Claudio Ranieri says he has lived with pressure since the day he was born, so the threat of losing his job as Monaco coach despite doing very little wrong in his two years in charge in the principality is not causing him to lose any sleep.
The 62-year-old Italian has overseen Monaco's re-emergence as a force in French football since his appointment in 2012 and has earned the chance to at least see out his existing contract, which expires at the end of next season. But he has been in football long enough to know that it doesn't work that way.
Sacked by the ruthless Roman Abramovich at Chelsea in 2004, Ranieri has never lasted more than two years anywhere since then. Now he has seen his position at the Stade Louis II called into question amid speculation that the club's billionaire majority shareholder Dimitri Rybolovlev fancies offering the job to Zinédine Zidane.
Ranieri's chances of surviving the chop are reportedly 50/50, despite the fact that Monaco are on course to finish second in Ligue 1 and qualify automatically for next season's Champions League while also having a French Cup semi-final to look forward to against Guingamp this midweek.
On Saturday, an Emmanuel Rivière goal gave Monaco a 1-0 win away to Rennes, the result keeping them six points clear of Lille in third and ensuring that leaders Paris Saint-Germain will have to wait at least another week before retaining the Ligue 1 title. They are favourites to win the Cup, too, with PSG out of the competition, and Ranieri is hopeful that he can deliver the club their first piece of major silverware since they won the League Cup in 2003.
However, Monaco's performances have deteriorated since the winter break and Ranieri was not helped by an apparent breakdown in his relationship with Eric Abidal, his captain storming home prior to kick-off in last month's 1-1 draw with Lille after he was dropped from the team. He has also seen his compatriot Riccardo Pecini, who was working as a technical director, depart the club in the last few days, a move that would appear to further weaken his own position.
Widespread reports in France indicate that there is an internal struggle for power at Monaco between the Italian faction and a Portuguese faction, led by Luis Campos, a former assistant to José Mourinho at Real Madrid who now works as an advisor at the Stade Louis II. But above that, Rybolovlev could decide to replace Ranieri, and the idea of approaching Zidane is a fascinating one.
The 41-year-old France legend recently said he felt ready to take the step up and become a coach in his own right, although at the moment it is not clear that he would be keen to leave Madrid, where he is currently an assistant to Carlo Ancelotti.
It would of course be a risk for Monaco to appoint Zidane, who started his playing career along the Côte d'Azur at Cannes in the late 1980s. But then it was also a risk back in 2001 when they appointed Didier Deschamps, who oversaw their run to the Champions League final in 2004 and is the last coach to win major silverware with the club.
Ranieri, though, is clearly not too bothered by the speculation. "Rumours are rumours. They don't affect me. Now people want to come here, whereas two years ago nobody did. That is good for the club and good for me," he said. "I have lived with pressure ever since I was born. I want to get the best out of myself."
Monaco’s concerns as to Ranieri’s long-term suitability surely come from the fact that, for all his experience, he has never won a top-flight title. He has insisted that Monaco never stood a chance of winning Ligue 1 this year, but pushing PSG all the way has to be the aim next season. In the meantime, he could do with adding some major silverware to his CV for the first time since his Valencia team won the European Super Cup in 2004.
They are overwhelming favourites to beat Guingamp, who have lost their last four matches in Ligue 1 and could yet go straight back down. The winner will face either Rennes or second-tier Angers in the final next month, so Ranieri knows that the pressure - that word again - is on his team. “It’s to be expected. We are the clear favourites,” he acknowledges.
Andy Scott: Twitter @andpscott
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