LONDON • Claudio Ranieri does not believe Leicester City's players conspired to get him the sack as manager, he said on Monday, reflecting publicly for the first time on his dismissal in February.
The Italian helped write one of the great chapters in football history by leading the 5,000-1 outsiders to the Premier League title last season, but was sacked nine months later amid a poor campaign and talk that his under-achieving players had been involved in moves to oust him from the job.
"I cannot believe that my players killed me. No, no, no," Ranieri told Sky Sports in his first major interview since Leicester's board sacked him and replaced him with his assistant, Craig Shakespeare.
Instead of player power being behind his dismissal, the 65-year-old felt that other problems might have been responsible for the slump, including the distractions of new-found fame and fortune.
Asked about reports that the players were involved in his sacking, he replied: "No, I can't believe it. The players maybe didn't give their maximum because there were other problems.
"Other problems could be that when they were here before, they earned a little less, and after that they earned double or triple."
He believes some people behind the scenes were against him - but did not name names.
"Maybe it could be somebody behind me, but also the little problem I had the year before and we won the title," he said. "Maybe these people, this year, when we lose they push a little more. That's it.
"I don't want to tell. I am a serious man, a loyal man. What I have to say, I say face-to-face."
The Italian was dismayed at losing his job the day after his side battled in a 2-1 defeat by Sevilla in the Champions League round-of-16 first leg that suggested a "turning point" to him. But he is happy that the team won six games on the trot under Shakespeare and face a historic Champions League quarter-final tie today against Atletico Madrid.
"I am very, very happy to see my players play in the system and in everything I taught them," said Ranieri. "They play the same. Shakespeare was very, very intelligent to follow that way."