Football: Leicester's Super Foxes close in on Hollywood ending to try sealing 1st top-tier English title

Artist Richard Wilson spray paints a mural of Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri and the Foxes' club crest in Leicester. The city are preparing for celebrations should their team create English football history today.
Artist Richard Wilson spray paints a mural of Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri and the Foxes' club crest in Leicester. The city are preparing for celebrations should their team create English football history today.PHOTO: REUTERS

Leicester boss demands players keep their focus to defeat United and win first-ever title

LONDON • Claudio Ranieri has called for one mighty last push from Leicester City's action heroes to ensure a Hollywood climax to their blockbuster Premier League campaign.

The Italian will take his team to Old Trafford today knowing that victory over Manchester United would make them English football champions for the first time, but he warned that his players must stay focused if they are to make history.

"We are doing something special and, of course, I'm very proud for everybody from Leicester, for our community," said Ranieri.

"But it is important to finish the story as well as the American movies - always the happy ending."

With the city of Leicester festooned in the club's colours as part of a "Backing the Blues" campaign designed to help the team get the three points they need from their remaining three matches, Ranieri held court on Friday in front of far more journalists than usual - in excess of 70 from all over the world - and dealt with a slightly wacky variety of questions.

ALMOST THERE

We're fighting to try to make this dream become reality but it is not yet. I can understand all the happiness around the city but that is the fans. We have to work. On Sunday there will be a very, very tough match.

CLAUDIO RANIERI, Leicester manager, on how the title is not won yet.

It was about everything from his tactics to his singing voice to his favourite fairy tale ("Robin Hood", he replied, before adding: "One day I will go to Nottingham - but not next season!").

SMALL FISH WINS

Once every 50 years a little team with less money can beat the biggest.

RANIERI, on how miracles can happen once in a while.

He made other quips, playfully told a Nigerian journalist he loved him ("I love you too" came the reply) and turned down a request from an Italian journalist to sing a song ("I am not a singer, I am a bell: dilly ding, dilly dong!" he quipped, before feigning panic and warning: "Hey, don't write 'Claudio is a bell!'").

But, despite the wisecracks and bizarre detours, Ranieri kept coming back to his serious point: "We're fighting to try to make this dream become reality but it is not yet. I can understand all the happiness around the city but that is the fans. We have to work. On Sunday there will be a very, very tough match.

"It is important for us to make a perfect game, the best performance away of the season."

He said he considered February's 3-1 win at Manchester City to be his side's best display. "It will be difficult to do better than that," he said.

With Louis van Gaal's side needing a win to boost their hopes of a top-four finish, Ranieri warned that his players must pay particular attention to Anthony Martial, whose winning goal in the FA Cup semi-final last weekend took his tally to 14 goals in his first season at United.

Ranieri knows the French youngster well, having managed him at Monaco. "He is a phenomenal player," the manager said. "He was amazing three or four years ago and now he has had a very good impact on the Premier League. I think he will go forward a lot."

United paid a fee of £36 million (S$70.7 million) for Martial, about four times more than Leicester have ever forked out for a player.

Given the disparity of resources, Ranieri knows that, after this season, a team such as Leicester are unlikely to find themselves in a position to win the title at Old Trafford any time soon. "Once every 50 years a little team with less money can beat the biggest," he said.

Robert Huth is the only Leicester player to have won the Premier League - with Chelsea in 2005 and 2006 - but Ranieri says it is not difficult to ensure his team remain free of nerves.

"I don't tell them to stay calm," he said. "I say: 'Stay hungry'."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MANCHESTER UNITED V LEICESTER

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 01, 2016, with the headline 'Super Foxes close in on Hollywood ending'. Print Edition | Subscribe