As much as I enjoy international football, I have never
really been absolutely buzzing for international breaks to come around. They always
seem to disrupt the domestic football and there aren’t as many matches. At the
minute, however, any distraction form the Premier League is a welcome one.
Things haven’t been pretty on the banks of the Thames, to put it mildly. So
instead of talking about Fulham’s disaster of a season, I thought I’d talk
about another favourite topic of mine, Northern Irish and Irish players who
have played throughout the years in our famous white shirt. I’ll limit to just
my top 5, as I have a game to get to tonight at Windsor Park at 1945!
The Hangeland-Hughes partnership will go down as one of the
greatest centre back pairing in Fulham’s Premier League history. Under the
guidance of Roy Hodgson Fulham became defensively sound, something that we
badly crave this season, and Hughes was vital in this. He racked up 250
appearances for Fulham across all competitions and scored a handful of goals
along the way. He was a crucial part of both the Greatest Escape year in 2008
and then the Europa League run of 2010. He is my all time favourite Northern
Irish player and captain .
2. Ollie Norwood
It might have only been a loan deal, but the decision to
bring Norwood to Fulham turn out to be a stroke of genius. Norwood has always
had a touch of quality about him, we have known that for years in Northern
Ireland. He might try a Hollywood pass too often for some, but it’s that vision
that has been so important for Northern Ireland. Last season at Fulham we badly
needed someone to step in for Cairney when he was injured, and Norwood was the
one to do that. He might not quite be the level of Cairney but he is what we
needed at the time. And who could forgot THAT tackle in the dying seconds of
the play-off final that prevented Aston Villa’s final chance? What a guy.
3. Damien Duff
Damien Duff was one of those players who when they are signed,
you get very excited about. He may have been slightly past his prime but we all
knew what he was capable of from his time at Chelsea and Newcastle. He was one
of those players who had a sweet left foot, but played on the right for the
majority of his time at Fulham. The Craven Cottage crowd used to get such a
buzz when he would cut in from the right and have a pop at goal. He always had
a bit of magic about him and I loved seeing him play at Fulham.
4. Chris Baird
Bairdinho. When he announced his retirement this year I was genuinely
gutted. He has been such an important figure for club and country for years and
there aren’t many out there quite like him. Baird was one of the most versatile
players at Fulham, and he was happy to play wherever was required. He was a
typical ‘leave everything on the pitch’ kind of guy, and those goals at Stoke City
will stay in Fulham folklore forever.
5. Rodney McAree
Not many players can say that they have a chant that is
still sang around a club 20years or so after they have left, but Rodney McAree
can. I was too young to remember said goal, but I doubt there are many Fulham
fans out there who don’t know about McAree’s goal up at Carlisle. Rodney also
happens to be one of the nicest guys in football. He gave me one of my first
exclusive interviews a couple of years back, something that I really
appreciated. He owns a little part of Fulham history so he is rightfully
remembered by the Fulham faithful.
Premier League safety is vastly unlikely for Fulham after a horrific year back at the top sparked by dreadful recruitment, management and coaching all intertwining to create a relegation displaying everything not to do once you reach the ‘big time.’
Scott Parker mentioned in the lead up to the SW6 Derby that he wanted to see Fulham play with a bit more pace in attack, that came with the return of Ryan Sessegnon to the starting line up and quicker attempt to the final third, whether that came with longer balls or general speed of play from back to front – we saw longer balls utilised more frequently than usual but Tom Cairney was excellent in finding space and collecting the ball between Jorginho and the Chelsea back line before sliding some lovely passes in behind for the aforementioned Sessegnon typically.
Though individual mistakes were still visible, Fulham’s general performance was full of fight and had a period where they absolutely had Chelsea on the ropes. Scott Parker has already gained the support of Tom Cairney who has called for the permanent appointment of the former Fulham captain, and whilst we must be wary to avoid the Kit Symons experiment, this feels different. I think Scott showed some tactical intelligence on his first game as Cairney exploited the space behind the Chelsea midfield and he flipped Ryan Sessegnon to the right who saw some joy against Italy international Emerson. If not for some Man of the Match winning calibre saves from Kepa Arrizabalaga then Scotty Parker could well have salvaged at least a point from his managerial debut.
