City people, as a rule, only queue for access to the Waterloo & City Underground platforms at rush hour. Yet yesterday lunchtime, in a biting wind, more than 100 besuited men, and smartly dressed women, waited patiently in line in Leadenhall Market. Was this for a restaurant opening, or a lucrative share issue?
Then a car pulled up and a dapper middle-aged man with a tan and a smile stepped out. The queue leaned forward in anticipation. Claudio Ranieri had arrived to sign copies of his diary of last season.
Even allowing that the City is a stronghold of Chelsea support, this was a testament to the popularity of Ranieri, especially since he now works in Spain, as manager of Valencia. For that, Ranieri said in a bittersweet admission over coffee yesterday morning, he can thank Peter Kenyon. Roman Abramovich may own Chelsea but Ranieri's book clearly fingers Chelsea's chief executive as the man who called time on his tenure at Stamford Bridge. Ranieri writes that he and Kenyon were "never on the same wavelength, probably because I do not know very much about marketing and he does not know a great deal about matters on the field of play."
It was not so much his dismissal, but the sub-Machiavellian manoeuvres behind it, which brought Ranieri such sympathy. Kenyon not only told journalists the club were looking for a replacement but interviewed both Sven Goran Eriksson and Jose Mourinho while Ranieri was still employed.
Asked why the book paints such a rosy picture of his relationship with Abramovich (so rosy as to suggest legal restraints), Ranieri said: "There wasn't a fight. It [the book] is how I see the season. I have good relationship with everybody.
"Including Mr Kenyon?" I ventured. Ranieri also writes how, even in the euphoria of Chelsea's Champions' League win at Highbury, he takes care not to "embrace" Kenyon - "a handshake would be quite sufficient".
"Yes, why not?" Ranieri asked. "Mr Kenyon makes some interview and all the fans are with me. I have to say to Mr Kenyon 'Thank you, Peter'. And it is not just Chelsea fans, but fans everywhere."
The Italian laughed but his eyes were not smiling. Ranieri has fallen on his feet at Valencia. They are La Liga champions, contenders for the Champions' League title and a club at which he has already enjoyed happy times . He also received a massive settlement from Chelsea. Yet it is crystal clear from his book that he loved being at Chelsea and believed that the squad were on the brink of greatness. Indeed, he has only been gone a summer and already talks of perhaps returning. "Why not come back to Chelsea?" he said. "Or another English club? I lived very well here and I have kept my house in London."
He may return in the Champions' League with Valencia, a prospect he welcomed. Diplomatically, he insisted he has not watched Chelsea play this season because his Valencia hotel does not have the appropriate television channels. Using humour, his customary device to disarm dangerous questions, he mimed picking up the phone to call reception and said: "Every time there is a game on I call them, but ..."
Mourinho has criticised Ranieri, noting that his predecessor has only ever won national cups, never a league, never a European trophy (unlike, of course, Mourinho). Ranieri refused to be drawn into retaliating; indeed he said: "If Valencia do not win the Champions' League I will be cheering for Chelsea. I am not jealous." But he did defend his record.
"It is true I have not won a championship, but if you look at my career I start at the bottom, and I arrive at the top. Nobody gives me a start up. I am proud of my career. I start with the amateurs and slowly, by winning, I go up step by step. I can remember in my second season in management having to pay the hotel bill because the club I was at had no money."
Mourinho twice had a significant leg-up. He began his coaching working for his father at Vitoria Setubal. His first job as a manager was at Benfica after breaking into the top level in the same city, initially as a translator at Bobby Robson's Sporting Lisbon.
Ranieri added that he had heard Mourinho's "philosophy of football" is different but, when invited to agree that it is less exciting, merely noted "at the end the important thing is the title".
Nevertheless, should Chelsea lift the championship (as Valencia did La Liga after he left a previous spell as manager) Ranieri would like to think his contribution will be recognised. "They know I brought on Eidur Gudjohnsen, John Terry and Frank Lampard, and I bought Claude Makelele, Peter Cech, Arjen Robben and Damien Duff," he said. According to his book he also sought to buy Jose Antonio Reyes (as an alterative to Robben), Adriano and Roberto Ayala, with whom he has been reunited at Valencia.
Among those he signed were Hernan Crespo and Adrian Mutu, both of whom he criticises in print. Mutu's attitude did not impress Ranieri, who writes "he had all the skills and flair, but to win championships things have to be right between the ears". Of Crespo he notes: "There can be no place for nancy boys in my group ... a player cannot use every slightest setback as an excuse for malingering ... I wanted to see a little more character." Later he details an extraordinary exchange when he calls the squad together and tells them he has been omitting Crespo because the team are not passing to him and tells them to look for his runs. As for Robert Huth, after he trod on Alan Shearer at Newcastle, Ranieri told Kenyon: "If I should still be here next year a player like that I can do without."
Terry and Lampard come across as favourites, primarily for their willing attitude, reflecting Ranieri's observation that "a country's football is linked to their culture. In Italy we think we are very clever, we want to break the opponent [tactically]. Then we try and score. We have strong defenders. In England all the team must be strong. It is a battle, face to face." Punching his hand for emphasis, he added: "We are strong: come on". Ranieri continued: "In Spain they enjoy la vida: food, women, the sun. They want to enjoy. There is a lot of possession of the ball and defenders have to be able to play."
Ranieri is donating all his earnings from the book to the Great Ormond Street Hospital. He can afford to, the cynic might say, but it is not that common a gesture among football's oft-blinkered millionaires. Even should Valencia defeat Chelsea this season the Tinkerman's popularity seems secure.
*"Proud Man Walking" by Claudio Ranieri & Massimo Marianella (Collins Willow, £16.99).Reuse content