By Associated Press - Monday, April 10, 2017

LONDON (AP) - Claudio Ranieri refuses to accept Leicester’s players were behind his firing as manager of the unlikely English champions.

“I can’t believe my players kill me. No, no, no,” Ranieri said on Monday in his first interview since his dismissal in February.

The Italian coach told British broadcaster Sky Sports that “maybe there could be someone behind me” at the club who betrayed him, but didn’t give any names because he is a “loyal man.”

“I had also a little problem the year before, and we won the title,” Ranieri said. “Maybe this year, when we lose, these people push a little more.”

Ranieri was fired nine months after guiding Leicester to the English Premier League title at preseason odds of 5,000-1, in possibly the biggest upset in sporting history. In a disappointing title defense, Leicester was one point and one place above the relegation zone when the club’s Thai owners decided to remove Ranieri.

Ranieri said his players struggled for motivation this season because of their raised profile and the fact “the year before they earn a little less and after they earn the double or the triple.”

Since his departure, the intensity to Leicester’s play has returned and the team won six straight games under replacement coach Craig Shakespeare until a 4-2 loss at Everton on Sunday. During that winning run, the team advanced to the quarterfinals of the Champions League by eliminating Sevilla after a 2-0 win in the second leg of their last-16 match.

Ranieri’s last game in charge was the first leg against Sevilla, which Leicester lost 2-1 after mounting a second-half fightback in Spain and scoring through Jamie Vardy.

“I feel, ‘Why was I sacked?’ Because the Sevilla game was the turning point,” Ranieri said.

“I saw in the second half everybody fight together again.”

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