Back to something different about this ‘players coach’ appointment surrounding a ‘we’ve got our Fulham back narrative.’ Scott Parker throughout his playing career always seemed to command a certain level of respect and that saw him named captain, a leader who lead by example, Parker has always had the potential to have an authority over a team. Having set about his coaching ‘badges’ (my least favourite term in football, badges don’t exist) whilst at Tottenham Hotspur, this moment is years in the making. The return of Stuart Gray brings an aura of legitimacy also as an experienced and excellent coach in his own right which will help Scott through the early days of his management career whether it lasts 9 more games at Fulham or not.
Scott Parker’s Fulham made a nice start on Sunday and according to the former England international, have set a standard for the remainder of the season “I shouldn’t expect anything less, the challenge for me now is that needs to stay and how is this going to happen, making sure that it’s a given every single week.” He understands the core principles that this football club should never reject ‘passing football and a family football club.’
Every coach has to start somewhere and for Scott Parker (and Fulham), familiarity and a mutual understanding philosophically is a solid ground to build upon.
Claudio Ranieri has been relieved of his duties at Fulham Football Club (or vice-verse works too). In preparation for the event, I asked Fulham Twitter to send me their picks to replace the Italian at the helm of the football club and these are the five most popular choices analysed and evaluated with honourable mentions at the bottom.
Wilder’s Sheffield United squad have a completely British squad utilising a 352 where Oliver Norwood acts as the midfield anchor and is having an excellent season, creating seven goals and only Leeds’ Pablo Hernandez has created more chances than the Northern Irishman that spent 2017/18 on loan at Craven Cottage prior to his permanent move to Sheffield.
Whilst Sheffield United don’t play with the pizazz and polish of a Leeds or Norwich, also contending for automatic promotion from the Championship, Sheffield United have the second best defence in the division and are only outscored by Norwich and West Bromwich Albion thanks mostly to veterans Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick.
I admire what Chris Wilder has been able to do at Sheffield United, but also at Northampton Town before then as he won League Two in impressive style. It’d be fascinating to see what he could do with a larger budget but as a Sheffield born professional with seven years of his playing career spent at Sheffield United, I’m not sure he’d leave the club where he has more ‘old-school’ managerial responsibilities for us in the same division with someone with zero footballing experience giving him the tools to work with and happy to sack him if it doesn’t work.
The man replaced by Slavisa Jokanovic at Watford, it was at Brighton where Garcia caught the eye for me at least. His possession based footballing style starved the opposition of the ball to the extent where they had the second tightest defence in the division. In his sole season at the Seagulls, he replicated Gus Poyet’s unsuccessful play off campaign from the previous year despite a lack of goals beyond top scorer Leonardo Ulloa.
The Guardian have a nice write up which hints as his tactical philosophy (https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2017/aug/21/saint-etienne-unshackled-from-lifeless-approach-by-oscar-garcia). Groomed in Spain, notably ex-Barcelona, the comparisons can be drawn between Oscar Garcia and former Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic – the inability to really hold down a position prior to ‘arriving’ at Fulham, the aesthetics of their footballing philosophy and even the clubs (both coached Watford, Maccabi Tel Aviv and both have success in the outer reaches of global football – Jokanovic in Thailand and Garcia in Austria).
Oscar Garcia would be fascinating appointment, and arguably a correct one for the footballing parallels this squad was built for and accustomed to. Though question marks will no doubt hover over the futures of the likes of Tom Cairney and Aleksander Mitrovic with relegation, there’s enough there to replicate that style by looking back to those that were part of the promotion squad.
Under the radar, Graham Potter is having a really excellent first season at Swansea where he has harnessed an excellent crop of young players to play some eye catching, tidy football in a mid-table season. Though finishing mid-table isn’t quite the most appealing characteristic, it’s about where their playing squad belongs at this point in their rebuild following relegation whilst 9 of their 13 most used footballers this season are aged 24 or younger.
