LONDON • Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri has described Jamie Vardy as a "fantastic horse" and says that his Premier League title-chasing players were "too small or too slow" for other clubs.
A year ago, Leicester were seven points from safety at the foot of English football's top-tier table, but Sunday's 1-0 win over Southampton left them seven points clear of second-placed Tottenham Hotspur with six games to play.
The late-blossoming Vardy, 29, has spearheaded Leicester's extraordinary title tilt with 19 goals, and Ranieri said the England international was "not a footballer" but "a fantastic horse".
"He has a need to be free out there on the pitch," the Italian added. "I say to him, 'You are free to move however you want, but you must help us when we lose the ball. That's all I ask of you. If you start to press the opposition, all of your team-mates will follow you.'"
Leicester's squad was assembled for a fraction of the cost of rival line-ups, with Vardy costing just £1 million (S$1.9 million) and Algerian star Riyad Mahrez a mere £400,000.
"Perhaps you have heard their names now," Ranieri wrote in an article published on the website The Players' Tribune on Wednesday.
"Players who were considered too small or too slow for other big clubs. N'Golo Kante. Jamie Vardy. Wes Morgan. Danny Drinkwater. Riyad Mahrez.
"When I arrived, my first day of training and I saw the quality of these players, I knew how good they could be."
On Kante, a £5.6 million close-season capture from Caen, he said: "This player Kante, he was running so hard (in training) that I thought he must have a pack full of batteries hidden in his shorts."
The Italian said that he had told the newly capped France international: "'One day, I'm going to see you cross the ball, and then finish the cross with a header yourself.'"
Ranieri has played down Leicester's title chances all season, but, with the finishing line approaching, he concedes that he cannot ignore the huge excitement his team have caused.
"I am 64 years old, so I do not go out much," said the former Chelsea, Juventus and Monaco manager. "But lately I have indeed been hearing the noise from all over the world. It is impossible to ignore.
"No matter what happens to end this season, our story is important for all football fans around the world. It gives hope to all the young players out there who have been told they are not good enough."
He also revealed that during the club's trip to a local pizzeria in October - the reward for their first clean sheet of the season against Crystal Palace - he made the players make their own pizzas.
"I had a surprise for them when we got there," he said. "I said, 'You have to work for everything. You work for your pizza, too. We will make our own.'"
Since then, the Foxes followed the recipe for shutouts another 12 times.
"I think this is no coincidence," said the Italian.