Seven days, seven points

I’m not sure how you would work it out, but the Championship has to be one of the toughest leagues in Europe. It is ultra competitive, as we saw yesterday with a direct Millwall side posing Fulham plenty of problems, and anybody stands a chance of beating anyone else (I give you Burton’s victory over Slavisa Jokanovic’s side in September). There’s also the sheer weight and frequency of the fixtures that mean injuries and suspensions can prove very costly – and the stakes are so high that the pressure is intense.

Perhaps that’s why after the reverse at Wolves a couple of weeks ago there were those amongst the Fulham fanbase who were giving serious consideration to the idea of ditching Slavisa Jokanovic. Dan wrote at the time that he felt that was madness – and I haven’t spoken to a match-going fan who can come with a reason why the Serbian should be sacked – but, as the men who count the money never tire of telling us, football is a business now. And, to borrow a phrase from West Brom’s statement when they ran a mile from the odious Tony Pulis, it’s a ‘results-based’ one these days. If Jokanovic, who came so close to leading Fulham out at Wembley after that unbelievable end to last season, doesn’t manage to inspire some sort of promotion push than a parting of the ways could come at the end of the season.

But this week has shown us that dismissing the man who has got Fulham playing the best football since Craven Cottage witnessed Jean Tigana’s French revolution would be as big a mistake as, say, employing a stats fanatic with no experience in English football, as your assistant director of football. The Serbian certainly hasn’t become a bad coach overnight and Fulham’s prospects of reaching the Championship play-offs look an awful lot better after the Whites picked up seven points in a week where they hosted one of the promotion contenders, travelled to the league’s early pacesetters and won a thriller and then beat Millwall for the first time at this level since before Margaret Thatcher took up residence in Downing Street.

Jokanovic also tells us whether he can satisfied or not after each Fulham performance. It always reminds me of the pained high school teacher during parents’ evening trying to tell parents that their beloved boy or girl isn’t the angel they envisaged. Fulham’s head coach is such a stickler for the standards he set in his own playing career that he’s rarely ‘satisfied’ – and the last two games provided good examples of this. After the almost coronary-inducing end to that goalfest in south Yorkshire, Jokanovic told the press that, whilst it might have been a great game to watch for the fans, he’d have preferred a much less stressful evening.

The fear was always that Fulham, who looked like they could score at will when going forward at Bramall Lane, would grant the coach his wish – or wise – by struggling to break down a stubborn Millwall side. You could tell by the way some in the Hammersmith End began booing as Fulham nearly played themselves into trouble at the back that some fans felt Neil Harris’s men should be swept aside in an instant. That’s the danger of the sublime football we saw last season – those sort of standards are incredibly hard to maintain, especially when your opponents have had a whole pre-season to mug up on the things you do well.

People should also recognise that Fulham were markedly weaker yesterday than when they took the field in south Yorkshire. Tim Ream – undoubtedly Fulham’s most improved player during Jokanovic’s time at the club – was missing after succumbing to a knock picked up against the Blades. Denis Odoi, who had been an excellent left back against Derby and Sheffield United, reprised his central half role from Reading and Leeds. Kevin McDonald, arguably the most pivotal performer during last season’s surge to the play-offs, was missing from the base of the midfield and Stefan Johansen, promoted from the bench to the starting line-up, lasted only 45 minutes. Floyd Ayite’s hamstring injury is likely to get him out until much closer to Christmas at the very least.

In the circumstances, Fulham coped well with an aerial bombardment from a Millwall side who were desperate to end their six-game winless streak. On another day, the Whites could easily have been punished for allowing Tom Elliott two free headers inside the penalty area – one thudded against the far post – and affording the silky George Saville the freedom of Hammersmith and Fulham at times in the second half. There were plenty of hairy moments, not least when Aboubakar Kamara made a clumsy challenge inside the penalty area during stoppage time, but Fulham ground out an important home win for only the second time this season.

