RANIERI – AN ITALIAN JOB

By Carlos Oppe
Sep 14th, 2000

We now have the orthodox Italian approach which can be summed up as defend, pressurise the Opposition and counter attack but forget any fancy skills when the ball passes through the midfield. However, perhaps that is just what the Blues need.

Ranieri was born in 1951 and brought up in Rome. His management career in Italy included spells at both Napoli (1991-93) and Florentina (1993-97) before he left to take charge of one of the top Spanish clubs, Valencia, in 1997. Valencia had appointed Valdano as manager early in 1997 but the team had a very poor start to the 1997-98 season, losing their first four games. Valdano was kicked out and Ranieri was the replacement – sound familiar?

Valdano had been manager of Real Madrid and his style was open, touch football where creative play was more appreciated than results. He has always had quite an impact on the Spanish football scene, both as a writer on football and as a columnist in the sports press, but as a manager he lacked consistency. His approach to the game was ideally suited to Real Madrid where this year he was appointed as football director at the club under the Presidency of Florentino Perez, the astute businessman who is trying to save Real Madrid from debts of over £200million.

Back at Valencia, Ranieri took over a squad of players accustomed to a stylish game and he introduced the orthodox Italian approach. Some players – such as Romario and Ariel Ortega – did not accept his authority so they were left on the sidelines and eventually transferred. Their departure owed more to their egos than to not fitting in to the tactics – Romario preferred discos to training sessions and Ortega blossomed with Argentina but made little effort when playing for his club – however it does demonstrate the more ruthless side of Ranieri. His friendly approach and a great sense of humour betray a tougher side that has no room for stars who protest or players who refuse to accept his way of doing things.

Valencia started the season poorly and Ranieri was close to getting the sack but the tide turned when Valencia beat Barcelona 4-3 in an epic game at the Camp Nou in January 1998. His job was saved and Valencia then went on to find winning form and ended up ninth after skirting the relegation zone for some months. After the stormy season of 1998-99 came a glorious season which established Ranieri as a top-class manager in Spain.

What a second season: fourth in the league; qualification to the Champions League where they reached the final the following year only to lose to Real Madrid; and triumph in the Spanish Cup. Ranieri found a winning formula which paid dividends with Claudio Lopez as the club’s star player and a young midfield with players such as Mendieta who this season is probably the best player in the Spanish first division, La Liga.

The tactics Ranieri used were simple – pressurise the opposition in their own half and tirelessly run at the opposition on the counter attack and this was built around Claudio Lopez. One only has to see the Spanish Cup semi-final second leg against Barcelona at the Camp Nou to appreciate the player who refused to succumb to the Catalan team and although they lost 3-4 the away goals took them through to the final, ironically against Atletico Madrid, Ranieri’s future club.

In classic Spanish style, it was known half way through the season that Ranieri would be going to Atletico Madrid and his replacement was to be Hector Cuper, the Argentinian who guided Mallorca past Chelsea to their first European final and who today is probably the most successful manager in the Spanish Primera Division having taken Valencia to the Champions League final the season before, destroying Lazio (5-0) and Barcelona (4-1) on the way, and after only six games he has positioned Valencia at the top of the table as well as achieving four consecutive victories in the Champions League.

Ranieri took over Atletico Madrid whose squad was far poorer than Valencia’s and although there was no Claudio Lopez the management had bought Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink from Leeds United. However to play the Italian game you need skilful players, which Atletico lacked. A poor start was not improved upon and half way through the season Ranieri was sacked. He was unable to make the best use of the squad he had inherited and if it had not been for Hasselbaink, the second highest goal-scorer of the season, Atletico would have sunk far faster rather than going down after the penultimate game of the season.

Atletico Madrid’s relegation was traumatic as the last time the club was last in Spanish second division was 1943. Ranieri was obviously much to blame but there are many who reckon that the President of Atletico, Jesus Gil, is the real culprit. At the start of the season Ranieri was much criticised for leaving out the star goalkeeper, Molina, because they had fallen out. After a few bad results Molina returned but the Atletico supporters were not happy that their star ‘keeper had been put on the bench. He also made mistakes finding the right blend as he began by leaving out class players such as Baraja and Hugo Leal before eventually including them in the squad. It was too late by the time he found a consistent first-team line up.

Atletico Madrid is run by Jesus Gil and his family. A notorious but charismatic businessman who made his money in the construction sector where in the early 1970s a hotel he built collapsed during a wedding celebration killing scores of guests. Atletico Madrid, which he took over in the 1980s, is not his only interest. He is also mayor of Marbella, the jet-set resort on the coast, and he also set up a ‘people’s party’ called GIL that stood in the last general elections with a manifesto so unattainable and unrealistic that he received very few votes. He is at present being tried for mismanagement of local government funds as well as being accused of diverting funds from Atletico Madrid into his own pocket. However he is still popular with a good number of fans because he brought them the league and cup double in 1996.

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