Felix Magath

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Fulham fire Jokanovic, hire Ranieri as new manager

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Bottom of the Premier League table and leaking goals galore, something had to change at Fulham.

It was the manager.

Slavisa Jokanovic became the first Premier League manager fired in the 2018-19 season and the Cottagers sprung quite a surprise by hiring former Chelsea and Leicester City boss Claudio Ranieri as his replacement. In a strange coincidence, Jokanovic was actually Ranieri’s first signing as Chelsea manager back in 2000.

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Ranieri last coached in England with Leicester as he led them to an incredible Premier League title win in his only full season in charge in 2015-16.

The following season he was fired in February 2017 with the Foxes in danger of being dragged into a relegation battle, and since then Ranieri coached at Nantes in France for the 2017-18 Ligue 1 campaign.

Ranieri, who coached Fulham’s west London rivals Chelsea in 2003-05, has been without a job for the past few months, but the well-traveled manager — formerly of AS Monaco, Roma, Inter Milan, Juventus and Greece among many others — is now back in the thick of things as he aims to lead American-owned club out of relegation trouble.

Speaking about his arrival at Fulham, the lovable Italian coach is eager to work with his squad over the international break to plan for his first game in charge against Southampton on Nov. 24.

“It is an honor to accept Mr. Khan’s invitation and opportunity to lead Fulham, a fantastic club with tradition and history,” Ranieri said. “The objective at Fulham should never be to merely survive in the Premier League. We must at all times be a difficult opponent and should expect to succeed. This Fulham squad has exceptional talent that is contrary to its position in the table. I know this team is very capable of better performances, which we will work on straight away as we prepare for Southampton at the Cottage.”

Fulham went on to say that Tony Khan, Vice Chairman and Director of Football Operations, “considered and spoke with a number of potential candidates within the past week” and that Ranieri was the “mutual and obvious choice.”

The club added that Tony Khan “will continue to oversee first team player recruitment and contractual agreements” and Ranieri will work closely with him on that.

What does Ranieri have to sort out at Fulham? In short, a lot.

Jokanovic led Fulham to promotion via the playoffs last season (after they reached the playoffs the season before too) and over the summer the club spent big, splashing out over $130 million on new players as Khan aimed to solidify the club in the Premier League.

Things didn’t go as planned over the opening months of the season with Fulham’s defense the leakiest in the PL and Jokanovic chopping and changing his team, especially his defense, most weeks. Over recent weeks Khan backed Jokanovic to turn things around, but they’ve acted swiftly with Fulham at risk of being cut adrift at the bottom of the table.

Ranieri will first do what he does best, make Fulham difficult to beat, but there’s no denying that his defensive philosophy is totally different to the free-flowing play Jokanovic preferred.

That attractive, attacking style of play led to the recruitment of most of the current squad under Khan and Jokanovic, so asking them to play in a solid 4-4-2 and to take no risks at the back will be a total culture shift for Fulham’s players.

This will be very interesting, and Ranieri will face his two former clubs in his first three games in charge. After hosting Saints, Fulham head to Chelsea for a west London derby on Dec. 2, then host Leicester on Dec. 5.

Fulham have acted quicker than they did in 2013-14 when they were last in the Premier League and were ultimately relegated after having Martin Jol in charge until December, then Rene Meulensteen and Felix Magath were in charge later that season.

Former Fulham midfielder Sidwell tells another amazing Felix Magath story

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German manager Felix Magath has always been known as a mercurial individual, but as time passes from his failed stint in charge of relegated club Fulham, more and more stories continue to flow from former players that absolutely boggle the mind.

The most famous story thus far has come from former Fulham defender Brede Hangeland about Magath’s suggestion that applying cottage cheese directly to his ailing knee would help solve his injury problem. Hangeland also spoke of how Magath would make the team run in the dead of night after returning from away trips, calling him “an awful human being.”

Now, former Fulham midfielder Steve Sidwell, who spent three years at Craven Cottage, spoke up about his own experiences under Magath. Sidwell, now with Brighton but yet to make a Premier League appearance, told BBC 5 Live Sports about another time Magath was frustrated with his squad, and how he chose a different way to express that during training.

“We played poorly – I can’t remember what game it was – and we got off the bus and he said ‘right, well everyone in tomorrow at 8:00 and we’re gonna train.’ We was due a day off but we’re gonna be in for training. So everyone got in, we got outside…there was no balls coming out with us so we’re thinking ‘right, ok.’ So he’s gone ‘right, your formation yesterday, can you get in your positions?’ So we got on the pitch…goalkeeper, back four, midfield four, two strikers…stood there. And he said, ‘right, you didn’t want to run around yesterday, we’re not gonna run around today.’ And he just blew the whistle, and he said ‘everyone just stand still.’ And we had to just stand still. And it was a cold day, and there was a couple lads with gloves on, they was off straight away. There was leaves blowing across the pitch, you couldn’t make eye contact with anyone, you had to just stand there, and I think we was just there for about 40 minutes just standing there.”

