody wants to stay with us because the fairytale was for everybody,” said Ranieri.
“Now football fans believe, maybe they think: ‘No we don’t go down, we can win’.
“Amazing. You remember I said the Hollywood fairytale always finishes well and for us too. We won and now we enjoy, recharge the batteries for next season. It will be harder but we will be ready.”
In the immediate future, however, Ranieri has the task of persuading Professional Footballers Association Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez and midfield engine N’Golo Kante to sign new contracts at the King Power Stadium.
Both players have been linked with moves to Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain in recent weeks but the Leicester owners have expressed confidence that the pair will stay.
Meanwhile, When quizzed on who his scouting team will be looking at in the off-season, Ranieri was typically evasive.
“We are watching, of course, we want to build a very good team. We want to keep our stars, it is a fantastic group. It will be important to find the right players, with the right mentality… we want fighters.”