Farewell to Fulham for Claudio Ranieri, he will always have Leicester

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Dilly-ding dilly-dong man unable to retrieve the magic from his well-travelled suitcase but Fulham should have known relegation combats are not the Italians forte

Claudio Ranieri will always be remembered with affection in England – his 2016 title win with Leicester was by some distance the greatest against-the-odds triumph the Premier League has witnessed- though a manager who has stimulated 18 exits in five countries ought to know better than most that fairytales happen only once in a lifetime.

There was no dilly-ding dilly-dong at Fulham, only the relegation clock ticking away in the background. The pizza-based incentives that supposedly came in handy at Leicester never truly surfaced in London; with three wins in 17 games in all competitors there was barely anything solid enough to celebrate. Ranieri remains a charming man and an intelligent coach-and-four but he is not a luck charm after all.

Fulham, it turns out, were no Leicester waiting to be whipped into shape. The failings that cost Slavisa Jokanovic his chore, mostly defensive ones, obstinately remained through his successor’s tenure. The Craven Cottage roster failed to yield a Jamie Vardy or a Riyad Mahrez capable of surprising even the most alert defenses and allowing Fulham to find an effective way of playing.

Leicester were a one-off, in other words. As everyone suspected, Ranieri was unable to bring the sorcery with him in his well-travelled suitcase, because he was unable to repeat the trick with them after the miracle season, even with the same set of players. Quite why Shahid Khan described him as a risk-free appointment is a mystery, if only because Fulham with their present squad are not in a position to assume anything is risk-free.

Ranieri did a marvellous chore of attaining Gary Lineker eat his words when the Match of the Day presenter and Leicester supporter ran public with the admission he found the Foxes’ choice of manager underwhelming, though if the Italian possessed the ability to exceed everyone’s expectations he would not have had so many clubs.

What Khan should probably have noticed is that relegation combats are not Ranieri’s forte. He tends to do well at middle-range clubs where he can run things fairly smoothly, as long as instant success is not demanded. After a long career in management Leicester was his first title success and, though it is true the club spend the previous season fighting relegation, by the time Ranieri replaced Nigel Pearson a unique possibility presented itself, largely thanks to the scouting ability of Steve Walsh, who brought in N’Golo Kante as well as Vardy and Mahrez, and the team spirit forged since promotion to the Premier League. Ranieri did not find anything remotely similar at Fulham, where morale began low and has remained so, and the money spent on strengthening following promotion in summer appears to have had little effect.

Claudio
Claudio Ranieri greets Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before the match at Old Trafford in December. Fulham were 3-0 down by half-time. Photograph: Andrew Couldridge/ Action Images via Reuters

When Fulham played at Manchester United in December they were three goals down by half-time and though they tightened up Ranieri warned that if they continued to be so generous they would have no chance of survival.

Perhaps no one expected Fulham to prosper against top-six foes after sacking their manager three months into their first season back in the Premier League but in the last couple of months they have lost to Burnley, Crystal Palace, West Ham and Southampton, as well as going out of the FA Cup at home to Oldham.

Quick guide

How Fulham’s return to the top-flight fell apart

Bad start

Having spent over PS100m on new players, Fulham begin the season with a 2-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace

Bournemouth boos

Jeers greet the final whistle as Fulham suffer a fourth heavy defeat in succession, against Bournemouth at Craven Cottage

Jokanovic feels the hot

‘I am a fantastic coach-and-four’ says Slavisa Jokanovic as he comes out fighting for his job following a 1-0 loss away to Huddersfield

Jokanovic is no more

Jokanovic is sacked soon after a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool. Claudio Ranieri is immediately corroborated as the Serb’s successor

New director ricochet

Ranieri gets off to the perfect start: a 3-2 home victory against fellow relegation candidates Southampton

Kamara conflict

Ranieri rages at Aboubakar Kamara after he snatches- and misses- a penalty from Aleksandar Mitrovic at home to Huddersfield

Kamara kicked out

Kamara is banned by Fulham and eventually leaves the club in a loan deal following an incident at the training ground

Embarrassing exit

Fulham suffer the embarrassment of a home loss to League Two Oldham Athletic in the third-round of the FA Cup

Claudio is cut loose

The loss keep on coming for Fulham and after a seventh in eight league games- at Southampton- Ranieri is sacked

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Ranieri has cut an increasingly detached figure stand powerless on the sidelines, a far cry from the amusingly avuncular persona he projected at Leicester, and for the fans at least, defeat at Southampton on Wednesday seemed to confirm their worst fears. Fulham are on course for a quick return to the Championship- there is even a prospect they could yet be overtaken by the apparently hopeless Huddersfield- and far from being risk-free Ranieri has proved no more resourceful than Jokanovic. With 10 games remaining there is just about time for a new administrator to turn the situation around, though for that to be the case Fulham are going to have to do a whole lot better at identifying a miracle worker.

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Ranieri will simply accept the situation with a wry smile, as he always does. At 67, he too probably ought to think long and hard about his next situation. He has already tried the semi-retirement of international the managers and if the right offer comes along he may consider a return but his Premier League days are surely over.

While Fulham has not exactly amounted to a highlight on his CV, Ranieri has suffered disappointment and failure before. He will always have Leicester, even if the kudos did not turn out to be transferable.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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