Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri hailed his players’ “determination” and “spirit” after their improbable English Premier League title triumph was confirmed on Monday.
“I’m so proud,” Ranieri said, in comments published on the Leicester website. “I’m happy for my players, for the chairman, for the staff at Leicester City, all our fans and the Leicester community.”
The 5,000-1 outsiders, who narrowly escaped relegation last season, were confirmed as champions for the first time in their 132-year history after second-place Tottenham Hotspur could only draw 2-2 at Chelsea.
It was a personal triumph for 64-year-old Ranieri, who had never previously won a top-flight title and whose appointment last year met with derision in some quarters.
“I never expected this when I arrived,” the Italian added.
“I’m a pragmatic man. I just wanted to win match after match and help my players to improve week after week. Never did I think too much about where it would take us.”
“The players have been fantastic. Their focus, their determination, their spirit has made this possible.
“Every game they fight for each other and I love to see this in my players. They deserve to be champions.”
Leicester will be presented with the Premier League trophy following their final home game of the season against Everton on Saturday.
Ranieri thanks Chelsea
Ranieri called Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink on Monday to thank him for the draw with Tottenham Hotspur that gave his team the Premier League title.
Ranieri, who was sacked by Chelsea in 2004, was quickly on the phone to express his gratitude.
“Just after the final whistle, I got a call from Ranieri,” Hiddink, Chelsea’s interim manager, told his post-match press conference.
“He called us and thanked us for what we did, especially in the second half. I congratulated him for being champion.”
“I think they deserve it. It might be not a surprise anymore, but maybe a shock for the established clubs that they did so well.”
“They didn’t implode. There was no tension when they started smelling the title. That’s why I think they deserve the title.”
Asked if Ranieri, who cried on the pitch following Leicester’s recent 2-0 win at Sunderland, had sounded emotional, Hiddink replied: “Yeah. I didn’t see any tears because it was not a Facetime conversation.
“But his voice was trembling a bit. Five times, (he said) thanks. Because the emotion is going up.”
Ranieri, 64, was reported to have returned to England earlier on Monday after making a quick trip to Italy in order to have lunch with his 96-year-old mother, Renata.
The genial Italian will get his hands on the first league title of his 30-year managerial career on Saturday after Leicester’s final home game against Everton.
Ecstatic fans rushed into the streets of Leicester on Monday as the outsiders won the Premier League in a victory seen as one of the most astonishing in the history of English football.
Dancing crowds dressed in the team’s blue jerseys hugged each other and chanted songs honouring the team heroes like boss, Claudio Ranieri, and striker Jamie Vardy -- linchpins of the team’s first victory in its 132 years.
“There is only one Ranieri,” chanted the crowds in celebration of the Italian manager. “Ranieri, oooh, ooh.”
“This year I got married and had a baby, but this tops it all,” said Steve Robinson, 26.
In the area around the cathedral where the skeleton of Richard III was buried after it was discovered under a car park in 2012 -- a fact seen by some to have brought the city luck -- the streets were filled with waving blue and white flags.
“It’s going to be a big and long party, because we have waited a long time for this,” said tourist guide Steve Bruce.
At Hogarths pub nearby, fans urged on Chelsea to beat Tottenham Hotspur into second place in the deciding match, chanting “Come on Chelsea, come on Chelsea” and copying the cheers of fans from the television.
As the 2-2 draw decided Leicester had made history, the fans jumped and danced in elation and disbelief.
“I’m going to party! I’ve been supporting Leicester since I was 14 years old, can you imagine what this means for me?” said Caroline Wilkins, 60, who said she watched the match with a friend because her husband hates football.
“I feel on top of the world, I feel I’m in heaven!”
Chris Whiting, 20, said he had started to fear the victory might slip through Leicester’s fingers when Tottenham were two goals up in the first half of the game.
“I still can’t believe it... I started worrying about the next game,” Whiting said. “This is a real relief.”