Craig Kline: A story, a timeline, a sideshow

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.

Charlton Athletic 3-2 Fulham U21s

A fairly entertaining affair at the Valley saw Carl Robinson’s Charlton host Peter Grant’s Fulham academy side. Robinson made eleven changes to the Charlton team that played at the weekend, bringing in the experienced Johnnie Jackson and Mark Marshall whilst Ben Reeves also came into the midfield. The fixture under the floodlights on a pretty chilly evening drew a crowd of less than 750, sarcastically reported as Charlton’s lowest for a competitive fixture but treated like the FA Cup final by the rowdy home supporters in attendance. Officially the under 23s, Fulham held their own in a game where their eldest players were a ripe 20 years old, Charlton supporters will claim it was their kids playing but 10 of their starting eleven were older than the Fulham starting team.

The experienced heads of Johnnie Jackson and Ben Reeves grew into the game after a strong Fulham start, which saw Charlton control possession of the football for large periods of the game but the Whites defended resolutely holding them to few clearcut chances: which will disappoint Peter Grant’s squad even more following the collapse of a 2-1 lead heading into final minutes turn into a switch around 3-2 loss. Some bright sparks in the cold of a South East London night, the game provided the perfect learning experience for Fulham’s youngsters: playing and preparing in a professional football stadium with competing with more experienced footballers.

Player ratings:

Magnus Norman: Strong in his own penalty box, Norman will be disappointed to concede three. One or two really decent saves were topped by his safe hands with the majority of crosses coming into the penalty box. Think he could really have done better with one or two of the Charlton goals but tough to say on first viewing and no replays at the Valley. 6

Djed Spence: 17 year old Djed Spence was making only his 2nd start for Fulham at this age group and defended pretty well all things considered. He grew in confidence and tried to make more of an impact in an attacking sense with a few quick bursts down the right flank. Kept Karlan Ahearne-Grant fairly quiet. 6.5

Aron Davies: One of Fulham’s better performers, 20 year old captain Aron Davies helped create Fulham’s early opener with a gorgeous ball from the ball that found Elijah Adebayo’s chest perfectly – must have been a 50 yard pass. Overall, Davies defended resolutely bar one moment in the second half, and his distribution was key to the majority of Fulham’s attacks: again, one moment where he shanked a ball into the stands but otherwise a strong display. The boy is due professional football, that’s no doubt his next learning experience. 7

Moritz Jens: I’ve admired the German centre back ever since he arrived at Fulham, and despite still being 18 years old, he looked at home last night. Solid in the air, Jens and Davies complimented each other with the younger Moritz putting in more of an understated performance. 6.5

Rob Atkinson: I felt for the recently signed Rob Atkinson last night. Typically a centre half, who could potentially make a move to left back but was taught a lesson by the experienced Mark Marshall on the Charlton right flank. Nice passer of the ball and attempted to get forward, but simply losing the one-on-one battle with Marshall is the reason for the low grade. 5.5

Mikki Kwietniewski: The Polish attacking midfielder was taken off at half time and didn’t affect proceedings at all. You could really have forgotten he was playing; and I do like him as a player, it’s simply testament to Charlton’s impressive left back, Jamie Mascoll 5

Matt O’Riley: Showed the poise which has lead to his Fulham first team debut and swept up nicely in midfield but the team didn’t have enough possession for O’Riley to make a real impact on proceedings. The youngest player on the pitch but didn’t look it, may not have had his foot on the ball as frequently as usual but held his own against what would’ve been a solid League One central midfield pairing. 6

Jayden Harris: 18 year old Jayden Harris possesses impressive athleticism, the type of player we rarely bring through at Fulham. He put himself about well but simply didn’t affect the game. If I had to proper match report, Harris wouldn’t have featured bar a funnily memorable moment where he held off 35 year Johnnie Jackson with absolute ease. Needs some seasoning but a good learning experience for him. We weren’t completely overwhelmed in midfield despite a 16 year old and an 18 year old going against a 25 and 35 year old. 5.5

Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson: You could argue the little Icelandic was the best player on the pitch. A gorgeous finish for the opener, Thorsteinsson drew frustration out of the home crowd and management staff – the spark for most things in attack for Fulham, Thor’s skill all over the pitch brought Fulham time with free kicks and was a fairly constant threat. Also thread a beautiful slide rule pass for Cameron Thompson’s goal to put Fulham in the lead. I hate saying players are the ‘next X, Y and Z’ but Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson glided on the left flank in an Eden Hazard like fashion. Charlton manager Carl Robinson took the time to speak to Thor after the game and mention him specifically in his post match comments, “he’s certainly got plenty of talent.” My man of the match. 7.5

