Ranieri talks unlikely to lead to clear resolution

Today's so-called showdown between the Chelsea manager, Claudio Ranieri, and the club's chief executive, Peter Kenyon, may turn out to be no more than a clear-the-air meeting, designed to outline the way ahead for the club.

It is generally perceived that Ranieri has been shabbily treated by his employers, who blatantly sought the services of the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, and other leading managers to take over his job. But it seems a decision on whether to keep the 52-year-old Italian in charge will be delayed until at least next month.

Ranieri has diplomatically claimed he is not pressing for an imminent decision on his future at Stamford Bridge. He says that the club's destiny in the Champions' League and the Premiership is the most important focus before personal issues are resolved.

But the Italian's agent, Jon Smith, has tried to quicken the pace of negotiations by hinting that several other leading clubs - including some in Italy - are keen to offer Ranieri a job.

Ranieri has never won a major trophy at any of the clubs he managed in Italy and Spain but has made a lucrative career out of rebuilding teams like Napoli and Valencia. Several clubs have already paid him off before the end of his contracts and he could walk away with up to £6m if Chelsea terminate his deal at Stamford Bridge, which is due to run until 2007.

Ranieri's insistence that he wants to stay and finish the job he started at Chelsea almost four years ago seems genuine. It also seems likely that Kenyon wants to steer today's meeting to help develop a closer working relationship between himself and Ranieri for the rest of the season.

The former Manchester United chief executive, who arrived at Chelsea in February from Old Trafford, wants to outline the long-term strategy for the club and where the manager's role fits into it.

Ranieri is almost exclusively concerned with first-team matters and while he may be willing to adapt that role, he will surely not welcome any suggestion of a director of football working alongside him. He said recently that he would entertain the possibility of moving upstairs to do that job himself, although Chelsea are not thought to be keen on the idea.

Kenyon, who said in February that the season would be a failure if Ranieri did not land a major trophy to reward Roman Abramovich's £120m investment in the squad, has never publicly backed the incumbent. Indeed, Kenyon has attracted fierce criticism for courting Eriksson, who instead signed a new contract with England.

Ranieri has revealed he spends at least 20 minutes in private discussion with either Abramovich or Kenyon after almost every game.

Senior figures at Chelsea believe it is impossible to make a decision on Ranieri's future until the Champions' League campaign is over. Chelsea play Monaco next Tuesday in the first leg of the semi-final in Monte Carlo, with the second leg being held a fortnight later.

Ranieri and his advisors will not want to put themselves in a position where they are have to win the European Cup to ensure he keeps his job. But his position would be considerably undermined if the team go out against Monaco, the French champions, especially in the light of their fading challenge to Arsenal for the Premiership title.

Chelsea fans are still largely supportive of Ranieri, but it is the win over Arsenal in the Champions' League last week that won him a huge sympathy vote. A disappointing and dull goalless draw at home to Middlesbrough was accepted. But there were a few murmurings of discontent after Chelsea lost 3-2 at Aston Villa on Monday.

By Friday night, when Leeds visit Highbury, they could be trailing Arsenal by 10 points and have Manchester United close behind them, competing for the second automatic Champions' League place next season.

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