Claudio Ranieri insisted he is not worried by Watford’s culture of sacking managers because it is normal in his native Italy and also argued that he is not too old to succeed in the Premier League.
The former Chelsea manager, who turns 70 next week, has replaced the fired Xisco Munoz on his return to England, where he was fired by Fulham as they went down in 2018-19, but said he is confident he can keep Watford up.
Ranieri took over a Leicester City team widely tipped for relegation in 2015 and led them to a shock title win, but he shrugged off suggestions of a repeat by describing it as the sort of fairy tale that happens once a century.
Changes in the dugout at Vicarage Road are rather more frequent and Ranieri has become Watford’s sixth manager in just over two years and their 15th since the Pozzo family bought the club in 2012.
But Ranieri, who is in his 22nd managerial job, said: “In Italy, it is normal, but also in England, slowly it is [becoming] the same, not only at Watford.”
Ranieri revealed he has a long relationship with the Pozzos, dating back to when he was asked to manage Udinese, which they also own, two decades ago. Munoz was sacked the day after Watford lost to Leeds and Ranieri, who managed his predecessor at Valencia, said his appointment came quickly and that he was not tapped up.
“Mr Gino Pozzo called me after the Leeds defeat and asked me: ‘Claudio. do you want to come to Watford and do you want to come back to Premier League?’ I said: ‘Why not?’” he said. “He is ambitious, I am more ambitious and I hope our link will be fantastic for Watford.”
Ranieri, who left Sampdoria in the summer after finishing ninth in Serie A, has proved reluctant to retire. “Fortunately, when I think about football I feel good every time,” he said. “Football is my life and I am very happy to come back. I have a strong character, I am still young and I want to continue. Why are you laughing?”
Ranieri becomes the oldest current Premier League manager, a title that used to belong to Roy Hodgson as he kept Crystal Palace up in four successive seasons. “I hope to do as well as him,” he said.
While Ranieri floundered at Fulham, winning only three of his 17 games in charge, he takes heart from the relegation battles he won with both Parma and Sampdoria. He has a two-year contract and added: “I hope to bring Watford to be safe at the end of the season and also to improve and increase the next season.”
When he was Leicester manager, he deflected talk of the title with a mantra that he was focusing on reaching 40 points. He repeated that as he argued Watford should not be expected to emulate his City team. “It was a fairy tale, it could happen once every 100 [years],” he said. “But now we have to be safe.”
The fixture list makes that tougher. His first eight games include Arsenal, Leicester, Chelsea and both Manchester clubs while Watford host Liverpool on Saturday. Ranieri famously bought his Leicester players pizza for their first clean sheet of the season. Now he said: “No pizza, a pizza is too little. I pay for dinner if we keep a clean sheet.”
He urged his new charges to show the fighting spirit he demonstrated in his playing days, adding: “I loved English football before I arrived in 2000 because my style as a player was very similar: very tough, very strong in every duel and that is what I want in my players.”