With the hectic Christmas schedule of games in sight, Assistant manager Steve Kean is hoping that the Whites make the most of a great opportunity to get some much needed points on the board to take into the second half of the season. Speaking at Motspur Park last week, Kean gave a realistic assessment of the season so far. But with a string of key players back in full training in the next week or so, a palpable sense of optimism about the capabilities of the squad was clearly evident.
“As far as the League is concerned we are a little bit further down than we expected to be and that is disappointing,” he said. “But we are also excited about the quality we have got in the squad. We feel that when things do click we have got real ability – like we showed when we went on that recent four-game run. We never really got that last season. When everyone is fit we feel that we have the ability to do that again for sure.”
“The disappointing thing is that last year we had 16 clean sheets, whereas this year we have conceded too many goals, and when a goal has gone in we haven’t been resilient enough at times. Instead it’s looked like two or three might go in, but that’s about the players having mental strength. We have got to have a pattern of play that, when we score, we ensure that a quick goal isn’t scored against us. At the same time, if one goes in against us we have got to get back to believing that they’re not going to get another one.”
“I think sometimes it takes a bit of time to get that mental attitude but we’ve drummed it in to the boys that we can’t fold like a pack of cards if we go a goal down. Rather than them feeling sorry for themselves they’ve got to try and inject a bit of anger in to themselves that can inspire them to give 10 or 15% more instead of 10% less. They should actually enjoy it, in a perverse way, if we do go a goal down and then come back and win. That show’s a real togetherness.”
Although Kean is more than happy to admit the side’s shortcomings so far this season, it seems there is one area of our game that he is finding particularly pleasing this term. “One of our strengths has certainly been in creating chances, especially with the way we counter attack,” he said. “We’re starting to get back to what we had with the pace and power of Louis Saha in the team. I’m not saying Coley is the same type of player but we have certainly worked hard on the training ground in terms of how to set play up.
It’s clear that Kean is a big fan of the former England striker, both in terms of his abilities as a player and the attributes he brings to the dressing room as stand-in Captain. “He’s been a breath of fresh air,” said Kean. “At times since he has got the captaincy I think he has tried to take on a little bit of everyone else’s jobs as well as his own. He is a fantastic Captain because he wears his heart on his sleeve and that’s a fantastic quality. You can see in the body language that he has a huge desire to win, he is an inspirational player – we’ve told him that – and he can inspire the team by his performances and his goals. We have felt in the last couple of games though that, because he wants to win so much, he has been trying a little bit too hard and by his own admission his performances have dropped a touch. He sets himself very high targets and it’s important for the fans to know that he carries everything with him for a long time and it really hurts him personally when things don’t go well. As a management team we like that, you want all your players to feel like that when you get a defeat. He’s very much a team player as well and has both feet very firmly on the ground.”
The other new summer recruits also seem to have made their mark too – albeit to varying degrees. A combination of injuries, suspensions and a natural period of adaptation have understandably all taken their toll in different ways, but Kean is firmly of the belief that there’s plenty still to come from the summer’s new recruits. “Everything is starting to click for Radz at the moment. I think it was difficult for him coming into a team that plays very differently to Everton but he has adapted well to our style of play. He has got a great burst of pace that can cause full backs problems and we’ve played him out wide and I think Chris likes the explosive power he can offer in wide areas.
“Bouba has been very good as well. It’s been difficult for him because he is trying to learn the language and trying to take in all this information. Maybe he won’t react instantaneously to an instruction because he will be holding the words in his mind and translating them into French before reacting on them. So we’ve got to bear with Bouba because he is in that transition period at the moment, but it’s just a time thing really. He’s got great qualities though and is going to have a big part to play for us.
“As for Claus, it’s been unfortunate that he’s picked up a couple of injuries. But he’s done a lot of work with the medical team and we hope he can come back and have a good run of fitness because he is a quality player.”
Another new addition to First Team proceedings this season has been a young player who Steve Kean knows particularly well, namely Zesh Rehman. Zesh came up through ranks of the Fulham youth system while Kean was Academy Director and he’s naturally proud to see one of his former students making the transition to the cut and thrust of the Premiership with such ease. “Zesh is a quality player, we knew that all along and I think it is great for the fans to see one of the local lads come through,” said Kean. “He is a boy who thinks of nothing else other than football, it always comes first for him. He spends time in the video room analyzing the strikers he’s playing against and he has coped really well. So I’m delighted for him.”
Before donning his trademark cap and joining the squad on the pitch for the morning’s training session, Kean also paid tribute to the Fulham fans for their support what has been a tough couple of months. “Well Chris and I both think that the fans have been absolutely fantastic this season,” he said. “Even at the games where we have lost at home the fans have been singing all the way through and supporting the team. It’s very difficult when you lose games, at somewhere like the Cottage, to go up and applaud the fans because you are hurting for them. We feel bad at what’s happened and want to erase that memory as soon as possible and put it right at the next home game. But we’ve really appreciated all the support and everyone has been magnificent, they really have.”