Thanking Claudio Ranieri, the man who made Roma believe again

As Roma prepare for one legend’s final game on Sunday, with Daniele De Rossi set for an emotional departure, there is another huge Romanista who will be overseeing his last game for the club.

Claudio Ranieri’s second spell in charge of Roma may have lasted only 12 games, but in that time, he has led a minor transformation, which has nearly seen the club sneak into the Champions League places. Alas, that dream looks virtually impossible now – even if the man himself retains a glimmer of hope – but that should not undermine the work Ranieri has done.

When the 67-year-old took charge of his hometown club for a second time, Roma were at one of their lowest ebbs under the American ownership. They had just been dumped out of the Champions League by Porto – not embarrassingly, but in a naive, frustrating manner – coming days after a 3-0 loss to bitter rivals Lazio. The team looked devoid of confidence and ideas. All optimism was gone.

Eusebio Di Francesco was removed from his post as head coach, kick-starting a turbulent 48 hours which also saw the resignation of sporting director Monchi. It would require a brave man to take up the reins. The club had not been under this much scrutiny by its fans for a long time, and they were in desperate need of someone who could get them onside again.

In Claudio Ranieri, they couldn’t have asked for a better man. Rome-born and a big Roma fan, Ranieri would relish the opportunity to coach his beloved team once again. From the outset, he made it clear that he was only focusing on the 12 remaining games and nothing thereafter, but in the process, he unearthed a sense of unity that had been missing for months, even years.

Di Francesco had been divisive – his supporters pointed to when he masterminded Roma’s comeback victory against Barcelona in the Champions League, but his critics observed a lack of flexibility in his tactics. His own predecessor, Luciano Spalletti, similarly split the fanbase – he guided Roma to a record points total, but treated club legend Francesco Totti in an ungracious manner in his final seasons as a player. But in Ranieri, Roma found someone that, albeit temporarily, everyone could get behind.

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His optimistic personality made him an instantly likeable character. He had achieved great things with Roma before – being the last man to really lead them close to the title, although Spalletti wasn’t far away either – but this time, his reign would be different. Yes, in both his spells, he took charge during a time of chaos, but in his second stint as Roma’s coach, he knew he would only have a short time to work with the players. Deep down, he knew he would be leaving once the 12 games were over.

Ranieri had a lot of problems to deal with – a leaky defence and a struggling goalkeeper to name but two – but he immediately set to work to make Roma hard to beat again. That was the crucial first step. Some fans may have been longing for free-flowing attacking football, but at that moment in time, Roma needed to go back to basics. Step by step, they could rebuild.

Under Ranieri, Roma have been much more compact and hard to break down. They have only conceded more than two goals in a game once, in a loss to Napoli which is one of the only blots on Ranieri’s record. After that game, the caretaker coach made a bold decision, dropping Robin Olsen and putting veteran keeper Antonio Mirante between the sticks. Instantly, it paid off. Roma have kept five clean sheets from the eight games since Mirante usurped the Swede as number one.

All of a sudden, Roma’s distant dreams of reaching the Champions League looked a possibility again. They were grinding out good results against difficult opponents – a win over Sampdoria, a draw against Inter. Roma had worked their way back into contention for a top four place, somewhere they hadn’t been all season.

Unfortunately, it appears to have been too little, too late. Even with an impressive 2-0 win over champions Juventus, some costly draws against smaller teams look to have proven fatal. But that’s no real fault of Ranieri’s. Without him, Roma might have been a lot further away.

He did enough in his few games to become a genuine candidate for the club’s next permanent manager, yet he remained humble all the way through. When Antonio Conte was linked with the club, Ranieri offered to drive him from the airport, so that Roma would have a high-calibre coach. What Ranieri didn’t realise, even when Conte declared he wasn’t interested in the job, was that he himself was one of the best men Roma could have chosen.

For Ranieri, it has always been about the team first. His approach has been completely selfless, but strong. In turn, the atmosphere around the team has improved. Players like Steven Nzonzi and Federico Fazio have played much better under his leadership, and consequently, the side have performed as a more effective unit, greater than the sum of their individual parts.

The league table will tell a story that not much has changed since Ranieri returned. Before he arrived, Roma were in fifth, three points off the top four. Going into the final matchday, they are sixth, still three points off the pace. But that story does not paint the full picture. Ranieri restored a spark of belief that Roma’s dreams might have been possible again. Thanks to him, they were looking up the table again, rather than down it.

It will be a sad day for many reasons on Sunday, as De Rossi bids farewell to the only shirt he has known in his career. But Ranieri should also be given the send-off he deserves. He has been a noble father figure, leading the way as the man to remind everyone what it means to love Roma. What an honourable person he is.

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