Firefighter Claudio Ranieri takes on another rescue mission at Sampdoria
Italian coach has made a name for himself trying to revive fortunes of struggling teams across Europe
From where Claudio Ranieri views them, at a distance but with a deep understanding, Leicester City look very familiar right now: poised near the top of the English Premier League, ominously in-form outsiders in the title race, and with a point more at this stage of the season than they had in 2015-16. That was the year Ranieri made them champions.
From his vantage point in Genoa, Ranieri had until lately been liking the look of Nantes’s start to this French season, too. They were settling comfortably into second place, which is as good as it gets for anyone other than Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1, until an abrupt loss of momentum this month. Under Ranieri, two seasons ago, Nantes never suffered anything like their current, four-match losing streak.
As for Fulham, well, it would push a point to suggest that, at Ranieri’s last port of call in English football, there is any nostalgia for the 'Tinkerman'. Just over a year ago, he took on the job of rescuing Fulham from a relegation crisis. He never solved the crisis, but, benevolent man that he is, Ranieri will be pleased to see Fulham climbing towards the play-off positions in the Championship, hopeful of a quick bounce back to the top division.
Ranieri lasted barely half a season at Fulham, been and gone almost before you could say ‘dilly ding, dilly dong’, one of the catchphrases he introduced into dictionary of English football: he used it to describe the imaginary bell he would ring to focus the minds of his Leicester players.
All of them would remain forever thankful for the positive thinking, the organisational rigour Ranieri brought to the English midlands for the most extraordinary nine months of Leicester’s history, and probably the Premier League’s.
But when the bell rang for Ranieri’s time there, sacked only two thirds of the way into the defence of the magical title, some relationships had become strained. What was never in doubt was that another challenge would come to Ranieri very quickly. They always do.
Last month, Ranieri embarked on his fourth different gig since he left Leicester. That’s four new contracts, with four clubs in three leading leagues in the space of 28 months. Nantes lasted a full campaign, and they achieved mid-table respectability. Fulham was, all told, a failure, although Ranieri was not there long enough actually oversee the moment of relegation, and it was certainly not a failure that left a lasting stain.
Not much more than week after departing Craven Cottage, Ranieri was being unveiled as the head coach of Roma, in the city of his birth, at the club where he played as a young defender in the 1970s, and where, in a previous stint as manager, he had come close to a Serie A title.
His second spell at Roma was always likely to be temporary; ‘Sir Claudio’ as he has been known in Italy since the Leicester fairytale, tasked with trying to haul the club into Serie A’s top four, and Champions League qualification. He fell three points short, which meant he stayed Claudio the Caretaker, and available for the next firefight that needed an experienced, engaging expert to sort it out.
Sampdoria called Ranieri in early October. They were rock bottom if the Italian top division, had lost six of their seven fixtures and the luckless Eusebio di Francesco, already sacked by Roma in February, was then leaving his second Serie A employer within the space of eight months. Di Francesco may have suspected how the story would go. Just as at Roma, Ranieri stepped into his place, flak jacket at the ready.
“I am here to save Samp,” he promised, eyes sparkling, but jaw set firm. He then described the role that has come to define him, in his late 60s, his days of fairytale title-chases apparently behind him. “I have not come to nurture young players or develop the squad. I am here to demand of the players: Go out onto that pitch and run until you die.”
So far, so bullish. The Samp of Fireman Claudio, in this, his 20th job in management, have not been an unconfined joy to watch, but since stifling Roma in a goalless draw that began the Ranieri reign there have been two further clean sheets, a victory over SPAL and only one loss from his five matches in charge.
Samp host Udinese, 12th in the table, on Sunday on the back of a three-match unbeaten run, and knowing a win would likely take them out of the bottom three.
“It will be a hard job until the end of the season,” predicts Sir Claudio. “But all the jobs I have done have been tough.” And only one of them seemed truly blessed."
Updated: November 21, 2019 10:57 PM