Determined Ranieri refuses to let success go to his head

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Given the shabby way in which he has been treated this season, Claudio Ranieri could have been forgiven, on Tuesday night, for picking up the phone and instructing his agent to see which of Europe's top clubs had pricked up their ears on hearing of Chelsea beating Arsenal.

Given the shabby way in which he has been treated this season, Claudio Ranieri could have been forgiven, on Tuesday night, for picking up the phone and instructing his agent to see which of Europe's top clubs had pricked up their ears on hearing of Chelsea beating Arsenal.

But that is not how the Italian goes about his business and, after insisting yesterday that he wants to stay at Stamford Bridge next season, he illustrated his dedication to his current employers.

Instead of partying, like many of his players, he switched out of Champions' League mode and, in the company of his translator, put his Premiership manager's hat on as they went out to dinner.

As Ranieri explained: "The same night we beat Arsenal I started to think about Middlesbrough. I had dinner with Gary Straker. No champagne, or women, but with Gary. If you say I'm a lucky man I will kill you! It was not Claudia Schiffer but Gary Straker. After that I told the players that we have a clean slate because Boro want to test us."

Ranieri followed that meal with discussions on Thursday with Chelsea's chief executive, Peter Kenyon, the very same man who courted Sven Goran Eriksson for the Italian's job.

With Eriksson re-signing for England, Kenyon has quickly had to rethink his options and with that 3-2 aggregate victory against the Gunners in midweek, Ranieri may be able to savour life on the Fulham Road for a little longer.

It is not known if they shook hands on anything. However, Ranieri reiterated that he wants to be with Chelsea next season to start what would be his fifth campaign with the Blues.

Naturally, having taken the Londoners to the Champions' League semi-finals for the first time in their history, where they will play Monaco, he has a stronger bargaining position than ever. He said: "We are talking and very soon we will know everything. I am very happy. This week has been a very emotional time, unbelievable and unforgettable."

He then added: "I want to stay here because I am working here. I have put all of myself into this. Now it's good. I must say I want to stay here. But I am not the owner." Of course, winning the Champions' League would secure him his wish - Chelsea are not Real Madrid, the club who once sacked their manager, Vicente Del Bosque, after lifting the European Cup - and that led him to admit that he dreams of a Premiership and Champions' League double next month.

For a brief while during his discussions with the media, the Premiership side of the bargain looked ever more possible as Arsenal were trailing Liverpool 1-0. If things had stayed like that Chelsea would have been four points behind with both having seven games to go and with the psychological ball in Ranieri's court. However, despite the excitement of this week, he realises that Chelsea have a very difficult task to win their first League championship since 1955.

"Only Arsenal can lose the title because they are strong and are used to taking the pressure," he said. "OK, they lost the FA Cup and are out of the Champions' League but they are a strong team and will show their character.

"I said a long time ago it's important to be in this last part of the race and now we are, with Manchester United and Arsenal. It's good planning. We are building the foundations. It was important to reach the semi-final and it is vital to stay second in the League. This is a very important period for my career. Never have I been in this position and it is exciting."

Some of that excitement would have evaporated with Arsenal's eventual victory yesterday, restoring a seven-point gap and damaging Chelsea's hopes of the title. Before that had happened, though, Ranieri had dismissed all the talk which suggested his side are the favourites to win the Champions' League. With Milan and Real eliminated, Chelsea are now seen as the strongest side left in the competition. But Ranieri was having none of it, saying: "The favourites are Chelsea if you're in the pub, but not on the pitch. The favourites are Deportivo La Coruña and Porto.

"We have a 15 per cent chance of winning it, equal with Monaco. The other two have a 35 per cent chance each." It is a ploy that has been used by Ranieri all season long to lessen the weight of expectation on his and his players' shoulders. Unfortunately, the £120m spent by Roman Abramovich has always made that an impossible task.

However, it is an outlook that has considerably greater legs than it did, say, a week ago.

And whatever happens between now and the end of the season, Ranieri can point to some silverware in the trophy cabinet, a cup picked up last July in Malaysia. "It was my first trophy here," Ranieri exclaimed. He can still hope it will not be his last.

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