Ranieri: 'I was calm only on the outside'

Claudio Ranieri led 5,000-1 outsider Leicester City to the English Premier League Championship, losing just three matches during the season. Leicester City has now been nominated for the Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year Award.

"It was a great achievement for the whole club – the players, the staff, the owners, the fans. It was certainly among the biggest achievements of my career."   -  getty images

Claudio Ranieri led 5,000-1 outsider Leicester City to the English Premier League Championship, losing just three matches during the season. Leicester City has now been nominated for the Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year Award.

Laureus: Was winning the English Premier League the greatest achievement in your career?

Claudio Ranieri: It was a great achievement for the whole club – the players, the staff, the owners, the fans. It was certainly among the biggest achievements of my career, but every situation is different so it’s always difficult to compare what you have achieved. It was a great moment. I was very happy for the whole club and the whole city.

Can you tell us what it means to be nominated for a Laureus World Sports Award?

It’s one of the world’s most prestigious sporting honours so we are very proud to have been nominated. Leicester City’s achievements in 2016 have been recognised in so many ways, including a number of celebrated awards and a nomination for a Laureus Worlds Sports Award is right up there with the best.

What makes a Laureus Award so special with so much prestige?

The respect that comes with a Laureus Award is very special. You only have to look at the big champions that have won Laureus Awards in the past to know how important they are. To many people around the world, Leicester City was an unknown team before 2016. To be nominated for a Laureus Award introduces the club to the whole world.

You were quoted by one betting firm at the start of the season at 5,000-1 to win the League. Did you think that was realistic, or silly?

At the start of the season, nobody thought it was possible for Leicester to win the Premier League. It was not something we were thinking about either, because we were focused on getting enough points to make sure we stayed in the league. But after we were safe, the players kept making performances and their confidence and belief continued to grow. It was a strange, magical season, but we took our opportunity.

 

Can you pick one particular memory from last season as the best?

For me it was standing on the pitch next to [opera star] Andrea Bocelli on the day we received the trophy. By then, we were champions and we could enjoy the experience. I don’t think I could fully appreciate it at the time, but one day, when I’m an old man, I’ll watch it again and I will know how I feel.

Which was the team’s best win of the season?

There were two big matches in my opinion – our 3-1 win at Manchester City in February, when everyone started to think we could do something special. And our 2-1 defeat at Arsenal the next week. That day, I thought to myself: if Arsenal, with all their great champions, needed 93 minutes to beat us with ten men, we can do something special.

You appeared very calm throughout the year. Were you really so calm?

I was calm on the outside, but inside not so much! I wanted to make sure that my players were calm so that they could perform well, but if I needed to motivate them I would tell them.

When was the first time you said to yourself: I think we can win the Championship?

When Eden Hazard scored for Chelsea against Tottenham to make it 2-2 – the result that meant we were champions! Before that goal, I was only ever thinking about winning the next match.

Can you tell us what was the secret of your success?

There was no secret – it was a good team with a great spirit that fought hard for each other in every match. Against so many big teams, it was amazing that Leicester could finish above them, but we deserved to win. It was a crazy season.

What tribute would you like to pay to your players?

My players are fantastic. Every day they work hard to improve and to do their best for the team. Every match, I say to them, don’t worry about the result – the result is not important. We have to try our best, we have to fight and they always do that.

Especially Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez who cost so little and made such a massive impact. What can you say about them?

Jamie and Riyad are important players for us, but for me it is always about the team. We have been successful because the team, including Jamie and Riyad, fights to be successful together.

What are your realistic targets now for the rest of this 2016/17 season?

Last season was amazing, but it was a crazy season. This season, we knew the established top teams would come back strongly and ready to fight for the title again and it would be difficult for us. So we set our target at 40 points, just as we did last season, to make sure the team is safe in the Premier League. That has always been the most important target for us this season. Last season was a fantasy season. This season is the reality.

What are your feelings about the Champions League? How far can you go?

This is Leicester’s first season in the Champions League, so our focus was on trying to win some games and, if it’s possible, to continue our European adventure – either in the Europa League or the Champions League. We managed to win our group, which was a fantastic effort from everybody and now we have a tough tie against Sevilla in the Last 16. When it comes to the Champions League, I cannot think any further ahead than that.