Mattias Kait: Started the game in the hole, before being moved to the right in the second following Kwietniewski’s substitution. Worked hard off the ball but didn’t have many touches on it, could have been forgiven for forgetting he was playing. Victim of Fulham’s inability to control possession as he is a good footballer. 5.5

Elijah Adebayo: Hovered between a 6.5 rating and the 7 I did eventually give him, Adebayo was a handful for the Charlton centre backs all game right up until his substitution. Had a connection with centre half Aron Davies and won a large majority of his duels with Jo Cummings throughout the game. Showed some nice target man play for the opening goal and edged the 7 with his all round impact in what was a tough game to be a striker. Has all the tools to make a good career for himself if he works hard but will likely have to start in non-league. 7

Fulham substitutes:

Cameron Thompson: Thompson’s introduction gave Charlton another thing to think about with Fulham’s counter attacks. Knowing Cameron since his time with the U16s, he’s a lethal finisher and displayed it with a lovely left footed strike past Dillon Phillips in the Charlton goal (a 22 year old who has won the National League). A smaller striker but with a Defoe/Aguero like finishing ability, Thompson’s sole opportunity to score came to him on his weaker foot and at 17 years old he despatched with aplomb. Threatened with his pace in behind, Thompson now has two goals in his first four matches at this level to add to his 9 in 6 matches at under 18 level. Whisper it quietly, but here’s the next star striker for Fulham at academy level – and I would’ve told you that two/three years back. I look forward to seeing him develop throughout the season, and can see him starting games at this level by the end of the season. 6.5

Michael Elstone: Peter Grant changed his mind on substitutions a couple of times in the game, seemingly calling Tyreese Francois back from his warm up to get him ready but he didn’t come on. He also had Isaac Pearce on the sideline ready but sent him back to the dugout after the Charlton equaliser. Elstone doesn’t get a rating simply because he only had about 10 minutes to work with; Charlton were piling on the pressure at this point n/a

Overall it was an average performance from Peter Grant’s men with a few stand outs. A good learning experience and resolute team display for the majority of the game. I think Charlton would’ve spent more money on stewards and staff despite the £10 adult tickets and regularly priced food (including £6.00 for a curry in the Millennium Lounge and £2.30 for a cup of tea). No wonder nobody turned up.

Slavisa’s stalling Fulham side

The Whites travelled to Villa Park on Saturday afternoon off the back of a bland four game unbeaten run, but the lacklustre performances continued with Slavisa Jokanovic’s stalling side yet to get going. Once lauded for his ability to switch things tactically at Watford, Jokanovic’s side have become predictable and teams turn up with a game plan to limit the passing game; whether it’s Preston’s high pressing style or more of deep defensive block just begging for a team who has been without its premium creative talent to break them down.

The predictability has simply been highlighted through Tom Cairney’s injury, Slavisa Jokanovic has remained stubborn with his shape to the extent of forcing our multi-million pound number nine out wide to retain the three in midfield despite lacklustre performances from both Stefan Johansen and Oliver Norwood in the absence of the club captain. A lack of creativity both on and off the pitch has stifled Fulham’s progress regardless of the talent that the recruitment team has assembled; even with Tom Cairney’s injury, this team is good enough to be picking up wins both at Craven Cottage and on the road.

It’s the surprising perseverance with averagely performing players in a system that Jokanovic slavishly adheres to which doesn’t help frustrations – nothing is being changed to make things better and Slavisa has the personnel to make drastic changes to the shape and player positions whilst retaining the possession style of football.

Considering Cairney is currently unable to start games, Fulham could switch to a 4-2-3-1, with the goalkeeper and back four remaining the same, unless you wanted to start Rafa Soares at left back or Denis Odoi at right back. To provide the defence a little more solidity – perhaps necessary when the Whites have managed just two clean sheets in thirteen league matches – you can add Ibrahima Cisse alongside Kevin McDonald to provide a defensive shield allowing the three in front to support and create for the striker. With no Tom Cairney, you’ve got a couple of options for the number 10 role – Rui Fonte can feature there if you want to start Aboubakar Kamara or alternatively the Portuguese can take up the lone striking role. Johansen could take up a more traditional attacking midfielder role but it wouldn’t be my preferred option. Out of our attacking/wide midfield players, Neeskens Kebano is arguably most suited to the free role behind the striker, which allows you to slot Ryan Sessegnon on the wing (introducing Soares at left back) and Yohan Mollo on the right (or whatever combination of wide players either side of Kebano you would prefer).

