In Good Conscience

Ding-dong battle gives Ranieri prime slot in game's pantheon

"Hey, Dilly Ding, Dilly Dong! You are sleeping, no?"

Thus did Claudio Ranieri, the new emperor of Leicester City, wake up his players whenever he felt their effort or concentration were slackening.

Dilly Ding, indeed.

The man and his team are world-renowned now, proving in his case that nice guys can finish first and, in their case, that a team of triers can wake up the elite so long as they are a team and not just a bunch of individuals.

In another, possibly less romantic, less far-fetched way, Atletico Madrid have demonstrated team over arguably greater individuality by squeezing Barcelona and Bayern Munich out of the Champions League.

The styles of Leicester and Atletico have similarities in that every player runs until the opponents drop. The wonder is where they get that energy, that extreme desire.

In this terribly suspicious age, when sports performance can come out of a bottle, there are always suspicions lurking.


In the wake of Leicester's triumph, Claudio Ranieri's message is simple: "Sport is like life, a wonderful thing." PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

But from what we know and see, Leicester is galvanised by the Dilly Ding, Dilly Dong manager who has been around the block so many times, with so many teams, that distilled perseverance is the essence of his message.

Mourinho once sneered: "Ranieri is old and he has won nothing." He has now, O Special One. And where was Jose when the world acclaimed Ranieri? In the unemployment queue, waiting and hoping for the Manchester United seat.

Diego Simeone induces the hyperactivity of Atletico from the sidelines, a coach almost demented in his physicality and his cajoling.

And on Thursday, the way that Liverpool ran and Juergen Klopp drove them from the touchline, once again there was this demonstrative exhibition of a team running relentlessly under the constant hectoring of their manager's voice.

Actually, Ranieri is the odd man out in this trio. He is old, aged 64, for a start, so the histrionics would not go down too well in front of the cameras.

But, hey, Dilly Ding, Dilly Dong, the Roman with all the appearance of a favourite uncle, has poured a lifetime of wisdom into this one season.

The signs were written on placards and on doors.

At Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea, the former champions, last Monday denied Spurs the chance to prevent Leicester's title, a banner in the crowd simply read: "Let's do it for Ranieri."

Chelsea had been one of the seven clubs to sack Mister Ranieri in his nomadic career up and down and around the managerial ladder. And of course it was Jose Mourinho, the man who took Ranieri's job at the Bridge 12 years ago (and who twice, so far, has been sacked by Roman Abramovich), who sneered: "Ranieri is old and he has won nothing."

He has now, O Special One. And where was Jose when the world acclaimed Ranieri? In the unemployment queue, waiting and hoping for the Manchester United seat.

"I have no negative thoughts," Ranieri said. "I have no personal grudges. They do not belong to my culture and to my way of being.

"My message, aimed primarily at young people, is that you should never give up - even if it takes years and years to get the results. Sport is like life, a wonderful thing."

Ranieri had flown home to his mother for lunch on Monday.

La Signora, Renata Ranieri, may be all of 96 years old, but held her own engaging newspaper interview the day after Leicester were finally declared champions of the Premier League.

"Our lunch lasted two hours," she told La Repubblica newspaper. "We talked a bit about Leicester but he wanted to feel comfortable. Then he told me the (club) president had a plane for him to return to England, so we said goodbye and he went to Ciampino airport."

Over steak and chicory, and strawberries with lemon and sugar, the old lady and her elderly son talked tactics. "He has to stay in shape," she said, referring to the calories on the plate.

Dilly Ding, guess where Claudio gets his values.

Dilly Dong, Renata Ranieri admitted that the family never expected this, "but Claudio told me he had found a group of players who trained like true professionals and finally everything has fallen into place, and my son has found himself".

A private plane ride away, back in Leicester, Ranieri had watched the Chelsea-Spurs game on TV with his wife Rosanna and two of his assistants. Next morning there was a telling sign posted on the door of the treatment room at Leicester's training ground.

"Closed," it read, "due to unforeseen circumstances."

And beneath that wry notice was a picture of the Premier League trophy and the word: Champions.

By then, the Srivaddhanaprabha family had dropped in by helicopter to greet the team, to talk bonuses and rewards that apparently included a S$63,000 Mercedes for every player.

The hard series of talks between players' agents and club management to keep these players will ensue. Every single one of them them, Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, N'Golo Kante and company, will be wise to ring the bell in their heads and sign up for at least one more season.

They have had outstanding individual seasons, but they are best together. They have come through periods of doubt and rejection, and have become Ranieri's boys.

Wherever we have watched in the world, Leicester have represented the underdog who just never lets go of the dream. A squad of players hailing from nine different nations, five different continents, paid by a Thai, running until their opponents in England wilted and fell by the wayside.

The story resonates wherever sport matters. And there is a telling message that teamwork is best. Each player gets a new toy, a Merc. Meanwhile, did you see the body language between those two Mercedes Formula One drivers in Sochi, Russia last Sunday?

Four races, four wins by Nico Rosberg, and four defeats by last year's champion Lewis Hamilton. There are only two drivers for Mercedes F1, but no real team ethic between them.

Rosberg happens to be German, and guess what the Twitterati from Hamilton's England are putting into the ether?

They are suggesting that this is all a German plot to put the best mechanics and the more reliable car into the hands of Rosberg and to sabotage Hamilton.

Dilly Ding: Thirty brand new Mercedes cars for the Leicester squad, because the billionaire owner appreciates that the team is more than the XI who can play at any one time.

Dilly Dong: Winning is a team effort.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2016, with the headline 'Ding-dong battle gives Ranieri prime slot in game's pantheon'. Print Edition | Subscribe