On Wednesday, Fulham made the anticipated announcement that they had dismissed manager Slavisa Jokanovic. What was more surprising was the announcement that the club replaced him with former Leicester City boss Claudio Ranieri.
Khan hitting panic button?
Fulham owner Shahid Khan gave Jokanovic his backing last month. However, in Fulham’s next game, they were trounced 3-0 at home by Bournemouth with Khan in attendance. Later on, Fulham lost to relegation rivals Huddersfield, sending the Cottagers to the bottom of the Premier League with just 5 points from their opening 12 games.
While Fulham played better in Saturday’s 2-0 reverse at Liverpool, it was clear something had to be done to arrest the slide. Khan made the sensible move and switched managers during the international break, giving Ranieri an extra week to train the players ahead of their next game; another relegation battle this time at home to struggling Southampton.
Khan clearly thought he had his man in Jokanovic after he guided Fulham back to the Premier League in May. Fulham had been the best footballing side in the Championship for the two previous seasons, and after suffering playoff heartbreak in 2017, made it to the Premier League this year. Their exciting football was optimized by their dynamic young winger Ryan Sessegnon, who bagged 15 goals last season. Meanwhile, Jokanovic made the shrewd signing of striker Alexsander Mitrovic to provide the firepower to propel Fulham into the big time.
This summer saw Khan back his manager to the tune of £94 million in the transfer market. As well as making Mitrovic a permanent move following his loan from Newcastle, Fulham spent big on Ligue 1 imports Jean Micheal Seri and Andre Zambo Anguissa in midfield and defenders Alfie Mawson and Joe Bryan. They also brought in eye-catching loanees in German international forward Andre Schurrle, Arsenal defender Callum Chamber and Atletico Madrid striker Luciano Vietto.
After investing so heavily, most predicted Fulham would steer clear of the relegation battle and consolidate in mid table. After an encouraging start that saw Fulham destroy Burnley 4-2 in their third Premier League game, things started to unravel. The team began to concede goals at an alarming rate, and by early October, a 5-1 hiding from Arsenal at Craven Cottage had Fulham in a tailspin. Jokanovic seemed clueless as to his best eleven and continually changed his team, which included swapping goalkeepers, as he attempted to find a stable formula.
After the loss at Huddersfield last Monday night, Jokanovic appeared a dead man walking. Seeing the relegation trap door opening and the Premier League rithces slipping from his grasp, Khan was left with little choice but to sack the man who’d taken Fulham to promotion.
Tinkerman to the rescue
Given constantly changing his lineup was part of Jokanovic’s downfall, it’s ironic Fulham would turn to the manager who earned the nickname ‘Tinkerman’ during his spell at Chelsea. He may be a former title winner, but Ranieri appeared anything but the risk-free appointment Fulham claimed him to be.
The safe option would have been to turn to a ‘solid football man’, but rather than turn to Sam Allardyce or David Moyes, Fuham went for a far more daring appointment in Ranieri.
Ranieri is a manager who can get a tune out of creative players. He has no experience of getting teams out of relegation trouble in England, although he did rescue Parma from relegation in Serie A. He is however a manager who can make a quick impact at a club, as he proved at Juventus, Nantes and of course Leicester. The downside is the impact tends to be short-lived, as Leicester found when he had them sliding towards relegation the season after his greatest triumph. What can he do to get Fulham out of trouble?
The road to survival
It’s worth remembering that Fulham is not a lost cause, and are only 3 points short of the 17th-placed Southampton. Fulham has a talented squad, albeit one with an imbalance of attackers over defenders and a split between promotion winners and big new signings.
The first thing Ranieri must address is the leaky defence, as Fulham has let in 31 goals. Extrapolate that over a season and they’ll have conceded 98 times. Ranieri must identify his best goalkeeper and centre back pairing and stick with them.
Further forward, Ranieri needs to get more out of Sessegnon. He has struggled with the step up to the Premier League, and part of the problem has been the constant chopping and changing of positions. Reverting to the team that won promotion may well be Ranieri’s best strategy.
Ranieri is inheriting a team with plenty of talent. His appointment is more ambitious than we are used to seeing at the bottom end of the Premier League, so for now, we can welcome back a popular manager.
Picture Credits: Foxsports Asia, Sky Sports