In. Credible. Stuff. Sidwell also said that Magath had every player participate in a pint night before each and every away game, often in the hotel bar.

Magath was fired in September of 2014, just seven months after his hire, with Fulham having suffered an eleven-game winless streak. The Whites were eventually relegated later that season, and have not recovered since, still in the Championship looking for a return to the top flight.

New league, very different challenges for Fabio Capello in China

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As he won league titles as head coach of Real Madrid, Milan and Juventus, Fabio Capello never had to contemplate relegation. In his first foray to China, it has suddenly become a very real threat.

Capello, winner of the UEFA Champions League in 1994 and who also led the national teams of England and Russia to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, was appointed as head coach of Jiangsu Suning in June.

In three Chinese Super League games under one of the world’s most famous coaches, Jiangsu has collected just one point. More worrying still is that in those games, the Nanjing-based club failed to score.

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The latest setback was a 1-0 home loss to Shanghai SIPG, which was missing star players Oscar and Hulk through suspension. That loss left Jiangsu bottom of the 16-team league, three points adrift of safety.

“Maybe this is the most testing situation that Capello has ever faced,”Gary White, who led Shanghai Shenxin clear of relegation from China’s League One in 2016, told The Associated Press.

“He does not have a team full of world-class players to rely on. He must bring the big foreign stars and the Chinese players together and get them to play for each other. It is not about quality, it is about motivation.”

The player stocks are still high at the club which finished runner-up in the 2016 season. Bolstered by more than $80 million spent on Brazilian internationals Alex Teixeira and Ramires, Jiangsu pushed Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Guangzhou Evergrande all the way for the title.

This season the stars remained at the club and firepower was added in the shape of Colombian international striker Roger Martinez.

There were high hopes at the start of the season but the expected title challenge hasn’t materialized and Jiangsu started to slip down the standings, winning just once in the first third of the season. South Korean coach Choi Yong-soo resigned on June 1.

“With the experience Capello has, you would think he can turn it around,” White said. “This club should not be bottom of the league with the players they have. He has to get them to play for each other, the team, the fans and the city.”

The expected upturn has yet to happen, though the 71 year-old Italian coach is trying to stay positive.

“We are improving,” Capello said after the latest loss. “We are playing better all the time but we are lacking confidence especially in front of goal. Against Shanghai we played well and did not deserve to lose …I can see the quality that there is in the team.”

Capello has been in China for less than a month but much of the Chinese media has warned of the need for a result soon.

However, Capello can take heart from Felix Magath. The former Bayern Munich boss arrived in June 2016 to take over a struggling Shandong Luneng.

“The Chinese Super League is a tough league and when you are in the relegation zone, confidence falls and when you are a big team with famous players, the other teams like to beat you,” said Magath, who steered Shandong to safety with a margin of just two points.

This season Shandong is much-improved and currently sits in fifth.

For Capello, anywhere outside the bottom two when the season ends in October will do.

Firing Bradley without a transfer window is baffling

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After firing a manager who didn’t get much of a say in their ill-planned summer transfer window, Swansea City went next level with their man management.

They fired a manager who didn’t get a say in his players at all.

Bob Bradley has been sacked as manager of Swansea City after just 11 matches in charge of the Premier League’s Welsh outfit.

Eleven matches.

[ EXCLUSIVE: Bradley issues first statement ]

Swansea seemed forced into keeping Francesco Guidolin after he saved the club from relegation last season. Chairman Huw Jenkins kept the last word in transfers, then let Andre Ayew and Ashley Williams walk without much in the way of proper replacements (Read a take on those errors here).

That was especially true for Williams, the club’s best player last season and a leader in Wales’ surprising run deep into EURO 2016.

Bradley said he was going to “go for it” until the transfer window, and the American did that justice. While Swans defense continued to fail and gave up even more goals, Bradley’s attack doubled its production.

Updating the numbers following Swans’ 4-1 loss to West Ham on Boxing Day, this is the club’s season:

Under Guidolin
1W-1D-5L (.57 points per game)
Goals scored: 6 (.85 per)
Goals allowed: 12 (1.71 per)

Under Bradley
2W-2D-7L (.72 points per game)
Goals scored: 15 (1.36 per)
Goals allowed: 29 (2.63 per)

Guidolin’s feast-or-famine run saw a home loss to Hull City and a home draw vs. Chelsea, and was packed with tough fixtures. Though Bradley’s started with Arsenal, even more short-sighted in terms of giving a coach a good start; Then again, Guidolin was seen by the press in the building just before Bradley was introduced, a bizarre bit of organization.

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Bradley’s run degenerated in the second half, at least defensively. Swans held Watford to a 0-0 and went to Everton for 1-1 before outlasting Palace 5-4. Though they’d add a blowout of Sunderland, Swans finished their run with Bradley having allowed three or more goals in five of six, thrice conceding four-plus markers.