The Swans didn’t even reach £10m spent in their first summer back in the Championship yet with Potter’s coaching and some smart recruitment, Swansea are set up for the future with their cavalcade of prospects (including Dan James who was subject of £12m interest of Leeds in January). Potter has taken a tough situation and Swansea are 100% in a better place now than where they were when he took over and that is always a good sign of excellent coaching, this amongst some chaos and confusion in the upper management.
Graham Potter is a modern footballing man and a ‘proper’ football coach. He wants his teams to play good football, is happy to work with young players but brings all the values you want in the current footballing climate. Whilst he may not be ‘keen’ on leaving a club that offered him such a great opportunity, a bigger budget and life in London could tempt him. I think Potter has shown he’s no fluke or novelty, he’s a bright, young coach who will be in the Premier League soon enough, it’d be nice if Fulham were that club.
I won’t go on too long, but Slavisa Jokanovic was in the top 5 of Fulham Twitter’s picks to be the next permanent Fulham manager. After the Ranieri experiment, it seems supporters may be showing their fickle side and saying “oh, it wasn’t quite you.” I hated the sacking at the time but to go into that side is another post for another day.
?We know what we get from Slavisa Jokanovic teams, it’s passing, attacking football that saw us become one of the more entertaining, appealing and eye catching teams in recent Championship history. We saw improvement with each year despite the club forcing a rebuild level of player movement with each window and that’s promising.
I don’t see this happening, but I wouldn’t hate it.
?Perhaps aided by the ‘Fulham’ connection, his father Gary (current manager of Torquay United), grew up in Fulham and is allegedly a Fulham supporter. This has probably led to Fulham eyes more so than usual but his success already in his career before the age of 40 is commendable.
Lee Johnson got his first managerial job at Oldham at the age of 31, his first season was amidst a successful relegation battle. In his first full season, he rebuilt the squad and took the club to their highest ever finish in League One. He left Oldham for Barnsley in February 2016 where he stayed for a year before moving to Bristol City. Like at Oldham, Johnson has taken Bristol City from relegation contenders to play off pushers and this is despite a fairly frequent turnaround of players (since taking charge, he’s had to deal with the losses of: Jonathan Kodjia, Tammy Abraham, Luke Freeman, Aden Flint, Bobby Reid and Joe Bryan).
Johnson’s team impressed at Craven Cottage in our promotion campaign, displaying high pressing and quick interplay were rewarded making a squad that would ultimately go down as one of the most entertaining in the division as very ordinary. We were naturally quite disappointed when later that season we went to Ashton Gate and Bristol City played long ball, long throw and ‘kick-em’ football but I believe that to be a tactical decision against us (which was odd given performance earlier in the season). Johnson has dealt with adversity, receiving death threats and calls for his resignation but has won the Bristol City supporters around after the board kept faith (importantly). Lee Johnson also has an EFL Cup run to his name, a semi final no less that was ended by Manchester City and were a 92nd minute Sergio Aguero goal from a draw at the Etihad and a 96th minute Kevin De Bruyne winner from a draw at Ashton Gate – along this run, Johnson’s side knocked out Watford, Crystal Palace and Manchester United.
In terms of availability, it’s easy to sit here and say “why wouldn’t he join Fulham?” But Johnson has been shown faith, they’ve let him work through hard periods and he knows he’s backed by wealthy investors in the football club (not near Shahid Khan’s billions but billions nonetheless). We chewed up and spat out the saviour to our time in the Championship because the players purchased for him were poor and didn’t fit – so why would Johnson leave his situation for this?
Johnson is an intriguing option, and according to my Twitter feedback, is the popular option. I wouldn’t be unhappy for sure, but whether he’s the best option? I would have some doubts. Though to be fair, there’s doubts for every manager – no one is truly ‘risk free’ – which is why you shouldn’t throw away a good one for a poor run of form…
Daniel Stendel (Barnsley), Steve Clarke (Kilmarnock), Dean Smith (Aston Villa), Aitor Karanka (unattached), Carlos Carvalhal (unattached), Nathan Jones (Stoke City), David Wagner (unattached).