They perhaps should have made their possession count earlier in proceedings. Sheyi Ojo, cruelly mocked for that ‘go faster’ hairdo by the excellent travelling supporters, wasn’t quite as clinical as in Sheffield but he has certainly shown why Fulham were so pleased to conclude that loan deal with Liverpool. A moment of magic, when he decided to try and chip Jordan Archer from outside the box seemingly because nothing else was on, almost put the Whites ahead and his movement and willing running injected energy into the hosts’ play. Having Tom Cairney pulling the strings makes such a difference – twice two sumptuous through balls might have released Ojo and Neeksens Kebano, but Archer and Shaun Hutchinson just about snuffed out the danger.

Harris was convinced there was an element of fortune about the award of the penalty, but Conor McLaughlin clearly pulled back Rui Fonte, who had struggled to get much change out of the Millwall defence until that point. Given the baffling penalties that Fulham have seen awarded against them – the phantom penalty at Burton still sticks in my mind – you could understand Jokanovic’s bullishness on that point after the final whistle. He won’t have been happy at how Fulham ceded the initative in the second half, even if both Kamara and Tayo Edun showed both an appetite for the fight and an aptitude at this level that might lead to more first-team outings over the festive period.

Fulham’s lowly league position has been caused by a failure to bank points in August and September unlike the early pace setters. They’ve struggled to break down resolute defences at Craven Cottage and, as a result, only just climbed back into the top half of the table. Few would have expected seven points from a home game against Derby, who demolished Middlesbrough yesterday to move into six, a midweek trip to Sheffield United and a south London derby. The manner of this scrappy and yet gutsy three points was almost more important. It showed Fulham have the stomach for a fight.

Who will be the next Fulham Head Coach?

Below we take a closer look at some potential candidates to replace Kit Symons as Head Coach of Fulham.

Nigel Pearson
Age: 52
Most Recent Club: Leicester City
The former Leicester City and Hull manager is many people’s favourite for the Fulham job. Pearson is known for his rudimentary handling of the press and no nonsense football on the pitch. Any clamour for him to take the job may be a knee jerk reaction to over-compensate for the hands in the pocket affability we’ve had from Kit Symons, but Pearson is qualified for the job. He led Leicester to two promotions and managed a 48% win percentage in nearly 300 games as manager their manager. He lost his job after taking Leicester as far as his style would allow in the Premier League, but he has proven successful at Championship level. His strained relationship with the press, notoriously relating one of them to an ostrich, also led to his downfall at the King Power Stadium. This is something publicity conscious Shahid Khan would need convincing is not an issue for him to get the Fulham job. The quality of football might decrease, but our defence should improve and the players would never be allowed to give anything less than maximum effort. He could be exactly what we need.

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Paul Lambert
Age:46
Most Recent Club: Aston Villa
Former Aston Villa, Norwich, Wycombe and Colchester manager Lambert would bring vast Football League experience to Fulham. His time at Norwich resulted in two promotions for the East Anglians, whilst playing an attacking style of football, often using a 4-3-3 formation. However, his time in Birmingham never went to plan, with his Aston Villa sides twice narrowly escaping relegation. Has had a year out since leaving Villa Park in which he has travelled Europe observing coaching sessions at different clubs and would come back to management potentially reinvigorated. Offers the experience and leadership of Pearson but with a slightly more style conscious brand of football. Reportedly favourite for the newly vacant Blackburn job.

Oscar Garcia
Age: 42
Most Recent Club: Watford
A report in The Argus, Brighton’s local paper, suggests former Brighton and Watford boss Garcia wants the Fulham job. A former Barcelona player, Garcia is currently working as a tv pundit in his native Spain. His one season at Brighton saw them reach the playoff semi-finals. A short spell at Watford ended when he resigned citing “ill-health”. Garcia would come with Championship experience and an attractive brand of football. He also likes to operate as a Head Coach, something which may play in his favour if he applies for the Fulham job.

Slavisa Jokanovic
Age: 47
Current Club: Maccabi Tel Aviv
Jokanovic shot to fame as manager of Watford last season, coming 2nd in the Championship and securing promotion to the Premier League. He is currently Manager at Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel, with whom he has reached the Champions League group stages. Previously Jokanovic won back to back league titles with Partizan Belgrade as well as a league title in his one season managing in Thailand. Whether he would leave Tel Aviv before the end of the Champions League group stages would remain to be seen, but Jokanovic won plenty of admirers for his successful handling of Watford’s cosmopolitan squad and demanding owners last season.

