Amid the hysteria of the last few weeks, it can be easy to forget how far Leicester City have come and how special Tuesday night will be for Foxes supporters, as they welcome the first ever Round of 16 Champions League tie at the King Power Stadium.
If you had offered Leicester fans Premier League survival and knockout European football at the start of last season, they would have bitten your hand off without the English title even coming into the conversation.
So forget about the miracles of 2015/16, the worst title defence of all time and the controversy that has surrounded the club in recent weeks – Tuesday night offers ninety minutes where Leicester fans can shut out all the noise and soak in an experience that was simply unimaginable two years ago, when their side were rock bottom of the Premier League and deemed bound for the Championship by the vast majority.
But if there’s one person who deserves to be remembered as Leicester embark upon potentially the final chapter of their European adventure, it’s the man who got them there – Claudio Ranieri.
The last few weeks have created a great debate over whether Ranieri was the mastermind behind Leicester’s miraculous title or simply the man lucky enough to be in the driving seat as Herbie turned into a Bugatti Veyron overnight. Clearly, the players felt far more inclined towards the latter.
But with another manager at the helm, it’s hard to imagine Leicester keeping their nerve last season. Whilst the media were quizzing him on pressure in the dressing room, he was batting their questions away with stories about pizza. Leicester’s title wouldn’t have been possible without Ranieri, and neither would a run on the continent that could continue with them beating reigning European champions on Tuesday night.
That is Ranieri’s parting gift to the Leicester fans who’ve so passionately sung his name since the beginning of the season. Whilst his selection policies have baffled and domestic form has consequentially suffered, Ranieri has left Leicester, a club who were in League One eight seasons prior and hadn’t come close to a top flight title since 1929, one goal away from a Champions League quarter-final.
As Brian Clough once said, “anyone who can do anything in Leicester but make a jumper has got to be a genius.” By my reckoning, that makes Claudio Ranieri football’s answer to Steven Hawking. Regardless of a result and performance that’s now out of his control, I hope he’s remembered that way.