And a couple from me not mentioned by others: Alex Neil (Preston North End) and Michael Appleton (unattached).
Fulham have sacked Claudio Ranieri after just sixteen Premier League games in charge and replaced the Italian with former captain Scott Parker as a caretaker manager.
Ranieri, who was only appointed in November as the successor to Slavisa Jokanovic, had run out of road at Craven Cottage after a dismal defeat at the hands of Southampton last night. The 67 year-old’s final game in charge saw Fulham start with three defensive midfielders and never look like seriously challenging one of their relegation rivals after conceding two first half goals.
Ranieri, who only won three of his games in charge and saw his side dumped out of the FA Cup at the third round stage by League Two Oldham, leaves Fulham ten points from safety with ten games left. Parker, who returned to the club this summer after a spell coaching Tottenham’s under 18 side, will take charge for the first time against Chelsea, one of his former clubs, in a west London derby on Sunday afternoon.
The 38 year-old, who made 128 appearances in a four-year playing career at Craven Cottage, completed his coaching badges prior to hanging up his boots and the former England captain has spent this season as Fulham’s first team coach.
It’s around 7pm on 25th May, 2018. Ten of thousands of Fulham fans are in complete delirium at Wembley, completely overwhelmed at what we have witnessed. Our Fulham sealed promotion to the Premier League playing a wonderful, fun-filled style of football. We have done it with a group of players who clearly love playing with each other, and with an 18 year-old kid who has been a revelation in the side. We have owners willing to spend both on and off the pitch with a new stadium development incoming. The future is very bright for Fulham.
Fast forward to 10pm, 27th February 2019. We have
just witnessed an extremely deflated Fulham side limp to a 2-0 defeat to
relegation rivals Southampton. Our Italian manager, the man who led Leicester
to the most unlikely of Premier League titles a few years ago, set his side up
in a negative way, playing players out of position and leaving our best midfielder
in Seri out of the side altogether despite saying that we had no injury
To say I’m angry at the state of affairs at Fulham right now
would be an understatement. I’m furious. What a complete and utter shambles
this season has been. What a wasted opportunity. While I think that Slav was
out of his depth, I would honestly rather have stuck with him than have sacked
him when we did for Claudio Ranieri. While there were some slight improvements at
the start under him, the negatives since then have just piled up.
Alongside his frustratingly negative tactics and his insistence
on playing Cairney out wide whenever everything good comes through him in the
middle, it’s his treatment of Ryan Sessegnon that upsets me the most. He has
turned Sessegnon into someone afraid of the football. Benching him, publically
saying that he is out of form, not strong enough etc and then the few times
that he does play, hauling him off at half time because of a couple of mistakes
have all contributed to deflating the player of confidence . Sessegnon was our
brightest spark last season and that was because he was given the opportunity to
flourish. I’m from a teaching background, and I remember my tutor at university
saying that our job as teachers was to create an environment in which pupils
could, and wanted, to flourish. I believe that coaching football, or any sport
for that matter, has the same principles. Ranieri should be laying the
foundations for our players to become great, but instead it’s like the life has
been sucked out of them, and it’s just heartbreaking.
We are so far away from that showing of unity last year. Our
next three games at home are Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City- all games
that 7 months ago we were relishing. Getting to see your club compete with some
of the biggest clubs in the world is something that every fan should relish,
but now I just wish that we could fast forward a month. We have a talented squad,
but under our current boss I don’t see those players being able to play with
any sort of freedom. At the minute we aren’t just going down, we are plummeting
so fast that it’s a blink and you’ll miss it sort of scenario.
If we are going down,
I want us to go down fighting but to do that we need to remove Ranieri now. I
don’t want us to rush into another managerial change, so my choice would be
Parker until the end of the season to buy time to consider properly who we want
in charge of the team. Another rushed decision isn’t going to do us any
favours, but keeping Ranieri for me will do more harm than good.
