Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri has given an extensive, exclusive interview to our colleagues at L’Équipe this morning. Extracts.
Leicester against Monaco in the Champions League next season, that is a possibility, no?
I hope so. But the arrival [to the Champions League] is still far away. There are another 12 matches, 36 points to take, that is a lot.
Maybe you could also be the champions at Chelsea on the final day of the season? That would be a nice cherry on top of destiny…
It will be our final match, but for the moment we are not thinking about the league title. It is step by step. We already have in front of us a week of three matches with Norwich then West Brom on Tuesday, two teams that are focused on fighting against relegation. We just need to focus on Norwich, nothing else.
You have picked up training again on Monday after giving your players a week’s holiday because you were not involved in the cup. You yourself went to Rome. This type of decision is rare…
Yes, it is rare, but we had just come out of three matches against Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal, we took away six points even if we lost to Arsenal, we were very good.
I think that they needed that time out, with a training programme that they were instructed to follow at home. And when they returned I found the players in good shape.
You are top of the league, 12 points ahead of the 5th placed side Manchester United. You therefore have a strong chance to be in the Champions League that you have not been in since you were at Monaco…
I repeat that we are not thinking about that yet. We are in a strange season, during which big teams are not completely at their best. We are simply trying to follow our path in the best way possible.
We have two matches at home next that really do not look easy. Every match is hard and different. We will need to fight with a lot of strength and to remain united in our efforts.
Do you feel like your team has become popular in the entire country?
Yes, it is true, because it is a fantastic story, that of a small team that was expected to be fighting against relegation who have taken a seat at the table with big teams!
We speak a lot against Vardy, Mahrez and Kanté, but which other players have been particularly important?
For me, they are all important, they all live in the same dynamic with an honest camaraderie, all of the players are on the same programme, and all of them perform to a high level at the same time.
You arrived at Leicester only in the middle of July. How did that come about?
Already, I had the desire to come back to the Premier League. And then, the discussions went well with the representatives, we agreed a three year contract with reasonable ambitions, a road map to progress this team incrementally, by focusing on good players and by incorporating little by little young talent. With the aim of avoiding relegation this season and the next. So, this season is exceptional.
In contrast to Monaco, where you arrived with a large Italian staff, you signed with Leicester bringing just your assistant Paolo Benetti and the fitness coach Andrea Azzalin.
Yes, that is because there was already an English staff in place and one that was competent. We knew how to work together hand in hand.
Vardy recently signed a contract extension. Can Leicester keep its best players in the summer?
Me, I want to keep everybody, as you can imagine. And I think that Leicester can become a big team.
The French national team boss Didier Deschamps, has he called you about Ngolo Kanté?
No, not yet. But he knows him very well.