After downplaying Leicester's improbable title chances all season long, the veteran manager is all in on finishing the job.
LONDON (AP) — Claudio Ranieri shed his coy and cautious demeanor on Friday to flaunt his euphoria about Leicester being on the brink of the Premier League title in the most stunning season in the club's 132-year history.
Breaking the habit of a season, when Ranieri has mostly restricted himself to prioritizing top flight survival, the manger finally publicly acknowledged the target is delivering the title.
With 12 points to play for, Leicester has a five-point lead over Tottenham as it looks to collect the biggest prize in English football for the first time.
The pursuit of the title has overshadowed the landmark already achieved: steering Leicester into the Champions League for the first time by securing a top-three finish.
"Hey man, we are in Champions League!" Ranieri said at a giddy news conference appearance at the central England club. "Dilly-ding, dilly-dong, come on! You forget.
"You speak about blah, blah, blah, but we are in Champions League! Come on man!"
Leicester's hierarchy were mocked for hiring Ranieri last July having only just avoided relegation from world football's richest league.
The 64-year-old Italian had been out of work for almost a year after being fired by Greece for making a wretched start to European Championship qualifying.
And he hadn't coached in England for 11 years since being fired by Chelsea. Now Ranieri's team is a staggering 29 points ahead of defending champion Chelsea, with the two teams meeting in the last round.
"Fantastic, fantastic. Terrific. Well done. Well done to everybody," Ranieri said. "The owners, the fans, to the players, the staff, everybody ... it's a great achievement, great achievement. Unbelievable. And now we go straight away to try to win the title. Yes. Yes man!"
Amid the unusual expressiveness, Ranieri still had a serious message for his players: "Keep calm."
One key player will be missing this weekend: top scorer Jamie Vardy. The 22-goal striker is banned for Sunday's visit of Swansea and is waiting to discover if the suspension will be extended after admitting that his conduct toward the referee was improper after being sent off in last Sunday's draw with West Ham.
"Without our goal scorer it's not easy to play," Ranieri said. "But I'm very convinced ... we'll give a little more for each other to win the match."
The 2-2 draw with West Ham was followed by second-place Tottenham beating Stoke 4-0 with a ruthless attacking display that signaled the London club's intent to push Leicester all the way to the finish.
"Now we go straight away to try to win the title. Yes man, only this remains," Ranieri said. "I talk to my players, 'Come on, now is the right moment to push'.
"I always believe. I am a positive man. If Tottenham go above us, congratulations, but I prefer to be five points ahead."