Fulham made a little bit of history back in 2017 when Ben Davis, a
16 year old from Singapore signed to the academy. A Singaporean has never
played in the Premier League or Championship, and Davis could be the first one
to do that. The only other player from Singapore to play in the professional
game in England is Daniel Bennet, who played for Wrexham in the old English Third Division a number of years
However, back when Davis signed for Fulham, the question of his
duty to complete National Service in Singapore when he became 18 came up
straight away. In Singapore, every male at the age of 18 must complete some
form of National Service for two years. Around the same time that Davis signed,
he and his family had applied for deferred NS, but his request was rejected. NS
can be deferred, but it mostly happens for academic purposes, but it can happen
for the Arts and for sport. Sport is a difficult one, because it’s only for sportsmen
and women who are “…representing Singapore in top-tier international competitions,” or “…displaying potential to win (medals).”
While Davis is seen as a huge talent in Singaporean football, he isn’t
yet close to helping them win medals at an event. In fact, deferring NS for
sport has only happen three times since 2003, twice for national swimmers and
once for a sailor. Davis has been called up to the Singapore national side but
is yet to win a cap which could be one of the reasons why he hasn’t been able
to defer it. It’s important to note that Davis is not trying to get away with doing
his NS altogether, rather it’s putting it off until his football development is
much further on.
We are now at the stage were Davis should be back in Singapore starting
his NS, so because he has essentially defaulted, he is now in danger of being
sent to prison if and when he returns home. He is at the age were NS is due,
and he should have reported back to Singapore in January. According to ‘Singapore
Legal Advice’, any defaulter can be punished with “…a fine of $10,000 and/or a term of imprisonment up to 3 years.”
This is a potentially very serious issue for Davis and his
family if he ever wants to return back to Singapore, but his family are said to
be appealing the original decision to reject to request of deferment. Generally
speaking, countries who have NS are very strict with it. In the case of Son
Heung-min of Spurs, he had to actually win the Asian Games with his South Korean
football side to be spared military service there, so who knows if Davis will ever
be in a position were he can help Singapore win a competition.
One thing is sure though, taking two years out of football
at 18, just when you could be on the brink of making it, is more of less
kissing goodbye to a career in England. Watch this space.
If you are anything like me, you probably used the weekend to forget all about the fine little mess Fulham Football Club have gotten ourselves into. The romance of the FA Cup, in which we played a bit-part role last month in capitulating to a spirited Oldham Athletic side roared to victory at Craven Cottage by their magnificent supporters, stands in stark contrast to the monotony of the Premier League, where even the most noble of ambitions is soon sacrificed as you desperately try to cling on to a seat at English football’s top table.
There’s no point revisiting the hole Fulham fell into after that glorious day at Wembley in May – we’ve had our fill of the £100m problems with the club’s summer recruitment, whether Slavisa Jokanovic was given enough time to try and figure out a way of playing in the Premier League or even if Claudio Ranieri was the right replacement when the powers-that-be decided to pull the trigger. The predicament is pitiful now – remaining in the top flight will require the sort of escape that Steve McQueen would blanch at, never mind Roy Hodgson.
The defeats, especially the most recent reverse at the hands of a revitalised Manchester United, are becoming a little too routine now. I’m reminded of that wonderful scene in The Lion in Winter, where three brothers were locked in Henry II’s dungeon awaiting their execution. Richard tells them to take their fate like men only for Geoffrey to protest, ‘You fool! As if it matters how a man falls down.’ The reply is wonderful: ‘When the fall’s all that’s left, it matters a great deal’.
Fulham’s fall has been far from glorious to date. A defence that has looked dazed and confused ever since they emerged blinking into the unforgiving light of Premier League football has hardly improved under Ranieri’s tutelage, which was supposed to be the main reason for his appointment. To what extent the Italian can be fairly blamed for that – given that there’s probably only one proven Premier League centre back amongst all the defenders on Fulham’s books – is question that might never be satisfactorily resolved.
Ranieri’s attempts to remake a misfiring side in his own image have floundered largely because Fulham have been too busy shooting ourselves in the foot. The glee that greeted a couple of clean sheets either side of Christmas proved fleeting – and the manager’s preferred method of accruing points, boring the opposition into submission, dates from the last century. It is so far removed from the flowing football that brought the Whites back to the promised land, we might as well be on another planet. You could stomach it for salvation, but at the moment it feels like Fulham’s agony is prolonged.
