Two of the contrasting characters of the Premier League have had very different seasons so far. Claudio Ranieri deserves the praise that is coming his way for offering an alternative to the Jose Mourinho approach, writes Adam Bate as we recall their rivalry in quotes…
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The two men go back a long way. Perhaps the only surprise is that Claudio Ranieri more than held his own in those early exchanges. Most memorably for the Italian, there was the fortnight in early 1999 when the Barcelona of Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho was vanquished again and again by Ranieri's Valencia.
"I remember it well," he told Gazzetta dello Sport recently. And well he might. First up there was a 3-2 away win in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final. The following week, Valencia won the return 4-2 at Mestalla. Three days later, they returned to the Nou Camp to beat Barcelona 4-2 in La Liga.
Mourinho was a mere assistant back then but their careers have been intertwined ever since. The Portuguese inherited Ranieri's job at Chelsea in 2004 and proceeded to become a managerial icon. They've since faced each other in Italy and now in England but have rarely seen eye to eye. Why would they? They're two men with very different outlooks.
While Mourinho is frequently cast in the role of antagonist, he had not even taken charge of his first match as Inter boss when Ranieri offered up a comparison when his own Juventus side were beaten 3-0 by Hamburg in the 2008 Emirates Cup. "I am not like Mourinho," he told reporters. "I don't have to win things to be sure of myself."
Never one to knowingly allow perceived criticism to pass without comment, Mourinho responded in typical fashion. "I guess he's right with what he said I am very demanding of myself and I have to win to be sure of things," he said. "This is why I have won so many trophies in my career. Ranieri on the other hand has the mentality of someone who doesn't need to win.
"He is almost 70 years old. He has won a Super Cup and another small trophy and he is too old to change his mentality. He's old and he hasn't won anything. I studied Italian five hours a day for many months to ensure I could communicate with the players, media and fans. Ranieri had been in England for five years and still struggled to say 'good morning' and 'good afternoon'."
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Raising the stakes is a trademark Mourinho trait. If he feels slighted, things can escalate. Arsene Wenger has found that out over the past decade and, much like with Ranieri, the animosity is best propagated when the two men involved clearly hold different values. That was most apparent when Mourinho's Inter and Ranieri's Roma battled for the Scudetto in 2010.
Inter beat Roma 1-0 in that season's Coppa Italia final, and the title race was just as close. Ranieri's team took four points off Inter, enough to take it to the final day, so when Mourinho suggested Roma might offer a financial incentive for Siena to beat his side, his opposite number took offence. "This is not the kind of football I like," said Ranieri. "I'm different as I like respect and I give respect.
"It's too easy to motivate a squad by creating a siege mentality and feeling under attack from everyone. Sport is an important vehicle for Italian society. Behaving like this is launching ticking time bombs. I am a man of sport and I like football. Is Mourinho a phenomenon? It is the media that gives him that aura. For me he is a good coach and I won't add anything more."
Ranieri's confusion is understandable. He's a man more likely to use pizza to incentivise his players than money. This is a man who reportedly geed up his Roma team for the aforementioned Italian cup final by encouraging them to watch Gladiator together. For all Mourinho's showmanship, at his best he prefers detail to drama and could barely conceal his contempt.
"Before the final, I watched six Roma games to find their weak points, spending three hours on each at the computer, running programmes that help my work," said Mourinho. "Of course, it's easier to just watch a movie, but Ranieri has forgotten his players are champions and not children. If before a match I made my team watch Gladiator, they'd start laughing or call the doctor asking if I was ill."
He continued: "It's certainly not my fault if, in 2004 after coming to Chelsea and asking why Ranieri was replaced, I was told they wanted to win and it was never going to happen with him. It is really not my fault if he was considered a loser at Chelsea." Given these comments in May 2010, it's easy to imagine what Mourinho made of Inter appointing Ranieri just 16 months later.
However, Ranieri's recollections of that time suggest all might not be as it seems. Upon his arrival at Leicester in 2015, he said: "When I came back, Mourinho was the first one to send me a message saying 'welcome back'. We clashed in Italy but that was good for everybody. When I was in Inter every week he sent me a message, he's a nice boy."
Speaking in October, Ranieri reiterated that any issues between the two men were "ancient history" and perhaps that's the picture that will emerge on Monday Night Football. It would certainly be a reflection of their shifting statuses right now in light of Leicester's improbable rise to the top of the table and Chelsea's equally unlikely struggles that have left them languishing in the bottom half.
For the best part of a decade, the contrast in the characteristics of the two has reflected badly on Ranieri the coach if not the human being. While former Chelsea hero Frank Lampard spoke of Mourinho being "tactically fantastic" and "very astute" his thoughts on Ranieri were best summed up by one simple phrase. "I love the man," he said.
It brings to mind the old Jack Charlton line about his younger brother Bobby being the better player but him being the better man. And yet, Mourinho's recent problems have put a different spin on these things. Faced with adversity, he has struggled to get a response from his team. Is there more merit in the methods of his Chelsea predecessor than Mourinho might have thought?
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Of course, Ranieri's time at the top may well prove to be fleeting. But it's a reminder at least that while he's come out second best for much of their careers, his virtues should not be dismissed. Ranieri is a man of integrity who deserves respect. When Leicester take on Chelsea on Monday, people need only look at the Premier League table to see why he should get it.
Leicester v Chelsea is live on Sky Sports 1 HD from 7pm on Monday