Even if he never won another thing, Claudio Ranieri’s legendary status would be safe. His role in taking Leicester City to the most surprising Premier League title in recent memory has guaranteed him eternal gratitude at the King Power Stadium. At the age of 69 many would be happy to rest upon such laurels but instead he has been busy trying to carve out another minor miracle with Sampdoria at the Stadio Marassi.
Prior to his magical moment in England in 2015-16, the coach enjoyed something of a nearly man reputation - certainly in his homeland. He appeared, to many, as the incarnation of the mantra that good guys don’t actually win anything. His most lengthy managerial spell in his homeland - at Fiorentina in the mid-1990s - seemed to confirm that. He did deliver an Italian Cup and Supercup but, in Serie A, they played well but always fell short.
A long spell at Chelsea, followed by time at Italian giants Juventus and Inter and hometown club Roma seemed to confirm that shtick. Claudio was the man you turned to if you wanted your team to play well enough but ultimately fail to deliver. It would take less than 100 games in charge of the Foxes for the silver fox to make a mockery of that assumption.
Looking back, that team was blessed with a group of gifted individuals who he was able to meld into a perfect unit. Yes, the traditional big guns of the English game were misfiring a little, but that does a disservice to what the club achieved. Ranieri, by now a veteran of the coaching game, was able to give the team a simple game plan - and belief - which produced one of the most romantic tales of the last sporting decade.
That team played a solid 4-4-2 with hulking centre-backs Robert Huth and Wes Morgan forming a significant barrier in front of impressive shot-stopper Kasper Schmeichel. The engine of N’Golo Kanté provided an amazing platform for Riyad Mahrez to give a spark of imagination to the side while Jamie Vardy, in the form of his life, finished off many a delightful counter-attacking move. The wise watchmaker had his latest creation ticking to perfection.
He used a few old Italian arms to equip his side for victory. They were not too bothered about possession, happy enough to soak up pressure before stinging on the break. Just three defeats - at least half of anyone else in the league - told the story of a side that made itself incredibly hard to beat.
Fast forward a few years to his latest appointment in Genoa and there are some echoes of Leicester. The formation is similar, with the agile Emil Audero - ask Venezia fans about him - shielded by the uncompromising and experienced Lorenzo Tonelli and Maya Yoshida. Antonio Candreva is nobody’s idea of an Italian answer to Mahrez but he is still a lethal player on the counter attack. And Morten Thorsby helps to give the team the bite he likes in the midfield - leading the side in aerial battles won. For creativity, there is the erratic Gaston Ramirez while another veteran hitman - Fabio Quagliarella - is still bringing the goals.
The stats would, once again, suggest that the Blucerchiati are not fussed about control of the ball. Their possession levels are among the lowest in Serie A so far this season but that has not stopped them from scoring goals. Their pass success percentage is also below most of the other sides while their combative qualities can be seen from the number of yellow cards they have racked up. Just like Leicester back in the day, nobody will find taking three points from Samp an easy task.
None of us would seriously suggest that the Doriani are likely to repeat their amazing Scudetto success of 1990/91 but this is already looking like an odd season which will be hard to predict. Last year’s top two - Inter and Juventus - have dropped more points than anyone expected and, despite an impeccable start, we all know how quickly Milan revivals have collapsed in recent times. Add to that the lack of crowds, impact of Covid-19 and general uncertainty in the game and you can see how a few surprises could be sprung.
The role of Squadra Rivelazione - surprise outfit - remains a vacant one. Atalanta are now firmly established as a genuine force in the division, although off to a stuttering start in the league, but Sassuolo look like the best candidates at present. However, one step down perhaps, sit Sampdoria and their wily old coach. He has already shown us in England that he knows how to confound football’s accepted wisdom. Fans in one half of the port city will be hoping he has another little masterpiece in the making.
Giancarlo Rinaldi is the author of a number of books about Italian football. You can find out more about them here.