London’s oldest professional football club, recently divorced from a long term relationship from the Premier League was in a position of need. With results threatening even their place in English football’s second tier, a figure arrived with a laptop of dreams and a data model even the greatest of snake oil salesmen would be proud to boast. It was October in Fulham’s first season in the Championship, Felix bingo been abruptly terminated with the Whites languishing in the relegation zones. It also proved to be the last of Fulham’s traditional transfer windows where chief executive Alistair Mackintosh worked alongside with the club’s manager.
That summer saw the majority of Fulham’s outlay head to Leeds United in return for Scottish mercurial Ross McCormack amongst a litany of dross (whither Adil Chihi, Mark Fotheringham, Adam Taggart and Kay Voser). In the aftermath of mad Magath’s departure, Fulham eventually scraped survival under head coach Kit Symons, who was appointed by committee, and installed scouting and recruitment ‘guru’ Mike Rigg to oversee another rebuild. The wage bill was slashed and finances made available via player sales, Fulham brought in a number of British based footballers with a semi-successful strike rate but, after the ownership were underwhelmed by the performances of Richard Stearman at centre half, the way Fulham recruited changed. A mysterious excel wielding figure checked the boxes as his first computer based signing popped up at Motspur Park. Finnish midfielder Sakari Mattila arrived for a nominal fee, departing 12 months and nine appearances later, when his contract was cancelled. Nothing like a bright start.
Fulham’s demise continued with few of the summer arrivals performing to a standard required for midtable never mind pushing for promotion. The amount spent on Stearman is said to have disappointed some at the club, especially after the elongated summer pursuit of Lewis Dunk. Another change of head coach came 49 days of embarrassment before Kit Symons’ replacement was announced in Serbian Slavisa Jokanovic, only the second Fulham head coach to be ‘bought’ from another club. The new man had to operate under a transfer embargo after Fulham breached the Championship’s Financial Fair Play regulations, but the January window saw the first mention of mysterious numerical maniac. Austrian central defender Michael Madl arrived on an initial loan deal, with Sam Wallace noting the influence of American Craig Kline. In the same story, Wallace discussed the first drama involving the basket case where he was ordered away from the training ground following a ‘ruck’ with Chief Operating Officer, Darren Preston, over an office of all things. There were shades of Mark Hughes and the first seeds were planted in a long running war between computer, computer man and man.
A Fulham spokesperson denied Kline had a power of veto and insisted Jokanovic would have the final say. It appears now that may been an economical version of the truth. Kline wanted his data metrics to take precedence over traditional scouting methods – and this led to Fulham failing to sign the likes of Andreas Pereira, Aaron Mooy, Tammy Abraham and Glenn Murray. All players that would have helped Fulham in their ambitions to reignite their love affair with the lucrative and luxurious Premier League. In July 2017, Jokanovic complained that his list of potential signings had been ignored, feeling zero responsibility for recruitment and that the last decision would fall in Kline’s hands, mouse, key board or hard drive (I may have used a little artistic licence with the last part). Even after Marcelo Djalo was signed, Slavisa Jokanovic wanted more quality in the centre of defence in a scathing post-match interview after our pre-season finale against Wolfsburg. At this point, we had not improved our backline – including replacing Scott Malone – or signed a centre forward, and that central defender that our Serbian head coach vastly wanted was never to come.
After a long chase for Uruguayan striker Diego Rolan didn’t come to fruition, Slavisa Jokanovic reportedly requested a move for Norwich’s Cameron Jerome, but Fulham’s new in-house policy meant they would not sign players past 28. Whether this rule was introduced in response to 30 year-old Ragnar Sigurdsson’s shambolic career, who joined after Euro 2016 and cost around £4m as well as becoming one of the highest wage-earners. The eighteen month Kline era saw ten computer-assisted arrivals who were either sold or returned following a short-term loan – if the flaws aren’t outlined by that figure, I’m not sure what will paint the picture of a bad data model.
In February, a Fulham official statement heralded the news that Tony Khan had been appointed both Club vice chairman and director of football operations, with a pyramid in management structure established. Kline was promoted to the position of assistant director of football operations and director of statistical research whilst chief scout, Brian Talbot, sat on an ‘equal’ pedestal with Kline as Fulham’s new assistant director of football operations. As highlighted previously, the summer of 2017 is looking to be a bad window for the football club with zero of the new signings making an impact, made even clearer with individual performances from the returning play-off squad not meeting last years level; to make things worse, captain Tom Cairney has been injured, fit enough to only contribute to seven games so far this season.
The crazy tale of the maniacal American included wanting a place on the bench with Slavisa Jokanovic on match days and stopping under-23 coach Peter Grant from including Madl, Yohan Mollo and Jordan Graham in his side. The draw against Bolton appears to have been the last straw, a number of Craig Kline arrivals deemed inadequate by Slavisa Jokanovic and a poor season overall saw Shahid Khan go over the head of his son Tony and tell the unstable Kline that he was no longer wanted at the football. After being dismissed, Kline called the Metropolitan Police, who conducted a cursory interview on a bench outside the training ground.
With long term employee and first team performance analysis, James Lovell taking Craig Kline’s position on an interim basis, you hope the football club can move forward both on and off the pitch. Over three years of chaos compiling on a stalling football team, who knew statistical recruitment could have such an negative impact? To steal songstress Gwen Stefani’s lyric, this shit’s bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S.