'I am used to this pressure,' says Ranieri as he looks to secure Champions' League place

"Look, i'd like to explain my philosophy, my strength," says Claudio Ranieri as he leans forward, scattering the tape recorders before him and then hastily arranging them in a straight line.

"The best way from here," he says, pointing in front of him, "to here", gesturing to the end of the table "is the straight way. But you cannot win every time three points, three points... only Arsenal." The Chelsea manager utters an expletive and waits for the laughter to die down.

"Sometimes you have to go around here," he says, swinging his arm in a circle. "Sometimes you have to go around here", swinging his other arm in and out. "And then turn. I try to take..." the best route he can. "Everything else I don't worry," Ranieri concludes.

It's a virtuoso performance from the self-proclaimed plain dealer as he speaks at Chelsea's training ground in Harlington, near Heathrow, ahead of today's Premiership match against Tottenham Hotspur.

Despite Chelsea having an even stronger hold over Spurs (undefeated in 28 League meetings) than Arsenal have over them, questions about the merits of the opposition are few. There is only one topic: Ranieri's future. And this is the first time he has been quizzed on it since the confirmation that Sven Goran Eriksson was offered his job.

The England coach may have taken Ranieri's "Tinkerman" nickname - with his tactics against Sweden - but the Italian has already moved on. First he was the "Gladiator", now it's the "Toreador".

"Now comes the, how you say, crunch," he says of the remainder of the season. "The true moment. In Spain, the five o'clock in the evening. When the Toreador goes into the arena."

Talk of Spain reminds Ranieri of his time at Atletico Madrid. Again his passion rises as his relationship with the club's administrator is recalled. "When he said in the newspaper 'If Claudio doesn't win the next match, I sack him', huh! I go," and he knocks heavily three times on the table. "You don't sack anybody," he declares, his voice rising. "I go home. Now. Give me my money and I go."

Earlier this week, Ranieri was summoned to a meeting with Roman Abramovich and Chelsea's chief executive, Peter Kenyon, at which he received apologies over the ham-fisted courtship of Eriksson and the tasteless undermining of the coach that has been going on. "It was a good meeting," Ranieri smiles. "It was a lovely meeting." If it had not been, it's not hard to imagine him issuing the same declaration he did in Madrid.

Ranieri should receive another call from Kenyon soon - congratulating him on being the manager of the month for March. It is the second time this season that he has won the award. The thick irony is not lost.

"I won three trophies this year," he laughs, in reference to Kenyon's bungling claim that Chelsea had to secure silverware. "Malaysia Cup [a friendly tournament last summer], manager of the month in September. And now."

Ranieri is clearly drawing strength from his predicament. The lame duck is quacking, not cracking. "I am used to working with this pressure," he claims "and I say to you the worst pressure is my pressure. Because I'm an honest man and I think what the team can do or not. I'm a football man. If the team achieves one point less, I'm not happywith myself. Because that means I didn't drive the car very well." Victory today and he will park Chelsea into a guaranteed Champions' League slot.

He holds no grudges towards Eriksson. "That is football," Ranieri says. "When I came here I had a good relationship with Luca Vialli [whom he replaced]. It's normal. It's our job." He goes on: "Look, I think what for you English people can be strange, for me, an Italian manager, nothing is strange."

The pressure is no problem. "I'm very focused to do my best," he says. "If your editor puts you under pressure, what do you do? I think you try to do your best article. You want to win the prize." There is, nevertheless, one article he wishes he had not seen. Last Saturday's front page which showed Eriksson and Kenyon meeting.

"I like to see the second page of The Sun," he says. "It's better." There's no sense of relief that the Swede has committed himself to England. "Maybe finished with Eriksson and start with another," Ranieri shrugs.

He has himself been linked to a move - to Tottenham, and he may well fit the mould of the coach, rather than manager, they seek at White Hart Lane should Giovanni Trapattoni do an Eriksson and remain with the national team.

Ranieri knows his currency is high. Messages of support have flooded in. "I want to say thank you to everybody," he says. "Unbelievable. Thank you. They give me a lot of strength."

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