Can Leicester’s miracle man defy the odds again at Fulham?


Claudio Ranieri led Leicester to the title in 2016. [Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire]

After he masterminded Leicester’s shock title triumph, Fulham will hope Claudio Ranieri can once again beat the odds and keep them in the Premier League.

The Italian was appointed head coach at the King Power Stadium in July 2015, and swiftly was nominated as the favourite to be sacked that season.

But in less than a year he won the critics round and turned the Premier League on its head – something Ranieri will have to repeat given the Cottagers’ current perilous position at the foot of the table.

Whatever transpires over his “multi-year contract”, Ranieri will approach it all with a smile.

During his time at Leicester, the Italian shook hands with everyone at press conferences, took criticism with good grace and was enjoyable company.

He knows the game, knows how to work the media – although his dismissal from Leicester became inevitable as the Foxes slipped further into relegation trouble, and he was sacked just 297 days after winning the Premier League with the 5,000-1 shots.

That title win was the pinnacle of a managerial career which had always threatened to fall at the final hurdle.

Ranieri’s playing career never amounted to much. He failed to make the grade as a defender at hometown club Roma before spending six years at Catanzaro and a couple of seasons with Sicilian clubs Catania and Palermo.

As a manager Ranieri made his name with Cagliari, taking over in 1988 and winning back-to-back promotions to reach Serie A, with that achievement seeing him named Napoli boss in 1991.

Although he was without Diego Maradona – serving a drugs ban – he introduced Gianfranco Zola, who he later managed at Chelsea.

There were no trophies at the Stadio San Paolo, but he headed to Fiorentina and, powered by the goals of Gabriel Batistuta, won promotion back to the Italian top flight at the first attempt.

His first two major trophies arrived in Florence, the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italia in 1996, and a year later, he moved to Spain with Valencia.

Ranieri won the Copa del Rey in 1999, and then got the Atletico Madrid job soon after.

Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic
Jokanovic led Fulham back to the Premier League. [Picture: John Walton/PA Wire]

The Italian resigned in 2000 before Atletico were relegated having gone into administration, but Chelsea still appointed him in September of that year.

He spoke little English and earned his ‘Tinkerman’ nickname given his rotation policy – something he has rightly pointed out since is now the norm in English football. It was not until his third season that the Blues qualified for the Champions League.

Ranieri had already signed Frank Lampard in 2001 and lost the 2002 FA Cup final to Arsenal, but laid the foundations for the Blues’ title-winning success under Jose Mourinho when Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003.

Arsenal’s Invincibles beat them to the 2004 Premier League title as Chelsea finished second with Ranieri’s future an open secret – he was going to be replaced by Mourinho. But he earned praise for his grace and poise prior to the confirmation of the Portuguese in the dugout.

Ranieri then returned to Valencia where he won the Super Cup, but he lasted less than a year at the Mestalla before moving to Parma in 2007, saving them from relegation.

That convinced Juventus to move for him after they had returned to Serie A, but he still failed to win a top-flight title as Mourinho’s Inter Milan dominated.

Roma and Inter were next on the list, but there was no silverware until he clinched a Ligue 2 title with Monaco in 2013 – they then finished as runners-up to Paris St Germain in the top flight.

An ill-fated four months with Greece followed when Monaco opted not to renew his contract, before he was Nigel Pearson’s shock replacement at Leicester in 2015.

Favourite to be sacked with one of the favourites to be relegated, he won a stunning title by 10 points. The Foxes lost just three league games all season.

Ever-quotable, he cried after April’s win at Sunderland put them on the brink of the impossible, a sausage was named after him by a Leicester butcher and when the title was confirmed he was with his mother Renata in Italy.

The following season, though, it all fell apart.

Poor recruitment, baffling tactical decisions and an unsettled dressing room made his departure almost inevitable, with Leicester a point above the relegation zone, and there was no room for sentiment when the axe fell.

Ranieri, though, had won a place in the hearts of all Leicester fans – something which was made clear by the vocal reception when he returned to pay his respects following the death of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.

After an unremarkable spell at Nantes, Ranieri will be hoping to prove he still has what it takes – a sentiment shared by all Fulham fans.