Despite his future being questioned and his Premier League title-winning team deep in crisis, Claudio Ranieri turned back the clock and smiled for the cameras.
If the performance had come from anyone other than Ranieri it could have been labelled a ‘charm offensive’.
Then, as if emboldened by the vote of confidence, Ranieri reprised the wise-cracking routine that kept the pressure at bay during last season’s remarkable campaign.
“Now there are a lot of sharks,” said Ranieri, revisiting his favourite tongue-in-cheek description of the journalists who covered last season’s heroics and who now fear another historic tale with an unhappy ending.
“And I am on the windsurfer! I accept this. This is our life. Last season was a fairy-tale. This season is not a fairy-tale. But it is OK. Now it is important to be positive without bad, bad words."
Premier League managers through the years: How the job takes its toll
Tue, February 7, 2017
Express Sport takes a look at how the pressure of management has taken its toll on the current crop of Premier League bosses, with some handling it much better than others
1 of 21
How well have the current crop of Premier League managers aged under pressure?
The bad word Ranieri referred to was, presumably, ‘relegation’. Yet there were other, less predictable ones flying around after another day of rumours about discontent in the dressing room – ‘burgers’, ‘chicken’, ‘pasta’ and ‘pizza’.
Ranieri had to address reports of discontent among his players about changes to their post-match menu. Again, he turned to the humour that sustained him last season but has been less obvious in recent weeks.
“Now we need a pizza that is so big!” he said, laughing. “Chicken burgers? I never saw Chicken burgers. I saw deep fried chicken – it was very good, I eat a lot! Fantastic.
Get Quotes on Home Insurance
“Also before the match we eat this, but not often pasta – I don’t like it!”
The serious issue behind the questions, however, concerned Ranieri’s relationship with his players.
Regular changes to the starting line-up are thought to have annoyed some members of the squad, who are facing hefty pay cuts and even more serious blows to their reputations if title glory is followed by the embarrassment of relegation.
Claudio Ranieri dismissed talk of the sack with Leicester close to the relegation zone
“It is the same as last season,” said Ranieri of his rapport with his squad. “I speak the same s****y English and they understand me! It’s important that they understand me.
“We try to do our best but this season everything is wrong but we are still fighting and that is my strength That is important for me to see how they speak together, how they speak with me to try to improve some situations, what we are doing well and not doing well.
“We speak every time about what we need to improve and it’s OK, with all my staff and everybody. I say to my players, ‘my door is always open’. Sometimes I come to them and sometimes they come to me. It’s a fantastic relationship. They understand everything well.”
There was an insight, too, into the troubles of Riyad Mahrez, whose dip in form has come to stand for Leicester’s own reversal of fortunes.
The Algerian has been unable to recapture the performances that made him PFA player of the season and, according to his manager, he is only too well aware of the problem.
“Maybe he doesn’t understand why I say ‘you are Riyad Mahrez, you’re Golden Ball in Africa. Everyone knows you and everybody wants to kill you so it’s important you make the right decision for you and your team-mates.
Riyad Mahrez has endured a difficult campaign for Leicester
“Also today he said, ‘Do I need to do something more?’ I said: ‘No, you’re doing well. If you switch on, you change the face for us.’
“He is frustrated. He knows better than me – assists, goals, everything – he made so many goals last season. Until now he didn’t score as many goals, so he is very frustrated.”
Yet despite an obvious fall-away in form for many of last season’s stand-out players, Ranieri is adamant that now is the time for praise, not punishment.
Asked about Sir Alex Ferguson’s legendary dislike of praise for his players from outside Manchester United, Ranieri rejected the comparison and insisted a soft approach was required now.
Claudio Ranieri saw his Leicester side slump to a 3-0 defeat to Manchester United on Sunday
“I understand what Sir Alex says but the difference is Leicester is building a good club and good champions and Sir Alex had fantastic champions,” said Ranieri.
“Now my players need more support than criticism. I will tell them all the mistakes they make and we work to improve these mistakes. That’s important.
“But when you manage big champions you can say ‘hey, come on’. Now we need more support. I understand people need to speak and to write and do their job but I have to do my job.
“The job in football is this: you win three matches you are God – you lose three matches you are not God That is normal. I am used to swimming in the ocean everywhere. It is OK.”