Coach legend fights back tears
This European Championship moment is touching
In the Champions League miracles happen, in the Europa League Eintracht Frankfurt reach the final and in the Conference League the emotional climax of the semi-finals takes place at the Olympic Stadium in Rome. The stadium stands for a legend in the middle of the match.
Claudio Ranieri is 70 years old – and a coaching legend. At least since he won one of the most unlikely titles in recent football history in 2016. At the time, he was guiding Leicester City to Premier League glory in Jurgen Klopp’s first year as Liverpool coach. Ten points ahead of Arsenal in second place.
At that point, striker Jamie Vardy’s star rose, N’Golo Kanté ruled in midfield, Robert Huth and former Schalke player Christian Fuchs played in defense, Kasper Schmeichel saved what came on his field and Ranieri stood on the sidelines, as became a club legend in just 18 months. Ranieri had other things to do as they became champions in front of the TV with Spurs’ draw against Chelsea in early May 2016.
“I would love to see the game,” said Ranieri, as they christened “King Claudio” in Leicester, at the time. “But I’m on my way back from Italy. My mother is 96 and she wants to have lunch with her son. I’m sure I’ll be the last person in England to know that.”
You fight the tears and you cry
Claudio Ranieri is one of those who has gone through an incredible number of coaching positions in his career, who usually has not really achieved it, but left his mark with his humanity and even more at Leicester. On Thursday, Leicester City played against AS Roma in the UEFA Conference League, another club Ranieri once coached. Then between 2009 and 2011 and again for a short time in 2019. The Italian was without a job since he was thrown out of Watford in early January 2022, at the stadium.
He was there as a fan, as someone who loves football. When the stadium cameras saw him at the Olympic Stadium and his picture was shown on the big screen, the fans rose from their seats. Leicester Foxes and Roma supporters clapped. They left an emotionally charged Ranieri who fought back tears. Tears that later flowed from current Rome coach José Mourinho and maybe even from Ranieri.
The native Roman had announced in advance that he would cross fingers for his heart club. Successful. After 1-1 in the first match, Roma delivered a 1-0 (1-0) through an early goal by Englishman Tammy Abraham. Too much for the Portuguese Mourinho, who has not had enough on the big stage in the Champions League for a long time, but who is now happy with the Conference League and overwhelmed with emotions.
Mourinho’s historic chance
“Why did I break down in tears? Because I feel what they all feel. It’s a great club without the trophy for the club’s social significance,” Mourinho said of his tears for Roma, who only won the Fairs Cup in 1961 and won international titles. “It’s not a trophy yet, just a final. But it means a lot to them. My feelings were for them,” he added, looking at the 70,000 spectators at the stadium.
In the final on May 25 in Tirana, Mourinho is about writing history. The 59-year-old is the first coach to win the Champions League, Europa League and Conference League. He has won all four international finals to date: the 2003 UEFA Cup and the 2004 Champions League finals with FC Porto, as well as the 2010 Champions League finals with Inter Milan and the 2017 Europa League finals with Manchester United. “I have been so lucky to play in bigger and more prestigious finals than this one,” Mourinho said. “But how we’ve created a family atmosphere here gives me a special feeling.”
The opponent in Tirana? Feyenoord Rotterdam. The last time they were in the final of the UEFA Cup was in 2002. There they defeated Borussia Dortmund 3-2 in front of their home crowd. It was the day of the last tackle in world champion Jürgen Kohler’s career. But you can read about it here on Sunday. Thursday belonged to Claudio Ranieri.