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Rise of the Nice Guy: what the hell has happened to Claudio Ranieri?

by Andrew Boulton | August 18, 2015

As soon as Alan descends in the ‘Take Me Out’ lift it’s quite clear he’ll be going home alone. He’s got a steady job, cares for injured hedgehogs, loves his mum dearly and would treat any of the girls in front of him like a princess (rather than the hissing, vapid shrews they so clearly are). Alan does not have a neck tattoo, his shirt fits him perfectly well, he has never strawpedoed a WKD Blue in ‘Spoons’. In short, he’s too nice for this nonsense.

For all the same reasons that Alan isn’t suited to being publicly pimped out to luridly orange women, Claudio Ranieri does not seem suited to football management. Whereas Jose Mourinho would drive a bus full of orphans into an active volcano for a result, Ranieri is the kind of man who holds open doors, gives up his seat and always has pockets full of mints.

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And it’s for precisely that reason that he’s always been slightly patronised, particularly by football fans in this country (the assessment here being that he is very nice, but a bit rubbish). And, at least for the generation that grew up with Sir Alex Ferguson snarling and whining his way to total domination, we’ve been conditioned to associate any kind of success with being a massive shi*t.

Leices’ Is More

But, albeit with only two games played, lovely Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City find themselves second in the league, one of only four sides with a 100% record. Only Manchester City have scored as many goals, Riyad Mahrez is the league’s top scorer and they’ve created more chances than Manchester United and Chelsea.

It’s a start to the season that even arch-Leicester fan Gary Lineker couldn’t bring himself to hope for, with the crisp-sniffing Match of the Day host describing Ranieri’s appointment as an ‘uninspiring choice.’ Harry Redknapp also chirped off about Ranieri landing a Premier League job, presumably while doing backstroke through the pool of banknotes he received for slinking away from the QPR job he’d done so terribly.

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And, to be fair to the doubters, there were perhaps good reasons to be sceptical. Ranieri’s last competitive game was a 1-0 loss to the Faroe Islands while managing Greece. For the Greek people it probably wasn’t as bad as Angela Merkel banging on the door like a furious Wonga.com puppet, but it still wasn’t especially ‘lols’.

Claud-ed By The Past

Then there’s our lasting impression of Ranieri in England – a strange season at Chelsea where they finished second in the league to the Arsenal ‘Invincibles’ and he got the sack anyway. That season they also reached the semi finals of the Champions League, a game most people remember for a series of substitutions so bizarre they might as well have been made by making the players on the bench do thumb wars.

And we shouldn’t forget that this is the season where Ranieri had lobbed around £120 million in the general direction of Juan Veron, Damien Duff, Hernan Crespo and experimental nose-flutist Adrian Mutu. Claudio soon found himself shoved off the Abramovich mega yacht just as a gobby young Portuguese was being choppered in – and no one could really say it was the wrong decision.

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Since then Ranieri has never lasted longer that two seasons in any job, and his record at Valencia, Parma, Juventus, Roma and Inter could be politely described as ‘a bit wank’. His win record at Monaco was over 60% but even there he never really steered them within licking distance of a PSG side that had been largely built around Zlatan’s massive Swedish balls. In all, out of the 7 jobs Ranieri has taken on since Chelsea, he’s been sacked from 5 of them.

So Vardy, So Good

And then, seemingly from beyond the brink of career oblivion, he rolled up to Leicester City in the aftermath of what is likely to be an awkward Christmas at the Pearson house. The wiser minds in the game suggested that Ranieri had been appointed not so much for his talents as a coach but more for his distinct Un-Nigelness. Here was a man who was unlikely to strangle opponents, bully journalists or generally be the kind of snarky tit you’d secretly love to hit in the face with a ladder. Unfortunately the particularly snarky tit he replaced had just guided Leicester to 7 wins in their last 9 games and an improbable 14th place finish.

But, despite being widely tipped to struggle, Ranieri’s Leicester have surprised a few people. The momentum they gained in the last months with Pearson doesn’t seemed to have slowed, even with the loss of Esteban Cambiasso and his unrivalled ability to lube up even the crustiest of midfields. Ranieri has even faced an ‘early doors’ player scandal, dealing with Jamie Vardy’s oafishness calmly and sensitively.

So perhaps we’ve all remembered wrong when it comes to Claudio. Perhaps he isn’t the loveable buffoon we all think we recall. Or perhaps he’s simply bumbled his way to two wins on the back of some residual ‘Pearsonness’ and a Kasabian album. Perhaps, when we get into the frothing, grumbling, punch-to-the-kidneys reality of the winter, it might not be so nice to be nice after all.

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