A week before his 70th birthday, Claudio Ranieri could be basking in the soft glow of the Mediterranean rather than snuggling up in the hottest of the Premier League’s hot seats, but that’s really not his style.
“I’m very bored if I don’t stay in football,” Ranieri explained when he was formally unveiled as Watford’s newest head coach, his 22nd other job at 18 different clubs and one national team in a managerial career spanning more than 35 years.
‘I love soccer. I love life. Fifty… 70… 80 maybe… why not? England’s oldest manager perhaps with a walking stick.’
A week before his 70th birthday, Claudio Ranieri might bask in the soft glow of the Mediterranean instead of settling in the Premier League hot seat, but that’s not his style
He did a little mime of a crooked old man before standing up to add, ‘But the brain is important and the brain is very young.
“I came back to do something with Watford. I am an ambitious man. The chairman is an ambitious man. And I want to do this. I will put all my energy, all my mind into my work and I am so happy.’
His immediate goals at Watford are modest enough.
“We have to be safe. I’m only thinking of the 40 points. Do you remember me at Leicester? ‘Forty points, 40 points’. Then ’41’. We have seven and there are still 33 points to achieve. Then slowly, slowly, improve next season.’
This is Ranieri’s fourth job in English football. There were four years at Chelsea from 2000 when he was dubbed the Tinkerman due to his habit of making constant changes to the team and shocking the formation with the consensus that the best approach was to have a steady side.
The 69-year-old manager has previously managed both Fulham (above) and Chelsea
However, he is known as the architect of Leicester’s 2016 Premier League title win (above)
“I carried the flag,” he laughed. ‘Twenty years later and many managers are Tinkermen. I have the flag and they followed it.’
But he only lasted three months at Fulham, his most recent Premier League placement, where he was unable to remedy a terrible start to the season.
“I definitely made mistakes at Fulham,” Ranieri said. “When I led the Greek national team, of course. It can happen in a long career, 35 years. You have to put it behind you. Another match, another day.’
This brief stint at Craven Cottage can best be reduced to a wonderful piece of trivia as he took over from Slavisa Jokanovic and was replaced by Scott Parker, his first and last signings respectively when he was Chelsea boss.
At Leicester City, however, his performance will live on forever as one of football’s great fairytales, even if he was sacked nine months after winning the Premier League title with a 5,000-1 chance with a team tipped for degradation.
“I did my best,” Ranieri said. “And I’m glad if some people, not only in sport, but in life, think that if Leicester did this, why not… That’s good hope for the people.
Now he has taken over Watford after they sold Xisco Munoz after the defeat at Leeds
Gianpaolo Pozzo has long been an admirer of Ranieri and wanted him to join Udinesse
‘For me, the next day was a thing of the past. I forgot everything. I always look ahead. What happens tomorrow, what happens on Saturday? Another Leicester could happen in 100 years.’
But he will always embody hope for the outsiders against the elite, and he returns at a time when Newcastle United is giddy with possibilities, after being taken over by representatives of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
Is it perhaps reminiscent of the time Roman Abramovich invaded Chelsea and changed the Premier League landscape and expectations at Stamford Bridge?
“I’m fired,” Ranieri replied. “I finished second behind the unbeaten Arsenal and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, and I was fired.
“That’s life — and you’ll tell me Watford changes a lot, it’s unbelievable.”
Ranieri won’t be afraid of the crazy carousel that makes him the 14th permanent Watford boss in nine years under the Pozzo family or the sixth to take the lead in fewer than 50 Premier League games.
He is isolated by his vast experience and knowledge of the way the owners of the club operate.
Watford have won two of the first seven games and Ranieri is now tasked with keeping them afloat
He faces a daunting list of games – starting at home to Liverpool (above) on Saturday and with Everton, Southampton, Arsenal and Manchester United to follow
Giampaolo Pozzo, father of Watford owner Gino, once tried to recruit him as manager of his Italian club Udinese. “It was about 20 years ago,” Ranieri revealed. “He wanted me to join Udinese and we couldn’t.”
This time, the deal was sealed in a flash. Watford called after losing 1-0 to Leeds in their last appearance before the international break, leaving them with seven points from seven games. Ranieri was on a plane to London the next day.
He had been without a club since the end of last season when he left Sampdoria, where he restored calm and stability after taking control in 2019 when they were adrift at the bottom of Serie A, with three points from seven games.
They avoided relegation with games left, finishing ninth in his second season before Ranieri left, much to fans’ disappointment as he failed to negotiate a new contract with the club.
Despite this, the newly appointed manager remains positive about the future of the club
There have been highs and lows and few will be surprised if his time at Watford turns out to be one of his shorter tenures.
It’s a daunting list of games, starting at home to Liverpool on Saturday and with Everton, Southampton, Arsenal and Manchester United to follow, before what would be his first competitive return to Leicester at the end of next month?
“There will be bad moments and we have to stay close to our fans and fight,” Ranieri said, miming again to illustrate his point, raising his hands in front of his face, bending over, weaving and prodding.
“Like a boxer, there are times when you can punch and sometimes you need to stay covered.
“I’m holding my mind. Nobody can kill me, nobody. Because sports is fantastic.’