Claudio Ranieri believes the surprise signing of Ryan Babel is already proving Fulham’s shrewdest move of the transfer window.
The forward arrived from Besiktas to further strengthen their already strong attacking options when it was a defender, amid the way they continue to leak goals, they were expected to prioritise.
Babel had done little to impress when he was previously in the Premier League with Liverpool but he excelled on his debut against Tottenham and was again influential against Brighton in Tuesday’s crucial 4-2 win.
If his presence perhaps contributed to the loan departure of the controversial Aboubakar Kamara to Turkish side Yeni Malatyaspor, Ranieri’s team had also been accused of lacking experience, and the Italian said of the 32-year-old: “Babel’s a leader.
“When you see him in the training session; he was speaking to a player who was 18 years old and saying ‘You have to do this, you have to do this’. It’s fantastic. That means he is involved in this project. It’s not only for himself.
“He came here and has tried to give everybody his experience. That is important.
“I didn’t know he would come with this spirit and I’m very, very surprised but also very happy.
“I want a positive man. Leaders, because we need leaders. If you are a leader, you think about everything. You don’t think only for yourself. I knew him a long time ago. When we asked if he wanted to come, he said, ‘Yes! I want!’ Oh, fantastic! I want a player who wants to come.”
Fulham visit Crystal Palace on Saturday, when another victory is essential in their battle against relegation.
Palace, who are without the suspended Wilfried Zaha, are followed by a further fixture at home to Manchester United and then away trips to West Ham, Southampton and the West London derby with Chelsea, but even with that intimidating run Ranieri believes his team are finally prepared.
They have been further strengthened by the arrivals of the versatile Havard Nordtveit and winger Lazar Markovic, but as crucial to Ranieri is that against Brighton he finally saw his team playing in the way he has long hoped.
“I am confident because every day I see the team is more compact, with the mentality,” he said.
“What happened against Brighton was something I was waiting for. At that time, all the team was compact. Before, when we conceded a goal, we wanted to do something not as a team, but as individuals. They ran more without doing anything.
“Against Brighton, we played one or two touches. All the players tried to help team-mates and played very easy, as I want. And we went very early on the flank to make crosses or when the opponent was put out; we went between the lines. All together, understood.
“If we carry on in this way, we are stronger, stronger, and can get a lot of confidence.”