Ranieri still cautious about talk of EPL title

LONDON • Claudio Ranieri has finally conceded that Leicester City can achieve European qualification for next season, but the Italian still refuses to accept his side are favourites for the English Premier League title.

Leicester find themselves top of the table after a miraculous campaign that has defied all rational expectation.

It is now more than 15 years since they were knocked out of the Uefa Cup in the first round by Red Star Belgrade, having won the League Cup the previous season, with the majority of the intervening period spent outside the top flight.

Only midfielder Andy King remains from the side which achieved promotion from League One in 2009 during Nigel Pearson's first spell at the club.

But, having surpassed his initial target of 40 points at the start of January, Ranieri knows history is now within their grasp - even if talk of the title remains strictly taboo.

"For me the favourites are the others still," he said on Sunday, ahead of last night's game against Newcastle.

"We have to fight and just at the end we can say, 'Oh, we achieved this, we are in the Europa League, how fantastic.' Or 'We are in the Champions League, amazing.'

"Now we are fighting to achieve the Europa League. Can you imagine Leicester achieving the Europa League? Unbelievable. That is our goal. When we achieve this, I'll look how many matches are left.

"Maybe then we can achieve the Champions League. Little targets: Newcastle. After that, Crystal Palace, that is our next step.

"Now I think of Newcastle and Crystal Palace and after that we have a break and I forget."

For him, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Manchester City remain stronger candidates for the Premier League title.

When asked at which point he would consider Leicester favourites, Ranieri said: "When we have a five-point lead with less than one match (remaining). When the mathematics say yes, that is it.

"Believe me, we have won our title by saving the team (from relegation)."

Ranieri has every reason for remaining so circumspect.

His previous job in charge of Greece ended in the sack following a disastrous defeat by the Faroe Islands.

And, after 15 other managerial posts since his career began, the 64-year-old is fully aware just how fickle football can be.

THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'Ranieri still cautious about talk of EPL title'. Print Edition | Subscribe