LONDON (Reuters) - Claudio Ranieri told Fulham to forget about miracles and fight “like pirates” to stay in the Premier League as he held his first news conference as manager of the struggling club on Friday.
The 67-year-old Italian, who took rank outsiders Leicester City to a famous 2016 title, said the immediate focus had to be plugging the West Londoners’ leaky defence and securing safety.
Fulham are last in the league with five points from 12 games and a goal difference of minus 20, with 31 conceded. Only Macclesfield, bottom of League Two, have a worse goal difference in English soccer’s top four divisions.
Ranieri, who has called West London home since he was Chelsea manager from 2000-04, said he watched Fulham play well but lose 2-0 to Crystal Palace in the first home game of the season.
“When I watched some matches I said this team has enough quality to be saved. Now I repeat: I need fighting spirit,” he told reporters. “Quality with the fighting spirit (and) we can do a good job.
“If there is only quality, without organisation, defensive tactics, it’s difficult to help the players to maintain the clean sheet.
“For me it’s important to put in the brain of my players this philosophy. Play football, play well, but when you lose the ball I want to see you like pirates,” he added, biting on his fingers for emphasis.
Ranieri, who was appointed on Wednesday after Fulham sacked Slavisa Jokanovic, said it was important to forget the past and focus on the future.
He expressed sympathy for Jokanovic, who played for him when Ranieri was Chelsea manager, but said change was needed when things went badly — as happened to him also at Leicester in 2017.
At Leicester Ranieri promised the players pizza when they kept clean sheets, one of many memorable soundbites during his tenure, but on Friday he said Fulham needed something more substantial — maybe burgers.
“That was a bonus, a fairytale. Forget it. Now it is important to not think about miracles,” he said of his title-winning exploits at Leicester.
Ranieri recalled how he took over Parma when they were in a similar position in Serie A at the end of February 2007 and kept them up.
“Fulham conceded a lot of goals, and I am an Italian manager, and for us Italians it’s important to maintain the clean sheet,” he said. “When you play the defensive way, from the strikers, it’s important everyone is involved.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis