The improbability of Leicester, Claudio Ranieri

Had I been told this past August that Leices­ter would be on top of the British Premier League (BPL) by the end of January, I would have asked you who Leicester was and what team he played for. A team that had secured promotion only one year earlier is now close­ly competing with, and leading, gargantuan clubs such as Manchester City and Arsenal in the race for the coveted BPL title. With an unexpected series of successes, many fans and analysts are pondering whether Leicester can maintain their form to win the league.

The man who holds the most power and control over Leicester’s title run is their man­ager, Claudio Ranieri. Though Ranieri has tru­ly turned Leicester’s somewhat average team from previous years into terrifying club that plays beautiful counter-attacking soccer and has brought out the best from players like Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, it is simply too good to be true for Leicester.

I have had the privilege of witnessing Jamie Vardy set his legendary record of 12 consecutive games scored in, as well as watching the fluid and beautiful play by Riyad Mahrez. There is no doubt that the key to the renaissance of these players has been the managing of Ranieri. I com­mend and thank him for that. But unfortunately Ranieri’s management talents end here.

While he has been able to guide clubs to vast areas of improvement in the past and managed some spectacular performances, he has some­how managed to expertly avoid winning a ma­jor league title. I suspect he has been taking instruction from whoever is guiding Leonardo DiCaprio’s fantastic job of avoiding any Oscar awards. I do believe, however, that winning titles simply isn’t what Ranieri specializes in. He is not a “specialist in failure” like Arsene Wenger, according to Mourinho, the now twice sacked Chelsea manager, Ranieri’s skills just do not work with capturing championships. Ranieri is more of a “specialist in improvement” manager. To understand why, his managerial history must be examined.

When hired by Chelsea in 2000, the club itself had not been achieving any of the high-level re­sults that they have attained in more recent years. Chelsea wasn’t by any means a low achiever, in the years leading up to Ranieri’s appointment they had been comfortably finishing just around the top quarter of the table. Upon his appoint­ment, however, the Chelsea team slowly became much more competitive in the league. In his final season with Chelsea, Ranieri’s team finished sec­ond to “The Invincibles” Arsenal group in 2004.

Another example of the prowess of Ranieri’s building capabilities is his early success with the Italian team Cagliari Calcio, also known simply as Cagliari. At the time that he was just begin­ning his managerial career, Cagliari occupied a shameful spot in the Serie C1, the third league level of Italian soccer. Under the helm of Ranieri, they were promoted over two consecutive sea­sons to regain a position in the Serie A, the top league of Italian soccer.

Ranieri has also proven himself to have an acute eye for talent and then developing those talented players into superstar players. While in charge of the Italian club Napoli, Ranieri brought in a young player named Gianfranco Zola to re­place the aging, legendary, madman, soccer play­er Diego Maradona. Following success in the Italian leagues, Zola followed Ranieri to Chelsea later on.

Fans old enough to remember can recall that Ranieri then played a critical role in assembling and developing core of the Chelsea squad that Jose Mourinho would later lead to win two pre­mier league titles. Some of the players that Ra­nieri brought in now include some household names for any casual soccer follower, such as John Terry and Frank Lampard. Ranieri was also responsible for targeting players such as Arjen Robben and Didier Drogba, the latter who be­came a club legend.

If you look at the potential for success that Ra­nieri has created throughout his career, it would be easy to associate him as one of the greatest choke artists in soccer along with the Nether­lands and AC Milan circa 2005. But I do not see Ranieri as someone who balks at the opportunity of massive success. Ranieri is a man who is very accomplished in one task–giving demoralized and low performing teams the ability to bounce back. For any Manchester United fans reading this, take note.

Of course Ranieri has his sights set on win­ning the Barclays Premier League this season. In the past, he has managed to win a few bits of silverware from national tournaments such as the FA Cup in England and the Copa del Rey in Spain, but he has never won a league title. While it appears that he may have finally found the right formula to win a league, his situation is sim­ply too delicate with a team like Leicester for this opportunity to come to fruition, bar the return of Jesus Christ once more to perform another series of miracles. Knowing Ranieri’s talents of revival, however, anything is possible.

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