Uwe Rosler
Age: 46
Most Recent Club: Leeds
German Rosler is best known as a manager for his time in charge at Brentford. In two years at Griffin Park he instigated a high tempo attacking style to Brentford’s play. He would have a promotion on his CV were it not for Marcello Trotta’s infamous penalty miss that cost the Bees promotion. Recent spells at Wigan and Leeds have however, ended badly with Rosler being sacked from both jobs. After a positive first year with Wigan he left the DW Stadium with them in the relegation zone last season. After joining Leeds in the summer he was sacked after 2 wins in 12 games. Un uninspiring choice.

Brendan Rodgers
Age: 42
Most Recent Club: Liverpool
It’s probably a stretch to even include Rodgers on this list. Going from Liverpool to Fulham would have been virtually unthinkable even when we were in the Premier League. However, Rodgers has Championship experience having managed Reading, Watford and Swansea. He’s likely to get a Premier League job, but it would be worth sounding out the former Chelsea No 2.

David Moyes
Age: 52
Most Recent Club: Real Sociedad
Like Rodgers, the chances of Moyes being interested are very slim. However, the Scot is in need of some career TLC having lasted less than a year in his last two jobs. After 11 years at Everton where he built one of the best clubs in the country off a foundation of solid football and good scouting, he was handpicked to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor at Manchester United. It never worked at the bright lights of Old Trafford and after taking a job in Spain out of the spotlight of English football, Moyes lost his job this week. Though his football is famously dour he’d arguably be the perfect man to re-build our club and would reportedly consider a Championship job, although he is reported to be keen to return to the North West of England.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink
Age: 43
Current Club: Burton Albion
Currently, the hottest managerial prospect in English football is Dutchman Hasselbaink. The former Chelsea striker has been a remarkable success since taking over at Burton a year ago. He has gone about a career in management the right way, starting at the bottom and has already shown considerable aptitude for the role. His Burton Side won League Two last season and are currently sat second in League One. Whilst it might yet be too early to bring Jimmy Floyd up to the Championship, he will have a job at a higher level soon enough. Appointing Hasselbaink would be a risk, not least if he saw it as a stepping stone, but one with very high upside as he would bring personality and attacking football to the role.

Sean O’Driscoll
Age: 58
Most Recent Club: Liverpool (assistant)
O’Driscoll is a former Fulham player, but unlike our last manager he has an enormous wealth of coaching experience. He was most recently Brendan Rodgers’ Number 2 at Liverpool, but has previously held the Manager’s role at Bristol City, Nottingham Forest and Doncaster Rovers to varying degrees of success. There are more qualified names out there but O’Driscoll would bring a blend of experience and Fulham history that others couldn’t offer. If nothing else, O’Driscoll could well be a target for a new coach’s staff.

Ray Lewington
Age: 59
Current Role: England Assistant Manager
Fulham’s problems can nearly all be pinpointed back to when 59 year old Lewington left the club to become Roy Hodgson’s assistant with England. He ticks all the boxes for coaching experience and knows Fulham inside and out. Appointing Lewington would be the next best thing to getting Roy back.

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Dean Smith
Age: 45
Current Club: Walsall
Walsall manager Dean Smith is one of the most interesting up and coming managers in the football league. He is reportedly interesting QPR and it is not a stretch to imagine we are looking at similar names. He has been at Walsall since 2011 and recently signed a new contract to ward off potential suitors with the West Midlands club currently riding high at the top of League One. He also led Walsall to the Football League Trophy final last season.

Paul Tisdale
Age: 42
Current Club: Exeter City
Despite his age, Tisdale is the second longest serving manager in the Football League having been in charge of Exeter since 2006. Tisdale has operated under consistently changing and difficult circumstances at Exeter often having little to no budget. In his time at St James’ Park Tisdale has achieved promotion to the Football League and before taking the Exeter job honed his coaching credentials as manager of Team Bath, famously taking them to the First round of the FA Cup. A very unlikely contender but will likely one day make the step up the football league ladder.

