Ranieri’s replacements?

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.

Chris Wilder:

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.

Oscar Garcia:

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.

Graham Potter:

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.

Slavisa Jokanovic:

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.

Lee Johnson:
?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…

Honourable mentions:

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 no identity.

When Fulham were promoted, it was with a reputation of swagger and of good football (proper football). They scored (and conceded) a lot of goals, were always entertaining and one of the best footballing sides to grace the second division of English football in a long time. There was a narrative that you can’t ‘play’ in the lower leagues; that it has to be rough and tumble and that group of players proved them wrong.

With today’s loss at Burnley, Fulham have won nine points from an available thirty and been knocked out of the FA Cup at the first time of asking in an embarrassing loss at home to Oldham Athletic. A squad that was built (rather poorly) with Slavisa Jokanovic’s footballing style in mind became pointless once Tony Khan made the decision to sack and replace with the antithesis in terms of coaching philosophy in Claudio Ranieri.

Ranieri’s Fulham has scored more than one goal just once in his first eleven matches (including League Two opposition) and have two clean sheets, that’s a bad recipe for success and it’s failure at both ends of the football pitch.

Despite having the likes of Tom Cairney, spending £30m on midfield conductor Jean Michel Seri and £20m on Alfie Mawson (who in 2017/18) was in the top 11 of centre backs for completed short passes (and also the top Englishman), possession based football was dead the moment the Ranieri appointment was made. We now have signings whose strong characteristics are to be wasted, Seri for example is a passer to the standard of Barcelona sniffing around for him a year previously is now put in a Ngolo Kante role of breaking up play. Fulham have been lucky to find that Calum Chambers, a ball playing central defender who put in some underwhelming performances at the back can be a productive defensive midfielder.

While Fulham have a pair of really good Championship full backs, it’s appeared early on that they may be just that. Though both Joe Bryan and Cyrus Christie are more suited to offensive responsibilities from the full back/wing back position than the team round defensive focus attempting to be instilled by Claudio Ranieri. We wasted a Premier League loan slot on Timothy Fosu-Mensah as he’s set to return to Manchester United and Tony Khan added no speed or athleticism in the final third for a Premier League that is notorious for the speed and power of the league.

A rant about the way the squad was assembled would need a post on its own, from the timing and urgency of players coming in, to the lack of investment in certain areas and considering the characteristics of top level Premier League football. The Khan’s were desperate for safety, and sadly it’s showing in the worst way. Another manager with circular glasses is tasked with taking a unbalanced squad currently unfit (in another way) for his style is facing relegation in the eyes and like a sad man desperate to get laid of Friday night, wrong decisions have been made and the club has the feeling of insecurity of a Saturday morning walk of shame.

Whether you liked Slavisa or not, whether you enjoyed possession based football or not, whether you hated seeing us concede goals with such ease in the Premier League or not, Fulham at least had an identity. This club was going to try and play football and every player knew their role; the youngsters that come through at Fulham are largely talented with the ball at their feet and that’s stressed upon. This is all at risk with the decisions being made and the sooner Fulham return to a plan, identity and quality in recruitment, the better. I don’t really care if that’s in the Premier League or not.

Tony Khan’s new venture

Ok HammyEnd readers, I’m out of the closet. I’m the best person on the HammyEnd writing team to write this piece and I will not be ashamed of it anymore.

The noise has been around for months, but 2019 saw the official announcement of All Elite Wrestling. All Elite Wrestling is allegedly set to receive $100m worth of investment from Shahid Khan to support his sons’ new venture. Tony Khan will take up the position of president of the new company which is frequently utilising the term “by the fans, for the fans.” Listening to Tony on the X Pac 12360 podcast, I was impressed by his knowledge of the product and background information, if you listen to the ‘General Manager’ of Fulham FC speak about the art form of professional wrestling for even five minutes, you can tell that this guy just loves it.

Professional wrestling has had a gap for a while, the independent scene is booming but no company had the clout, finances or buzz to really whet the appetite for the wrestling community that is deep into the product. All Elite Wrestling merchandise is already number one of Pro Wrestling Tees: an online store that houses the merchandise for many a wrestling company, wrestler or wrestling personality that is not part of the giant that is WWE.
The buzz is largely thanks to Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks (Nick and Matt Jackson) who take up the position of Executive Vice Presidents within the company. Cody was part of the WWE machine from a young age making his debut on television at the age of 21 (his father is the late Dusty Rhodes, a member of the WWE Hall of Fame for his long litany of work in the industry). Rhodes left the WWE, disillusioned with the mollycoddled and uncreative environment of World Wrestling Entertainment and became the hottest individual on the independent scene. He came together with the Jackson’s (all three are members of the wrestling stable: the Elite) to create a wrestling event called All In. All In became sold out in 30 minutes with over 10,000 people in attendance, becoming the first non-WWE or WCW event to do so in the United States since 1993.