The three-man defence has become more fashionable recently with Chelsea’s success under Antonio Conte (although here the Premier League shows itself up as a copycat league following that formation’s ascendancy in Italy over the past five year). Fulham’s game is already built around full backs surging forward – and one of these systems would allow them to take full grasp of these positives in their game. Odoi can come in as one of the three in defence alongside Tomas Kalas and Tim Ream, having filled in remarkably for Kalas at Reading and Leeds and is one of our more athletic footballers. The midfield upwards are where the questions come in, do you go two forwards and three in midfield or two in midfield and three attacking players? Either could work at Fulham, the extra man in defence could give you a McDonald and Johansen central midfield partnership with two wingers supporting your striker (again, who you’d prefer – some would say Soares at wing back and Sessegnon further forward, some like Floyd Ayite: others don’t). The other option is your midfield three where you can keep McDonald, Johansen and Norwood in the middle but have Rui Fonte up front alongside Aboubakar Kamara.

Jokanovic remains the right man for Fulham but he needs to show more when his plan A is not coming to fruition – you can point to the possession numbers but for his philosophy to secure promotion, this side has to to be harder to score against and less predictable. I also think the players need to do more – how many of this squad can you say justify their spot in the starting eleven? Kevin McDonald and maybe two or three more? I don’t think good footballers playing average football should get away with no criticism either.

We go on to face Bolton Wanderers next week, but if nothing is to change, then prayers to whatever deity are necessary to facilitate Cairney’s return to full fitness as soon as possible.

Tom Cairney’s rise to Fulham’s leader

Tom-Cairney-594571

Born in Nottingham to an English mother and a Scottish father, Tom Cairney’s first professional football environment was at Leeds United, joining as a seven year old. After nine years on the books at Leeds, Cairney was released at the age of 16 for being ‘too small,’ however, his footballing career kept him in Yorkshire as he joined Hull City. After two years representing the Tigers at academy level and winning their Young Player of the Year award, Tom Cairney made his professional debut in the League Cup, scoring for (what was) Phil Brown’s side against Southend United. In the season Fulham reached the Europa League final, Cairney finished his debut campaign with a handful of Premier League appearances including a club Goal of the Season winner for a strike in a 5-1 loss at Goodison Park against Everton (a gorgeous left footed volley from the edge of the box). Hull City were however relegated at the end of that season, coincidentally, Steve Wigley and Tim Flowers (now of Fulham of course) joined Iain Dowie in the unsuccessful effort for Premier League safety.

Hull failed to bounce back straight away, with Cairney proving to become a useful squad player in two seasons which saw two more new coaches in Nigel Pearson and Nick Barmby. It was with these sporadic appearances that the midfielder came into the Scotland set up, representing the Scottish under 21 national team on more than one occasion. Former team mate George Boateng saw the potential of the maturing midfielder, describing him as ‘potentially a huge asset to the England national team.’ Another year, another new coach, 2012-13 was set to be a potential break out season for Cairney, but a ‘horror tackle’ from future team mate James Husband saw Tom suffer a serious knee injury and his season disrupted, losing time to impress new manager Steve Bruce.

After struggling to return to semi-consistent first team action in a Hull City shirt, Tom Cairney joined Blackburn on an initial loan in the summer of 2013 where he quickly became a key figure under Gary Bowyer creating the second highest amount of goals for Blackburn as they floated to an 8th place finish. His early season performances convinced Rovers to make his loan a permanent one in January; a move justified by being named Blackburn’s Player of the Season ahead of top scorers Jordan Rhodes and Rudy Gestede. Despite largely playing in wide positions, his performances at Blackburn showed enough for Fulham to make the commitment to purchase the Scotsman for £3m in the summer window of 2015.

In his first season at Fulham, Cairney’s promise continued to show as he tallied his best figures for goals and assists notwithstanding mostly playing on the right of midfield. Slavisa Jokanovic became Cairney’s seventh head coach of his career, and after squeezing Championship safety out of Fulham between his appointment and the end of Cairney’s first season – Slavisa rebuilt the football club to play his style – with Tom Cairney being a focal point of this new look team. A flowing, attacking and possession based footballing philosophy, Cairney’s confident care of the football on top of his ability to score goals and create chances has benefitted him and Fulham in this push for promotion. As we speak, the recently rewarded Scottish international has completed the most passes in the Championship, with the highest passing accuracy whilst also creating the most chances and is the only player in the division to reach double figures for both goals scored and created.

