If last week’s general election has taught us one thing, it’s that social media can often be a bit of an echo chamber. One opinion becomes the vocal majority. But is the vocal majority actually a majority?

In the case of Kit Symons’ future as Fulham manager I’m not sure. We know for sure that the vocal majority want the Fulham manager to be someone else, but is it actually a majority of Fulham fans that want Kit gone?

It certainly looks and sounds for now as though Symons is to remain Fulham manager; but what follows is an in-depth look at his performance as Fulham manager to date and the reasons people may or may not want him replaced.

Back to social media; what is so unique to the Symons situation is that there is much less vitriol in this debate than over the fates of previous managers such as Jol and Magath. Their departures were very much wanted sackings. In the current scenario, it is not so much that fans seem to want Symons sacked more that they just want somebody else to have his job. Symons is like a politician with a good personality and bad policies.

The Symons question is as much an existential one as it is one simply of results. After two lacklustre seasons in the Premier League that culminated in our relegation in 2014, the majority of the fans expected something better last year, both in terms of performance and results. Regardless of the start under Magath, it has been the lack of quality football under Symons that has led to his alienation as much as the results.

Symons’ tendency to revert to risk aversion in every situation led to some dour football at times, often manifesting itself in substitutions and tactics that seemed only to make sense to him. However, given our precarious position when he took over, was that justified? As paying customers we are several years removed from Fulham being classified as value for money entertainment, but Symons’ job last season was predicated on results and not entertainment – so did fulfil his job in keeping us up?

So here’s the crux of my question? Has Symons simply proven the victim of a poisoned chalice, where the situation meant he could never truly succeed or is he now in a hole of his own doing and at the limit of his managerial potential?

To answer that question we have to be both subjective and objective. As well as asking what do we as fans and paying customers want from our football team next season, and who is likely to be best placed to deliver those wishes?

There were three periods of management last season; Felix Magath, Kit Symons – Caretaker & Kit Symons – Manager. We know the first eight games under Magath were a disaster, so let’s write them off. So dividing Symons’ tenure into two, we have the eight games he was caretaker and the 37 he was permanent manager.

167424

In order to assess whether or not he is the right man for Fulham going forward I will look at the following areas; Results, Performances, Style and Intangibles.

1. Results

Kit As Caretaker
Wins Losses Draws Average Points Per Game
5 3 1 1.78
Kit As Manager
Wins Losses Draws Average Points Per Game
11 15 11 1.19

As you can see, results under Kit got considerably worse after he was appointment the permanent manager on 29th October. Interestingly enough, an average points total of 1.19 per game extrapolated over the course of the entire season would have had us finish in 17th, the same position as we actually did. The totals in the table above include the four cup fixtures we played under Symons after he became permanent manager. If you remove the cup fixtures, the PPG total becomes slightly higher at 1.21, which would still have had us finish 17th.

What can you conclude from that? Symons’ good start merely served to balance out Magath’s bad one. 17th was a justified league position based on the entire season. Yes, it was Magath’s squad so that must be taken into account, but with two loan windows and the January transfer window, Symons’ cannot be given a free pass. Symons’ had a total of 39 league games and we finished a thoroughly justified 17th.

2. Performances

One of the big accusations against Symons’ Fulham was our lackadaisical defending. To the naked eye, Symons, as a former defender, has shown a staggering lack of ability to get any improvement out of our defenders. Is that the case statistically and how much of this is down to them being the wrong players to begin with?

What is interesting is if you compare our goal difference over the two Symons periods:

Kit as Caretaker
Goals For Goals Against Goal Difference Goals for per game Goals Against Per Game
17 13 4 2.13 1.63
Kit as Manager
Goals For Goals Against Goal Difference Goals for per game Goals Against Per Game
46 60 -14 1.24 1.62

In truth, the defence maintained a nearly identical level of performance throughout Symons’ entire tenure. However, the attack got considerably worse. If we delve even deeper into the numbers, it is possible to see that Fulham under Symons actually had a break even goal difference all the way until we played Blackburn at the end of January.

I find this worsening of performance particularly concerning as you would expect a team to perform better once a manager has had a time to coach and influence a team, especially considering the loan and transfer windows. However, under Symons, we got considerably worse once the initial gloss of his appointment wore off.

It was this performance over the latter half of the season that has turned many fans against him as there was simply no sign of any improvement, and certainly no sign of any coaching impact on his behalf.

If you believe the theory that luck and confidence played their part in his caretaker spell, these numbers might give your theory some credence.

3. Style

One of the big criticisms levied at Symons is his lack of adventure. He is tactically the equivalent of a man who goes to an ice cream parlour and orders vanilla with no toppings. Worse than that though, at times the football under his leadership appeared to lack a coherent purpose or style other than trying to eke out as many points as possible. Symons’ philosophy was certainly one of the glass being half empty. Why enhance a lead when you can protect it?

