London (AFP) - Claudio Ranieri insisted on Monday his sacking only a few months after guiding unfashionable Leicester to the unlikeliest of Premier League title wins was not orchestrated by the players.
The avuncular 65-year-old Italian -- who took over from Nigel Pearson for the 2015/16 campaign tasked with preserving their elite status -- told Sky Sports in his first interview since being fired there was someone within the club who manoeuvred to have him sacked.
Ranieri, no stranger to the sack during his long managerial career, said he would not name the person.
However, he had confronted them after he was fired following the Champions League last 16 first leg 2-1 defeat away at Sevilla in February.
He claimed there had been moves to undermine him even in the title-winning season -- adding that it became easier once Leicester's title defence turned into a fight against relegation.
"I can't believe the players spoke to the owners," said Ranieri, referring to claims that circulated about some going to the Thai owners after the Sevilla game to plead with them to remove the Italian.
"I don't believe my players killed me. No, no, no.
"Maybe it was someone behind me.
"I had a little problem the year before and we won the title.
"Maybe this year, when we lose, these people push a little more.
"I don't want to say who it is. I am a loyal man. What I had to say, I said face to face."
Ranieri, who received support from the unlikeliest of sources in Jose Mourinho -- often in the past disdainful of the Italian -- who labelled the players "selfish", said his firing was a shock after what he felt was a spirited performance against Sevilla.
"The Sevilla match was a turning point for me, everyone was fighting together and in the second-half Jamie Vardy scored a goal," he said.
"To go to Sevilla, the team who won three times the Europa League -- it is not easy to go there and to only lose 2-1.
"But I found out on the way home that I would be sacked. It was a shock for me and for a lot of other people."
However, Ranieri, who says he has been spending his free time going to matches all over Europe, said the sour manner of his departure would not affect his feeling for Leicester.
"I have won trophies around Europe, but never the title. Three times I was runner-up," he said.
"Leicester and the fans will be in my heart for all of my life."
Since his assistant Craig Shakespeare has replaced him the Foxes have enjoyed a revival in form.
They reached the Champions League quarter-finals -- overcoming Sevilla in the second leg -- but more importantly won five on the trot in the Premier League till Sunday's 4-2 reverse at the hands of Everton. They are now eight points clear of the bottom three.