Claudio Ranieri: 'Put the fairy tale behind. Now start the true story'

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    Story highlights

    • Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri signs new four-year contract
    • Deal keeps him at Leicester until 2020
    • Italian, 64, guided club to Premier League in 2015/2016 season

    (CNN)It's the calm before the storm that is the new English Premier League season, and the smile has temporarily left Claudio Ranieri's face. But the reason for his momentary frown is a simple one -- traffic.

    Ranieri finds himself in Los Angeles, a suitably glamorous location in which his Leicester City side recently has been preparing to defend its Premier League title.
      Still struggling to come to terms with the magnitude of last season's achievement, the Italian is now set to lead Leicester into the Champions League for the first time ever, while pitting his wits on a weekly basis against the likes of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.
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      If last year was mission impossible, with his team defying odds of 5000-1, this season represents the long-awaited Hollywood sequel.
      "It's very difficult for me to explain what happened," the Leicester manager confesses. "When I arrived I didn't know my players. And I said, 'Hey, I'm one, you are 25. It's easier you understand me, and slowly, slowly, I start to understand yourselves.'
      "It was an amazing story from the beginning because there was a fantastic feeling between me and my players. But also there was a fantastic feeling between the club, the chairman, the staff, the players, and the fans.
      "It was amazing, from the beginning the fans helped us to improve ... we continued to fight. It was fantastic to see my players help each other in every situation. It was a fantastic fairy tale."

      An unlikely savior

      To describe the past twelve months as a whirlwind for Ranieri, who signed a new four-year contract Wednesday, is putting it mildly.
      His career was in tatters, the lowlight being a disastrous few months in charge of the Greek national team in the fall of 2014, culminating in an unthinkable home loss to the Faroes Islands during Euro 2016 qualifying. He would be sacked the next day.
      The fact that he was appointed manager of the Foxes the following summer, with the club deciding to dispense with the services of Nigel Pearson, who had just kept the club up, with a run of seven wins from their final nine games, raised eyebrows.
      "In my life I'm a positive man," he says. "I have up and downs, but always I believe. I believe in something special. I believe in something good. For me, that is my energy, that is what I want to do. Give the energy to all my players around me."
      Those positive vibes made a mockery of the lengthy odds last season, and Leicester ended up winning the league by 10 points, only losing three games along the way.
      While Ranieri acknowledges how life has changed, he's keen to begin again.
      "Now when I go around the world, everybody knows me. Now I want to forget everything because I want to start a new season. And the new season will be harder than the last, of course ... I charged the battery and now I'm ready to restart again."
      Ranieri will be relieved that, if anything, he has a stronger squad to choose from this coming campaign, with new signings such as Bartosz Kapustka, Ahmed Musa and Papy Mendy coming in to offset the loss of French midfielder N'Golo Kante, who departed for Chelsea.
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      But the key moves were surely the ones which weren't made. Both striker Jamie Vardy, who signed a new deal with the champions and -- thus far -- attacking midfielder Riyad Mahrez have reportedly rejected the overtures of last season's runner-up Arsenal.
      "Jamie is our strength," starts Ranieri. When Jamie is on the pitch always the teammates, me, the owner, our fans can say, 'now Jamie can score.' If Jamie Vardy is the goal scorer, Riyad Mahrez is our light ... His teammates love him and everybody helps him to do his job."

      New horizons

      Arguably the allure of playing in the Champions League, as well as defending the Premier League crown, were reasons Ranieri managed to keep most of the team together.
      "The Champions League gets a lot of energy," he points out. "Nervous energy, not physically. Physically we are ready. We are used to playing three matches every week. But mentally it's very very difficult. Because when you play a match in the Champions League, always you lose something.
      "For me it was important to buy new players with the same level, the same mentality because in that moment I can change something, but the team remains the team."
      No matter how next season pans out, the odds are that Leicester's rivals won't be underestimating the Foxes, and Ranieri is ready for the fight ahead.
      "We won the title. It was fantastic, but it was a fairy tale," Ranieri says. "Now break the fairy tale, put the fairy tale behind. Now start the true story. Forget what we achieved and start again.
      "We want to be the same at the end of next season. We want to stay strong, we know it will be more difficult, because all the teams are awaiting us.
      "Last season we were a surprise. But I believe in one thing, the pressure is about the big teams, the big clubs, because they can't permit again another disaster.
      "Now clubs like Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool they want to win, they must win. And now the pressure is about them. But only one will win. We continue to build the foundation. Maybe we put the ground floor to stay more solid and then we start to go up."