Karl Robinson
Age: 35
Current Club: MK Dons
MK Dons manager Robinson is one of the younger managers in the Football League, and despite being only 35 has already been in charge in Milton Keynes for 5 years. Following promotion to the Championship he signed a new contract in July and is unlikely to leave.

John Carver
Age: 50
Most Recent Club: Newcastle
Whilst he wouldn’t be many people’s pick to take over, Carver is an interesting name if only for his history as a coach. Aside from one season at Toronto FC, Carver had no managerial experience until his extended caretaker stay at Newcastle last season. He does, however, have a vast array of coaching experience, including 4 years as Assistant Manager to Alan Pardew at Newcastle. He is reported to have applied for the Fulham Head Coaching role which would suit his CV, but his lack of management experience may count against him with more qualified candidates available.

Alan Curbishley
Age: 58
Current Club: Fulham
Curbishley has been at Fulham on and off since he was appointed technical director during Rene Meulensteen’s time at the club. Whilst his role as an advisor to Kit Symons was never publicly defined, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out he’ll want the job for himself now its vacant. He’s not been a manager in his own right since leaving West Ham in 2008 and it’s hard to believe that he fits Mike Rigg’s criteria for a Head Coach. The question you have to ask is how much influence did he have on Kit Symons, because Curbishley’s time at the club has hardly coincided with a period of success.

Scott Parker
Age:35
Current Club: Fulham
Current Club Captain Parker was at St George’s Park earlier in the year studying for his UEFA Pro Licence and already has a coaching A Licence. He has publicly stated his desire to get into coaching and would be a very straightforward appointment to sit within the Fulham system as a Head Coach without taking on the additional responsibilities of a manager. If an experienced coach was to come in alongside Parker, this appointment could make considerable sense. The chances we appoint a rookie manager are probably slim but it’s worth keeping an eye out to see if Parker’s role changes and he is brought onto the staff of whomever is appointed.

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Vincenzo Montella
Age:41
Most Recent Club: Fiorentina
Diminutive Italian Montella had six months at Fulham in 2007. The former striker has forged a strong managerial career to date but saw himself sacked by Fiorentina in the summer after a 4th place finish in Serie A last season. He had 3 years in charge at the Artemio Franchi and is now heavily linked to a return to management with another of his former clubs, Sampdoria. In all likelihood Fulham would be too big a step down for a manager on Montella’s career path.

There are of course other managers and coaches that haven’t been included in this list, such as Stuart Pearce and Roberto Di Matteo, as well as other former players like Danny Murphy, all of whom have been linked with Fulham in one place or another. There are also options like Harry Redknapp and Tim Sherwood, but the hope would be that Fulham wouldn’t be foolish enough to look in those directions.

Our summer transfer policy focussed on getting Championship experience and it is hard to imagine Mike Rigg appointing a Head Coach who doesn’t fit that criteria. That being said, there are questions over style of play, character and a willingness to fit into the role of Head Coach that will come into play, alongside experience, when appointing our new boss.

Whichever way Fulham turn, this next appointment is a crucial one.

COYW

Whilst it was the right decision, it is important to remember Kit Symons for the right reasons

In the end it was a marriage that just wasn’t meant to be.

Following another home defeat that was more humiliating than humbling, Kit Symons was dismissed as manager of Fulham Football Club over the weekend.

The defeat to Birmingham City on Saturday was the fourth time during Symons’ tenure that Fulham have conceded 5 goals at home. Saturday’s result highlighted the crippling defensive problems that will last as one of enduring legacies of the former defender’s time in charge at Craven Cottage.

What mustn’t be forgotten once the dust has settled on Symons exit is that Kit has left Fulham in a far better state than he found it. Whilst his reign as manager was not spectacular, or even overly successful, it served a very important purpose given the position inherited following Felix Magath’s departure.

Under his immediate predecessors, Fulham went from Premier League stalwarts to becoming very serious candidates for Championship relegation. Symons’ year in charge was the first step on the long road back. From a position of considerable weakness, Symons leaves behind a solid platform on which to build.