However, the end of Fulham’s season was characterised by panic tactics. We were in trouble and needed points to keep us up. This led to Matt Smith’s recall from Bristol City and a change in style. If we compare Symons’ tenure as permanent manager when Smith started and when he didn’t, the results look particularly ominous:

Games When Matt Smith starts
Wins Losses Draws Average Points Per Game
2 1 4 1.43
Games When Matt Smith Doesn’t Start
Wins Losses Draws Average Points Per Game
9 14 7 1.13

When Matt Smith didn’t start, Fulham’s PPG total was 1.13, a 0.3 PPG fall from games when he did start. Considering it was Symons who loaned Smith out in the first place and then showed reluctance to use him, we can assume his eventual inclusion was out of desperation rather than desire.

When Symons played his tactics, i.e. not the emergency long ball to Smith, our PPG fell below his overall average PPG, meaning we were worse off results-wise when Symons was left to his own devices tactically.

Goal statistics don’t make for better reading:

Matt Smith Starts
Goals For Goals Against Goal Difference Goals for per game Goals Against Per Game
8 8 0 1.14 1.14
Matt Smith Doesn’t Start
Goals For Goals Against Goal Difference Goals for per game Goals Against Per Game
38 52 -14 1.27 1.73

Stylistically this doesn’t bode well for Kit. With Smith, we play a tighter, simpler and more controlled game (long ball doesn’t exactly take much instruction). We score less but we concede less. Simply put, we are boring, but reasonably effective.

Without Smith, we are a bit more interesting, but considerably worse. Symons systematically failed to strike any kind of balance between style and substance. This is something most of us could have said without statistical evidence. Our football was rarely aesthetically pleasing and Symons never really showed any grasp of consistent tactics. The obsession with a narrow diamond formation was a particular failing. Tactically it fast became one game to the next, survive and protect. Considering our start that’s hardly surprising, but it was very bad to watch at times.

4. Intangibles

This is where the debate becomes personal and very subjective. There are some fans who just don’t like sacking managers, while there are undoubtedly some who do. There are some fans that’ll defend Symons because he is a “Fulham man”, there are others, myself included, who feel that shouldn’t come into it.

However, there are several other unquantifiable intangibles to Symons’ management style that will contribute to his judgement:

A) Stalled development – I’m not going to claim that with Roberts and Dembele playing 40 games we’d have won the league, far from it. However, Pat Roberts played 450 minutes over the course of the entire season, and Dembele 575. That’s less time than it would take to sit through the entire Hobbit trilogy. How on earth are they going to develop into a position where he can help us next season by playing so little this year? The same can be said of George Williams, Moussa Dembele and several others, such as Jack Grimmer who was dropped in favour of a loanee who was not discernibly better. All the while 21 year old Sean Kavanagh played over 20 games despite largely floundering.

B) Favouritism – Symons’ inconsistent and at times “teacher’s pet” style of team selection certainly wound up a large proportion of the Craven Cottage crowd. Players like Jazz Richards, Kavanagh and Tunnicliffe were all at times shown favouritism that was hard to comprehend. On the reverse, the likes of Chris David, Roberts, Dembele and Matt Smith were often cast aside without warning.

C) Square Pegs in Round Holes – McCormack as a left midfielder, Tunnicliffe as a winger, Kavanagh as midfielder, Bodurov as a right back. Symons’ team selections were often hampered by a lack of players to choose from and littered with players playing out of position. How many more points would we have gotten should Ross have played the entire season up front? Why did Kit both refuse to play with width and then not sign a single winger?

D) Hands in the Pockets – This is a minor point, but I’d really like a manager who is less passive during the matches. Contemplative can begin to look like cluelessness if it’s your only move.

E) The Smile – this isn’t a list of reasons he’s not the man. If we play well, Kit and his enthusiastic smile are very easy to like. We just didn’t play well often enough.

F) The Squad – our squad balance was poor last season, but Symons had opportunities to re-shape it and didn’t set the world alight with his choices. However, the summer is the best time to buy and sell players. Does Kit deserve a summer window? Or indeed will he get to control the squad framework even if he does stay on? With Mike Rigg controlling talent identification now, there is an argument to say having a good coach as the manager is more important than ever. Is Symons that man?

G) Experience – Kit Symons’ managerial career is 37 games old so let’s not put the cart before the horse and call his career over. However, he’s had several seasons managing at youth level so we’re not talking about an ex-player taking the immediate leap. If Kit stays in his post and shows signs of learning from last season then I’m all for giving him a chance. However, there is a school of thought that suggests 37 games is more than enough to show your capabilities.

