Slavisa Jokanovic

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Fulham make difficult choice to break from Jokanovic, past

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172 days ago. That’s how long ago Fulham was celebrating its first-ever win at Wembley, capping maybe the greatest five-month stretch in club history. The Whites were headed back to the Premier League, a feat that seemed more and more unreachable as the months in the Championship dragged on.

Slavisa Jokanovic was at the center of it all. He was hailed as a visionary. He was hailed as a calculated risk-taker. He was hailed as a manager who took an ideal and made it a reality.

172 days is the time it took for all of that to come crashing down. On Wednesday, Fulham – sitting bottom of the Premier League – unceremoniously replaced Jokanovic with another dreamer, another visionary in Claudio Ranieri, the man who did the impossible with Leicester City.

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Many fans are furious. How could they so quickly forget what Jokanovic brought this club? How could they tear down what he so tirelessly built up?

The reality of the situation, however, is clear: Fulham has not only sunk to the bottom of the Premier League table, they have been flat out terrible. Statistically, they claim ownership to the worst defense in the European top 5 leagues, but it’s about so much more than that. The squad lacks any semblance of ambition, energy, or purpose on the pitch; the players have appeared utterly devoid of life, a husk of their former selves. The same team that led the Championship in both possession and completed passes the previous two seasons was so thoroughly beaten by Huddersfield Town earlier this month, that it’s clear the past is just that – an unrecognizable memory evaporated into the annals of club history to take its place alongside Johnny Haynes, Bobby Robson, and the 2010 Europa League run.

Fulham’s Championship playoff triumph in May is fresh in the minds of fans, yet suddenly seems like a distant memory (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images).

Which is why, despite the sting of cutting ties with someone so dear to the fans and team, the club made the right decision moving on from Slavisa Jokanovic. The manager is most certainly not the only one to shoulder blame for the club’s horrendous start to its Premier League campaign, but he’s most certainly part of the crew. Jokanovic was caught between what worked last season and what he knew had to change, continually flip-flopping between loyalty to the players who brought him Wembley glory and the ones who were poised to bring the club into the new era. Jokanovic was partial to players like Kevin McDonald, Stefan Johansen, and Denis Odoi – who were critical to last season’s triumph but clearly not up to Premier League standards – with disastrous consequences.

As a result of his inability to resolve the internal struggle he faced, expensive new players like Andre Zambo Anguissa and Alfie Mawson struggled to mesh with their new teammates and it showed on the pitch. Fulham central defensive partnership was a carnival turnstile – they haven’t started the same center-backs in consecutive league matches since mid-September. The decomposition continued to manifest on the field as players became more discouraged with the results, coming to a head in the Huddersfield loss. The team that had led the Championship in every possession-based statistical category the year before was beaten in shots and attacking third passes by a team that hadn’t scored a home goal in over 650 minutes. Fulham, as they were know, had faded into nothingness.

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Undoubtedly, others share the blame. The players have looked disinterested and unmotivated over the past month, happy to pass the ball square around the midfield like zombies, without direction or purpose. Recruitment chair Tony Khan, who led Fulham to a massive summer spending spree of $126 million, seems to have missed on a couple of big-money buys like Anguissa and Mawson, while Jean-Michael Seri has cooled after a hot start. Khan built the Championship juggernaut with a statistical approach that led to shrewd purchases in the midfield and on the wing, but in the Premier League, his targets have struggled to make a serious impact as Jokanovic trended towards his more tenured players. In addition, the attitude on the pitch has been nothing short of pathetic, as the players have shown little fight when falling behind, and never has a collective lack of confidence been more apparent.

Still, those deficiencies fall back – at least somewhat – on the manager. Jokanovic proved unable to motivate a fractured and disjointed squad, beating the same drum week after week and throwing his players under the bus for their tainted attitude. He also showed an inability to adapt to a new situation, a naively egotistical approach in hoping to replicate last season’s possession-based tactical model against even Champions League sides at the top of the table. That not only saw his tactics beaten to a pulp week after week, but it also lent to a favoring of tenured players more suitable to his tactical approach rather than allowing the newer – and theoretically better – players a chance to break into the side. As a result, the team was shredded on a weekly basis as Tony Khan was resigned to watching his prized acquisitions rot either on the bench or in a squad with clear defects.