The move by Mike Rigg and Fulham to move on from Symons is one that points to the future as much as it does to the past. This isn’t a move born simply out of results, although Saturday’s defeat undoubtedly made it easier. It is a conscious decision to take Fulham above and beyond where Symons would have been able to take us.

On paper Symons had everything we could want in a Fulham manager – a former fan favourite, off pitch affability and a genuine desire to take the job. Unfortunately it became fairly obvious not too long after he was given the job permanently that those off-field credentials were not backed up by any natural managerial talent. If that sounds harsh, it is not meant to. He was the right man at the right time last season, but this season was just a step too far for a man with no managerial experience. Eight horrendous games at the start of last season are no reason to accept mediocrity this season.

A mutual parting of the ways back in the summer would have been better all round. Even after he was allowed to drop the “Caretaker” from his job title, Kit’s role last season was really that of extended caretaker, getting us to the end of the season when the whole club could start again.

Whilst even his most ardent detractors (and there were an ever steady and increasingly growing number) would admit much of last season’s malaise was due to the poorly assembled and browbeaten squad he inherited, his managerial inexperience often showed. Aside from his inability as a former defender to organise our defence, Symons leaves behind a record of consistently inconsistent performances and results.

In moving into a second season, Kit gave up any chance of being treated with a degree of home-grown forgiveness when it came to his job status. Ours is a fanbase that has become accustomed to disappointment over the past few seasons. Success breeds short memories and disappointment lingers. Whilst Symons was excused for last season, he was under pressure from Day One this year. After a full season in charge, there became a point when tactical naivety began to a lot like ineptitude and it was obvious this was as far as he could take us.

The warning signs were ominous, in less than a calendar year, the Hammersmith End went from singing “stand up for the Kit Symons” to “you don’t know what you’re doing”. Symons’s early success had set him up for failure.

It is a sad end to a long Fulham career, but as soon as he threw away the shackles of caretakerdom, Kit exposed himself to the harsh realities of management. His departure is the right decision and my hope is that in time, Symons is remembered as the man who stepped into the breach when called upon and saw us through in our season of need. He does not deserve anything less.

Like many Fulham fans I wish Kit Symons well. I would be surprised if he is offered an immediate return to management elsewhere, but hope that in time that Fulham can find a place for him to return home in another capacity, and that Kit could find the humility to return.

Deciding to replace Symons is only the first step, where Mike Rigg goes next is the most important part of the entire story.

Like the rest of the fanbase I sit with baited breath to see who comes in.

COYW

Goodwill – The Most Important Word In Management

Last week I posted the first half of my thoughts on the coaching and management, focussing on the coaching side of things. This second instalment looks into the world of management and in particular the appointment process for managers in the Football League.

Before embarking on the research that shaped what you’ll read below my thought process revolved around a couple of questions. How risky was it for Fulham to appoint a rookie manager in Kit Symons and how is the perception of his performance skewed by our collective affection for him as a former Fulham player?

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To answer those questions properly would probably require some multi-faceted research worthy of its own thesis, but as a start, I thought it would be good to look at Symons relative to his peers at the other 71 Football League clubs.

That meant splitting the question into two parts when looking at each of the 72 managers across the Championship, League One and League Two;

· Did they play for the club they currently manage?; and
· Did they play for the club at which they were given their first managerial job?

Starting in the Championship, only 12.5% of current managers are also former players of their current club. 12.5% is 3 managers, and of these three managers, Kit Symons is the only rookie in his first job.

Nottingham Forest’s Dougie Freedman is in his third job, whilst Birmingham City’s Gary Rowett is in his second.

Freedman was also given his first job at a former club (Crystal Palace) and is now on his third club in the division despite not having really excelled at any point along the way.

Rowett was also given his managerial start at a former club, Burton Albion. However, down in League Two, he was able to develop under a less intense microscope. In two seasons at Burton, Rowett showed real talent getting to the play-offs twice, losing in a semi-final and then a final. His stock was obviously rising having been offered the Blackpool job only a short time before he took over at Birmingham. The lure of a former player to a former club proving too strong for either side in that instance.

