Barry Hayles believes Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham can mount a serious push for promotion back to the Premier League – and succeed in emulating the 2000/01 side of which he was such a pivotal part.
The former Fulham striker, still plying his trade as player-coach at Windsor in the Hellenic League, feels the Whites have really hit their stride since the turn of the year and backs his old club to be amongst the contenders in the Championship’s top six come May. Hayles told today’s Football League Paper:
There is always a team that hits form at the right time and they’ve got a great chance, definitely. I remember watching them play Derby at home in November and they dominated the first half and should have been two or three goals up. Derby then equalised from their first attack. But if Fulham had that clinical cutting edge they would have been out of sight.
Hayles believes the side that stormed to the First Division title under Jean Tigana, with Louis Saha, Luis Boa Morte and himself scoring 63 league goals between them, posed more of a threat in the final third but feels that the loan signing of Aleksandr Mitrovic on deadline day could be crucial.
I felt like we had more of an edge up and top and, if Fulham can get someone in the final third scoring consistently, then they will push on from there. I think he [Mitrovic] is a great signing. He will suit Fulham’s game because he can hold the ball up and will be a good focal point for their attacks.
Hayles, who scored 57 goals in six seasons at Craven Cottage, admitted he has been surprised at how he has taken to coaching as playing career draws to a close. The likeable forward, who scored Fulham’s first Premier League goal at Craven Cottage in a 2-0 win over Sunderland back in August 2001, is currently studying for his UEFA B license.
I didn’t think I would want to get into coaching, which is why I’m 45 and not fully qualified yet. But now I’ve grasped it with both hands and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
He does feel passionately, that despite new FA and EFL initiatives to create more opportunities for BAME coaches in the modern game, more needs to be done to ensure that the managers at the highest level reflect the game’s diversity.
I know a lot of players I’ve played with who have got their full badges and apply for jobs but get bypassed. I speak to them and they say, ‘Well, I’ve got all the credentials, why can I be given the chance?’ But that doesn’t put me off. I thoroughly enjoy it and the different levels, so I will push on.