Claudio Ranieri: The most likable man in soccer

Oh to be Claudio Ranieri right now.

The Leicester City manager waited for 43 years, 13 years as a player and 30 years as a manager, and 18 total teams for this week. After being in soccer since 1973, Claudio Ranieri finally won his first ever top league title and did it under the most unlikely circumstances.

When Leicester City won the title, Tottenham drew Chelsea 2-2. Ranieri gave the players the day off so they all went to Jamie Vardy’s house to catch the game. Ranieri flew to Italy and had lunch with his 96-year-old mother and flew back to England during the game.

Even after Leicester clinched the Premier League title and the players surely had a fun night celebrating, Ranieri and the players were back on the training ground Tuesday. Ranieri talked to the press about the rest of this season as well as planning for the next season when they will be in Champions League.

Ranieri has been very entertaining around the press and really was a breath of fresh air compared to other managers. Most other managers either play mind games, hate other teams, hate other managers or don’t even trust the media. It seemed like Ranieri loved the media and didn’t have a bad word to say about anyone this season. Except for maybe Jurgen Klopp, there isn’t any other EPL manager who has this much charisma, especially toward the media. Granted, it helps to act like that when you win but when Chelsea won the Premier League last year, did you see Jose Mourinho do anything like this?

But despite what Ranieri did for the media, it was what he did for his players that made the difference. While some managers put forth many rules to control their team, Ranieri really didn’t have many rules. Apart from a counterattack style, Ranieri kept tactics to a minimum and focused on player speed and fitness as a way to counteract the more talented teams.

Ranieri also utilized rather unconventional ways to make his Leicester team better. For one thing, when at all possible, Ranieri would give players two days off per week if they didn’t have a midweek game. Ranieri also wanted his players to eat saying, “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.”

Ranieri was also loose with players in terms of having fun outside of the team. When the team had a couple days off, the players flew to Copenhagen, Denmark to have a costume Christmas party. In Ranieri’s eyes, he had no problem with players having a good time and enjoying a few beers as long as they didn’t get in trouble and they were all back to training the next day. The team did just that and continued their run of 10 straight unbeaten games at that time.

In what was their most memorable moment of the season, to try and combat Leicester leaking in goals, Ranieri made a deal to his players that if they got a clean sheet, he would pay for a pizza party. It got a couple laughs because something like this was the kind of thing a youth soccer coach would do for their team in order to be better but it worked. In late October, Leicester got their first clean sheet of the season (would eventually have 15) and Ranieri threw a pizza party with just one twist. Ranieri wanted the players to still have to earn it, and wound up being a great team building activity as well as a reward for hard work. Ranieri knew his team and that his players are people. Sometimes, something as simple as free pizza will motivate someone to perform better, even if they are a professional soccer player. These players may be making thousands of pounds per week but pizza is pizza and that is a more important motivator sometimes.

Claudio Ranieri managed his team by managing to his players’ strengths and not to his style. He knew his players both mentally and physically and sculpted a gameplan that utilized each of their strengths and got the absolute best performances out of all of these people in every game this season. That is the mark of a great manager. Someone who caters to his players and creates a style to maximize their performance than expect players to cater to him and may or may not fit in their system. That kind of flexibility is rarely seen anymore and shows a tight bond between a manager and player.

With that, Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City were rewarded with the English Premier League title. After 30 years as a manager that spanned teams like Napoli, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Valencia, Juventus, Roma and Inter among others, Claudio Ranieri never won a top league title. It turned out, Ranieri needed to go to a small team in Leicester with the only expectation being to just survive and not relegate this season. Win after win caused Leicester City to compete for the top of the league and after being at those big places and never winning, Ranieri finally got to be on the top of the mountain in the most unlikely place. And Ranieri wouldn’t have it any other way.

About Phillip Bupp

News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing, highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them. Follow me on Twitter @phillipbupp