'Crazy Man' is lapping up a crazy situation

Chelsea manager bows to Arsenal as his tired men fail to unlock Boro after the glory of Europe
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Roman triumphalism can have a habit of coming unstuck, but you sense Claudio Ranieri is rather relishing his moment. It was not so much his team but his own appearance which persuaded the faithful to their feet, hailing the dark-overcoated figure as he emerged to oversee the pre-match warm-up.

Roman triumphalism can have a habit of coming unstuck, but you sense Claudio Ranieri is rather relishing his moment. It was not so much his team but his own appearance which persuaded the faithful to their feet, hailing the dark-overcoated figure as he emerged to oversee the pre-match warm-up.

"There's Crazy Man on the pitch," declared the PA announcer as the man himself responded with a discreet wave. "A welcome back to Claudio Ranieri." The former was a reference to the Italian's response when shown TV pictures of his fist-clenched reaction to Wayne Bridge's winning goal at Highbury. You could read in to the the latter what you liked. Had someone suspected he may not return? It was simply in keeping with a baffling week in Europe which leaves Chelsea with every chance of securing the ultimate prize.

Nothing, though, is quite as bizarre as the situation here. Owner Roman Abramovich must have looked on in bewilderment at a character his chief executive, Peter Kenyon, was quite prepared to sacrifice - assuming Sven Goran Eriksson could have been inveigled away from England - receiving such a rapturous reception. Yet, despite the crowd's acclaim, despite support from fans of other clubs and the website set up to "Save Claudio", there is still no certainty that Ranieri will be in situ come next August.

With reported interest from Real Madrid and his home-city club, Roma, he has reportedly sought confirmation from Chelsea of what they demand from him long-term, if he stays. It appears that the responsibility would involve supervising the first team only, and preparing them for matches, with limited involvement with transfers and young-player development. Kenyon and Ranieri spoke on Thursday, and will do so again in the next 10 days, before the first leg of the Monaco tie. He wants the issue resolved quickly, though you suspect that common ground may be difficult to find.

He stressed after yesterday's game: "I know very well what could happen, but I am not worried about it. If it is enough, OK; if it is not enough, OK. If it is not, I can only say 'thank you' to Mr Abramovich for giving me the possibility. At the end, I say 'thank you, Roman' and I go. But I want to stay, of course."

Ranieri has never sought to protest about the position he has found himself in this season. Now he doesn't attempt to capitalise on what many would regard as a night of vindication for the Chelsea coach. "I know football very well," he had reflected after the Champions' League defeat of Arsenal. "When you change the owner, you also change the coach, the manager. But I have the very good luck to remain here for one year. That is important.

"This goes through my mind: 'Claudio, remember! You can win everything at the end of the year. Then you can receive a thank you and go home'. When you think like this, everything else is unimportant. If I listened to all the speculation I'd go crazy. It is difficult to kill me, huh?"

Among his advocates is one Ken Bates, the former chairman, whose acerbic observations have been missing from the Chelsea match-day programme since his departure. It takes a lot to silence the old ranter, though, and yesterday morning, in his newspaper column, he could not a resist a swipe at the regime he left behind, referring to "treachery from within". Bates has his own take on what has occurred, inevitably, but it is extraordinary that, in the week Chelsea ascended to within sight of the European summit, the club's administrators should permit the man who led them there to languish in such uncertainty.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Ranieri attempted to galvanise his men once again, or rather the seven from Tuesday who retained their positions. There had been just a hint of told-you-so in his programme notes when, talking of his rotation policy, he claimed his men had "more power, more stamina, more vitamins" than Arsenal in the second half. "I said at the beginning of the season it is important to rotate all the players so we arrive in good condition in March, April and May," he wrote.

Sound theory. Here, though, his men appeared jaded, if understandably so. For all Chelsea's late pressure, the visitors just about merited their point. At the end, there was a handshake from Ranieri for their manager, Steve McClaren. Fascinating to think that, had Eriksson accepted Chelsea's overtures, he may well have arrived here as the Swede's assistant.

But that's Chelsea, where everything is a little stranger than fiction and where certain people have a problem comprehending quite what a particular Roman has ever done for them.

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