Bradley’s firing isn’t an alien decision in the Premier League, where older managers are recycled and new names rarely get anything longer than a short leash.

But with the full acknowledgment that this is an American site, defending Bradley is a lot easier than having Swansea’s back here. After all, Swans fired Garry Monk last December and didn’t hire Guidolin until weeks into the January transfer window.

When you look at clubs who’ve made two bonafide managerial changes in recent seasons, here’s what you find:

Aston Villa (2015-16) — Tim Sherwood –> Remi Garde –> Eric Black
Fulham (2013-14) — Martin Jol –> Rene Meulensteen –> Felix Magath
Newcastle United (2008-09) — Kevin Keegan –> Joe Kinnear –> Alan Shearer
Portsmouth (2008-09) — Harry Redknapp –> Tony Adams –> Paul Hart

Of those four sides, only one carrying an asterisk stayed up: Portsmouth lost Redknapp when Spurs bought him out. Pompey finished seven points clear of the drop.

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Of course, a team has to be fairly miserable to fire two managers in a season. It helps to be unorganized.

Firing Bradley isn’t a massive surprise given the financial dangers of a relegation campaign, but doing it without giving the boss a single transfer window to fix its miserable back line is shocking. Bradley was pried from another club, Le Havre, and given assurances he’d be able to fix the roster.

Change is almost a given in the Premier League, and Bradley really wasn’t given a chance. It’s easy to say that in retrospect, but hiring a man and not giving him a window to fix what ails Swansea is absolutely shocking. Unless we learn of full-scale dressing room hatred, it’s difficult to apply logic to hiring Bradley and firing him within a couple months.

Bournemouth at home and Crystal Palace away are next, and clearly the short-term thinking from the board is that a “new boss boost” could help them take points from perceived relegation opponents (Nevermind that Bradley oversaw “six-point” wins over Sunderland and Palace, losing to Boro and drawing Watford).

But what comes after that, when the fixtures go Arsenal home, Liverpool away, Southampton home, Man City away? With this back line, is life going to get any better?

If so, and it happens without a full overhaul of the defense, then the egg’s on our face. We’re just not expecting to need any towels.

Follow @NicholasMendola

List of top 10 best paid players: Graziano Pelle now 5th after move to China

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Following his move to Shandong Lenung in the Chinese Super League on Monday, Graziano Pelle is now the joint-fifth best paid player on the planet.

Let that sink in for a moment.

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Now, I am not knocking Pelle, far from it. He scored 30 goals in 81 appearances for Southampton over the past two seasons and the bustling forward who turns 31 this week shone for Italy at EURO 2016. Well, apart from that penalty kick against Germany…

Whatever you think about Pelle’s move, it confirms the CSL’s huge spending power as four of the top 10 best paid players on the planet now play in China’s top-flight, according to a list compiled by Tancredi Palmeri.

A player like Pelle just can’t turn down the sums of money on offer even if it means his international future with Italy is hampered and he will no longer play in the global spotlight of the PL for Southampton or another team with both Chelsea and Everton linked with him this summer. Yet, the riches of the CSL was too good to turn down. He was a player at his peak after a stunning EURO 2016 campaign and his decision to cash in now and earn a reported $45 million over the next 30 months is one most would surely make given the opportunity.

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With President Xi pushing China to get behind soccer with new academies and an emphasis on improving facilities, many state owned companies are bankrolling these CSL teams. Yes, some of the players they have bought are coming towards the end of their careers but the likes of Hulk, Alex Teixeira, Jackson Martinez, Paulinho and Gervinho are definitely not.

Many will say they’re giving up the UEFA Champions League and playing in the top leagues in Europe for money and they’re probably right. The CSL’s average attendance is growing at just over 20,000 and with foreign giants coming to play in China each preseason, the appetite for the game is continuing to grow, especially as the government devotes more money to its development with a dream of one day hosting the FIFA World Cup.

That extreme wealth means we may not see the end of this spending and this may just be the start. Despite the CSL currently having a rule of just four overseas players per team, plus another from a fellow Asian Football Confederation nation, it still continues to attract interest from players and to coaches as Luiz Felipe Scolari, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Felix Magath are all currently coaching in the CSL.

So, here’s a look at the top 10 best paid players in the world with regards to their pure salary paid by the club.

Of course, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar all earn many more millions in endorsement deals and sponsorship but the huge strides China is making in attracting the top talent in world soccer is making everyone sit up and take note.


Highest 10 paid soccer players (Jul, 12, 2016)

1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) = $446,000 per week
2. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) = $427,000
2. Hulk (Shanghai SIPG) = $427,000
4. Neymar (Barcelona) = $407,000
5. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United) = $341,000
5. Graziano Pelle (Shandong Luneng) = $341,000
7. Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich) = $289,000
8. Ezequiel Lavezzi (Hebei China Fortune) = $275,000
9. Jackson Martinez (Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao) = $262,000
10. Thiago Silva (PSG) = $256,000