Claudio Ranieri feels “emotional every time” he sits on the Roma bench, still believes in the Champions League and insists he’s just trying to “keep a lid on expectations” for the future.
When called as caretaker manager to replace sacked Eusebio Di Francesco in February, Ranieri said he’d only have done it for his beloved hometown club.
“Overall, I feel positive. When I arrived here, there was a sense of disappointment around the team – the boys were downbeat because they had high hopes,” he told asroma.com.
“Nobody can come in and wave a magic wand. I needed to make the defenders feel better protected and, little by little, things have improved for us. This team has a positive future, because there are young and talented players here. I’m sure they will do well.
“Roma mean everything to me. Which fan wouldn’t accept the opportunity to manage the team they love, even for just one game? I got the call at a difficult time. Had it been another team, I’d never have said yes – I would never have taken such a risk. Can you imagine, had we carried on losing after the matches against SPAL and Napoli? I would have had all the criticism.
“I thought all of those things, but love takes you beyond cold and practical reasoning. I agreed to take this risk.”
Sunday against Parma will be his final game as Roma Coach and Ranieri expects it to be emotional.
“Every time I’m in the Roma dugout, I get emotional. I always arrive out on the pitch after the anthem, because otherwise I get too emotional. I want to stay cool and have a clear head.
“Since it’s my last game, I must thank the club president, who gave me the opportunity to guide the team I love once again.
“I’ve never taken my supporter’s hat off. I am and will always be a fan.”
There is still a very slim chance Roma could qualify for the Champions League, but it’d require several different results to interlock.
They’d have to win by five clear goals, Inter to lose 1-0, Atalanta to avoid defeat and Milan lose.
Alternatively, the Giallorossi win while Inter, Milan and Atalanta all lose.
“There’s still a remote possibility that we get a Champions League place. We’ll need to score five and see what happens in the other matches. We’ll do our best. That’s the sort of person I am – I never give up and always strive, until the very end. If we don’t manage it, credit to the other teams.
“This team has fought hard to get into the Champions League. As I’ve said before, you have positive and negative campaigns. It’s like in wine-making: the vineyard can do the same work over and over but there will be years when the wine they make is marvellous and others when it’s not how they’d like. There are so many factors that have an impact. Unfortunately, this is how things have gone, however we’ve always had commitment, sacrifice and a sense of belonging.”
Ranieri rang alarm bells for fans and the club hierarchy when stating in his interviews that Roma probably wouldn’t be back in the Champions League for a long time.
“We’ll need to see how the team changes next year and find out which manager is coming in. This team is still fighting, in a season that hasn’t gone well. I don’t want to put pressure on my successor – that would be too easy. What I mean is this is a good team, which has always got into the Champions League in recent years.
"If we say the next team should go for Europa League qualification, we’re keeping a lid on expectations. Should the team then have a good season, getting into the Champions League, then that would come as a nice surprise. That’s the way I’ve always been. I think it’s better not to raise fans’ expectations and, as a result, those of managers, the club and everyone around it.
“If we manage to qualify for the Champions League in the game against Parma, obviously that will bring in more money for the club. The club has always been clear that they want to keep the balance sheet in order and I think that’s right.
“When I came back here, I saw lots of changes, compared to the last time I was Coach – it shows that money has been spent and things have been done in the right way. Obviously fans aren’t concerned by all those things behind the scenes – all they care about is seeing their team fight out on the pitch. It’s fair for a fan to think in those terms. As a Coach, I can say that there’s a great set up here, a great club that is on the up.”