Ranieri’s demand for more fighting spirit was probably designed to get everyone pulling in the same direction – but it has had the opposite affect. It provoked some literal fisticuffs in the case of Aboubakar Kamara, but not enough bite from a side that still looks far too easy to play through. The presence of Andre Schurrle, who produces the odd moment of effortless brilliance and then glides through games as if unhurried by the gravity of the situation, only serves to infuriate at this point, especially when two of the club’s most successful battlers – in Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegon – are confined to the sidelines.
Fulham have barely managed to put together a compelling ninety minutes under Ranieri – but the closest they came was in a stirring second half comeback against Brighton. They wiped out a 2-0 half-time deficit by scoring four without reply in a display that married some of last season’s flair with plenty of fight. Cairney and Sessegnon featured prominently, as they did when combining to set up Aleksandar Mitrovic for the stoppage-time winner against Huddersfield back in December. It is inconceivable that any other manager would conclude that they wouldn’t form part of Fulham’s best side.
And that leads to my final point. Caution is understandable if you are trying to hold onto a result against the top six, who seem light years ahead of what Fulham can muster at the moment. But, with the Whites sitting some eight points from safety and time ticking away, some ambition and adventure are required. Ranieri’s rearguard isn’t good enough to grind out results so taking on the opposition is the only way Fulham will glimpse survival now. The question is whether Ranieri is willing to deviate from his classical Italian method.
If Fulham are going to fall through the trapdoor, as appears ever so likely now, they might as well give us something to remember aside from atrocious defending. These might be our last few months of seeing Sessegnon in a Fulham shirt. Let’s at least go out in a blaze of glory.
This seasons seems to go from calamity to calamity. We perhaps re-entered the Premier League with an air of complacency, but even at that we have fallen so far below our expectations for this season it’s painful. One hundred million pounds later and we have a squad filled with talented individuals but with limited team spirit.
We have shown flashes of a strong side this season, but we
have lost our soul and identity, especially when we brought in Ranieri. Let me
be clear, I wasn’t fully against the sacking of Jokanovic. I thought that he
was out of his depth and the fact that he played a different defensive line in
each of his Premier League games showed that he clearly didn’t know what he
wanted from his squad. However, sacking him when we did to bring in Claudio
Ranieri, was in my eyes, the biggest mistake that has been made this year. We
went from a very attacking manager, to one who sets up with five at the back
and it wasn’t going to end well. Hindsight is a great thing.
However, my biggest issue with Ranieri isn’t necessarily his footballing style. It can work with the right squad, as we witnessed when Leicester won the Premier League under him, but it has been a disaster on the banks of the Thames. My issue is the treatment of Ryan Sessegnon and Tom Cairney. Say what you want about Jokanovic, but he allowed Sessegnon to flourish and become one of England’s hottest prospects while giving Cairney the captain’s armband and allowing him to be the heartbeat of the side got the best out of him. The relationships that Jokanovic spent a long time developing have been destroyed in 14 Premier League games under Ranieri. I have never been the sort of person who wants a manager to go at the first sign of trouble, but if Ranieri went now I’d be happy. He hasn’t improved things anywhere near enough to justify Jokanovic’s sacking, and while I can understand why Jokanovic had to go, Ranieri was the wrong choice to replace him.
I don’t think it will happen, but IF Ranieri was to go this
week, I’d be content with Scott Parker until the end of the season, then let
the owners and board have a good think about who to bring in for the long term.
What should be happening right now in the board room is discussions about our
long term future on the pitch, and I don’t think Ranieri is the one, even if he
pulls a miracle out of nowhere and keeps us up. He has been poor for both squad
and fan morale.
But who should take over? Who would be willing to take us
on? We can’t be that unattractive of a prospect, with owners who are clearly willing
to put their hands in their wallets, but sometimes potential managers will look
at owners track record with sackings etc and make a decision based on that. The
Khan’s have owned Fulham since July 2013, approximately 66 months ago, and in
that time five managers have been sacked.
