Claudio Ranieri finally broke his silence on Monday night regarding his controversial sacking at Leicester City by suggesting he had been betrayed by “someone behind me” and denying that the players ousted him at the King Power Stadium.
Ranieri’s dismissal as Leicester manager in February, only 298 days after he led the club to the Premier League title in arguably the greatest shock in English football history, attracted widespread outrage at the time.
The Italian has kept a dignified silence since then but, speaking candidly for the first time about his departure, he refused to blame the Leicester players for his sacking and instead pointed the finger elsewhere, adding that he may confront the perceived back-stabber in person.
“I listened to a lot of stories about this,” Ranieri told Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football programme with pundit Jamie Carragher and presenter David Jones.
“Maybe it could be somebody behind me, but also the little problem I had the year before and we won the title. 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.”
Sacked the day after Leicester’s 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie, it was said that a meeting between senior players and the club’s owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, sealed Ranieri’s fate. But while Ranieri blames some of the lavish contracts dished out to some members of the squad last summer as a reason behind the drop in standards, he waved away suggestions that the players were behind his dismissal.
Speaking before Leicester’s Champions League quarter-final, first leg away to Atlético Madrid on Wednesday night, Ranieri said: “No, I can’t believe it. I cannot believe that my players killed me. No, no, no. The players maybe don’t give their maximum because there are 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. Maybe when you were safe in the last match and restart the season, you are so concentrated to be solid and strong. We started very well the year before.
“Then when you come back in pre-season when you have won the title, you go around the world. You go to America to play against big teams for the first time in your life. The situation is totally different.”
Leicester won their first six games following Ranieri’s sacking, with Sunday’s 4-2 loss at Everton their first defeat under interim manager Craig Shakespeare, the Italian’s assistant who has been placed in charge until the end of the season.
But Ranieri said he was shocked to lose his job, barely a fortnight after a statement of support from the club, after feeling that the Sevilla game signalled a turning point. Leicester won the return leg 2-0 under Shakespeare to set up the quarter-final against Atlético.
“The turning point was the Sevilla match,” he said. “In the second half everyone was together again, fighting, Jamie [Vardy] scoring.
“We made very good matches before that but not with the same consistency of the year before, that was the problem.
“To go to Sevilla, who won the Europa League three times in a row, it’s not easy to go there and [only] lose 2-1, so when I was sacked it was a shock for me and for everyone.
“I knew that the second year was totally different, because when you have won the title, the players have to understand what happened, must reset their mind, because it’s not easy. We are not a team that are used to staying at the top and fighting for the title.
“We were a little team with some players used to playing in the Premier League and there was an explosion. You won the title, amazing. Then we had to stay calm. I believed that sooner or later we would switch on.”
In a sign of the spirit that has been reforged in recent months, Wes Morgan is flying out to Madrid in an effort to help Leicester’s Champions League push, despite being ruled out through injury.
Shakespeare revealed yesterday that the Leicester captain would be in the dressing room before the game against Atlético and is likely to make a speech ahead of kick-off. Morgan has a back injury and is also doubtful for the return game.
“Wes will be encouraged not only to be in and around the dressing room before the game but hopefully on the training pitch too,” he said. He leads by example and I think he enjoys the involvement. I expect whoever is not playing to be encouraging, and if they’ve seen something at half-time then they are actively encouraged to speak up.”
Wilfred Ndidi, the £15 million January signing from Genk, missed the Everton game with a groin problem but is expected to be fit for Atlético.
On how he motivated the players
"Our goal was always 40 points. When we got to 40 points, we needed another target. I told the players to aim to get the club into Europe.
"I always felt we could win the title. I felt the electricity. A player asked me if we could win the title and I started laughing. He came back to me after we wont the league and said 'you knew'. I did know we could win it all along."
On Vardy and Mahrez
"Look at how many times they combined. We used this tactic: get the ball and attack."
A change of full-backs
"Schlupp and De Laet started the season as my full-backs, but as an Italian, I wanted players who were better defensively."
"We ended up with Kante!"
"I tried to keep Esteban Cambiasso but he said he wanted to go.
"I tried to sign an international to replace him, but he wouldn't come. We could have had Jordy Clasie [now of Southampton] or Kante. We ended up with Kante!
"I started him on the left wing! In training I saw him and thought he had to be out wide.
"I had to get him in the team. Eventually he made a great partnership with Danny Drinkwater."
"As a player I was an English player. I wanted to link this style with Italian tactics.
"I decided to change from three at the back [the system Leicester played with previously] to four at the back.
"I thought Mahrez suited a wide position better. The players I had suited 4-4-2."
On his love for Leicester
"Of course I will always have Leicester in my heart.
"Three times I finished runner up around Europe, and with Leicester I was a champion.
"Leicester, the club, the fans are forever in my heart."
On the problems he faced
"I was waiting for the intensity to drop. I expected this problem."
On keeping the same players together
"I didn't want to sell Kante. The same way I didn't want to sell [Jamie] Vardy or [Riyad] Mahrez.
"I said to them I believe this team can do something special in the Champions League.
"After I was sacked, I still maintain the decision to keep the players together was right.
"It was important to keep Vardy and Mahrez"
More from Claudio
"Kante was the best midfielder in the world for us. I had the same players apart from him.
"When he left I needed to change the system. That is the future of football, changing tactics, changing things based on what is happening. I tried to do that."
"I don't believe the players killed me"
"I don't believe rumours the players spoke to the Leicester owners about sacking me.
"The players got to experience something totally different. In pre-season they played against big teams, went all over the world.
"I can't believe the players killed me. No, no no"
Claudio on the support he received
"From all over the world, the support was amazing.
"I want to say thank you to the Leicester fans. When we won the league I received some cards, some champagne, some presents. But this time [when I was sacked], my house was full!"
"What Claudio and Leicester did was one of the greatest stories we will ever see. That's where the outrage around his sacking came from."
More from Claudio
"It's not easy to go to Sevilla and [only] lose 2-1, keeping the tie open, so it was very surprising and very disappointing to find out I was sacked.
"I found out on the way back from the Sevilla game."
Here he is
Ranieri is here and they are going straight in on his Leicester dismissal. Here's what he has to say.
"It wasn't easy. I knew that the year after winning the title would be different. The players had to reset their minds - this wasn't a team used to fighting at the top.
"We were a little team. We had to stay calm.
"I think the turning point was the Sevilla match. I saw the players in the second half fighting together, working together."
What can we expect tonight?
Claudio Ranieri will shortly be joining Jamie Carragher on this week's edition of Sky Sports' Monday Night Football, and there is some expectation that the former Leicester City manager will reveal some of the unknowns about his sacking in February.
Many fans at the time could not believe Leicester's owner had decided to dismiss a man that led them from relegation candidates to Premier League winners.
Leicester have thrived since replacing Ranieri with Craig Shakespeare, shooting up the table with five consecutive wins before Sunday's defeat to Everton, and while they also saw off Sevilla to make it into the Champions League quarter-finals, where they face Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.
But despite the fact that the club are seemingly better off without Ranieri, it is hard not to feel a little sorry for the Italian, and it will (hopefully) be interesting to hear what he has to say on the whole charade. We'll be bringing you live updates.