Some feel Claudio Ranieri’s four-year stint at Chelsea came to an unfair, abrupt end. Others feel he laid the foundations for Jose Mourinho to succeed.
But how does the man himself remember that topsy-turvy time at Stamford Bridge? The new Fulham manager, who is preparing to take his side to Stamford Bridge on Derby Day, live on Sky Sports Premier League at midday on Super Sunday, spoke candidly and exclusively to Sky Sports on the subject.
From signing Frank Lampard and blooding in John Terry, to recommending the Cobham training base and coming close to a Champions League final against Mourinho’s Porto, Ranieri gives his honest thoughts on an eventful stint at the Bridge…
Chelsea vs Fulham
December 2, 2018, 11:00am
Laying the foundations for Abramovich
After arriving in September 2000 Ranieri took Chelsea to sixth in both 2000/01 and 2001/02, but the following season made the top four and a Champions League spot with a dramatic 2-1 win over Liverpool on the last day of the season. To many, this is the reason Roman Abramovich invested in the club…
“My job was to make Chelsea always high in the table, but we didn’t have so much money to spend. I remember my third year, we didn’t sign any players. We achieved the Champions League, finished fourth in the table, and then Roman Abramovich arrived.
“I bought Frank Lampard, and I watched John Terry in the second team, and thought: ‘My God, this guy is very, very good.’
“I had a couple centre-backs who had won the European Championship, the World Cup – Marcel Desailly and Frank Leboeuf – but I said John had to play, and I put him close to Desailly.”
As their Harlington training ground had become outdated, Ranieri helped Abramovich choose their new Cobham base in Surrey. They moved to Cobham after Ranieri had departed the club in 2004.
“I tried to improve everything at the club, in the squad, and in the first year with Abramovich, we went around London to find the solution, to choose the training camp. We went around London, but for me I said Cobham was the best solution for Chelsea. And then they started to build something, but I didn’t see it. I spoke two or three times with the architect, and then that finished.”
Champions League agony
In Ranieri’s final season – Abramovich’s first – Chelsea beat Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ in the Champions League quarter-final before a semi-final date with Monaco. About to enter half-time of the second leg leading on away goals, Chelsea were pegged back by a controversial Hugo Ibarra goal. Monaco eventually went through 5-3 on aggregate, and lost to Mourinho’s Porto in the final.
“I was so proud to take the club to the high level, and to build something good for our fans at Chelsea. When I lost my job I was so sad because I think I deserved to continue, because the first year we lost in the semi-final of the Champions League. But that is the job, that is the job, and I restart.
“When we were 1-1 at the end of the first half against Monaco, they played with 10 men, I left on one defender, I put Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink on, we had two or three chances to score goals, but their counter-attack!
“They scored twice and we lost 3-1. But the second leg at Stamford Bridge, it was 2-0 for us, and they scored in the last minute of the first half with a handball that the referee didn’t see. I am sure if we had gone in 2-0 up, we would win the match. But that story is another story.”
Chelsea spent millions upon Abramovich’s arrival, with Ranieri leading them to second in the Premier League in 2003/04.
“That was a big change. I remember when Roman wanted Sven-Goran Eriksson, but he was England manager and wasn’t free. And then he told me: ‘Claudio, start with your job.’ But when I arrived, the Sporting Director [Peter Kenyon] changed everything, he said: ‘If Claudio doesn’t win, it’s a disaster, blah blah blah.’
“And then I tried to do my best, I built a very good team, I chose Petr Cech for Roman, and then I asked for Didier Drogba, but after I leave, Roman bought Drogba. But I chose Drogba also.
“I said OK, if I have to leave I leave with my head held high, to have done my job with a lot of professionalism, and I am happy! I was so concentrated on doing my job the best I could do. A lot of fans tell me you built the big Chelsea. I say thank you, but of course Jose made a fantastic job, a very, very good job.”
Return with Leicester
Ranieri visited Stamford Bridge with Leicester on the final day of the 2015/16 season, after the Foxes had won an unprecedented league title, confirmed by Chelsea’s win over Tottenham…
“I think a director of the movie wanted to think about something… Chelsea would beat Tottenham, and the crowd do this for Claudio. It was amazing. It was fantastic for me.”
To the Bridge with Fulham
In his second game in charge of relegation-threatened Fulham, Ranieri returns to Stamford Bridge on Derby Day, live on Sky Sports Premier League from midday on Super Sunday…
“Never do I see a job on which position [the club are in]. If I have a feeling, I am happy. I have been at Parma, and Parma were down the bottom at the end of February. Why did I go there? I went and saved the team. Now there is a good club, a historic club, good president, good crowd, close to my house… why not? It is perfect for me.
“The first thing [to implement] was a fighting spirit, and then to play more vertical balls. I like to keep possession of the ball, but not often. I want to go straight away to find a solution to score the goals. If that isn’t possible, OK, keep possession, but I don’t want to keep possession from the start. I don’t love this, I love to make chances to score.
“It is a big challenge. I feel it is difficult, but I am confident with my players, the crowd, the president at Fulham. Maybe because I am an ambitious, positive man, I don’t know. I believe.
“We have to make a perfect match, and for Chelsea to make something less. We can do everything perfectly, but they have champions who can change and invent something.”
Watch Chelsea vs Fulham live on Derby Day on Sky Sports Premier League at midday on Super Sunday