Fulham hoping Claudio Ranieri’s vast experience and personal touch can harness a struggling squad’s potential

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Claudio Ranieri is in a hurry, but he is not in a rush. He still has 26 Premier League matches left, more than two thirds of the season, to keep his new team in the top flight.

That might not sound like a lot for a man who has to restore some order and organisation on a squad that has been an abject shambles so far this season. But what is the point in having a 30-year managerial career across five different countries if it does not give you experiences you can always fall back on? Especially when he has been in situations even worse than the one he walked into at Craven Cottage this week.

“I remember when in Parma I took a team in the same condition, at the end of February,” Ranieri said in his idiosyncratic stop-start English on Friday afternoon. “I called my friends and they said, ‘you are mad to go there, never, it is not possible to save this team.’ And I saved the team.”

There were only 16 Serie A matches left in that season when Ranieri took over a side who had only won three games all season. They were a mess and, unlike this Fulham squad, they did not have £100m of quality just waiting to be properly organised.

That is what should give Fulham fans hope for Ranieri’s rescue job. There is so much potential here, in the squad that got promoted and the players that were added to it. The problem was that Slavisa Jokanovic’s ambitious approach was asking too much of players who barely knew each other and a league where opponents pounce on any weakness. They were far too easy to beat, placed no value on keeping clean sheets and lost all confidence when they went behind. By the end Jokanovic was chopping and changing his team, hammering his players in public, hoping any of this would spark a response.

What Fulham need now is the methodical organisation that Ranieri promises and the light personal touch that he brings. This team needs to learn to walk before it can try to run. They need to be hard to beat before they can try to pass teams off the pitch. Ranieri has obviously diagnosed this already.

Claudio Ranieri is presented at Craven Cottage (AFP/Getty Images)

“If you see, Fulham concede a lot of goals, a lot of goals,” he said. “I’m an Italian manager. For us Italians it’s important to maintain the clean sheet. Because for us, when you have to play in a defensive way, and when I say defensive way, I say from the strikers, it’s important that everybody is involved.”

This will mean plenty of hard work on the training ground but Ranieri knows that his players will have to meet him halfway. He kept coming back to the importance of ‘fighting spirit’, exactly the quality that Jokanovic and the players themselves identified as lacking in this group. If they can find that within themselves then Ranieri believes there is still hope.

“I need fighting spirit,” he said. “With quality and with fighting spirit we can do a good job. If there is only quality, without organisation, defensive tactics, it’s difficult to help the players to maintain the clean sheet. Now for me it’s important to put in the brain of my players this philosophy. Play football, play well, but when you lose the ball I want to see you like pirates.”

The challenge is to do this on the constricted time-frame of a modern Premier League manager. Yes there is a transfer window in January and Shahid Khan has promised Ranieri some help. Another centre-back would still be a huge help even after the money they spent in the summer. And of course Fulham have eight more games – 24 available points – before the window reopens. Ranieri starts with a relegation six-pointer against Southampton before emotional reunions with Chelsea and Leicester City in early December.

Those famous old coaching instincts, honed in the Italian lower leagues, at Cagliari and Napoli 30 years ago, will have to kick back in quickly for Fulham to start picking up points. He joked that he has promised his players McDonalds – an apparent upgrade on pizza – if he players start winning games, and hopes to buy his first “big burger” of the season “very soon”. But it will not be instant.

“It depends how they understand my philosophy,” he said. “Because we have to defend all together. Attack all together. If I tell you, two weeks, everything done, no. We have to work hard. But I know I don’t have time.”