H) Substitutions – I’ve alluded to this above, but Symons’ biggest flaw in the eyes of many fans is his mis-use of substitutions.  Either he wouldn’t use them or he’d be defensive. The very few times we did manage to see the likes of Woodrow, Williams, McCormack and Roberts on the field together were electric, but all too few and far between.  The conundrum facing fans and ownership alike, was this risk aversion a product of circumstance? For all our sake I hope so.

Conclusion

I look at the current situation as an opportunity. We must decide whether or not Symons is the man to help develop and implement a strategy to return Fulham to the Premier League. As a club, we must stop being reactionary and start to get ahead of the curve. If Symons stays on just because people felt “he deserved a chance”, only to lead us on to the path to 17th next season and get sacked, then we as a club will have failed. No ifs and no buts.

Do I think he deserves that chance?

Symons was the right man at the right time after Magath. The players and fans needed a smile, a hug and their hands held. Symons did that, and we stayed up, but next season is an opportunity for a clean break from recent failings and, for me, that includes a fresh start at manager as well.

I think for Kit to actually be sacked would be mighty harsh considering his modus operandi last season. I’d like to think the club might make room for him to stay either as an assistant or back in the youth ranks where he succeeded before. Or I’d love for Kit to admit his own limitations and step back into a reduced role, but I think we all know he’d be too proud to do so.

This summer is a time to grab our future as a club by its undercarriage and take control. That might mean being ruthless. Just look at Norwich, they were in a very similar situation to us 12 months ago and let one of their own, Neil Adams, stay on as manager last summer only to dismiss him during the season as results didn’t improve. They now sit 180 minutes from a return to the Premier League.

No longer can Fulham amble on the path to mediocrity. Starting from the top, Fulham must come out of this summer with confidence and a clear, united message. If that means Kit Symons is manager then I hope and expect him to show a willingness to learn and the club to show him support whilst displaying progress on and off the field. If they do that, then they have my full support and I suspect they’ll have yours too. However, if this is simply another risk not taken, another stride towards the middle ground, then the club is on a hiding to nothing and it won’t take them long to find that out.

COYW

{ 1 comment }

1409951424001_wps_71_Ross_McCormack_of_Fulham_

Unlike the uncertainty surrounding tomorrow’s General Election, Fulham’s Player of the Season can barely be any more clear cut.

Amidst a season of near universal mediocrity, where his supporting cast that has faltered at virtually every step, with one manager who lambasted his fitness and another who played him out of position and his ideal strike partner bought specially to play with him only to be loaned to a lower division, Ross McCormack has amassed a statistically outstanding season and is the overwhelming choice for Player of the Season.

To put Ross’ season into context, take the following example:

League Goals League Assists
Player A 16 2
Player B 17 9

Player A is Middlesbrough’s Patrick Bamford, the Chelsea loanee who won the Official Championship Player of the Season award. Striker B, McCormack, has better headline numbers, and yet was nowhere to be seen at the Football League Awards Gala.

Of course, statistics, especially headline ones like goals and assists don’t always tell the full story, but delve a little deeper, and McCormack’s season remains wholly impressive. In total, he scored 19 goals with 11 assists. Seven of his goals were from outside the box, whilst he went a lethal five from five from the penalty spot. His shot accuracy of 56% was 7% better than the next most accurate player, Hugo Rodallega, and 15% higher than third placed Cauley Woodrow.

Ross also proved the most durable Fulham player, completing 407 more minutes on the pitch than any other Fulham player. The 79 chances he created were also a team high.

Disregarding numbers, McCormack has been a consistent bright light for the Whites this season as a technically superior player who’s presence always seemed to give us a chance. His attacking style, though more bustle than languid, occasionally resembled a certain Bulgarian striker in quality. OK he’s not quite the Glaswegian Berbatov, but Ross’ first touch, vision and technical skill has at times seemed out of place in the rough ‘em tough ‘em style of the Championship, yet he has had a remarkable impact and is the one player who has genuinely made a regular positive difference to this Fulham side.

I don’t want to sound too gushing with my praise. The phrase a rose between two thorns comes to mind. It is easy to praise McCormack in contrast to his supporting cast, who have not exactly set the world on fire. However given a full season where he’s played up front with a strike partner, I have no doubt we’ll see his Leeds numbers replicated in Fulham white.

McCormack’s form this season earned him a recall to the Scotland national team, which was unfortunately curtailed by injury.  He also provided arguably the best moment of the season with his 94th minute winner against Middlesbrough a fortnight ago.  He also scored the winner at Brentford.

If you were looking for any criticisms of McCormack’s game that you would like to see ironed out next season you could point to his streakiness in front of goal. Of his 19 goals, seven came in a six game spell at the end of the season and another five came in a five game period over the winter. However, the barren spells in between were often due to him being played out of position or with an endless parade of strike partners plus he’s not exactly been blessed for chances laid on by teammates either.

