Reports in the Sun have linked Fulham captain Tom Cairney with a January move to Newcastle United, in exchange for midfielder Jonjo Shelvey.
Amid rumours of Cairney’s departure, Claudio Ranieri’s baffling treatment of Fulham’s promotion hero must be examined.
The Scottish international flourished for the Whites in the Championship, operating in a midfield three in Slavisa Jokanovic’s 4-3-3 formation. Immensely calm with the ball at his feet and able to dictate a match at will, Cairney was the ideal fulcrum for Jokanovic’s philosophy.
But under Ranieri, the midfielder has been shunted from his favoured central midfield position and often utilised on the right side of midfield — an altogether unfamiliar position for Cairney.
Accordingly, the Fulham captain has struggled out wide, encapsulated by his listless substitute display against Wolves on Boxing Day.
Drifting in and out of action, failing to get stuck into challenges, and offering little going forward, Cairney appeared completely out of his depths on Wednesday.
It was a puzzling sight for the Fulham support, who have grown accustomed to their captain bossing the play in the middle of the park. Ranieri has his reasons for shifting Cairney out wide, as the midfielder clearly does not fit the Italian’s ideal mold of a hard-tackling, aggressive player.
Yet the Fulham manager’s treatment of Cairney is nevertheless puzzling.
Although the club captain has been far from dominating in the Premier League, moving Cairney out wide is clearly not the solution to improving his form, leaving many scratching their heads at Ranieri’s decisions.