Ranieri denies reports of rift with Abramovich

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Claudio Ranieri yesterday insisted there is no rift between him and Roman Abramovich.

Claudio Ranieri yesterday insisted there is no rift between him and Roman Abramovich.

The Chelsea manager was quoted in the Spanish newspaper Marca as saying: "I already have the Abramovich sword embedded in me. I'm convinced that even if I win the Champions' League I will be sacked. Abramovich knows nothing about football. That's the real shame."

However, a statement from his agents, First Artist, denied Ranieri used any such phrase. The statement said: "Claudio Ranieri would like to make it clear that contrary to the alleged statements in today's article in Marca he has the highest regard for Roman Abramovich and everything he is trying to achieve for Chelsea.

"This is a complete misinterpretation of an interview done three weeks ago and should not be taken seriously. The only thing that should be taken seriously is tonight's game [against Monaco]. Claudio loves Chelsea and will not let this distract him from focusing on a successful season."

Ranieri's representatives says the Chelsea manager had actually said that Abramovich knew nothing about football until he went to a game in Manchester last year, but that now he was hooked. Vicenzo Morabito, Ranieri's Italian agent, also insisted he wants to stay at Chelsea, although Real Madrid have made a discreet approach to the Italian after a mixed campaign for their current manager, Carlos Queiroz.

"Ever since he arrived at the club Abramovich wanted [Sven Goran] Eriksson," Ranieri had allegedly told Marca. "They even met in the summer. But Eriksson said he couldn't leave the England team and so the next day Abramovich met me and told me: 'OK, you've done a good job these last few years and you are going to carry on'."

The interview is said by Marca to have taken place on 8 April, two days after Chelsea beat Arsenal to book a Champions' League semi-final against Monaco. That victory sparked suggestions that Abramovich might change his mind and keep faith with Ranieri. But according to Marca, the Italian still appeared convinced he would be leaving Stamford Bridge in the summer.

According to the newspaper, Ranieri said Abramovich had no appreciation of how difficult it would be to make the team gel. "It was a very tough job to sign so many players and get them to play together," Ranieri said. "Abramovich didn't realise that. He thought I'll sign that one and that one and then we will win."

Ranieri gained respect in Spain from his time with Atletico Madrid and Valencia, but Morabito said: "At the moment we are not talking to any other clubs. He has a three-year deal with Chelsea and we believe at the moment he is going to stay. If Chelsea FC decide something else we will look around somewhere else."

As Real appeared to be eyeing up Chelsea's manager, they warned Chelsea away from their best players. A club spokesman told Marca: "If they want to sign Ronaldo, or any other Real Madrid player, they will have to buy out their contract. In Ronaldo's case that would be £120m. Our players are worth what it says in their contracts."

Ronaldo has recently extended his deal until 2008 with the new buy-out clause inserted. The £120m figure is one shared by other Real players such as Raul and Zinedine Zidane.

Only Roberto Carlos has a lower price but, at £60m, the 31-year-old full-back is still incredibly expensive. But David Beckham's personal problems have led to reports of the England captain returning home.

When Chelsea first showed interest in Claude Makelele, Madrid took a similar stance beforeallowing him to leave for London for £16.6m.

Meanwhile, the Professional Footballers' Association have invited Ranieri to be guest of honour at their annual awards dinner in London on Sunday.

The PFA's chief executive, Gordon Taylor, said: "The players have been highly impressed by Claudio's dignity and demeanour and the stature he has achieved in the game despite great pressure in his job. It is not always easy to put a team together just because you are given large amounts of money to buy players."