I’ve seen a few names mentioned online so I’ve put together
a list of five managers who we could potentially look at. REMEMBER that some of
these may be completely unrealistic, but I’m looking at new up-and-comers alongside
managers who are currently out of work.
Scott Parker- If Ranieri goes before the end of the season, I’d imagine that the Khans will turn to Parker to get us through to the end of the season. It might be too soon for him to take over the official managers position for the long term, but look at how well Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are doing in their first positions. Cairney’s comments on how motivational Parker was in the dressing room for the Brighton game shows that the players already have a real respect for him. Is it too soon for him? Probably. Will he make a great manager one day? Quite possibly.
Vincenzo Montella- The Italian only played about half a season at Fulham, but became a fans favourite very quickly. He has a decent record with some big name clubs including Roma, Fiorentina, AC Milan and Sevilla. He guided Sevilla to their first Champions League quarter-final with a 2-1 victory over Manchester United but his league form was the worry for owners, and he has been out of work ever since he was sacked at the end of April 2018. He might be out of our reach, but he already has an affinity with Craven Cottage, so maybe we could tempt him home.
Steven Gerrard- This is possibly the most unrealistic of my five candidates as he currently has Rangers challenging for the title in Scotland. He also gets European experience at Ibrox, so I think he would only be tempted away from Glasgow by a Premier League move. He has made a very positive start to his managerial career, though, so it could be a very fun addition if it was to happen.
David Wagner- Wagner worked wonders with a poor squad at Huddersfield, so what could he do with a bit of financial backing? He likes to play his football like his friend, Jurgen Klopp, but he just hasn’t had the players to do that this season. He is a passionate manager, and one who like to have a real relationship with the club he works for which is something that Fulham fans love to have. He also knows the Championship and knows what it takes to get promoted, so if we end this season with a relegation I would be confident that he could get us back up.
Lee Johnson- Johnson has done very well with Bristol City, but I get the impression that he has brought the club as far as possible. He could be ready for a new challenge, and Fulham could be an attractive one for him. If he is promised funds, then he might feel like it’s time to move away from Bristol. His teams are well drilled and are attack focused, things that I feel that we need at Fulham.
The only thing I am sure about right now is that Fulham are
going to have to make changes on the pitch and behind the scenes this summer.
Whether we manage to survive or not, we need to find our identity again.
Being beaten by a Manchester United side who are experiencing a renaissance under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can’t be considered a disgrace. But the lack of a clear strategy to trouble the visitors – or a plan to redeem themselves after the concession of a couple of soft goals in the first half – should deeply worry both the Fulham hierarchy and Claudio Ranieri. After all, the Italian was brought in to replace Slavisa Jokanovic on the understanding that he would be able to fortify Fulham’s leaky defence and the improvement has been marginal at past.
The boos that greeted the second half replacement of Andre Schurrle with Cyrus Christie summed up just how out of the touch the Fulham manager is with the Craven Cottage faithful. Ranieri thought the home fans were lampooning his decision to introduce a full-back for Schurrle, who had struggled with the flu in the build up to this fixture, or switch to 5-3-2 when the Whites were already 2-0 down. In actual fact, the Fulham fans were disappointed that Ryan Sessegnon and Tom Cairney, consigned to the bench again with the need for a win almost reaching desperation point, weren’t summoned forward to add a spark to what had become a limp display.
Omitting Fulham’s two most consistent performers during their promotion-winning season wasn’t the only way in which Ranieri’s selection was muddled. He went with a five-man defence at Crystal Palace last week when Roy Hodgson’s side were likely to sit in during a tense contest, but opted for a flat back four this afternoon when Solskjaer’s side were always certain to come at the league’s worst defence with all guns blazing.
Denis Odoi, shifted from centre back to right back here after Cyrus Christie had conceded a penalty at Selhurst Park last weekend, struggled in the same position at Old Trafford earlier in the season. He was like a fish out of water against the pace and power of Anthony Martial. The French winger skipped away from him before creating the opening goal with a clever pass for Paul Pogba, who squeezed his finish between Sergio Rico and his near post. The Spanish goalkeeper perhaps should have done better – but the contest was effectively over after fourteen minutes.