A classy footballer and a presentable young man, Slavisa Jokanovic’s influence on Tom Cairney continued; as Scott Parker’s lessening contribution saw the Serbian put the captains armband on the Scotland international. This move has seen Cairney grow with the belief put into him by Jokanovic, growing in the role game by game, and has now become a strong in-game leader; highlighted by ignoring all previous issues from the penalty spot, to grab the ball and dispatch two massive penalties at Norwich and Huddersfield in this late surge of form. Cairney has become the face of Slavisa’s Fulham side and whilst other players also deserve credit, Tom’s style, technique and creativity has made him the catalyst for the clubs’ success: holding abilities that is rare to find on the transfer market. His starring second season has made him one of the best players in the Championship, a viewpoint agreed by his peers as he was placed in the PFA Championship Team of the Year for 2016-17.

Tom Cairney’s rise to captaincy of Fulham Football Club has been littered with the typical highs and lows of a professional football but the right player, at the right football club under the right head coach has seen Tom Cairney play close to the potential that George Boateng once pondered.

How high can Ryan Fredericks go?

Ryan Fredericks of Fulham during the Sky Bet Championship match between Fulham v Preston North End played at Craven Cottage, London on November 28th 2015

I had been mulling over this post for a few days now but after his performance today, how could I hold off writing about the potential of Ryan Fredericks for much longer? Playing as more of a wing back against Cardiff in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup, Fredericks was integral in both Fulham goals eventually earning him a deserved Man of the Match award as Joe Bennett will struggle to tie his own shoelaces with the dizzying display from our speedy full back.

A bizarre signing initially as he left Bristol City after 26 days in the South West of the country, citing personal reasons for his motivation to come back to London. Bristol City’s loss was the gain of Fulham FC as they snapped him up matching the alleged lower than £250k fee it cost for the Robins to sign him initially. Ryan Fredericks had a mixed first year at the football club, taking part in what would eventually become a one sided battle for the right back position with Jazz Richards, playing in a number of different systems under both Kit Symons and Slavisa Jokanovic (and also experiencing game time on the wing), a product of the Tottenham Hotspur academy, Fredericks also suffered from frequent niggling injuries keeping him out for weeks at a time and noticeable drops of energy in every game he played – running at lightning speed before being desperately shattered at the hour mark in every game.

The injury issues appeared to be continuing for Ryan as he walked off injured in our second official friendly in pre-season against Brighton just days prior to the team flying out the Portugal. Fredericks had surgery on August the 1st ahead of a 10-12 week recovery period which wouldn’t see him back in a Fulham shirt until October. The beneficiary of the owner connection and everything being bigger and better in America, Fredericks spent a chunk of his rehab in Jacksonville with the Jaguars enjoying intense sunshine and getaway training to recover.

And recover he has, since coming back into the Fulham line up, Fredericks has lost just one of the matches he has started (against League leaders Brighton and Hove Albion) whilst blitzing the involvement in goals from the previous season – a mere one assist – to sitting on four with so long in the season yet to go. A genuine game changer with lightning speed, Ryan doesn’t overly rely on it in defence positions as many speedsters have in years gone by. Relatively comfortable when closer to his own goal and an astute defender of his far post, Fredericks does however hold an issue with discipline; picking up 6 yellow cards in his 12 games back from injury. An issue that will need to be eradicated for his ability to take serious looks from those in the division above, I genuinely believe that the former district champion in the 100m and triple jump competitions has the core qualities to get to the highest level of English football.

Should Ryan Fredericks be able to keep himself fit and flying, importantly keeping that electric fleet of foot running for 90 minutes on a consistent basis, harness his feisty nature on field into disciplined defending and continue to provide in the final third, Fredericks’ ceiling is very high indeed. Thanks must go to Slavisa Jokanovic and the clubs’ Head of Medical and Sport Science Marco Cesarini for the intensity of training sessions and improvement of his conditioning – it’s now down to Ryan Fredericks to continue his already quick development, and at only 24 years of age, Fredericks is looking every bit like a player you could shine up to take into the Premier League.