Vol. 4 Num 293 Wed. March 24, 2004  

Ranieri says bye!

Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri has told his players he will be leaving the club at the end of the season, newspapers reported Tuesday.

"I know what's going on. You know what's going on. Let's get on with the rest of our season," the Italian was reported to have told his squad after a training session.

An attempt to gain a vote of confidence from Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon fell on deaf ears.

"Now the club should say something, they should say it's rubbish," Ranieri told Sky Sports TV about the never-ending speculation he will be sacked at the end of the season.

"It's not for me, it's for the players," said Ranieri ahead of Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final first leg clash at home to Arsenal. "I think the club should support the coach and the squad."

But Kenyon refused to respond to widespread newspaper reports the club was sounding out proespective future managers.

Ranieri has had to endure a near relentless run of stories in the British press since Chelsea were taken over last July by Russian oil billionaire Roman Abramovich all suggesting he would be axed at the end of the season.

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was apparently asked last July whether he would take over but turned the job down.

England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson was another to say No - but only for the 2003-2004 season. He has said he will tell the English Football Association within two weeks whether he will stay on until the 2006 World Cup.

AC Milan's Carlos Ancelotti, Roma's Fabio Capello and Bayern Munich's Ottmar Hitzfeld, who has already said no, are regarded as the favourites to succeed Ranieri.

Ranieri, whose contract is due to expire in 2007, has led Chelsea into second place in the Premier League this season, nine points behind Arsenal.

But with Abramovich lavishing upwards of 150 million pounds to take Chelsea out of debt and initiate a spending spree on players the likes of which English football has not seen before, Kenyon warned that going trophy-less this season would constitute failure for the London club.

Chelsea have gone 16 matches without beating Arsenal and Ranieri cannot afford another defeat on Wednesday.