Martial then displayed the blistering pace and mesmerising skill that prompted United to pay Monaco a rumoured £36m for his services back in 2015. The winger received possession from Phil Jones and sprinted fully forty yards before curling an unstoppable finish beyond Rico, darting away from both Odoi and the unfortunate Maxime Le Marchand, to double United’s lead. At that point, it seemed as if the visitors could have as many goals as they wanted. It was something of surprise that they only added one more, which came when Pogba clinically converted a penalty after Paul Tierney pointed to the spot when Juan Mata tumbled after Le Marchand’s challenge twenty minutes into the second half.
Fulham’s defensive disarray is old news. Without Alfie Mawson due to a freak injury, the Whites are without a genuine top flight centre back – and it shows. There seems to be a brittleness to their spirit, too, these days that suggests they are beaten once the opposition gets in front. After a bright start, Ranieri’s men showed very little in the second half. The closest they came to a semblance of fight was when Aleksandar Mitrovic squared up to David de Gea in stoppage time after the pair challenged each over for a loose ball.
Time is running out for Fulham and Ranieri. The Italian manager hasn’t been able to make a decent fist of this survival mission – and the placid Craven Cottage crowd appears to have turned against him. The Whites actually started this game at quite a tempo and almost caught United cold at the very start but Luciano Vietto scuffed a simple finish at the back post when he had been sent clear by a raking crossfield ball from Schurrle. A nightmare run of fixtures and a ten point gap to Cardiff – after the Bluebirds’ emotional win at Southampton this afternoon – suggests that a side who achieved promotion with such a swagger last season will soon leave the top flight with barely a whimper. It is a terrible shame and one hell of a missed opportunity.
A limp surrender at Selhurst Park stood in stark contrast to the rousing revival against Brighton and Hove Albion. All the hope rekindled by that blistering comeback on Tuesday night evaporated after the needless concession of a penalty by Cyrus Christie. Fulham were in the game until that point, but showed very little after half time to suggest they were capable of redeeming the situation. Seven points off survival with games fast running out, Fulham’s predicament looks perilous. Claudio Ranieri insists he still believes – but he might be the only one.
The high-pressure stakes seemed too much for a Fulham side that appeared unwilling to take the game to the opposition, even when they were on top during the early exchanges. The result could have been different had Aleksandar Mitrovic converted the visitors’ only clear opening instead of sending a free header wide from Joe Bryan’s cross – and that glaring miss seemed to weigh heavily on the Serbian’s shoulders.
Palace, content to sit deep and make themselves difficult to play through as per the Roy Hodgson handbook, had barely threatened before the 25th minute. There appeared to be little danger when James McArthur drove a crossfield ball towards Christian Benteke on the left corner of the Fulham box. The big Belgian forward might have pushed Christie as he jumped, but there was denying the Fulham full back’s hand was far too high when it made contact with the ball. To make matters worse, Sergio Rico dived the right way and got something on Luka Milivojevic’s spot-kick but couldn’t keep it out.
There was inevitability about how the rest of the afternoon played out. Fulham failed to lift themselves and were indebted to Rico for keeping the scoreline respectable. Benteke rattled the bar with a ridiculous overhead kick just before half-time and Rico saved smartly from Jeffrey Schlupp in the second half. Mahmadou Sakho glanced a header fractionally wide as Palace pushed for a second, which eventually came with three minutes left when Rico superbly stopped substitute Michy Batshuayi’s goalbound drive, but was powerless o prevent Schlupp from snaffling up the rebound.
Fulham failed to ask any serious questions of the Palace rearguard after the break, despite dominating possession. Late efforts from Luciano Vietto, introduced at half-time, and a frustrated Mitrovic were the visitors’ only answers. Ranieri’s men didn’t register a single shot on target – and the continued absence of Ryan Sessegnon, an unused substitute here, seems particularly baffling.