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Tearful Ranieri says goodbye
Clare Lovell | May 16, 2004 16:09 IST
An emotional Claudio Ranieri acknowledged roars of support from Chelsea fans and the applause of his players and said he would love to stay and finish the team building job started at Stamford Bridge.
The 52-year-old Italian coach, who said he still did not know whether billionaire owner Roman Abramovich would ask him to stay or not, added he felt he had done a good job steering his expensively assembled side to second in the English premier league and the Champions League semi-finals.
Chelsea's second-place finish, 11 points behind runaway champions Arsenal, was their best for 49 years.
"I don't know what is going to happen to me but it was important to do my best this season," Ranieri said after his side beat Leeds United 1-0 in the last game of the season on Saturday.
"I think my plan was right, the foundation of the team is good, the spirit of the group is also good and the football has been good," Ranieri said, adding his one regret was the loss of the semi-final Champions League tie to Monaco.
"Now I can only pass the ball to Roman."
Ranieri has been dogged by speculation all season that Abramovich and chief executive Peter Kenyon want to replace him and bring in a coach with a higher profile and plenty of titles under his belt.
Both Porto coach Jose Mourinho and Monaco's Didier Deschamps, who meet in the Champions League final on May 26, have been linked in the media with his job. Kenyon said earlier this week that no decision had been taken.
Ranieri, hired before Abramovich bought the London club last July and spent more than $200 million on new players, has three years to run on his contract.
Saturday's 41,000 crowd enlivened a lacklustre game against already relegated Leeds with chants of "There's only one Ranieri".
After players and coach jogged a lap in the sunshine to applaud the crowd, the team formed a guard of honour to see Ranieri, struggling to hold back tears, into the tunnel.
"When the players clapped for me I was very emotional and when the crowd shouted my name...I said goodbye just in case I don't have another opportunity," he said.
If he was fired he said he would be sad "because I'd like to enjoy another year here. I'd like to finish the job...and try to improve on last season."
"In front of us was only an extraordinary Arsenal. (Thierry) Henry made all the difference. But with me or without me I think the team can improve," said Ranieri, who has been at Chelsea for four years.
Ranieri, whose good humour and lively turn of phrase amid all the speculation have endeared him to football fans at Chelsea and beyond, is going on holiday immediately.
"How long the holiday will be I just don't know yet," he said.