Repeating the Leicester Miracle
Claudio Ranieri left Leicester in February, to conclude one of the greatest football stories ever told in one of the worst possible ways. The cult hero was sacked just 9 months after the miracle season with the Foxes just one place above the relegation zone. It wasn’t supposed to end that way, but Leicester’s Thai owners had run out of patience and that is just the way the game is today.
Fast forward to October and Leicester had just sacked Claudio’s former assistant who had stepped in when the former was dismissed. Ranieri has revealed that Leicester had contacted him for a shock return to the club, but the Tinkerman explained that he responded simply “no thanks.”
Now he’s got his attention on a different project in France. Ranieri is the manager of Nantes, the 500-1 outsiders who finished 44 points behind the league winners last season. But now they’re chasing a European spot, just 9 points behind undefeated PSG.
When asked about comparisons between Nantes and Leicester’s title-winning team, Claudio shruggs it off. Only one team has conceded fewer goals than them in Ligue 1 this season and they love to defend (something he teaches to all of his defenders) and then counter-attack, but most importantly they’re shaping up to be overachievers. When the Fearless Foxes won the PL their win ratio was 60.5%. Nantes’ is 60% so far this season.
Nantes will not win the French League. Ranieri has himself said it would be “impossible” to stop PSG this season, who have been the strongest team in the Champions League both in attack and defence with 17 goals scored and none conceded. In reality, they are a closer comparison to this season’s Burnley, who are just 3 points behind Chelsea in the Premier League at the moment.
The squad doesn’t have the talent that Leicester had with N’Golo Kante, Jamie Vardy or Riyad Mahrez. Defensively they are very solid, but they haven’t managed to score nearly as many goals as Leicester did. But that said, it took Ranieri’s Leicester 10 games before they kept a clean sheet, so maybe a little more time is needed before Nantes start scoring freely.
“For us, it is important to stay at this level, not to win or fight for the league,” says Ranieri, which will sound familiar to anyone who followed his press conferences in 2015-16. Avoiding relegation is the goal for Nantes, but if their form continues (and we know anything can happen) they could sneak a European spot.
It might just take an offer of free pizza to get them there!