After Leicester title, Ranieri has open offer to coach Italy

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ROME (AP) Claudio Ranieri has an open invitation to coach the Italian national team. Just don’t expect him to take up the role for the next World Cup.

With Ranieri in Rome on Monday to accept the Enzo Bearzot award for best Italian coach of the season, soccer federation president Carlo Tavecchio said he would like to see Ranieri guide the Azzurri to a World Cup title.

“I’m talking in an abstract manner, not about the next World Cups. Claudio is young and he has time,” Tavecchio said. “In his second sports homeland he still has a lot to achieve. And I don’t think it would be easy to deprive him of that opportunity.”

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After a long career without any major titles, the 64-year-old Ranieri coached unsung Leicester to the Premier League title this season. He intends to stay and coach Leicester in the Champions League next season.

“Of all the titles won by Italians, Claudio’s achievement is something unparalleled,” Tavecchio said.

Tavecchio is looking for a replacement for Italy coach Antonio Conte, who is leaving after the European Championship for Chelsea.

“Antonio is doing a great job,” Ranieri said. “I’m upset he’s leaving the national team but I’m pleased he’s coming to join me in England.”

Before signing with Leicester, Ranieri had an embarrassingly short reign as the coach of Greece, and was fired following a loss at home to the Faeroe Islands.

Hundreds of local schoolchildren attended the ceremony at the Italian Olympic Committee’s headquarters, in a room dominated by a huge mural of Benito Mussolini.

“My message to the kids is to always believe in yourself,” Ranieri said. “As a player I was cut twice by Roma before Helenio Herrera took me in. I had a decent career and then I decided to do something I never thought I would: become a coach. One day I woke up and said, `Why not?’

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“I’m still learning. I’m still the same coach who was fired by Greece,” Ranieri added. “After that I went on a tour of Europe to see how other coaches operate. Don’t think of sports as an avenue to make money. Think of it for its social values.”

The award was founded in 2011 to honor Bearzot, the 1982 World Cup-winning coach who died in 2010.

“I never met Bearzot but I’ve been told by people that they see his spirit in me and that fills me with pride,” Ranieri said.

Previous winners were Cesare Prandelli (2011), Walter Mazzarri (2012), Vincenzo Montella (2013), Carlo Ancelotti (2014) and Massimiliano Allegri (2015).

A jury including Tavecchio and the directors of Italian sports media outlets selected the winner last month – several weeks before Leicester clinched.

“Honestly, I still haven’t realized what we’ve accomplished,” Ranieri said of Leicester’s triumph. “We started off just trying to avoid relegation and you saw what happened.

“It’s not easy to win the title in England but I won my first title (Serie C1 in 1989) with Cagliari and I haven’t forgotten that,” added Ranieri, who was born and raised in Rome.

Also attending the ceremony was Dino Zoff, Italy’s 1982 World Cup-winning captain.

“Bearzot really cared about behavior so considering the way Ranieri carries himself he really deserves this award,” Zoff said.

Former Ferrari president and Rome Olympic bid leader Luca Cordero di Montezemolo sat next to Ranieri, who is known for driving a black Ferrari.

“He’s been a Ferrari fan and client for many, many years. So that’s the most important thing,” Montezmolo said jokingly.

Montezemolo then invited Ranieri to become an ambassador for Rome’s 2024 bid “for three reasons: “He was born in Rome, he’s a great sportsman and third, he is a great example of a winning Italian.”

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