The connection was as immediate as it was obvious. The minute Roma brushed past Bodø in the Europa Conference League quarterfinals to secure a spot in the semifinals against Premiership club Leicester City, our thoughts instantly went to one man: Claudio Ranieri. The 70-year-old Roman is perhaps the only person on earth with bonds to both clubs, having played for and managed Roma (multiple times) while leading Leicester City to their improbable Premiership title run in 2016; an unlikely and almost impossible feat that netted Ranieri Manager of the Year honors in the process.
While the term derby is typically reserved for heated local rivalries, the simple fact that this semifinal matchup pits Ranieri's boyhood club (Roma) against the source of his greatest professional triumph (Leicester City) demanded a pithy title, and so the Derby della Ranieri was born. There's no denying Ranieri's love of all things AS Roma, nor his standing with the tifosi, but the link between Ranieri and Leicester is literally the stuff of legend, so it was fair to question where his loyalties lied ahead of this match.
Despite that uncertainty, Ranieri was quick to remove any doubt from the equation. In an interview with the Corriere dell Sport, Roma's grandpa emeritus threw his support behind the Giallorossi: (Translation via Football Italia and/or Google)
“It doesn’t even need to be said. Roma have been the team I have supported since I was a child. Leicester is linked to a great professional result and is always in my thoughts,”
Ranieri also gave his thoughts on José Mourinho's performance this season and the future of Roma starlet Nicolo Zaniolo:
“José knows how to get the players he is relying on to perform at their best. He can get them on his side, like the fans. Thursday night was an emotional spectacle. Thanks to him we had that crowd.”
“He manages to bring the team together, believing in the players who suit him, those who are suited to his football. Then there are trequartistas who are interchangeable. The results are on his side. You can see that the team has confidence, with quality it surprises the opponents”
“He’s a decisive player, we saw that against Bodo. He’s a striker who has to find the ball in space, he has impressive quality and strength, even if sometimes he could pass it a bit more when he’s on the edge of the area.”
“But when he has the goal in front of him it’s difficult for him to make mistakes. Zaniolo is what we saw on Thursday night. Mourinho knows how to manage him, with what he’s been through he can’t play all the time. It’s important that the boy feels the trust of everyone”
Ranieri then gave his thoughts on fellow Roman Lorenzo Pellegrini while throwing his support behind Bryan Cristante:
“He’s a worthy captain, an exquisite player with great quality. He’s a great guy, an exceptional man, loyal. I’m also happy for Cristante.
“He’s a player who’s considered a wingman that every coach would like to have. He’s a cornerstone in any team”
The Derby della Ranieri, while a clever moniker, was ultimately an oxymoron. The man loves Roma through and through and will undoubtedly be on the edge of his seat with the rest of us as Roma fights for a spot in the finale.
Stay tuned over the next week or so as we take a deeper look at Jaime Vardy and the rest of the Foxes!