LONDON • Claudio Ranieri has revealed that he struck a deal with his Leicester City players to limit the number of tactical changes he would impose on them, enforced rest days upon the squad and turned a blind eye to their eating habits as part of an approach that has turned them into unlikely challengers for football's English Premier League title.
The Italian said his players were concerned that he would place a great emphasis on the systems employed during his time in Italy's Serie A after he succeeded Nigel Pearson as manager last summer, so he decided to limit his instructions.
Upon arrival in August after the sacking of Pearson, the Italian studied videos of Leicester's matches from last season and saw that he could use the confidence and work-rate shown by the team in their great escape from relegation.
He detected a reticence towards adopting an Italian style, so decided to talk little about tactics, focusing more on continuing to foster the excellent team ethic. He told the players they had his trust.
"When I spoke with the players I realised that they were afraid of the Italian tactics," Ranieri told Corriere della Sera, the Italian newspaper.
"They did not look convinced, and neither was I.
THE LEICESTER WAY
Light training, "the way they do it in Italy", says coach Claudio Ranieri
Another hard workout
Preparation for matchday
"I have great admiration for those who build new tactical systems, but I always thought the most important thing a good coach must do is to build the team around the characteristics of his players. So, I told the players that I trusted them and would speak very little of tactics."
Ranieri, who returned to the Premier League this season after an 11-year absence, having left Chelsea in 2004, has led his side to five points clear at the top of the table and they underlined their title credentials by beating Manchester City 3-1 on Saturday.
In view of the physical demands of English football, the manager gave his players two days off every week to recover.
'My idea is that first of all the players need to recover and then to train," Ranieri said.
"In England the game is always high intensity and wipes people out. We resume on Monday with light training, the way they do it in Italy.
"Tuesday is hard training, Wednesday absolute rest. Thursday another hard workout, Friday is preparation for the match and Saturday another game."
Ranieri admitted that he was initially shocked by his players' diets.
"Sometimes we sit at the dinner table and I am frightened at how much they eat," he said. "I've never seen players so hungry! The first few times I was surprised, then I learnt to smile. If they run this hard, they can eat what they like."
Ranieri also said he quickly understood that, while in Italy training is a duty, in England it meant players having fun, remaining healthy and doing a great job.
"It would be stupid to waste all that," he said. 'When they train, they always put (in) the same effort as in a match, I never had to once tell off someone for being lazy. They expect calm and respect in the dressing room, so if you want to be a prima donna they won't forgive you for it."
The Leicester manager also disclosed that the club's Thai chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha had requested 24 points by Christmas, but got 38 instead, and that he has told his squad that an opportunity like this to win the league will never come around again.
"I told my players: It's this year or never," he told Radio Anch'io Lo Sport. "In an era when money counts for everything, we give hope to everybody.'"
Leicester are reaching unprecedented heights with this formula, and Ranieri is knowledgeable on history and context. The club have never really come close to winning the title but Ranieri is refusing to dampen his team's burning desire.
Leicester have been installed as bookmakers' favourites for the title following victory at City and will travel to Arsenal on Sunday with a five-point lead over the Gunners and Tottenham Hotspur.
"I always tell my players to find the fire within themselves," Ranieri said. "A chance like this will never come round again. Seek that fire, don't be ashamed of it. If anything, they demand to dream."
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE