Ranieri avoids Mourinho question

Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri and his players showing their delight during an open-bus parade in Bangkok last week. Vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, son of the owner, is holding the Premier League trophy.
Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri and his players showing their delight during an open-bus parade in Bangkok last week. Vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, son of the owner, is holding the Premier League trophy.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MONACO • Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri believes his English Premier League (EPL) champions will be underdogs again next season and staying up is the priority.

"We can fight but we are underdogs," the Italian told reporters on Tuesday at a Monaco Grand Prix charity match, where he was coach to an All Stars XI against a team of Formula One drivers and others.

"The fairy tale happened once and we won. We want to defend our title of course, but for us it's very, very important to maintain the Premier League.

"Our plan didn't change. OK, we won. We want to defend our title. We know it will be difficult but we don't care."

The smiling manager dodged questions about the imminent return to the EPL of old rival Jose Mourinho - the manager who replaced him at Chelsea - at Manchester United after the departure on Monday of Louis van Gaal.

"I don't want to speak about this. Next season will be another fantastic season because (Pep) Guardiola is arriving (at Manchester City), (Antonio) Conte (at Chelsea) and Jose. It will be a very tough and good season," he said.

A year ago, former Monaco coach Ranieri turned out for the same pre-Grand Prix charity match with Prince Albert in the line-up and with his own future in question.

Dismissed in November 2014 as national coach of Greece after a shock defeat by the Faroe Islands, he was appointed by Leicester to some consternation last year.

"Something happened in one month that changed my life," he said of the final matches of the season that saw the Foxes finish on 81 points, 10 points clear of second- placed Arsenal and looking forward to a maiden campaign in the Champions League.

"I can say only thank you to my players," added Ranieri, who mingled with the small crowd and posed for wefies with spectators after the match. He had earlier posed next to a silver and blue "King Power" throne with "Claudio" on the back.

"I want my players to continue to have the right attitude and then I can accept all the results."

He had to accept defeat on Tuesday evening. The All Stars lost 1-3 to a team who included double Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso and Red Bull's 18-year-old race winner Max Verstappen.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2016, with the headline 'Ranieri avoids Mourinho question'. Print Edition | Subscribe