Claudio Ranieri reveals Leicester City's secret to topping the Premier League table
The Italian was at his loquacious best when talking about the Foxes, speaking about Leicester's title dream and the team's spirit
Claudio Ranieri has revealed the secrets behind Leicester City’s rise to the top of the Premier League table. The Italian manager spoke about eschewing a focus on tactical instructions and embracing England’s traditional strengths – requiring his team to work hard on the pitch, while offering them plenty of rest as well, forgoing his Italian instincts to the benefit of his team.
In a wide-ranging interview with Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, Ranieri spoke at length about Leicester’s dream run in the Premier League. ‘Tinkerman’, as he is known in the British Isles, despite the Foxes having used the fewest players in the Premier League so far, was a surprise appointment, as his predecessor Nigel Pearson was considered to have done a good job, having miraculously kept Leicester up the previous season.
However, Pearson’s frequent clash-of-heads with the British press were considered troublesome by Leicester’s Thai owners, who responded by appointing a manager who was overseeing one of the worst runs the Greek national team was experiencing. However, these weren’t your stereotypical ‘foolish foreign owners who nothing about football’, nor was Ranieri a busted flush.
Foxes were afraid of Italian tactics
Ranieri did not live up to his ‘Tinkerman’ moniker when he arrived, as the Italian recounted the state of the club when he was appointed and opted not to cause much upheaval, saying “I arrived in August and I started to look at the recordings of all games from the previous season. I saw that the team had produced a great ending [to the season], ran a lot, and looked confident.”
“When I spoke with the players I realised that they were mostly afraid of Italian tactics! What football means to an Italian coach is tactics, trying to control the pattern of the game by rigidly following ideas and systems and talk all day long about tactics. They didn't seem convinced and neither was I.”
“I have a lot of admiration for those who build 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. I said that I trusted them, I would talk very little about tactics. For me the important thing was to continue what we had done well (running hard) in the final part of last season.”
Physical training isn’t important in England
Ranieri continued, opining that a specific focus on physical training isn’t needed in England, since the games were so intensive with players working their socks off, concluding that recovery was more important. The Italian outlined his insight, saying “In my opinion it [athletic performance training] is less important in England.
“Here everyone trains with great intensity, there’s competitive spirit even when doing sprinting exercises. And the games are always hard fought. My idea is that first of all the players need to recover and then to train.”
When pointed out that this went against conventional beliefs in football, possibly amounting to heresy for most Italian coaches, Ranieri laughed it off, saying “Maybe it is, I do not know. I believe in training, but I also believe that everything is relative. My boys are training a lot, but not too many times. In England the game is always high intensity, it exhausts them. You need to recover.”
“We play on Saturdays, Sundays are free for everyone. We resume on Monday with light training, like in Italy. Hard training on Tuesday, Wednesday absolute rest. Thursday another hard workout, finishing on Friday, match again Saturday.”
The ‘promise’ that made it all possible
Ranieri revealed that he’d made a pact on his arrival at Leicester with the players, saying “I make sure my players have at least two days off football each week. This is the covenant I made with the players, ‘I trust you. I’ll explain a little football once in a while, but you must always give everything.” It seems like both Ranieri and his charges have stuck to their bargain, blossoming in their unlikely chemistry.
The Italian maintains that the group work ethic, while not perfect, is paramount, saying “I do not think it’s a perfect formula. Football is not chemistry, there are no universal rules. You have to take the best from the group you have.”
“Here at Leicester everyone feels like they are participating, so underperforming means betraying the others. They are free men, aware that they have a job and responsibility. They enjoy maintaining that.”
Ranieri also went on to reveal the odd style of functioning of his club, saying “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. That is what makes me proudest.”
The Foxes are starving, for food and success
The genial Italian also spoke at his shock at the appetites of the Leicester City players, saying “Sometimes I am at the dinner table and I am frightened by how much they eat. I’ve never seen players so starved! The first few times I was surprised, then I learned to smile. If they run so much, they can eat what they want.”
When quizzed about the difference between an English footballer’s outlook to that of an Italian’s, Ranieri’s reply was rather revealing, saying “To have fun. In Italian football it is a struggle to have fun, I also believe they train with less intensity, less conviction. It’s more a duty. Here there is a strong awareness of being young, healthy and doing a great job. A fool would waste all that.”
“When they train, they always put the same effort in as a match, I never had to once scold someone for being lazy. They also need to be relaxed and not harassed. They expect calm and respect in the dressing room, so if you want to be a Prima Donna they won’t forgive you for it.”
When asked if that ‘prima donna’ comment was a veiled dig at Jose Mourinho, Ranieri denied it, instead stating that he meant that everyone in England is expected to work hard, saying “In England they always play like it’s a derby. I saw Milan-Inter a few days ago, that was an English game. Running, hitting, teams stretched out and a lot of competitive spirit, it’s not very Italian.”
“One thing is true. The British, deep down, veer towards the physical more than the technical. Not too much, but they differ from us in that we fall in love quickly with the talented, skinny trickster. Their football is speed and strength. Power. When faced with a tall 1.90m player, they immediately think of a striker. We always seek a #10 everywhere. But at an organizational level, they are more advanced.”
I dreamed a dream of time gone by
Ranieri isn’t extinguishing his player’s title dreams, instead telling them to continue to believe, saying “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.”
The Italian still retains his cautious outlook, knowing that despite having a five point lead, Leicester are up against it, saying “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.”
“I do not know, but it’s fantastic to have already earned the question. When I arrived the president asked me for 24 points by Christmas. We made 37 or 39, I do not even remember how many. And now we are still up there now. In an era when money counts for everything, we give hope to everybody.”