That’s the thing with Ross, he is both tremendously unselfish in wanting to set up others, but at the same time ruthless and confident enough to make his own chances. This does manifest itself in the occasional act of ridiculousness, but virtuosos don’t get it right every time. If he did, Ross would play at a higher level than he does.

Simply put, without Ross there is a very good chance we would have been relegated. It might not be the justification we were originally after when we signed him, but McCormack has been worth every penny of the rumoured £100 billion we paid Leeds for him.

Runners Up

Lasse Vigen Christensen
The Dane was the one younger player to make an impact where you didn’t have to qualify it by saying “for a youngster” afterwards. Though his season came to an abrupt end in February, the midfielder made 25 appearances, scoring 5 goals. He looks a genuine box to box talent and will likely play a central role next season. That is if he remains at the club, with any luck the injury will actually work in our favour and keep the vultures at bay for another year.

Marcus Bettinelli
Persistently inconsistent form means I can’t consider Bettinelli a genuine rival for McCormack’s title. However the young keeper has shown real potential this season to go alongside some outstanding individual performances and looks to have a long term future between the sticks for Fulham. In only his first full professional season, Bettinelli has had to endure a defence as porous as a Brita water filter and has still walked away with 8 clean sheets in 39 games. Yes, he has made some fairly catastrophic mistakes, but tell me a young keeper who hasn’t? As a goalkeeper, mistakes are part of the game, and are as much a learning experience as anything else. Having seen a young Joe Hart in his maiden season at Man City and Kasper Schmeichal on loan at Bury, I can say with some certainty Bettinelli not behind the curve and will only get better.

Matt Smith
Whilst most of his good performances were for another side, Matt Smith has been one of the few Fulham players to actually play consistently well this season. His goals whilst on loan at Ashton Gate helped Bristol City romp to the League 1 title and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Once he returned to Fulham, several crucial goals, including the winner at Blackpool, helped us cross the finish line and stay up. No, his inclusion in the side doesn’t foster champagne football, but he’s effective and is as good a ball winner up front as we’ve had in some time. In a division where route one is an inescapable necessity at times, that is a quality that should not be overlooked.

 

COYWs

{ 0 comments }

End of season report card

May 4, 2015

Tweet So the season has come to an end for Fulham FC, it began in East Anglia and finished in East Anglia, and somewhat unexpectedly, both the Tractor Boys and the Canaries finish in play off positions, and the Whites of South West London sit in a disappointing 17th spot in a year where the […]

1 comment Read the full article →

The FFC Draft 2015: A Look at Fulham’s Young Players

May 2, 2015

Tweet 18. This is the number of players aged 22 or under who are named in Fulham’s First Team Squad. That doesn’t include loanees and those other young players who either spent part of last season out on loan or just below the first team. For all but a handful of those who were named […]

1 comment Read the full article →

The Alternative Fulham End of Season Awards

April 29, 2015

Tweet With the final blow of the referee’s whistle at Carrow Road on Saturday, Fulham’s tumultuous maiden season in the Football League Championship will draw to a close. It has not been one of heroes, but largely of ignominy and ingloriousness. Misfortune is a cornerstone of comedy and at times this season there has been […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Into the Wilderness and Back Again: How to Re-Build Fulham Football Club

April 16, 2015

Tweet Fulham have entered the wilderness of the football league. Our season can aptly be described by three m’s: mediocrity, mismanagement and missed opportunity. However, hope doesn’t have to be lost. Scraping a draw at home to Rotherham can be a watershed moment if we let it be. We are a club with potential. Premier […]

2 comments Read the full article →

Squeaky Bum Time

April 9, 2015

Tweet   This season has not panned out as Fulham fans would have hoped. I naively believed in the summer that this time in the season we would see Fulham in an exciting battle for automatic promotion or closing in on a play-off spot that would hopefully see us through to the PL just one […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Brentford Battle

March 31, 2015

Tweet There is something very exciting about our Good Friday fixture at home to Brentford. Social media has given a lot of subtle hints to suggest that supporters of both clubs are very up for this one. I’ll be honest, I didn’t realise how intense a game between Fulham and Brentford could be until this […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Are Referees Getting Worse? The State of Officiating and Lawmakers Impending Existential Crisis

March 26, 2015

Tweet Monday’s announcement that Fulham were to be charged by the FA for failing to control their players in the recent Leeds United fixture is the straw that has broken my proverbial camel’s back when it comes to officiating. There has been a fairly unilateral feeling that refereeing standards have been going down over the […]

2 comments Read the full article →

Why we should keep the faith in Kit Symons

February 16, 2015

Tweet After the 2-1 defeat courtesy of Ipswich on Saturday afternoon, Kit Symons’ honeymoon period was clearly over, finished and kaput. Fulham are now on a run of six games without a win in all competitions, or four in the league if you want to ignore the draw and defeat to Premier League opposition in […]

1 comment Read the full article →