If Tony Khan was to surround himself with three non-WWE members to create a wrestling company, these were likely the best three. The wrestling community is truly excited for what is to come from All Elite Wrestling as they promise the best to fans and wrestlers (Chief Branding Officer Brandi Rhodes announced at their rally in Jacksonville that both male and female wrestlers of a similar level will be paid exactly the same). There have also been mentions of a favourable schedule on the road which may help them attract stars from WWE, much like TNA did in its prime as they once held a roster containing the Dudley Boys, the Hardy Boys and Rob Van Dam to name but a few. AEW have also said that they will compensate their talent for any injuries and possibly long term a health care package. Tony Khan has also mentioned potential full time jobs in the office as well for wrestlers, it really sounds like an opportunity for people to be ‘All In.’ To add to all this positive press, at their rally in Jacksonville, the Executive Vice Presidents announced that the second show from AEW will be in the city with a “large portion” of the money to go towards victims of gun violence.

Trademarks were filed for all the branding months ago, but one of which is the name ‘Tuesday Night Dynamite.’ This potentially hints at All Elite Wrestling targeting a weekly television slot which would be a major boost should it come with a strong network. WWE programming does not currently have a cable slot for Tuesday night which is a positive for the initial growth of All Elite Wrestling’s fan base (of which is already has over 120,000 followers on Twitter).

At the rally in Jacksonville, a number of roster additions were announced which included British wrestler PAC (formally known as Neville in WWE), Hangman Page and most notably, Chris Jericho. Chris Jericho, a veteran of the business, is a superstar and like a fine wine is doing some of his best stuff as he gets older. Jericho spoke of not needing the money, but he “believes in doing something new and different.” The Canadian wrestler will bring eyes alone and is a huge pull for the company in its early days.

Tony Khan on the aforementioned podcast said he spends his time working for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham FC but his free time was spent watching and taking in professional wrestling, all but confirming that the 36 year old has zero free time left in his life. “Wins and losses will never matter more” which suggests that All Elite Wrestling will display the product with a respect to the athletic art form that it is and not the wink of “we all know this isn’t real.” A tape trader and self confessed fan of ECW back in the day, Tony as a fan will have a vision of what he wants All Elite Wrestling to be and it does feel like it’s been a very impressive start as a budding promotion.

‘Double or Nothing’ is the first event to promoted by All Elite. It will take play at the MGM Grand Arena on May 25th with the first match all but announced, Hangman Page vs. PAC in a match that could carry a card on its own.

Professional wrestling has an injection of excitement that it’s missed for a long while, if you were previously a fan or grew up to appreciate the product, now is the time to get back in as All Elite look to assemble a roster of excellent wrestlers. I’m interested, no matter what my disagreements are with Tony Khan on a footballing basis.

Sunday Bloody Sunday…

Embarrassing and abject, Claudio Ranieri didn’t even really rest first team regulars as Fulham exited the FA Cup in a home tie to Oldham Athletic. You could argue that 8 of the 13 utilised by the Italian will be involved at Burnley on Saturday and yet still out of the cup in the second largest ‘giant-killing’ of the third round (though honestly, during the whole narrative of ‘giant-killing’ in the FA Cup is only time we’ll hear Fulham regarded as a ‘Premier League giant’ as by the BBC live feed this afternoon).

Sheffield United, who were knocked out by Barnet with a larger positional gap than today’s fixture at Craven Cottage, at least can say they made 10 changes to their starting eleven. Fulham’s six included the goalkeeping change, Cyrus Christie out for £30m man Jean Michel Seri as Denis Odoi slid out to the right hand side of a back four, Calum Chambers returned for the injured Alfie Mawson and was next to Tim Ream with Maxime Le Marchand in for Joe Bryan and going out to the left back position. Ibrahima Cisse retained his place as at Arsenal. The entire front three from the game at the Emirates were on the bench (although two game on to no – positive – impact for Fulham) and Atletico Madrid loanee Luciano Vietto, former Ligue 1 regular Floyd Ayite and Congolese international Neeskens Kebano starting up front.

