Ranieri heads for Fulham on 'cloud nine'

Former Chelsea manager delighted to be in charge of Roma for west London return
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The Independent Football

Claudio Ranieri won many friends during his four years in charge at Chelsea but won nothing Roman Abramovich could actually put in his trophy cabinet. It has been pretty much the same throughout his long career as a manager.

Sacked by Chelsea, sacked by Atletico Madrid, sacked by Valencia, and in the summer sacked by Juventus – yet "The Tinkerman" is still in the game, taking his latest club, Roma, to Fulham for a Europa League tie tonight.

Ranieri is remembered with great affection in England. He was given a hero's welcome when he returned to Stamford Bridge with Juve in the Champions League last season, mostly for his good humour and dignity in the face of testing circumstances in the run-up to his dismissal in 2004.

He returned to Chelsea last night for the Champions League tie with Atletico. "I am a guest of Carlo Ancelotti but the tickets are from Mr Abramovich," Ranieri said yesterday. He was loved by the majority of Chelsea fans, who overlooked his tactical shortcomings, but is not convinced the fans at Craven Cottage will be so welcoming. "They will see me as ex-Chelsea man but for me it is always a pleasure to come back here," Ranieri said.

"The Tinkerman" admitted he still has tremendous affection for the Premier League. "It was a great pleasure. Being an Italian manager... at that time I was a complete stranger. The fact I did so well. People are not usually so open with their feelings towards someone that quickly."

The eccentric Ranieri, who turned 58 on Tuesday, is one of football's great survivors. He has charmed his way into some of European football's better jobs despite a modest CV. In his 22 years as a manager his only trophies are a domestic cup in Italy with Fiorentina in 1996, and the equivalent in Spain with Valencia in 1999.

He was sacked by Abramovich for not being good enough to win major honours, a verdict that has been largely confirmed by Ranieri's record since leaving Chelsea. The Italian returns to west London still searching for the first meaningful trophy of his career, having replaced Luciano Spalletti, who resigned after Roma lost their first two matches of the season in Serie A.

Yet Ranieri clearly brings something to a club that cannot be measured simply in terms of silverware. When he arrived at Roma last month, he spelt out his modest approach to management by stating he hopes to turn "bread into bread, wine into wine".

One of the game's genuine gentlemen, Ranieri believes a return to the Premier League could still be a possibility. Yesterday, he spoke mostly in Italian but slipped occasionally into English. Asked what he missed about England, Ranieri replied: "I like the money! Only joking. Of course I wanted to stay at Chelsea and finish my job but it didn't happen. My destiny took me to Spain and then Italy and now I am back at Rome, where I was born and at the club I supported. I am on cloud nine. If it wasn't for Roma, there were chances to come back and manage an English club. Maybe in the future I could come back."

One possible future destination for Ranieri could even be tonight's opponents Fulham, as until Roy Hodgson is offered a new deal on his contract which runs out at the end of the season, his future remains unsure. With the "Tinkerman", anything is possible.

Fulham (possible, 4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Dempsey, B Riise, Greening, Duff; Kamara, Zamora.

Roma (possible, 4-4-2): Doni; Cassetti, Mexes, Burdisso, J Riise; Perrotta, Guberti, De Rossi, Brighi; Menez, Vucinic.

Referee: P Allaerts (Belgium).

Group E

Results so far: Basle 2 Roma 0, CSKA Sofia 1 Fulham 1; Fulham 1 Basle 0, Roma 2 CSKA Sofia 0.

Fulham remaining games: Tonight: Roma (h); 5 Nov: Roma (a); 3 Dec: CSKA Sofia (h); 16 Dec: Basle (a).