Claudio Ranieri is focused on building the confidence of the “very, very important” Jean Michael Seri in his attempts to inspire Fulham to safety.
Seri, the club’s marquee summer signing, finally impressed throughout Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Leicester when in a holding midfield role alongside Calum Chambers he excelled in spreading possession and dictating their tempo.
It was an inability to get the best out of Seri that contributed to the sacking of former manager Slavisa Jokanovic, but Ranieri on Wednesday even dropped the influential Tom Cairney and would have been encouraged by Fulham’s display.
On Saturday at Manchester United, Seri’s abilities could again be crucial against a team struggling for balance and Ranieri said of the classy 27-year-old, who interested Barcelona before moving to Craven Cottage: “It’s important he continues to play, because I believe he can improve more.
“In Nice he played so well two years ago; he was fantastic. In the newspapers it was that Barcelona wanted him. Maybe he stayed there in Nice and his confidence went down a little; maybe he wanted to go, but he stayed in Nice, and the second year was so-so.
“The Italian papers and the French said Barcelona were interested in Seri. I always believe them.
“For this reason Fulham had the chance to buy him, and for me he’s a very, very important central midfielder. He’s a key player, because a lot of the play goes through him, and the other midfielders.
“This is very, very important, because he always shows for the ball, plays with the ball, and is important for his team-mates.
“I give him a lot of confidence, and him to his teammates. It’s very important to have the confidence of the manager. He is very, very important. If you (climb) off the bottom, confidence gets higher and we can do something more.”
While the lawyer behind the Bosman ruling has written to the Football Association to request they investigate Seri’s transfer, Wednesday’s performance suggests Seri remains focused, and he could be joined at Old Trafford by a further midfield option as Kevin McDonald is expected to be fit.
United are again under pressure following a run of four Premier League matches without victory, but even with the growing optimism surrounding his team and the fact that they are bottom of the table, Ranieri considers their fixture against his friend Jose Mourinho a free hit.
“For us it’s a free match,” the Italian said. “But you know, when the bottom team plays with the biggest teams, everything you can achieve is good.
“I hope to make a very good performance and of course I hope to make the first clean sheet but we have to do the perfect match.”