English Premiership

Mourinho has rare praise for rival Ranieri

Jose Mourinho (Getty Images)
Jose Mourinho (Getty Images)

London - A loser. An old man. A coach with a rigid mentality and no big successes on his resume.

Those are just some of the digs Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has aimed at a fellow Premier League coach down the years. And - surprise, surprise - the target of these barbs wasn't long-time adversary Arsene Wenger.

Claudio Ranieri is another coach to have been struck by some low blows from the "Special One," who has treated the Italian with apparent disdain since replacing him as Chelsea manager in 2004.

Mourinho might just be changing his tune.

On Friday, Mourinho came out in praise of the 64-year-old Ranieri and the job that his rival is performing at this season's Premier League sensation, Leicester. After 15 games, Leicester - a team that narrowly avoided relegation last season - leads the standings by two points.

"I said a couple of weeks ago I don't believe they can be champions. Maybe I have to think twice before saying that again," said Mourinho, speaking ahead of Monday's match between Leicester and Chelsea. "It would be something magnificent, something to impress the football world."

Then he turned specifically to Ranieri.

"If Leicester are where they are, it's because the manager and players are doing magnificent," Mourinho added. "Ranieri? He has just won manager of the month, although I think he should have won more than that (once).

"One year ago, they were bottom of the league, Ranieri was sacked from Greece after losing to the Faeroe Islands, now he's the top manager in the Premier League, and the players are in the top of the league - this is fantastic."

Ranieri said Thursday that he believed Chelsea would still finish in the top four, despite a dreadful start to the season that sees the reigning champions in 14th place - 17 points behind Leicester and only two above the relegation zone.

"It's nice from him," Mourinho said. "I think Ranieri is showing he has that nice feeling for the club, but I also believe in what he says."

It makes a difference from 2010, when Mourinho said Ranieri was "considered a loser" at Chelsea for failing to win any silverware in his 3 1/2 years at Stamford Bridge.

Two years earlier, Mourinho was quoted as saying about a 56-year-old Ranieri: "At almost 70 years of age, has won a Super Cup and another small cup. He is too old to change his mentality."

They sound like some of the swipes Mourinho has taken at Wenger, the manager at Arsenal, in recent years.

But Ranieri is changing opinions this season. He arrived back in England in the offseason with his coaching reputation in tatters after a short, ill-fated spell with Greece's national team but his results with Leicester, plus his cuddly persona, has endeared him to the British public.

Things have also turned around for Mourinho, who led Chelsea to the championship in May but is now under pressure for his job after the team's worst start to a Premier League title defense. A 1-0 home loss to Bournemouth last weekend piled on the misery for the Blues, although beating FC Porto to advance in the Champions League on Wednesday relieved some pressure on Mourinho.

"When people are so nice to me and they sing my name and 'Stand up for the Special One,' I feel a bit embarrassed," Mourinho said, "because I don't know how to react."

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