Disasters aren’t always about the results you get and the points on the board, although those figures aren’t exactly kind to Claudio either, looking back at his tenure at Craven Cottage. Some things are a little bit more subtle. Jack J Collins takes a deeper dive into the reign of Claudio Ranieri.
Let’s start by looking at the statistics here – and Ranieri’s term at the club doesn’t look as bad as first thought. Comparing his tenure to that of his predecessor, Slavisa Jokanovic, he won more games, got more points per game, scored at almost the same rate and conceded at a lower rate; which is, whichever way you look at it, a statistical improvement.
CR: P16, W3, D3, L10, S15, C32
SJ: P12, W1, D2, L9, S11, C31
But what people outside of Fulham will never be able to understand, and what we’ve come to learn ourselves from watching this Ranieri side, is that there are things that don’t show up when you look at things in such a manner, which leaves no room for artistry, or style, or passion, or heart, or any of the things which are part of why this game is so beloved.
Footballing identities are hard things to build, and genuine starlets with the club in their hearts are even rarer in the modern game. Within 106 days, Claudio managed to all but erode the former, and decimate the confidence of the latter – leaving Fulham rudderless, devoid of the creative spark which we had grown to love; and isolating Ryan Sessegnon to the point where he looked so much a shadow of his former self that there were times where I thought I’d imagined his dazzling season last year.
The frustrating thing is that it all felt so avoidable – the insistence on five at the back against Palace when returning to four had paid such dividends against Brighton less than a week before; the orders on the full backs to check back instead of bombing on which left the Whites with a devastatingly obvious lack of width or options; the refusal to play a 10, leaving a player of Tom Cairney’s technical ability floundering position-less.
His refusal to trust Sessegnon and Cairney, who not only are fan favourites but also represent (looking at it in the cold light of day) some of the club’s best assets in a monetary sense is something that makes no sense in either the short term or the long-run – it alienated supporters and, you can imagine, the squad. Cairney’s comments in particular stand out, actively questioning the manager’s approach, which suggests a divide between philosophy of the management and the players themselves.
For a man who we expected to showcase at least man management skills, Ranieri’s catenaccio-influenced obsession with keeping clean sheets blinded him to the obvious truth that this side’s quality is better harnessed going forward and keeping the ball, as showcased during the Brighton game. Whilst he was brought in to shore the defence up, adding an extra man and basically refusing to allow any of that five to move forwards is not coaching brilliance, it’s sticking a plaster over a gaping wound and hoping that it will heal. It didn’t, and the plaster didn’t work.
Whilst I have no doubt that he meant well, and was an affable character on the whole, his approach left Fulham stuck between stations and it is obvious that the flexibility needed to mould a squad is not something in Claudio’s locker. But he has departed these lands, and for now at least, Scotty’s at the wheel. He’s learned under Jokanovic and Pochettino, and for a man with genuine football nous and the respect of the dressing room, there is something to be gained here.
Survival is too far away, I fear, but there is pride and respect to be salvaged from this season. A derby upset, a hand in the title race, some attacking football, the bond between the boys on the pitch and those in the stands restored. Floor the accelerator Scotty, we’ve not enjoyed being stuck in reverse.