Vialli: how Claudio is making the most of his impossible job

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The Independent Football

As someone who was once stabbed in the back while occupying the Chelsea hot seat, the last place one would have expected to find Gianluca Vialli during Wednesday night's Champions' League quarter-final against Arsenal was lurking in the bowels of Stamford Bridge talking about Claudio Ranieri.

As someone who was once stabbed in the back while occupying the Chelsea hot seat, the last place one would have expected to find Gianluca Vialli during Wednesday night's Champions' League quarter-final against Arsenal was lurking in the bowels of Stamford Bridge talking about Claudio Ranieri. But Vialli was not briefing against his embattled successor. Rather, he was casting a sorry eye over the club's poor treatment of their manager.

"It's been unfair in the way that someone from the club, since day one, should have said, 'We are not going to change Ranieri at least for this season and next season, and then we'll see how it goes'," said Vialli, who was working for Sky TV. "No one at the club has officially said that. I think that's because there was no one in charge of this sort of thing until Peter Kenyon [the former Manchester United chief executive] took over [in early February]. There's been a power vacuum where Ken Bates [the departed chairman] would have been."

Like the huge numbers of Chelsea fans who sang Ranieri's name during the exciting 1-1 draw with Arsenal, Vialli sympathised with the man who replaced him in September 2000. And yet, like those supporters, he is also certain that a new manager will be in charge come the summer. "The amount of money the club has spent means Roman Abramovich [the owner] wants to be successful now," he said. "Ranieri has been around now for three-and-a-half-years... I think the club want a manager who has probably got a better cv than Claudio in terms of trophies and championships. They want to go for someone like Sven [Goran Eriksson, the England head coach] or Fergie [Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United]. A name can't guarantee success but at least they have been there, seen it and done it before. It might not be right, but it's quite understandable."

Three-and-a-half years ago, Vialli fell victim to the plotters and schemers of the Stamford Bridge corridors, as he was removed just five games into the new season. No matter that the Italian had guided Chelsea to a period of unprecedented success, the board of the time felt that a change was needed. If five trophies in three years could not save Vialli's skin, a return of none in the same period of time since then does not bode well for Ranieri. "I think this club wants to win silverware," Vialli explained. "Finishing second and getting in the Champions' League quarter-finals or semi-finals is fine, but at the end of the day you need to take some silverware. That's probably the only thing Claudio hasn't achieved. He's done a great job in terms of bringing young players through, signing great players and playing good football, but he needs trophies to convince everybody."

Ranieri, though, will not be given another season to break his duck. Moves are already afoot to replace the Italian in June, with Eriksson and Celtic's Martin O'Neill now favourites for the job. It is, Vialli believes, an impossible environment for Ranieri to work in. "He's in a difficult situation," the 39-year-old said, "but that's the job of a manager. It isn't easy for him, but, then, it's much more of a shock when you are sacked suddenly, as happened to me. These rumours have gone on for so long that it has allowed Ranieri to turn things to his advantage, especially in the way he has been talking to his players. Ranieri's treatment has kind of inspired the players to do it for the manager. He clearly has a quite good relationship with the fans, too, and, probably because of what's happening at the moment, that bond is even closer."

How does Vialli explain Ranieri's continued good humour? "Because he's Italian," Vialli smiled. "It may be an unusual situation for a manager in England to be in because ambitions and plans are a little clearer here than in Italy, but, like all Italian managers, Ranieri thrives under pressure. In Italy, managers don't know how long they're going to be in charge for and there's always rumours about someone taking over. Ranieri keeps saying he doesn't mind the situation because he's used to it, and I believe him."

Despite his sacking at Chelsea and his short-lived spell at Watford, Vialli has lost none of his enthusiasm for the English game. "Work commitments mean that I'm watching the Italian Premiership closely at the moment," said Vialli, who will soon complete Uefa's top coaching badge, "but my hope is to be back in England as a manager. I just love it here. I was at the Olympic Stadium last weekend for the Rome derby and it was a shambles. There were millions of viewers watching that game and we called it off because supporters invaded the pitch. Italian football is a laughing stock."

He added: "The financial situation is bad, too. There's no credibility. I very much like the Italian game, but my desire, my aspiration is to be a manager in this country. And I am available."

Available for an improbable return to Chelsea? "I would love to be here again as manager," admitted Vialli, who is probably more likely to be battling with, ironically, Ranieri for the vacant post at Tottenham this summer. "I know things move forward, but I still keep saying to myself, 'One day...' I believe in destiny and I think one day I will be back here as Chelsea manager."

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