Roman Abramovich’s first 2 managers face off as Chelsea travel to Leicester

Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho © Reuters
Ex-Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri is set to face his former club tonight as Leicester City host the Premier League champions at the King Power Stadium.

The Italian was Roman Abramovich’s first manager at Stamford Bridge and is widely acknowledged as playing a sizeable part in the Blues’ ascent, both before and after the Russian oligarch’s arrival.

Despite the fact that Jose Mourinho is viewed as the architect of Chelsea’s rise to become a major club in England and Europe, it was Ranieri who laid the foundations.

The 64-year-old spent four years as the West London club’s coach from 2000 to 2004, improving the team’s points total every season through his tenure.

Ranieri’s role in helping Chelsea to finish fourth in 2002-03 and qualify for the Champions League played a telling role in Abramovich’s decision to buy the club in July 2003 for £140 million (US$212 million).

The Russian billionaire gave Ranieri a solitary season at the helm under his ownership, investing heavily in the playing squad and expected immediate success as a result.

Claudio Ranieri (L) talks to defender John Terry during a training session at their practice ground in west London, May 7, 2004. © Kieran Doherty

Chelsea finished the 2003-04 campaign as Premier League runners-up, second only to Arsenal’s Invincibles, while making the Champions League semi-finals.

Perceived tactical errors by the Italian saw the English side beaten 3-1 by Monaco at the Stade Louis II in the first leg of the European semi-final. The French side progressed to the final, where they were beaten by Mourinho’s Porto.

The Portuguese went on to be offered the Chelsea job once Ranieri was sacked, winning the club’s first Premier League title in his debut campaign in England.

However, Mourinho’s success was underpinned by Ranieri’s groundwork.

During his time with the Blues, the Italian signed Frank Lampard and blooded John Terry into the first-team, while he also claims to have recommended three key players that would define Mourinho’s first stint with the club.

“I chose Petr Cech and had been to Eindhoven to take Arjen Robben and I suggested Didier Drogba,” said Ranieri.

The journeyman coach has ended up at Leicester after a failed stint as Greece’s national coach, transforming the Foxes from relegation potentials to frontrunners this term.

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Ahead of tonight’s clash between his former team and his current one, Ranieri’s Leicester are 17 points ahead of Chelsea and can regain top spot with a victory. Chelsea on the other hand could double their points total and still be off the top of the table. They are currently on 15 points, just one point above the relegation zone.

Despite the abrupt nature of his dismissal at Chelsea, Ranieri still considers Abramovich as the ideal club owner.

“He is everything a coach would want his chairman to be,” the Italian wrote in his biography, Proud Man Walking.

“Never interfering with selections, not expecting to win every single game, willing to buy more players than you could ask for, and always wearing a smile."

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