With the Championship having just 3 out of 24 managers having played for their current club, how does this compare to the lower divisions? Well, combined, 14 (or 29%) out of the 48 League One and Two managers are former players of their current team, with 11 of those currently in their first job. That is a staggeringly higher number than in the Championship and could reflect any number of factors ranging from a willingness to give young (and cheap) managers a start, less intense pressure meaning the risk associated with appointing a rookie is slightly lower and an inability to attract successful experienced managers.

For a club in Fulham’s position to have appointed a rookie manager in the Championship appears something of an unnecessary risk given the fact that the division appears laden with experienced bosses. However, this then leads to a question I will have to leave unanswered. How many of those managers who took their first job at a former club got their chance first as a caretaker before being promoted after a series of good results? With caretaker managers often being on the receiving end of the boost in performance after clubs change manager, how many of these appointments ended up being misjudged, with the first few results under a caretaker not being indicative of their actual managerial ability?

To what extent do players need former clubs to give them their first opportunity? How many good managers have fallen through the cracks through a lack of opportunity and how manager managers who shouldn’t be managers are given an undeserved chance?

Across the entire Football League, a whopping 63% of managers got their first job at club they played for. That’s 45 out of the current 72 managers.

Split between the leagues, the Championship has the lowest percentage, with 58%, followed by League Two at 63% and League One at 67%.

The conclusion is that the cream rises to the top. The extrapolation of both sets of stats together suggests that the more successful managers are those who did not start at a former club…although with the trend coming down to just a few managers, that might be something of a tenuous conclusion.

A more sensible conclusion is that managers, whether or not they started at a former club, benefit from having experience lower down the Football League pyramid. Championship clubs evidently prefer experienced candidates, although that isn’t always the case.

While, at the moment Kit Symons at Fulham is the only club home-grown first time manager in the Championship, there are five others in their first professional managerial job; Paul Clement (Derby), Chris Ramsey (QPR), Lee Carsley (Brentford), Aitor Karanka (Middlesbrough) and Karl Robinson (MK Dons).

Of those, only Karanka and Clement were hired from outside the organisation and Carsley is a temporary appointment. Karanka and Clement both came to the division having been Real Madrid assistant manager, Karanka to Jose Mourinho and Clement to Carlo Ancelotti, so although both are rookie’s neither are exactlt inexperienced.

That leaves Robinson, Ramsey and Symons. Robinson has been MK Dons manager since 2010, and was previously assistant manager to Paul Ince and a coach at Liverpool and Blackburn. His was not a sentimental hire, rather a young coach being given an opportunity in testing circumstances. However, he still got his opportunity thanks to a club giving a chance to someone they were familiar with and is an example of how in-house appointments can succeed. However, MK Dons have been patient with Robinson and Milton Keynes isn’t exactly a pressure cooker environment for a manager.

So to answer my initial questions, was it a risk to appoint Symons? Yes, of course it was, appointing any rookie manager is a risk. Whether or not you believe he’s had the benefit of home-grown goodwill is a lot harder to answer and depends upon who you talk to – one man’s former hero is another man’s current public enemy. So while sentimentality definitely played a part in his appointment, as the data shows, that’s not unusual. How he’s treated as his managerial career progresses may well dictate whether or not sentimentality proves to be a good thing or a bad thing.

As a footnote, whilst we’re not currently in the market for a new manager, when we are it might be worth noting that Cambridge’s Richard Money and Swindon’s Mark Cooper are the only other Football League managers who have played for Fulham, while in Italy, our former striker Vincenzo Montella is currently without a club having left Fiorentina.

For now though, Symons is in his own way defying convention and regardless of anything else, it is human nature for us all to want him to do well.

