LEICESTER, England (AP) Claudio Ranieri is sticking with Leicester’s title-winning blueprint and said the club won’t be in the market for established, expensive talent to strengthen the Premier League champions.
“We don’t need the superstars,” Ranieri said Tuesday, a day after the trophy was clinched with two games to spare. “I want to improve the squad without big stars, but the right players.”
With a squad that cost less than $80 million to assemble, Leicester completed one of the greatest transformations in sporting history. From being relegation candidates and 5,000-1 outsiders for the title, Leicester won the biggest prize in its 132-year history.
[ MORE: Game-by-game breakdown of title run ]
But it was achieved without the midweek demands of European soccer, which Leicester will have next season after qualifying for the Champions League for the first time.
No wonder, Ranieri is significantly lowering expectations for next season.
“For us it is important to stay in the 10th position around there and try to fight to go into Europe,” Ranieri said at Leicester’s modest training ground.
Leicester’s eye for bargains has won admirers throughout the game.
Top-scorer Jamie Vardy was talent spotted while playing outside England’s four professional leagues four years ago. The striker’s 22 goals this season saw him voted player of the year by the Football Writers’ Association this week.
Riyad Mahrez, who has scored 17 goals and provided 11 assists in the title charge, won the same accolade in a vote by his fellow professionals. The Algeria winger was an unknown when he joined Leicester two years ago from second-tier French side Le Havre for less than 500,000 pounds (then about $820,000).
Ranieri’s biggest task in the summer transfer window could be keeping hold of his players while trying to avoid upsetting the balance of his squad with new recruits.
“It is too early to say we need five, six, seven or eight players,” Ranieri said. “If one of my players says to me I want to go … I try to keep him. I suggest to everybody this is a fantastic club.
“We won the title. We can do something good in our few years. If you go away, you don’t know what happens, here you are the king … it is much better to stay here one year more and look what happens. Then maybe you can go anywhere.”
Although wealthier rivals could offer Leicester’s stars bigger salaries, the central England club appears to offer more stability for now at a time when Chelsea – and potentially Manchester United – will be out of the Champions League next season.
[ VIDEO: Leicester players celebrate ]
“The Champions League is another important league to compare yourself to the other champions,” Ranieri said in a public message to his players. “Maybe you change team and go in the big teams, maybe you don’t start very well and stay outside the first eleven, you slow down.
“It is important to choose very well for the lads because now, for me as well, the lads are my sons. If they come to me I say this, `Be careful.’ Leicester in the long-term will go in a very high position.”