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Heart Of Football

Everything at stake for the two managers in Wembley clash

The girl from Ipanema may have lit many a flame at the Maracana, but Claudio Ranieri was tucked up in his bed. For Ranieri, 64 years young, the new season kicks off today at Wembley Stadium, more than 9,000km away.

The Community Shield might only be the curtain-raiser to the Premier League season, but make no mistake, the managers of Leicester City and Manchester United will treat it as a significant marker.

Suffice to say that Jose Mourinho stirred something in Ranieri when he took his job and his team at Chelsea in 2004, and later sneered at the old Italian who had won nothing in his career.

Well, that has changed.

Ranieri looked almost paternal after Leicester knocked off Chelsea last December in what turned out to be Mourinho's last stand. He was dismissed within 48 hours by Roman Abramovich.


Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho signing autographs before the Wayne Rooney testimonial match on Wednesday. “My teams are very different to Mr van Gaal’s,” he said in the lead-up to today’s Community Shield clash with Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester. PHOTO: REUTERS

Mourinho made it known that he wanted to come back, and had just one club in mind. The rest is history. Man United and Mourinho, both devilish in their way, are joined now as if destiny intended it.

The Community Shield might only be the curtain-raiser to the Premier League season, but make no mistake, the managers of Leicester City and Manchester United will treat it as a significant marker.

And as fate would have it, he gets to walk down the Wembley tunnel side by side with Ranieri today.

There is already a feeling that what Leicester so thrillingly and so unexpectedly won last season is what United are hell-bent on regaining under Jose.

He makes no secret that he wanted four new players. Three of them should line up today - centre-back Eric Bailly (£32.3 million, or about S$57 million, from Villarreal), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (£30 million from Borussia Dortmund) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (free apart from his S$500,000-a-week wage from Paris St-Germain).

The fourth, Paul Pogba, whose fee and salary amount to more than the sum of the rest, is still surprisingly under negotiation. Mourinho makes it plain that he expects the business to be done by the start of the real season, at Bournemouth next weekend.

And he is still seething from the farce of the Beijing washout that gave Man United and Man City wasted journeys for the so-called International Champions Cup that was supposed to have been played in the Chinese capital.

That hasn't lightened the mood of Mourinho. He has had six months of sitting out the last Premier League, weeks and months of plotting what he would do if he got the job of his one-time mentor Louis van Gaal, and a few peevish comments from the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger about the impending £100 million-or-more purchase of Pogba.

The comments, Mourinho says, are not ethical.

Leaving aside how the new Man United manager views ethics, we can only wait and wonder how his most recent marriage will turn out.

He told reporters on Friday: "My teams are very different to Mr van Gaal's. I'm not saying my teams are better. It's difficult to change the dynamics. It would be easier to have 20 new players and start from zero."

Van Gaal's principles are not Mourinho's principles. Clearly Bastian Schweinsteiger, who returned after Euro 2016 to find there was no shirt with his name on it, no place in the dressing room or even the training group, got the message.

Others, like Juan Mata or Marcus Rashford are invited to compete for a place, from outside the new dynamic Mourinho will field today.

Luke Shaw is back at left-back after his leg was badly broken last year. The central midfield waits for Pogba, but Mkhitaryan will start.

Wayne Rooney, told by van Gaal that his days as a striker were over and that he needed to concentrate on midfield, has been instructed by Mourinho to get back to scoring goals, or else. He will line up possibly in a front three, just behind Ibrahimovic with Anthony Martial on the left.

Leicester? As near the same again as Ranieri can make it.

The Silver Fox has spent his summer persuading the bulk of his team that the win of a lifetime should only be a precursor to what they are capable of. He needed to recruit anyway, because Leicester are no longer relegation fodder and now run in the Champions League on top of defending the EPL title.

After getting a 4-0 hammering from Paris St-Germain in Los Angeles, and being beaten 4-2 by Barcelona in Stockholm, Ranieri told his players: "I want everybody together. This year, teams will want to kill us.

"I didn't get angry with them, but they cannot say to me, 'This is my maximum.' I want more than the maximum. I don't want my players to ever give up, against the big teams or anybody."

In a word, he wants them to suffer the way they suffered for the team last season.

There has not been, nor will there be, an exodus. Arsenal tried and failed to lure Jamie Vardy, who signed an improved new contract to stay at Leicester. Chelsea invoked a buy-out clause, and got N'Golo Kante for £30 million and his energy and tenacity will be missed.

Ranieri shopped at Nice for a replacement in the form of Nampalys Mendy. Leicester also purchased a Nigerian striker Ahmed Musa, a young Polish winger Bartosz Kapustka, a back-up goalkeeper and experienced defensive cover.

But today's line-up will be as close to the XI that won the title in May as Ranieri can field. Only N'Golo has been tempted away (so far), the old coach keeps an arm around Mahrez, and those truly rated by Leicester have been handed new, improved contracts.

The King Power Stadium in Leicester was being blessed, again, by Buddhist monks from the homeland of Thai owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. There were gleaming new blue BMWs given by the owner to 19 players in the car park, but Ranieri was dismissive of them. "There are some gifts," the manager said. "But I think about the match, not cars."

Nobody, maybe not even Mourinho, will patronise Leicester again in a hurry.

The fans, though, are grounded. "We are staying up," some of them sang as their team played in Los Angeles. Feet on the ground, flame running high, and United as the final pre-season rehearsal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 07, 2016, with the headline 'Everything at stake for the two managers in Wembley clash'. Print Edition | Subscribe