Peter Corrigan: Roman, Sven and the grand martyr of Chelski

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The Independent Football

Sympathy for Claudio Ranieri is becoming difficult to sustain. The "dead man walking" manager of Chelsea is ascending to such a peak of national adoration that you have to start envying him the power he has gained from his masterly refusal to be humiliated by the feudal lord of his manor.

Sympathy for Claudio Ranieri is becoming difficult to sustain. The "dead man walking" manager of Chelsea is ascending to such a peak of national adoration that you have to start envying him the power he has gained from his masterly refusal to be humiliated by the feudal lord of his manor.

If yesterday's reports that his departure from Stamford Bridge is imminent and that Sven Goran Eriksson is to be his usurper are true, his martyrdom will be complete and his stock will rise even higher. Judging by the delighted uproar in my pub on Wednesday night when Eidur Gudjohnsen scored the splendid opening goal in Chelsea's Champions' League quarter-final against Arsenal, Ranieri's grip on the affections of a wide range of the football public is astounding.

This, by the way, is a large Welsh pub where outward support for Chelsea would normally be regarded as an eccentricity. Football fans are not renowned for their patience and forbearance when it comes to their own teams; any malfunctioning by other clubs is usually a matter for great rejoicing. But such is the feeling of popular support roused by Ranieri's situation he could be the man we've been waiting for to lead a peasants' revolt. How other managers must long to be in the position he now occupies. Not because of the size of the club or of his wages but because he can do no wrong or, more importantly, have any more wrong done to him.

It may be a fleeting walk through a managerial dreamland but it is one few can ever take. Anything his team achieve is a credit to him, any failing can be blamed on the intolerable betrayal to which he has been subjected. Suddenly, any weaknesses he has as a manager - his tinkering, his defensive nature - are much less of a consideration than the awful way he has been treated while he attempts to juggle with a squad of highly expensive and disparate talents that arrived by the train-load at someone else's summons.

He is in a uniquely privileged position at a time in the season when nearly every manager at every level of the game is hounded by the pressures of the chase for the top or the scramble to avoid the bottom. He claims still to be under pressure but the body language tells a different tale. Interviews with leading managers at this stage are usually not worth the effort. So fettered by the need not to sound too confident or too pessimistic, they are hardly worth the hearing.

Ranieri, on the other hand, offers a riveting contrast to his tight-lipped rivals. He dips into a glossary of fractured phrases that is a joy to hear. So fresh, so honest and so innocently arch... he bares his soul and we love him for the courage with which he faces his doom. The fact that awaiting him on the scaffold is not a noose but a compensatory pay-off of several million pounds and a string of offers from clubs, who are bursting to give him the chance to get his own back, has not yet sunk in to his army of well-wishers.

While Ranieri has been making this grand advance in the esteem of so many, Roman Abramovich, his patron turned persecutor, has suffered a move in the opposite direction. British football has never seen his like before and you can't measure the value of the intrigue he has brought to our game since he took over Chelsea with his unlimited finances.

Yet his image is not of a creator but that of a rich boy blundering around the sweet shop, stuffing his pockets with lollipops and bon-bons and throwing a tantrum because he can't suck them all at the same time. Had his advisers had any nous, Abramovich would have given Ranieri his support until the end of the season. To feed the Press so blatantly with the news that the Italian was living on borrowed time so close to their Champions' League game against Arsenal was a PR disaster.

Abramovich seems to have the patience of a puppy, which is an unfortunate image particularly when other financial adventurers are laying siege to various clubs - including the former Chelsea owner Ken Bates who is at loose with some of the Russian's money and intent on buying Sheffield Wednesday. There's not much activity in football at the moment that gives cause for comfort. Supermarket firms might be getting excited but the rest of us won't be.

All in all, the Football Association are presiding over a football scene that is so far out of control it is frightening.

Sticky wicket

Watching our fast bowlers tearing the West Indian batting to shreds over the past couple of weeks would have led to many a frenzied dance of triumph on the hearth-rugs back home. It's odd that not only have we softened our attitude to over-exuberant celebrations of goals, tries or wickets on the pitch but many of us have become prone to a bit of sky-punching ourselves, even in the privacy of our own houses. But our tolerance was stretched beyond the new limits when Welsh firebrand Simon Jones performed his ugly triumphalist jigs around Ramnaresh Sarwan, his third victim of five in the Second Test in Trinidad. No one who has followed Jones's long road back from devastating injury would begrudge his passionate reaction to his success but this was way over the top.

The cricket world doesn't seem too bothered. He was fined half his match fee, about £2,750, for bringing the game into disrepute, but that is at the lower end of the punishment scale. Jones himself says that "in your face" hostility is part and parcel of a fast bowler's armoury. This we can accept. The mano-a-mano confrontation between bowler and batsman is one of sport's most compelling sights and the intimidatory waves flowing up and down the pitch are part of the fascination. But once the batsman is out, any further display of hatred is not a ploy; it is an insult to a victim no longer able to hit back and brings the game and the perpetrator into disrepute.

Even in Wales, it did not impress. My theory is that he was merely showing the traditional Welsh reaction to an opponent wearing a white shirt. Since we don't play England at cricket - we play for them when they see fit - this outlet is denied our cricketers. But the excuse won't wash.

The big sleep

Romania protested to the International Rugby Board after their players were apparently drugged before their 33-24 defeat by Russia in a European Nations' Championship match in Krasnodar last weekend.

Players and officials were nodding off before the game, which they were expected to win, and were struggling to stay awake during play. Samples taken from 12 Romanians revealed traces of phenothiazine, which is a soporific. They suspect the substance was added to the breakfast, but the IRB are unlikely to be able to help. There's no proof that the drug was deliberately administered or that the Russians did it.

Now we know why so many teams take their own food, and cooks, away with them. There's a long history of unscrupulous hosts making life, and sleep, difficult for visiting opponents in international matches but this is a new development - at least we think so.

The one consolation is that if the kick-off times get any later, there won't be any need for illicit sleeping pills.