Abramovich to keep faith with Ranieri

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The Independent Football

Roman Abramovich, the new Chelsea owner, will leave Claudio Ranieri in charge for the season, despite speculation that he is lining up a queue of potential replacements.

The Italian coach is being backed within Stamford Bridge at a time when an impressive cast of names is being linked in the press with the Chelsea job. Ranieri had the confidence of Abramovich and his advisers when the Russian first took charge and they have been impressed with his buying and coaching so far.

The Chelsea manager was the driving force behind several signings in the £100m-plus spending spree, in particular nominating Juan Sebastian Veron and pushing hard for the Romanian striker, Adrian Mutu. Many of the other deals were done by committee, with sources at the club revealing that the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, was consulted on potential home-based talent.

However, the same sources indicated yesterday that Ranieri is in one of the safest jobs in the Premiership this season and dismissed suggestions that the Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, had been approached for the post and turned it down.

Even Pini Zahavi, the Israeli agent who is close to Abramovich as well as being a long-time friend of Ferguson's, said there had been no contact with Ferguson. Zahavi, who helped Abramovich buy Chelsea, said he was unaware of any move to lure the United manager. "As far as I know, the story is not at all true," he said. "There is not a lot more I can say about it."

Both Abramovich and Zahavi know that any change of manager now would make little sense following Chelsea's summer spending spree. Eriksson will be committed to England throughout the season and probably until next summer and the Euro 2004 finals. Only after that will a decision on Ranieri's future be made.

The idea of Chelsea moving for Ferguson would also make little sense in view of the London club's signing of Veron, who was clearly keen to leave United and their manager.

Graeme Souness, the Blackburn manager, has also been linked with the Chelsea job but is happy in Lancashire after embarking on his own impressive set of signings. Souness' own ties with Zahavi prompted those suggestions, but he has no desire to uproot and is pleased with the relationship he has at the club he has brought back to life.

Ferguson, who is about to be offered a new contract at Old Trafford, said yesterday he believes he can form a close partnership with David Gill, the club's new chief executive, following the surprise departure of his predecessor, Peter Kenyon, to Chelsea.

He said his relationship with Kenyon had been "terrific" and rejected claims there had been a fall-out between them over Ferguson's alleged dispute with John Magnier, an associate of Ferguson's and a United shareholder, about stud fees for the racehorse Rock of Gibraltar.

"I had a terrific relationship with Peter Kenyon," Ferguson said. "It was a great partnership. It was a smashing working relationship and I am sure I will have the same with David Gill.

"The needs and demands of the club are always there and when something like this happens you just meet it and get on. You get surprises but the nature of Manchester United is that nothing should shock us. It doesn't matter who leaves, the name of Manchester United does not leave."