Ranieri puts the fan back into football, says Richard Buxton
Ranieri's recipe for success - putting the fan back into football
They said it could never be done and, until recently, so did he.
But Claudio Ranieri has turned a once-impossible dream into a reality.
Barely 12 days ago, the Leicester City manager finally talked up the prospect of his side lifting the English Premier League title.
Finally, they have succeeded where countless others have previously stumbled and fallen.
Better teams than the Foxes have been primed for a shot at glory - Liverpool and Newcastle United chief among them - but when it came to the crunch, most, if not all, catastrophically crumbled under a weight of expectation.
Now, the Foxes belong to a select fraternity that boasts only five other clubs - Manchester United, Chelesea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers on the EPL's illustrious 24-year honour roll.
Among the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho - the man who replaced him at Chelsea - Ranieri also finds himself is in rare yet esteemed company.
At a time when his contemporaries were scrambling to exude authority and build dynasties in desperate attempts to emulate managers of yesteryear, from Mourinho to Bill Shankly, Ranieri continued to buck the trend.
Emotion has taken precedence over posturing, and tears have flowed unashamedly at times when managerial triteness is often associated.
Above all, Ranieri has put the fun back into football.
His famous catch-phrase "Dilly ding, dilly dong" - a reference to his method of ensuring his players are focused by ringing an imaginary bell in training sessions - is now a part of the game's lexicon, while highs and lows have been greeted in equal measure; always with self-effacing comments and a smile.
He treats his players like humans, rather than desensitised robots - a fact typified by his incentive of buying a pizza for Leicester's players in return for a clean sheet.
Coincidentally, the club's previously leaky backline shored up emphatically.
Since that mid-September pledge, they have managed 14 clean sheets.
Rounding off this landmark campaign with a further two may be the perfect topping.
Yet the 64-year-old owes a debt of gratitute to Nigel Pearson for laying the bulk of groundwork for this remarkable triumph, which has seen Leicester become football's overdue equivalent to the "Moneyball" philosophy.
Ranieri's belligerent predecessor at the King Power Stadium had set the wheels in motion.
From Pearson, he inherited a squad of tremendous potential, not least in Riyad Mahrez - the newly crowned PFA Player of the Year - and the prowess of free-scoring Jamie Vardy for a combined fee of just £1.4 million ($2.75m).
But Ranieri has also invested incredibly astutely. N'Golo Kante is living proof of that, as part of a formidable midfield bank that, in tandem with Danny Drinkwater, has proved an impenetrable barrier.
So, too, are the captures of Christian Fuchs and Robert Huth - two players who have transformed Leicester's defence into the EPL's most water-tight.
Adding Shinji Okazaki to his attacking ranks has also helped with the shortfall left during Vardy's bouts of profligacy and, most recently, suspension.
Entirely devoid of fanfare, Leicester's success has stemmed from humble beginnings.
Unlike the globetrotting to which some of their EPL peers have become accustomed, their pre-season preparations did not venture any further than the respective stretches of the M1 and M6 motorways.
That will all change this summer, as Lincoln City and Rotherham United are set to be replaced by transatlantic clashes with the likes of Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, as part of the International Champions Cup.
Herein lies Ranieri's greatest challenge in maintaining the trajectory.
He must not allow egotism to consume a squad whose remarkable success has been founded on principles of hard work and togetherness, although he may ultimately have little say as the vultures circle above the King Power Stadium.
The newly crowned EPL champions' meteoric rise to prominence will invariably see their key protagonists, namely Mahrez, Vardy and Kante, earmarked as transfer targets by the traditionally more illustrious clubs.
For now, however, Ranieri and Leicester must be allowed to revel in the greatest story in English football's rich and varied history.
It may never happen again.
It's a party at Vardy's
PARTY TIME: (Above) Leicester's players celebrating their triumph at Jamie Vardy's house, as seen in this screengrab from the Daily Mail website. PHOTOS: AFP PARTY TIME: (Above) A fan looks at an image of Vardy being projected on a building in Leicester. PARTY TIME: (Above) Vardy is even celebrated by the coffee connoisseurs, as his image takes the form of chocolate on a "Vardiccino".
Leicester's players may have spent the night partying at Jamie Vardy's house, but they still found time to reflect on a stunning English Premier League title triumph.
The Foxes were crowned top-flight champions for the first time in their history after Tottenham were held to a 2-2 draw by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Top scorer Vardy invited the Foxes' squad to his Melton Mowbray home to watch the game.
Christian Fuchs then posted a video on Twitter showing the group celebrating wildly as the title was confirmed.
Robert Huth and plenty of others also shared the moment, while around 1,000 Leicester supporters gathered outside the gates of Vardy's home.
Former Nottingham Forest defender Wes Morgan, though, managed to reflect on a stunning season which has seen the 5,000-1 outsiders upset the odds.
"It's the best feeling of my career and I couldn't be prouder that it's as part of this team," he said.
"Everyone's worked so hard for this, nobody believed we could do it, but here we are, Premier League champions and deservedly so.
"I've never known a spirit like the one between these boys, we're like brothers. People saw it last season when everyone expected us to be relegated, but we fought back to prove people wrong.
"This season's been a continuation of that. We've built on the momentum, but I don't think anyone believed it would come to this."
The anointing of Leicester, who are the first new top-flight champions in 38 years, will come after Saturday's clash against Everton at the King Power Stadium, and Vardy will return from suspension to feature.
The 29-year-old has gone from non-league player as recently as 2012, to scorer of 24 goals for club and country this season, culminating in the Football Writers' Association Player of the Year award on Sunday.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," said Vardy.
"I've never known anything like it. We were scrapping to stay in the league last season and, on Saturday, we'll be lifting the trophy.
"That gives you an idea of how much hard work has gone into this season from every single player and member of staff.
"It's the biggest achievement in the history of a great club and we all feel privileged to be part of it."
Doubts were raised over whether boss Claudio Ranieri could stave off a battle against relegation when he was appointed as Nigel Pearson's successor on July 13.
Now, 294 days later, he has the luxury of jetting back home to Rome to have lunch with his 96-year-old mother before returning as a hero.
Ranieri's whereabouts were unknown during the mayhem, given he said he would be flying back from a Roman lunch date with his mother during the game, only to be seen leaving Italy somewhat earlier.
Leicester lost 19 games in last season's bid to escape relegation yet, under Ranieri, they have lost just three times in this season's EPL.
They have gone to Manchester City and Tottenham and won, while an unbeaten run since mid-February proved beyond any doubt they had the nerve to finish the job.
Midfielder Andy King, who has spent his entire career with Leicester, admits it could take some time for everything to sink in.
"I thought I'd seen everything with this club, but I never thought I'd see this," said the 27-year-old.
"It's difficult to put into words. The players deserve it, the gaffer and the staff deserve it, and the fans deserve it. It's been an unbelievable season." - PA Sport.
Leicester's gain, bookmakers' pain
Bookmakers were left counting the cost of Leicester's unexpected Premier League title triumph.
The Foxes, who were 5,000-1 outsiders at the start of the season, claimed the crown yesterday morning (Singapore time) as rivals Tottenham failed to beat Chelsea.
Sky Bet said it had paid out a record £4.6 million ($9m) to gamblers, saying it was an industry loser with 128 people backing Leicester at the longest price.
William Hill said it had lost £2.2m and is pricing Leicester at 25-1 for the title next season. Bet365 said it will price Leicester at 100-1 to win the Champions League. - PA Sport.
Like father, like son
Leicester City's Kasper Schmeichel has long stated his dislike of comparisons between him and his famous father Peter, but there are some uncanny similarities between the title triumphs of father and son.
In 1993, Peter, then playing for Manchester United, won his first English top-flight title on May 2, at the age of 29.
Twenty-three years on, Kasper has emulated the feat - winning his first Premiership crown on the same date and at the same age.
Also, Peter's team won it back then without playing a game, when their nearest rivals Aston Villa lost their match to make it mathematically impossible to catch up with the Red Devils.
Leicester did it the same way.
Second-placed Tottenham Hotspur could only draw 2-2 with Chelsea yesterday morning, meaning they have no chance of catching Leicester, who are seven points ahead with two matches left to play. - GARY LIM