Though Fulham retained and recycled the ball well, their creation of chances was lacklustre and mustered just the two shots on target, the opening goal from Denis Odoi (of all people) and Aleksandar Mitrovic’s penalty (which in all honesty, shouldn’t have stood). No youngsters – Ryan Sessegnon is a fully fledged first team squad member – were given a run out, it was simply a poor turn out from players that are to be charged with Fulham’s Premier League survival.

The change of system was probably unnecessary with Odoi, Ream and Le Marchand likely to start at Burnley anyway. Were we really that desperate to rest Cyrus Christie and Joe Bryan? Any more so than Tom Cairney, who appeared to pick up a knock to the ankle? Or Ryan Sessegnon or Aleksandar Mitrovic? Both of which may as well have stayed at home given their time played and contributions of a conceded penalty and a missed one. Steven Sessegnon could easily have slotted in at right wing back for Ranieri to see what he has long term, Joe Bryan on the left. Luca De La Torre could have been one of the three in the front three, or in the squad at least to show some intent of future of the football club.

This was a bad day for the club all round, it showed a worryingly lack of creativity, a lack of fight to see out a win at home to League Two opposition and some questionable managerial decisions. Fulham next travel to Burnley, and whilst it’s easy to wallpaper over some cracks and say ‘we can now focus on the league;’ never underestimate the power of a win, the power of a clean sheet. Fulham now face a tough trip to Burnley with our prime attacking threats playing a bad part in two penalties and a back four that conceded two to a team in the bottom division of the Football League pyramid, letting alone now having to face Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes.

Congrats to Oldham, a cup set is something to savour and something to enjoy. Their supporters took over Craven Cottage and it probably would’ve suited Fulham more to play this tie away and remove the effect of a ‘big day out.’

I’d love to end this talking about how the fringe players showed their not worthy of their spot, but sadly, there was a lot of first team regulars out there and business has to be done by Tony Khan and Claudio Ranieri to improve the quality at the top end of the depth chart at the football club.

Claudio’s tactical tweak clinches first clean sheet

Well… it wasn’t a classic, but a really strong defensive display from Fulham starved Newcastle of opportunities on goal and managed to grind out a 0-0 away from home to earn their first clean sheet of the season. Claudio Ranieri made a tactical tweak for the trip to St James’ Park with Cyrus Christie coming in for Aboubakar Kamara to create a 343/541 with the aforementioned Christie playing at right wing back, Joe Bryan opposed him on the left and Alfie Mawson positioned as the central of three centre backs; Tim Ream to his left and Denis Odoi to his right.

Each member of the back five was exceptional at Newcastle with Sergio Rico not facing a single shot on target, but Alfie Mawson takes my man of the match reward. With a game leading seven clearances and comfortable distribution from the back, the former Swansea centre half is starting to show glimpses of being worth the outlay he cost the club in the summer. Calum Chambers alongside Jean Michel Seri patrolled in front of the back five with the defensive efficiency that he’s now setting standards for; his four tackles was tied top for frequency within both teams.

Since Claudio Ranieri was appointed, it felt like he would need a window before serious progress could be made. Ranieri-ball is less focused on possession statistics and more so on being defensively well structured and attacking with pace, a formula that mixed with his Leicester City squad of 2015/16 created that miracle title winning team that I’m sure none of us will forget. Fulham’s current squad was built with Slavisa Jokanovic’s slower, more methodical form of football in mind and is lacking in serious pace throughout but Ranieri is making do with what he has at his disposal.

Fulham struggled to really build counter attacks, partially handicapped by an injury to Ryan Sessegnon but the depth in the squad of players with those characteristics. The Whites struggled to make the ball stick in the final third for large parts of the game, and were dispossessed a massive 21 times (8 of which courtesy of Andre Schurrle, and 4 each from Tom Cairney and Jean Michel Seri). This team needs to play more into space and keep an eye on that for the January transfer window – players that can chase balls into the channels, that can skip past their opposing player and keep up with a more intensive counter attacking approach.

While Wolves will likely be a tougher test with a bit more offensive fluidity than Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle, that first clean should hopefully see Ranieri outlay more for those McDonald’s meals he suggested in his first press conference at the club. Fulham round out the year with two huge home games against Wolves and Huddersfield and should have the confidence to put in a similar defensive display.

January is the key for me, but that was a big step for Ranieri and team…

To all Fulham supporters, have a very Merry Christmas. And if you don’t hear from me by then, a Happy New Year too.