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Scattergun signings, lazy thinking, now the drop – what next for Fulham? | Jacob Steinberg

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Let’s start with the goalkeepers. Marcus Bettinelli was Fulham’s No 1 during last season’s promotion challenge. He had waited patiently for his chance and started when they beat Aston Villa in the Championship play-off final. He was a key member of a winning team; the shirt was his to lose. Then they signed two experienced Spaniards just before the start of the new campaign.

Fabri was the first to arrive, joining from Besiktas for £5m, and Sergio Rico followed him after signing on loan from Sevilla on the final day of the transfer window. Two days before their opening Premier League game, Fulham had three senior goalkeepers. All they had to do next was work out who was first-choice. No sweat, right?

Maybe not. Bettinelli was not on the bench when Fulham lost to Crystal Palace and Tottenham. Fabri started both games, but the defeats convinced Slavisa Jokanovic to drop him. Not for Rico, though. That would have been too logical. Instead Bettinelli came in from the cold, played in the 4-2 win over Burnley and he kept his spot until the 4-2 defeat by Cardiff on 20 October, at which point he made way for Rico. Fabri, meanwhile, has not played a minute since 18 August.

Confused? Don’t worry. Common sense went out the window at Fulham a long time ago. It has been a mess from start to finish and the saddest part for this soft and naive side, whose fate was sealed by the 4-1 hammering at Watford, is that relegation seemed so avoidable. Unlike Huddersfield, relegated last Saturday, Fulham had money to burn. Everything seemed positive when they spent more than £100m on seven players and made five loan additions last summer. They never imagined they would go down with a whimper at the start of April.

Yet the arrival of 12 players disrupted a young team’s confidence and cohesion. Stalwarts were sidelined but none of the newcomers impressed. Jean Michaël Seri, signed for £25m from Nice, has not been up for the fight in midfield. André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, signed for a record £30m from Marseille, has made 11 league starts, scored no goals, made no assists and received one red card. Maxime Le Marchand has been a disaster in defence. Joe Bryan has toiled at left-back. Alfie Mawson has struggled with injuries.

Of the loanees, only Arsenal’s Calum Chambers has emerged with credit after battling hard in defensive midfield. Timothy Fosu-Mensah is unlikely to be part of the Ole Gunnar Solskjær revolution at Manchester United. Luciano Vietto failed to adapt after joining from Atlético Madrid and André Schürrle will not be missed when he returns to Borussia Dortmund.

Claudio Ranieri’s appointment merely compounded the blunders of the summer

Claudio Ranieri’s appointment merely compounded the blunders of the summer. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Reuters

Fulham never looked ready for the hard graft required to stay in the Premier League. They never earned the right to use such open tactics. It is possible for promoted sides to play expansively, but Fulham were too much of a mish-mash to make it work.

An inability to perform the basics made them easy to beat and Jokanovic, who was unwilling to compromise on his ideals, became despondent and desperate. By November he was openly questioning his team’s attitude. Fulham responded by sacking him.

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Yet replacing Jokanovic with the “risk-free” Claudio Ranieri merely compounded the blunders. His reputation as a miracle worker was built on winning the league with Leicester in 2016, but nothing suggested he was capable of pulling a team out of the mire. Appointing him was the result of more lazy thinking and Fulham continued to make errors in the January transfer window. Håvard Nordtveit has made four starts, Lazar Markovic has made one substitute appearance and Ryan Babel has three goals in 11 games.

Divisions appeared because of Ranieri’s tedious football, ruining the mood in the home stands, where disgruntlement at expensive ticket prices led to a “Stop The Greed” protest during last Saturday’s defeat by Manchester City. Supporters were alarmed to see the Italian ostracise Tom Cairney, so instrumental in the No 10 role last season, and Ryan Sessegnon, who is bound to leave in the summer given that he has a year on his contract.

Ranieri, who won three of his 17 games, was replaced by Scott Parker in February. Damningly, he had not come close to fixing the awful defending. They have the leakiest defence in the league, having conceded 76 goals in 33 games, and have rolled over too often.

The three goals Fulham conceded in 12 second-half minutes against Watford summed up their plight. “We just cannot weather a storm,” said Parker, who has lost his first five games in caretaker charge. He has another five to show that he deserves the job on a permanent basis.

Yet the damage was done long before he took over and Fulham’s task now is to discover some humility and regain their identity. Shahid Khan, the owner, and his influential son Tony must dispense with the scattergun approach. It would help if whoever leads them into next season knows who to pick in goal.

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