New Fulham manager, Claudio Ranieri, is a well-travelled and (occasionally) successful soccer manager. He is known all over Europe for being a really nice guy who gets sacked for under-achieving with big teams, and helping smaller teams to improve. The jewel in his crown was in 2016 when he led Leicester City to the Premier League title, a feat no one expected in a season where Leicester were thought more likely to get relegated than finish in the top half of the table. The expectations were low, and they were 5000-1 outsiders to become Premier League Champions, but they did it.
Ranieri is well-thought of and reported to be a truly humble and generous individual. He has the ability to put people at ease, inspire and communicate well, treating people with respect and living a low-key lifestyle. His approach he puts a premium on tactics and hard work, and he demands a lot from his players.
But the reality is that for all his time at high profile clubs across Europe he has only ever won a Championship once, something rival manager Jose Mourinho once pointed out, ironically talking about Ranieri’s inability to move with the times. He’s managed at Juventus, Inter Milan, Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, among a host of other teams, and has only ever won the domestic title once, with Leicester.
'When you are young, maybe you need somebody who can help you, but now you are a man. In life, you need to be strong. Psychologists? No.’ Ranieri
With all the huge talent he has had at his disposal there are legitimate questions about why he has had so little success. The answer is that he didn’t have a Way. The only time he has really made a difference is when he did have a Way, and then he achieved the impossible. Success was fleeting though, and once he lost his Way everything fell apart.
Based on comments he has made it is unlikely that Ranieri will find his Way again, in fact he probably won’t even try to find a Way. When asked about preparation for Leicester’s title defence Ranieri said ‘When you are young, maybe you need somebody who can help you, but now you are a man. In life, you need to be strong. Psychologists? No.’ He was also dismissive of the role of sport psychology while he was at Monaco, where he again stated that tactics were a more important factor than psychology. This view was reinforced when the team won the second-tier title. Tactics are obviously critical, but ‘Attitude Is More Important Than Ability’ (Graham Westley) and if players don’t have the right attitude it doesn’t matter how good they are, results won’t happen. Once Ranieri lost the Way he appeared to lose the dressing room and his job was lost not long after.
‘Greater pressure to win inevitably correlates with a greater need to talk, to vent energy-consuming, distracting emotions and thoughts so that players can concentrate on what they need to: playing well and winning.’
The reality is that high performance and big results cannot be achieved without help, everyone needs a Way. For Ranieri and Leicester City, the Way was Ken: Ken Way, Sport Psychologist and Author of Mental Mastery. Way was recruited by Leicester when Nigel Pearson was at the club and says that part of Ranieri’s success was that he was able to build on the team spirit that Pearson had started. He was let go by Leicester; Ranieri doesn’t have time for psychologists.
You know who does believe in the benefit of sport psychologists? Pep Guardiola, who kept Pete Lindsay at the club when he arrived at Manchester City in 2016. Pep has a 75%-win ratio, Ranieri 45%. Jose Mourinho with a 65%-win ratio also believes in the benefits of a sport psychologist. It’s almost as if there’s a pattern forming.
Of course, Ranieri has shown that he can do well with teams where there is little pressure to actually win anything, with Leicester being the pinnacle of his success. Ranieri certainly has an amazing track record at being able to take the Fulham-esque teams of the world and help them achieve goals. But success is relative and Guardiola or Mourinho wouldn’t last long if they celebrated avoiding relegation. That said, it may well be that the Fulham's ambitions are minimal and Ranieri will be successful for a year, and leave next season, a pattern he started long before Mourinho began his three-season cycle.
In Ranieri what Fulham have found is an average manager with a win ratio similar to that of David Moyes. They have a big name with a great reputation who will probably be successful in avoiding relegation, this season at least. However, if Fulham want to achieve anything beyond this, they will have to hope that Ranieri looks at those who are more successful and finds a Way.