Claudio Ranieri has said he is set to be the oldest Premier League manager – even, he joked, with a ‘walking stick’ – but added that ‘the brain is very young’ as ‘he was beginning his mission to get Watford out of relegation.
The Italian turns 70 in a week’s time and his new post at Watford is his 22nd appointment in his 35-year coaching career with 18 clubs and a national team. Optimistic for the future and philosophical for the past, Ranieri is back in the Premier League at his fourth club – four spells that have encompassed everything from league title to form of relegation, with one thing in common: in each case. a brutal dismissal.
From outright Italian to pre-Roman Chelsea impoverished Abramovich, to the Premier League-winning miracle worker at Leicester City, Ranieri has been largely ineffective at Fulham, his last English job, where he lasted a bit longer. three months until the end. February 2019.
At Vicarage Road, upon his introduction as manager yesterday, he married a familiar mix of good humor, common sense and the occasional eccentricity of a man for whom the English language is not yet fully tamed.
Why was he back now, well past retirement age, with four decades of contractual indemnity payments to pluck his last years? “I’m very boring if I don’t stay in football,” he said. “I love football, I love life, and then why not? Seventy [years old] or 50 – or 80, maybe – why not?
“The oldest manager in England, maybe with a cane. But the brain is important, and the brain is very young.
His last two seasons at Sampdoria were exactly what family-owned Watford’s Pozzo had in mind for his club – saving and stabilizing a top club previously threatened with relegation. Ranieri said he has known senior Pozzos member Giampaolo for many years and has already been offered the chance to coach the family’s Italian club Udinese – one of the few jobs he turned down.
Ranieri has often mentioned that he was an “ambitious man” and that Gino Pozzo, son of Giampaolo and master of hire and fire in Watford, was also ambitious. Just what this ambition means for Watford, no one has ever been sure – just that as soon as it is threatened, the family doesn’t wait to make a decision on the manager. There wasn’t much more information on Wednesday other than that Ranieri will have to make some quick decisions about his squad when they meet for the first time on Thursday in preparation for Saturday’s lunchtime visit to Liverpool .
Otherwise, it was an enjoyable tour of Ranieri’s opinions on the big issues of the day, including April’s Super League proposals, which many saw as in part a reaction to the shock of his historic 2016 title with Leicester. “You are talking about the Super League,” he said. “I don’t like the Super League. The Premier League is a super league, why do you want a [European] Super League? “
“I think another Leicester [surprise winner] could happen in 100 years. It’s not that [why the Super League was launched]. Maybe they want to do this to make more money, that’s okay. But I think it is normal to maintain the league in each country. I tried to do my best. I’m happy if some people, not only in sport but in life, think, ‘If Leicester did that, then why not? It is a very good hope for the people.
He was most animated when asked, in light of the Newcastle United takeover, to reflect on his role as outgoing manager when Abramovich’s revolution hit Chelsea in 2003. He spent one year under the new Russian owner before being swept away. “I was fired,” he said. “That’s what’s happening right away. I finished second behind the unbeaten Arsenal [in the league]. I arrived in the semi-finals of the Champions League. And I was fired. That’s life. Now you tell me Watford is changing [managers] a lot. It’s incredible.”
Ranieri has been around for so long that this is the second time in England that he has succeeded one of his former players in a position. Watford’s most recent sacking Xisco Munoz played for Ranieri at Atletico Madrid.
Slavisa Jokanovic, his predecessor at Fulham, had been his first signing at Chelsea.
There was a time when Ranieri’s tendency to change his composition from game to game was seen as such a novelty that it earned him a nickname – “The Tinkerman” – which he happily accepted. “A long time ago a lot of people told me I was a handyman because I changed the team, the system, so many times,” he said. “Twenty years later, many managers are handymen. Yes, unbelievable. I created the flag. I have the flag and they are all behind.