COYW

Fulham Season Preview

Transfers (IN):
Ben Pringle (Rotherham), Andy Lonergan (Bolton), Jamie O’Hara (Blackpool), Tom Cairney (Blackburn), Ashley Richards (Swansea), Luke Garbutt (Everton – loan), Sakari Mattila (Aalesunds)

Transfers (OUT):
Patrick Roberts (Manchester City), Bryan Ruiz (Sporting), Ryan Williams (Barnsley), Adil Chihi (released), Tim Hoogland (released, now VFL Bochum), Gabor Kiraly (released, now Szombathely), Josh Passley (released, now Dagenham & Redbridge), Hugo Rodallega (released, now Akhisarspor), Dino Fazlic (released), Mark Fotheringham (released), Lyle Della Verde (released, now Fleetwood Town), Elsad Zverotic (released, now FC Sion), Jonathan Buatu (released, Wassl-Beveren), Tom Richards (released, now Aldershot), Solomon Sambou (released), Kostas Safylidis (loan return), Michael Turner (loan return), James Husband (loan return), Danny Gurthrie (loan return, now Blackburn), Richard Lee (loan return, now retired), Maarten Stekelenburg (Southampton – loan), Stephen Arthurworry (Yeovil Town – loan), Liam Donnelly (loan – Crawley), Mesca (AEL Limassol), Kostas Mitroglou (Benfica – loan)

Players likely to leave before the window closes:
Fernando Amorebieta, Thomas Eisfeld

Signing of the Summer:
This is a tough one, as our transfer business has so far has been good across the board. The standout buy is probably Tom Cairney. The midfielder arrives at Fulham from Blackburn, where he was the creative force in a team that was not short of goals last season. He’s a central midfield playmaker by trade but is also able to operate on the right. As long as he’s played in the right position, Fulham’s new Number 10 has the chance to become one of Fulham’s key players week in week out. I’m also a big fan of the Ben Pringle signing as our lack of width was a significant problem last season. Pringle’s arrival fills a key need whilst taking a top player away from a division rival. Jamie O’Hara’s free transfer arrival also represents a low risk, high reward deal that could prove a masterstroke.

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Biggest Worry:
The Defence. Whilst our transfer business has been universally well received so far, the glaring omission is the lack of any new central defenders. For a team whose main weakness is its defence, the lack of reinforcements at centre back is a genuine concern. This doesn’t appear for the lack of trying, but Brighton have unsurprisingly so far been reluctant to sell us Lewis Dunk. With three days till opening day there are questions why Fulham haven’t moved onto other targets. It may also be a lot to expect of Dunk or another player to have an immediate midas touch. Fulham’s defence will be a work in progress for the first portion of the season, with no one guaranteed their place in the back five following Luke Garbutt’s ankle ligament injury picked up against Crystal Palace, which has re-exposed another glaring weakness with the left back out for six weeks. Uncertainty over Marcus Bettinelli’s future also means Andy Lonergan may be playing more than initially expected.

Biggest Regret:
Not to have seen more of Patrick Roberts in a Fulham shirt before he left for Manchester City. Lots has been said and written on Roberts’ transfer to Man City which doesn’t need rehashing, but Roberts was an exciting talent and it’ll be a shame not to see him wear the white of Fulham again.

Coaching staff:
There is an air of positivity at Fulham at the moment, fuelled by Kit Symons and his players saying they are targeting promotion. Yet going into the summer there were significant question marks lingering over the future of Kit Symons. Seemingly only a minority of fans wanted him to stay on as manager. Given the circumstances in which he became manager, perhaps some of the criticism was unfair, but question marks over Symons managerial ability will resurface should Fulham not get off to a decent start. With his own squad now at his disposal and a full pre-season under the belt, the pressure is on Symons to get this squad firing. It’s worth remembering though, that with Mike Rigg controlling transfers the lack of a new central defence isn’t solely down to Symons.

Highlight of the Off-Season:
The vastly improved media output from the club. Albeit the bar was set reasonably low, but the video content this summer has been the best the club has put out in years. The three way interview with Kit Symons, Mike Rigg and Alastair Mackintosh set the tone early, with entertaining and informative interviews and features proving regular this summer. The club has provided extensive highlights of the pre-season friendlies and used GoPro cameras to provide unusual and additional films from the team’s summer training camps on their YouTube channel. On top of this, the club has launched a new match day preview radio show for fans not able to go to games. All in all, a tip of the cap in the club’s direction.

