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Thursday 8 December 2016

Leicester godfather Ranieri wants a sequel

'King Claudio' calls on top players to stay and make legacy at Foxes

Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel celebrate winning the Premier League title at the King Power Stadium last Saturday. Photo: Getty
Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel celebrate winning the Premier League title at the King Power Stadium last Saturday. Photo: Getty

Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri has urged his players to stick around for next season after helping the club to a remarkable English Premier League triumph.

The likes of Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante have become household names over the last season as Leicester defied odds of 5,000-1 to become English champions for the first time.

Their elevated profile has already led to speculation that they could be snapped up by soccer's more traditional powers over the close season but Ranieri urged them to stay on for Leicester's maiden Champions League campaign.

"If they are intelligent, they stay with us another year," Ranieri said after Leicester celebrated their triumph with a 3-1 victory over Everton on Saturday.

"They know the Champions League is very difficult. Then after this next experience they can go.

Praise

"If they ask me something, I say 'stay with me'. But if somebody comes to me and says 'I'd like to go' then go because I want only happy players with me."

Captain Wes Morgan said it had been "unbelievable" to raise the Premier League trophy in front of the ecstatic Leicester fans at King Power Stadium.

"I had to hold back the tears, I held them back and lifted it up - it was the best feeling in the world," he said.

"Hopefully, we can crack on from here. It is a big, big season next season but I want to enjoy the moment.

"It's like a dream but now it's a reality and you just want to enjoy it."

Ranieri accepted that next season would be a challenge for a club that were involved in a battle against relegation 12 months ago but urged the fans to continue to believe in him and his players.

"We know very well next season everything will be different," the Italian said. "But the fans are dreaming - keep dreaming. Why wake up?"

There is a flag hangs inside Leicester's stadium. It shows Ranieri as the Godfather, pulling the puppet strings. There will be another film made of this season but Ranieri has already turned fantasy into reality. A barmy and bonkers season. There will not be another like it.

Champions Leicester finished a remarkable season at the King Power Stadium with a routine win over Everton which barely told the story of the last 12 months.

Bottom for 140 days last season, top since January, this year the Foxes have strolled to the most extraordinary of title successes.

Premier League champions after being 5,000-1 outsiders in August, the Foxes have ignored all the doubters.

But Ranieri, for all his achievements, does not want praise. His turn of phrase and eccentric press conferences bag him the headlines but he is the man of the people. The man of Leicester.

But it was the blue ribbons on the trophy which sat pitchside before the game that signalled Ranieri, for all the criticism and mockers when he was appointed as Nigel Pearson's replacement last summer, is a Premier League champion - 12 years after finishing second, and being sacked, at Chelsea.

A torrential downpour an hour before kick-off sent fans scattering but only served to ramp up the early atmosphere inside the stadium.

Stars were cut into the pitch by the club's forever-creative groundstaff and Kasabian's Club Foot echoed around as frontman Tom Meighan watched on.

And the singer looked emotional as Andrea Bocelli sang Nessun Dorma, having been led onto the pitch by Ranieri, who had been instrumental in the plans for the tenor's performance.

"We are champions because you pushed this club so much. Thank you," said Ranieri as he addressed the crowd. The stadium then erupted when Bocelli revealed he was wearing a Leicester shirt before his final number of Time to Say Goodbye.

The game itself could have been an inconvenience, a chore to attend to before the coronation.

Ignored

But the hosts, as Ranieri promised, refused to go through the motions as Jamie Vardy scored his 23rd goal of the season inside six minutes.

Vardy added his second from the penalty spot after the break when he was brought down by Matt Pennington to add the stardust to his own fairytale.

Even Vardy missing a second penalty, and the chance for a hat-trick, failed to dampen the mood and the home fans even clapped Kevin Mirallas' consolation.

A short while after, Morgan and Ranieri hoisted aloft the trophy in the most surreal season the Premier League has ever seen.

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