LONDON • Claudio Ranieri has warned his Leicester City players that they could end up "carrying the bags" at another football club if they are tempted to leave in the summer, with the Italian hoping to add to his squad at the end of their remarkable season regardless of whether they qualify for Europe.
It is a measure of how far his side have come that he was forced to swat aside talk linking his playmaker Riyad Mahrez with a move to the European champions Barcelona at his press conference on Saturday.
But, despite the Algerian, the 19-goal Jamie Vardy and the defensive midfielder N'Golo Kante being among those likely to be on the wishlists of several clubs in the summer transfer window, Ranieri is confident he can keep hold of them.
"I think the players want to stay here. I am very confident," he said. "I spoke to them. I said, 'We are building a very good team.' They can be a big player with us, they can improve with us. If they change team - my experience says to them, 'OK, you are very ambitious but remember Leicester will be in a very high position. You go to another team, I don't know what will happen.' "
Asked if he meant they would play less, Ranieri added: "I laugh and I say, 'Hey, look, why do you go there? To bring the suitcases? Stay with me, you will play.' "
I laugh and I say, 'Hey, look, why do you go there? To bring the suitcases? Stay with me, you will play.'
CLAUDIO RANIERI, Leicester manager, revealing his advice to players who dream of joining clubs with bigger reputations.
Leicester were frustrated in their attempts to add to their squad in January, with moves for the Nigeria forward Ahmed Musa of CSKA Moscow and Loic Remy of Chelsea not coming to fruition.
Ranieri believes the Foxes will require a much deeper squad for next season, having used less players than any other club in the Premier League so far.
"We will try to sign maybe two or three to improve because I am very, very hungry," he said. "We lost the FA Cup, the League Cup. I want to move forward more. So we need more strength, more players.
"The players who come must be better than we had if we want to build together and grow up together.
"Next year is to build slowly the foundation, to grow up, to achieve the Europa League, the Champions League, maybe one day fight for the title. This is our programme."
Of Leicester's current squad, only the reserves Marcin Wasilewski and Goekhan Inler have any experience of winning a domestic league title, with Anderlecht in Belgium and FC Zurich in Switzerland respectively.
But Ranieri believes the rest of his players have proved they have the necessary hunger to maintain their run until the end of the season.
"Now I know them much better than at the beginning and I can compare how they are working… they are getting better, getting better, getting better," he said.
"The team is the superstar, but there are no superstars. And everyone must be working. Of course, my experience can help them. Maybe they believe more. I don't know because I don't speak about that.
"It is important for me when I tell you something and I see you are trying to do what I want - not for me, for the team."