Despite spending something like £100 million in the transfer market in the summer, newly promoted Fulham have been the worst team in the Premier League by a good margin. Finally, they’ve decided to do something about it. Today the club announced that they’ve fired manager Slaviša Jokanović and replaced him with a more than worthy successor: the lovable legend, the miracle man, the sultan of sweet, the Dilly Ding Don Dada himself, Claudio Ranieri.
Ranieri’s return to the league where he orchestrated one of the greatest upsets in the history of sports when Leicester City won the title in 2016 (which to this day is still “!!!!”) is welcome, and not only because we’re happy to get reacquainted with his adorable and still handsome old man face and his adorable old man personality and the adorable old man phrases he offers in his adorable Italian accent. Even from a sporting perspective, Ranieri’s hiring is sound.
Fulham are currently rock bottom in the EPL table with just five points from 12 matches, which is awful in its own right and downright scandalous in light of the heavy and smart investment the team underwent in order to prepare for Premier League play. Jokanović had the Cottagers playing some of the most attractive soccer in the Championship last season, but his insistence on playing a possession-based game with a high defensive line and no real organization upon promotion this season proved as suicidal as it appeared it would. Fulham have given up 31 goals in their 12 league games—a full six goals more than the second-worst defenses—and have neither created nor scored enough on the other end to make that strategy workable.
The team’s midfield and attack has more than enough quality (remember, this is a squad that features names like André Schürle, Jean Michaël Seri, Luciano Vietto, and Ryan Sessegnon, guys who either have or will soon be regular contributors on Champions League-caliber teams) to comfortably secure themselves a midtable spot. That they’ve failed to do so thus far, even with a pretty soft defensive corps, is a damning indictment of Jokanović.
This makes Ranieri practically the ideal manager for the job. (Though reports say Fulham’s ownership first approached Arsène Wenger about the gig, which is hilarious.) Ranieri is great at cobbling together stiff, compact, coordinated defensive setups, and he’s just as adept at implementing attacking frameworks in which a team’s scorers can snatch up a good number of goals on the counter in the other direction. With just a little more of this kind of structure on and off the ball, Fulham should start paying off all the intrigue their summer spending spree attracted.
In between his Leicester tenure and his just-started Fulham one, Ranieri spent a season in France with Nantes where he did a pretty good job consolidating a midtable club the midtable spot they deserved. At one point he even had Nantes flirting with the Champions League places. The brevity of his time in Ligue 1 wasn’t a reflection of his performance and instead had to do with issues surrounding the club and his relationship with it. So even though Ranieri is getting up there in age (he turned 67 last month), as long as he’s still motivated, he should have all the managerial acumen and raw materials necessary to succeed.
Overall, things are looking good for both the club and their new manager. Fulham seem to be making all the right decisions. They were smart to dump so much money in the transfer market in hopes of making their stay in the Premier League a long one, they were smart with how they spent that money, they were smart to move on from Jokanović rather than stubbornly sticking with what wasn’t working out of loyalty or blind faith that things would improve, and they were smart to bring in Ranieri to fix what was broken. Hopefully all this wisdom results in a quick and lasting turnaround, because many of Fulham’s players and now their cool new manager are too good and too likable to have them slumming in the basement.