Fulham have informed that they have sacked manager Slavisa Jokanovic, and replaced him with former Chelsea and Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri. But did Jokanovic deserve the sack this early in the season? And was his termination handled respectfully?
It was only at the end of October, after Fulham’s 3-0 home defeat to Bournemouth, that Fulham owner Shahid Khan gave Jokanovic his public backing stating that, “(Jokanovic’s) record shows he has always led Fulham admirably when the stakes are at their highest”, (Source; dailymail.co.uk). Not even three weeks later and Jokanovic was given his P45, after Liverpool handed Fulham their seventh consecutive league defeat on Sunday. Usually, when a manager is let go, their replacement is not announced until at the earliest, maybe a day or two later, so the fact that his successor was immediately announced, has left somewhat of a sour taste in the mouth for some followers of the West London club. We may never know how long talks had been going on with Ranieri, but the likelihood is the initial contact was made before the Liverpool game, a game they surely would not have expected to get a win from, so the timing seems a little harsh. Ironically, back when Jokanovic was a player, he was Claudio Ranieri’s first signing when Ranieri was in charge at Chelsea, who knows maybe they spoke before the decision…no actually on second thought I doubt that was the case.
(Daily Mirror journalist David Maddock stated how ruthless the decision had been by the Fulham board to announce Ranieri so soon. Source: twitter.com, @MaddockMirror)
After sending out a tweet to notify of the managerial change, Shahid Khan said, ‘Slavisa will always have my appreciation and respect for everything he did to return Fulham to top-flight football, (Source; fulhamfc.com).
The Jokanovic-Fulham love affair started in December 2015, as he was able to narrowly save them from the drop, as they finished one place outside of the relegation zone in 20th in the Championship. The following campaign (2016/17), Jokanovic led Fulham to the playoffs as they finished 6th, they fell at the semi final stage 2-1 on aggregate, after a tight tie with Reading. Jokanovic and the ‘Whites’ were not to be denied again however, as last season they finished 3rd and beat Aston Villa 1-0 in the playoff final to seal their promotion to the Premier League. Promotion had looked a pipe dream as Fulham sat in mid-table in December, before going on a 23 game unbeaten league run, which included 18 wins. Fulham looked set for automatic promotion before being beaten 3-1 away at Birmingham on the last day of the season, meaning Cardiff ended up finishing second behind Wolverhampton. The playoff win bought just as much relief as happiness, as the fans thought they were set for yet more heartbreak.
(Slavisa Jokanovic with 2018 Playoff Trophy after Fulham beat Aston Villa 1-0 at Wembley to gain promotion to the Premier League. Source: premieleague.com)
This summer saw Fulham being touted in some quarters for a possible top 10 finish after a very busy summer which saw them bring in no fewer than 12 new faces. On the other hand, it looked like too many players had to gel and it could backfire dramatically, and unfortunately so far, it has been the latter. Given how well they finished last season, and the belief Jokanovic had in his players, it had to be asked whether it was his decision to bring in all these players? Shahid Khan’s son, Tony Khan, is the Director of Football at Fulham, and he may have just played a little too much Football Manager, going slightly overboard with the recruitment. Yes, you need more established players making the jump up to the Premier League, but having a balance to your team is equally as important. This would of course mean that Jokanovic was forced to make things work, whether they were all his choices or not. Players already at the club who were given starts this season will feel responsible for Jokanovic’s departure, seen as numerous players who helped the club gain promotion have been alienated to help accommodate the new recruits.
(Fulham’s brightest prospect, teenager Ryan Sessegnon, who was given his debut under Jokanovic paid his tribute. Source: twitter.com, @RyanSessegnon.)
A busy transfer window; saw Fulham add two new goalkeepers, buying Fabri from Besiktas, and then following that up with bringing in Sevilla’s Sergio Rico on loan. Now, one keeper would definitely be needed for competition to Marcus Bettinelli (last seasons’ number one), but two coming in feels like the decision may have been made over the managers’ head. In defence, Fulham welcomed Maxime Le Marchand (Nice), Alfie Mawson (Swansea) and Joe Bryan (Bristol City) on permanent deals, as well as Calum Chambers (Arsenal) and Timothy Fosu-Mensah (Manchester United) on loan deals. In midfield Fulham splashed the cash on two players from the French league, Jean-Michael Seri from Nice, and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa from Marseille. Up front, there were two more loans in Andre Schurrle (Borussia Dortmund) and Luciano Vietto (Atletico Madrid). In addition, striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, joined on a permanent deal from Newcastle after spending the second part of the 2017/18 season at Fulham on loan. Now, bar Mitrovic, that is a lot to try to integrate in such a short time.
He clearly needed more time to work his magic on the squad, as now he was clearly confused as to what his best line up would be. In Fulham’s 12 league games thus far, Jokanovic has named a different defence for every game. The lack of cohesion and understanding in defence was imminent as Fulham have the worst defence in the league, having already conceded 31 goals and lay bottom of the table, two points adrift of Huddersfield.
(Floods of Fulham fans took to Twitter to pay their tributes. Source: twitter.com, @JaikBFenton.)
Jokanovic’s departure has left a lot of Fulham fans feeling numb, even though they fully realise how ominous a position they currently find themselves in. Let us be real, they have not had much time to take it all in, have they. Jokanovic not only led them back to the promised land, but he did it playing good football too, entertaining the consumer. Shahid Khan mentioned in his statement, “I wasn’t anticipating having to make this announcement related to Slavisa and wish the circumstances were such that I didn’t have to, but our path this season has led me to what I know is the correct decision, at the right time, for our players, the club and our supporters”, (Source: fulhamfc.com). As nice as those words are, unfortunately, there is no real sentiment in football, and new manager Ranieri will know it first hand, as he was sacked from his last role in England, after leading Leicester to the Premier League title in 2016, arguably one of the greatest sporting achievements of all-time. Jokanovic, has saved Fulham from a similar position before, and now we will never know whether or not he could have done it again at the highest level, and Mr Khan was in no mood to see if could happen.
Ranieri is a whopping 5,000/1 at the bookmakers to win the Premier League with Fulham in the 2019/20 season, after his heroics at Leicester. If Ranieri is not able to be the saviour, then they will not even be in the division next season for there to be any chance of it amazingly happening. Shahid Khan, stated that he was ‘risk free and ready made (for the Premier League)’ of Ranieri after appointing him. Khan also added that “making a change without having the right answer or succession plan was not an option, so having someone of Claudio’s calibre ready to accept our challenge was comforting but, most of all, essential”, (Source: fulhamfc.com). The funny thing with football is, the football fan is fickle, and if Ranieri keeps Fulham in the Premier League, in spite of all the early emotions, no will bring up the nature of Jokanovic’s departure in the future unless prompted.