Chelsea invest faith in experience of Ranieri

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Chelsea yesterday ended 24 hours of intense speculation by appointing the Italian Claudio Ranieri as the new head coach at Stamford Bridge. The 48-year-old former Napoli, Fiorentina, Valencia and Atletico Madrid coach succeeds Gianluca Vialli, who was sacked by the club on Tuesday, and has signed a three-year contract.

Chelsea yesterday ended 24 hours of intense speculation by appointing the Italian Claudio Ranieri as the new head coach at Stamford Bridge. The 48-year-old former Napoli, Fiorentina, Valencia and Atletico Madrid coach succeeds Gianluca Vialli, who was sacked by the club on Tuesday, and has signed a three-year contract.

Ranieri had been involved in talks with Chelsea since Thursday, with some suggesting he was approached by the club as early as Monday, before Vialli's dismissal. Bookmakers stopped taking bets on his appointment yesterday morning after he was spotted in the stand taking notes during the previous night's Uefa Cup tie against St Gallen.

Despite speculation since Vialli's controversial sacking that Chelsea would hire another high-profile replacement, the club has sprung something of a surprise by instead opting for the experience of Ranieri.

Commenting on the appointment, Chelsea's managing director, Colin Hutchinson, said: "Change is never pleasant, but we've had to alter things in the past and we got it right on those occasions.

"I felt that to take us to another level, that - and this is no disrespect to Luca - we had to go to a coach with vast experience and Claudio Ranieri gives us that. It has happened very quickly but it was important to end the speculation."

In Italy and Spain - if not in England - Ranieri is a well-known and respected figure. He managed Gianfranco Zola during his days at Napoli. More recently, while coach of Atletico Madrid, he signed the current Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink from Leeds United. He is also used to outspoken chairmen after Vittorio Cecchi Gori at Fiorentina and Jesus Gil at Atletico. He is likely to need every ounce of his experience among those men as he becomes acquainted with his new chairman at Stamford Bridge, Ken Bates.

His career started, however, in the Italian Third Division, whence he took Cagliari to Serie A with two successive promotions, before he moved to Napoli.

Although the club had just lost their inspiration, Diego Maradona, Ranieri coached a young Zola - who scored 12 goals under him - before he was dismissed early the next season.

That saw him move to Fiorentina in 1993, where he won promotion to Serie A and then secured the Italian Cup and Super Cup in 1996 before he moved to Valencia.

In Spain, Ranieri not only locked horns with the temperamental Argentine playmaker Ariel Ortega but managed to build a side which won the domestic cup in 1999 and qualified for the Champions' League. The Italian has never won a Spanish or Italian championship, however, and nor was he in charge of Valencia last season as the club - under the guidance of Hector Cuper - reached the European Cup final, only to lose to Real Madrid

Ray Wilkins, assistant to the first-team coach, Graham Rix, at Chelsea, admitted their future was uncertain with Ranieri likely to bring in his own backroom staff. "We are Luca's staff and obviously the new guy coming in will feel we are Luca's, and will want to bring in his people, he said. "So it's uncertain what we are going to be doing - if we are going to be doing anything at all."

Although the decision to part company with Vialli was initially unpopular among Chelsea's supporters, they proved yesterday that they could be just as fickle as the club's management by cautiously welcoming Ranieri's appointment.

"It is good that the club have moved sooner rather than later," said Malcolm Carle, the chairman of the north-west branch of the supporters' club.

"This man seems to have a very good CV and if the board believe he is the best person for the job then it is right that they have moved quickly to appoint him."

Ranieri has a reputation in his native Italy for being a disciplinarian. "This man sounds like the kind of figure they need in charge," Carle said.

"When Vialli came in it had the desired effect as we immediately beat Arsenal, so hopefully we shall see the same kind of reaction to Ranieri."

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