Claudio Ranieri explains his Leicester City miracle. “In an era when money counts for everything, I think we give hope to everybody.”
The Foxes are six points clear after a shock 3-1 victory away to title favourites Manchester City on Saturday and people are starting to genuinely believe in a title triumph.
“I arrived in August and started watching the recordings of all their games from the previous season,” Ranieri told the Corriere della Sera.
“When speaking to the players, I realised they were afraid of Italian tactical approaches. What football means to an Italian Coach is tactics, trying to control the game by following the ideas and systems of the manager. You talk about football a lot.
“They didn’t seem convinced and neither was I. I have a lot of admiration for those who build new tactical systems, but I always thought the most important thing a good Coach must do is build the team around the characteristics of his players.
“So I told the players that I trusted them and would speak very little of tactics. It was important to me that they all ran hard, just as I’d seen them running towards the end of last season.
“In my view fitness training isn’t that important in England, as they all train with such intensity anyway and have a competitive edge even when just sprinting.
“The matches are all hard-fought too. My idea is that players need to recover first, train later. Naturally I believe in training, and this might seem like heresy in Italy, but I also feel it’s all relative. My lads train a lot, but not too often.
“In England the football is always of a high intensity and wipes people out. They have more need to recover. We play Saturday, then Sunday is a day off for everyone. On Monday we resume with light training, the way they do in Italy.
“Tuesday is hard training, Wednesday absolute rest. On Thursday another hard session, Friday preparation for the match, Saturday another game.
“I make sure the players have at least two days off from football each week. This is the pact I made the first day with the players, ‘I trust you. I’ll explain some football ideas to you every now and then, as long as you give me everything.’
“I don’t think it’s an ideal solution, but football is not chemistry, it doesn’t have set rules that work universally. What matters is getting the best out of the squad you have.
“Here at Leicester everyone feels they are participating, so playing badly means betraying the others. They are free men, aware that they have a job and responsibility. They enjoy maintaining that.
“I have a player who arrives every morning from Manchester, one from London. It would be unthinkable in Italy, but frankly in England it’s very odd too. At Leicester it can be done because the team allows it. This is what makes me proudest.”
Ranieri has also seemingly shelved the strict diet regime so beloved of Italian Coaches.
“Sometimes we sit at the dinner table and I am frightened by how much they eat. I’ve never seen players so starved! The first times I was surprised, but now I learned to smile. If they run that hard, they can eat what they like.
“I think in Italy it has become a struggle for the players to enjoy football, but they also train with less intensity, less belief. It’s more of a duty than anything else.
“In England they are aware they’re young, healthy and are in a great job. It would be stupid to waste all that. When they train, they always put in the same effort as a match. I never once had to tell someone off for being lazy.
“They also need to be relaxed and not harassed. They expect calm and respect in the locker room, so if you want to be a Prima Donna, they won’t forgive you for it.
“In England they always play as if it was a derby. I saw Milan-Inter last week and it was like an English-style game with running, hitting, teams stretched out and a lot of competitive spirit. It’s not very Italian.
“I always tell my players to find the fire within themselves. A chance like this will never come round again. Seek that fire, don’t be ashamed of it. And they are not ashamed, if anything they demand to dream.
“I know it doesn’t always work like this, but nobody knows how it really works. We found something that works by itself, so we must at least respect it all the way.
“Leicester City is what I’ve always sought – half style of football and half awareness of an objective. None of us really think we’re working for a living, otherwise we’d get up tired every day. If we live to work, then let us give meaning to what we do.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to experience this before at the end of my playing days. It was Gianni di Marzio’s Catanzaro. That was a side like Leicester, a group of friends who lived together.”
Now that Leicester are six points clear at the top of the Premier League, will they win the title?
“I don’t know, but it’s fantastic that we earned the question,” smiled Ranieri. “When I arrived the President asked me for 24 points by Christmas. We got 37 or 39, I can’t even remember how many. And we are still up there now.
“In an era when money counts for everything, I think we give hope to everybody.”
Ranieri did admit to being flummoxed by the English investment in youth academies that still don’t produce many genuine home-grown talents.
“It’s true that they are English, so deep down they still focus more on physique than technique. They are different to us, who immediately fall in love with the talented skinny one. Their football is all about speed and strength. Power.
“When they look at a lad who is 1.90m tall they immediately think of a centre-forward. We Italians are always looking for the Number 10.”