In the end, a change was painful yet necessary. Letting loose the triumphs of last year so fresh in the memory was a difficult one to swallow. Even owner Shad Khan said in his letter to fans, “I wasn’t anticipating having to make this announcement related to Slavisa and wish the circumstances were such that I didn’t have to.” Yet here the club is, with just one win in 12 and a mountain to climb. Jokanovic, for all his successes at Craven Cottage, was never going to provide the immediate on-field change this club needs so desperately, instead determined to plow through the oncoming wave with his feet buried in the sand. If the necessary points weren’t going to come against Cardiff City, Bournemouth, and Huddersfield, they weren’t going to appear against anyone else.

Jokanovic will always be remembered fondly by those at and around Fulham FC, but the only decision moving forward was to cut him loose. It was now or never for the Whites, as desperate as any in the Premier League in mid-November.

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.

Klopp, Jokanovic on wild Liverpool opener: ‘Absurd situation’

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It wouldn’t be a surprise if Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic and Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp had differing opinions on the offside call that denied the Cottagers a goal and allowed Liverpool a quick restart goal against the celebrating visitors at Anfield on Sunday.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 2-0 Fulham ]

But Klopp’s reaction to the offside call against Aleksandar Mitrovic wasn’t too strong, and Jokanovic was raging after the match.

The Fulham manager labeled the call “disrespectful” to Fulham and its supporters. From The Liverpool Echo:

“The damage is done,” Jokanovic said. “I don’t want to say Liverpool didn’t deserve to win the game. We did not defend well against the counter-attack but it shouldn’t have happened. It is an absurd situation.”

The margin was very thin, with Mitrovic perhaps a hair off. And Alisson Becker quickly pulled the ball out of the goal and got it moving (or kept it moving, as NBC studio analyst Kyle Martino pointed out that it never stopped).

Thirteen seconds later, Mohamed Salah had it in the back of the Fulham net.

Klopp was nonchalant about the call, ironic given the froth expected should the call have gone against him. Such is football.

“I saw the Fulham goal once,” Klopp said. “Was it offside? Against Arsenal we scored a clearer goal and didn’t get it. We cannot change it. The reaction was brilliant from us.”

It’s the quick restart that should probably be under more scrutiny than the offside call, as there aren’t too many offside restarts played that quickly at any spot on the field (let alone the matter of whether the ball moved).

Liverpool will be atop the Premier League table should Chelsea fail to beat Everton and Manchester City lose to United.

Fulham’s efforts ‘not enough’; Jokanovic demands more

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Fulham’s first three months back in the Premier League have been anything but comfortable or enjoyable, let alone a fairytale.

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After 10 games, the Cottagers sit 18th, narrowly in the relegation zone, due in large part to owning the worst defensive record in the PL (28 goals conceded — an average of nearly three per game, and five more than anyone else). Speaking ahead of his side’s League Cup visit to Manchester City, Slavisa Jokanovic held back very little in demanding more from his side as they attempt to right so many early-season wrongs — quotes from Football.London:

“At the moment, this work that the team offers is not enough and we must take responsibility to push my team to be braver and with more ambition.

“I expect for my players to do similar things, they are on the pitch and must give us this final answer.”

“We try to find the solution in different ways, we need to be more calm and understand what is the best way for us to play football. Without any depth, we are not satisfied and we can do a better job.”

While Thursday’s trip to face the PL champions is up next on the schedule, it’s Monday’s relegation six-pointer, against last-place Huddersfield Town (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com), that will have a far greater impact on the outcome of the season as a whole.

Fulham owner Khan backs manager: ‘Don’t believe anything you read’

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Fulham owner Shahid Khan says reports that he could fire manager Slavisa Jokanovic are simply not true.

The Cottagers are struggling this season despite being considered one of the more promising promoted clubs in recent Premier League seasons.

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Fulham has allowed 25 goals so far this season, on pace for the highest total in league history, and handed fellow promoted club Cardiff City its first win of the season with a 4-2 loss in Wales this weekend.

Khan, however, has Jokanovic’s back in the wake of reports that he could sack the 50-year-old Serbian manager.

“Slavisa’s record shows he has always led FFC admirably when the stakes are at their highest, and with 29 matches still to play in the league – three quarters of the campaign still ahead – I am sure the same will hold true this season,” Khan said.

“As for the sensational and fictional headlines related to Slaviša this week, I’m equal parts amused, astonished and disappointed. I ask you not to believe everything you read. Or, in this case, don’t believe anything you read.”