Lowlight of the Off-Season
All the above being said, the club have rather botched the revealing of this season’s playing strips. No it’s not a big deal in the scheme of things, and in truth, the new home kit actually looks excellent, but with less than a week to go before the start of the new season there is still some uncertainty over what we’ll be playing in at Cardiff. The “deliberate” leaking to Channel 5 for the advert for their new highlights show was actually a clever idea if it was indeed deliberate, however, the whole thing just feels a bit slapdash. Especially given that the “leak” wasn’t followed up with a marketing reveal.

Summer signings have all been revealed in polo shirts and even now, after the team actually played in a sponsor-less version of the new kit against Crystal Palace, there is still no sign of the final version. After last year’s garish monstrosity there will be many a fan who would like to get to the shop before the Brighton game on the 15th. The delay is undoubtedly due to a lack of confirmed sponsor and hopefully the good looking new kit won’t be ruined by a hideous logo when one is announced and as long as the sponsor isn’t heinous, this is a lowlight that can easily become a highlight.

Similarly, the club cut it fine to start delivering new season ticket cards, but with them now on the way all will be forgotten with the first 3 points of the season.

Key Player:
Ross McCormack. It is hard to overstate Ross’ importance to Fulham. He was the landslide player of last season and as club Vice-Captain carries an important leadership role. With a better supporting cast meaning he should play the entire season up front, hopefully his goals can fire us up the table and not just away from the bottom.

Under the Radar Key Player:
Shaun Hutchinson. Fulham fans can’t seem to decide on which of the existing centre backs at the club are any good. There is a vast swathe of fans who believe it is none. However, I fall in the camp that believes Shaun Hutchinson is the best of what we have. What he hasn’t had in his Fulham career so far is an experienced and regular partner to help him. He doesn’t yet have one, but it is hard to believe Fulham will end the transfer window without signing another centre back. Either way, Hutchinson figures to play a key role this season and how he copes will be a big determining factor in how we do.

Unanswered Question #1: Who Partners McCormack Up Front?
Pre-season hasn’t shed much light on how Symons intends to line up come Cardiff on Saturday. It looked as though Matt Smith would start the season in the team, but his demotion to the side that played at Colchester last Saturday raises more questions than answers. Cauley Woodrow partnered McCormack against Crystal Palace but the young striker has looked inconsistent in front of goal. The wild card is Moussa Dembele, who’s bulked up and looks ready for regular first team football. Adam Taggart is also on the books but is likely in need of a loan spell to regain sharpness after a year out injured. Rumours that we’re in for Crystal Palace forward Dwight Gayle suggest Symons and Rigg may not be happy with the current options and there is also a chance Symons opens the season with a 5 man midfield leaving McCormack on his own.

Unanswered Question #2: Will Dembele, Hyndman and Bettinelli be at the club in September?
Aside from Lasse Vigen Christensen, who seems firmly embedded in the first team, there are persistent rumours that Dembele and Emerson Hyndman, both with only a year left to run, won’t sign new contracts. With Marcus Bettinelli, who’s also yet to sign a new contract, still rumoured to be the subject of interest from Chelsea, there are doubts over the long term future of some of the club’s brightest young stars. Dembele and Hyndman need game time and while you feel both could help the first team it is hard to see either starting regularly, but should they sign new deals, loan moves may follow in order to guarantee game time.

Quick Fire Season Preview:

League Prediction:
Between 7th and 10th – good enough for top half but not making the playoffs with this defence.

Top Scorer:
Ross McCormack

Most Assists:
Ben Pringle

Random Prediction:
Lasse Vigen Christensen to captain the side at some point

Most Looking Forward To:
Having a corner taker beat the first man

Least Looking Forward To:
Losing the debate with my wife every Saturday about putting the highlights on now they are on at the prime time of 9pm on a Saturday night meaning I’ll still watch them on sky+ on a Saturday morning.

All I want For Transfer Deadline Day Is:
To have not left signing a centre back to the last minute

Two words to sum up my feelings towards the new season:
Cautiously optimistic

COYW