Stats Wars: Ranieri

Being of contrary nature, I have spent much of my adult life arguing against the existence of concepts that others swear by. The Loch Ness Monster, Russian interference in elections, Scott Malone’s right foot, the list goes on. And yet there remains room in my cynical mind to be convinced by particularly compelling arguments that these things are real, that they do indeed exist. That is all except one: the new manager bounce.

The idea that the arrival of a new man at the helm can immediately, and without fail, resurrect the fortunes of a flailing football club is alien to me. It is a belief based on what I’ve witnessed with my own eyes from the Hammersmith End since leaving school in 1996. In that time, Fulham have appointed 14 managers in permanent charge at Craven Cottage – some of them good, some of them great, one of them Felix Magath – and while many have made an impact, it has rarely been immediate.

Only three of the last 14 Fulham managers – Micky Adams, Jean Tigana and Chris Coleman – got off to a winning start, and each of those victories come with a certain caveat. Adams had away draws at Cambridge and Rochdale ” to stamp his style when predecessor Ian Branfoot was either “ill” or “on a scouting mission,” Tigana had the whole summer with his squad following the announcement of his arrival in April, while Coleman had the majesty of Sylvain Legwinski’s right boot to thank for a comeback success against Newcastle.

Since Sylvain’s stunner, there have been no such introductions for our incoming bosses. None of the last eight Fulham managers appointed have won their first league game in charge although Martin Jol at least managed to score some victories in Europa League Qualifying before an opening day stalemate with Aston Villa. The Dutchman was the second successive Fulham coach to open a Premier League campaign with a goalless draw following Mark Hughes’ dreary debut at Bolton in 2010.

Our mid-season appointments, however, have made us crave the mundanity of a nil-nil. Of the last six managers who took over during a campaign, only Magath managed to earn a point in his first game in charge. Meanwhile, the last three that opened with a crunch home game – just as Claudio Ranieri does this weekend – fell to defeat by the odd goal.

Last week, Ranieri became Fulham’s 15th permanent Fulham manager since 1996 and the affable Italian arrives with an impressive C.V. and a Premier League title, a far cry from the first time he pitched up in south-west London 18 years ago, armed only with an overweight steward for a translator. The new gaffer knows the size of the task ahead, especially concerning the worst defence this side of Brett Kavanaugh. However, despite repeated calls in this week’s press conference to “maintain a clean sheet,” history shows that Ranieri’s first games in charge are often high scoring affairs. Furthermore, in his last 12 jobs, Ranieri’s teams have only kept one clean sheet in his opening match as manager, and that was when big-spending Monaco hosted Ligue 2 makeweights Tours in 2012.

Ranieri’s previous Premier League debuts, as manager of Chelsea and then Leicester, both produced a total of six goals although it’s worth noting that neither ended in defeat. While seeing off Sunderland – the English equivalent of Tours – at home is one thing, a draw at Manchester United back when Old Trafford was still an intimidating place to visit is reason to be hopeful that he can make an instant impression at the Cottage on Saturday.

That 3-3 thriller in his first ever fixture in England is the only draw Ranieri has experienced in his past 12 openers, and while six wins and five defeats hint at indifferent beginnings, he appears a manager that is capable of quickly hitting his stride within the first season at a club.

In nine of his last 11 domestic jobs, Ranieri averages better than a win every other game. The two anomalies are a short spell at Atletico Madrid at the end of the 20th century and last season’s return to France with Nantes, for which we can probably hold Alex Kacaniklic responsible. Yet his impressive points per game average overall 11 jobs – 1.75 – is near identical to his record across two spells in the Premier League which stands at 1.76.

If Ranieri is able to continue that pattern at Craven Cottage this season, we could have the beach balls out by Bournemouth away in April. With the Whites currently marooned at the foot of the Premier League table with five points from 12 matches, the same return of 1.75 points per game from the remaining 26 fixtures would move us on to 51 points and a shot at a top-half finish.

That seems unlikely. Yet even a repeat of his football management nadir, those 26 matches in charge of Atletico that yielded 1.15 points per game would give us a fighting chance of survival on a total of 35 points.

That’s because the good news is the 40-point barrier so often cited for Premier League survival is almost as big a myth as the new manager bounce. In this featured period of the past 22 years, only four times has the side who survived in 17th needed to reach 40+ plus points to stay up and it hasn’t happened once since 2003. Instead, 35 points would have been enough to avoid relegation in each of the past two seasons and in ten of the last 20.

Now if only we didn’t have to worry about goal difference…