3 April ~ Some in football will be forever typecast. Ashley Ward was only suitable for a team battling against relegation; if a side in the top 10 had been looking to push on, he would never have been considered. Claudio Ranieri, sacked by Inter last week, isn’t vastly different as a manager. Inter’s turbulent start to the season was made for him: settle a troubled squad, dispel the negativity, make steady progress and warm the seat for a successor. Fabio Capello or Andre Villas-Boas – not the appointed Andrea Stramaccioni – look likely to be trusted with the long term job. It is not an unfamiliar feeling for Ranieri, an uncontroversial, honest manager but one that has never proved capable of producing a truly elite side.
In two seasons at Juventus, Ranieri masterminded third and second-place Serie A finishes. The progression suggested a title challenge was a serious possibility but the board didn’t trust Ranieri to lead it and he was sacked. He then succeeded Luciano Spalletti at Roma, who had had an uncertain start to 2009-10. Ranieri inspired the capital side to a title bid before Jose Mourinho’s all-conquering Inter edged them in the league and the Coppa Italia final.
At Chelsea, second place in the league – at that time the Blues' highest finish since the Premier League had been introduced – and a Champions League semi-final discernibly represented Ranieri taking the club as far as he could, and his sacking promptly followed. Those distressed at his treatment by Chelsea objected to the inevitability of his fate from such an early stage of the season, not his ability to take the next step required, and therein lay his limitations.
To some, his series of sackings seem harsh but others recognise Ranieri as football’s ultimate nearly man, a serially successful caretaker manager. An ability to settle volatile clubs has been witnessed, as has steady development, but late title failures and eventual stalls in progress have always proved painfully predictable. Journeymen are everywhere in football, Ranieri is just one of the few that has penetrated the top. Football’s culture dictates that sackings and short-term plans will remain rife, so it seems highly unlikely that a six-month spell at Inter was anything other than the latest chapter.
In the not-too-distant future, a club’s ailing season will need rescuing. Their dressing room will need direction and a minimum target will have to be reached before an ambitious managerial target can be approached to allow the grand plan to commence. For that, Ranieri will prove just the man. But trophies? Best left to another. Declan Warrington