This was originally intended to be one article detailing four key steps Fulham must take this summer to commence the journey to return to the Premier League. However, after writing the first two points and ending up at thesis length, it seemed evidently obvious that such issues require proper discussion and not just sound bites within a puff piece on Fulham’s demise.
Also, I must state that there are obviously many more than four steps on the path to our redemption. This series of four articles serves merely to bring up for debate 4 key areas that must dictate and shape our off-season.
Part I – The Future of the Boardroom
The first area that must be resolved is that of who is making the decisions. Before any decisive action can be taken to overhaul our troubled squad, there must be a clear system and personnel in place to oversee such a process.
It is not coincidence that our worst year on the field in the Premier League has happened in a year when there was consistent volatility off it. With such inadequate systems in place and so many lingering question marks following Shahid Khan’s takeover, is it really any wonder that the team and staff put in place were not up to the job?
Meeting as I did with several senior members of the FFC hierarchy a month ago as a delegate of the Fulham Supporters Trust, there was a palpable tension in the room from members of Fulham’s Management Board. The impression given was one that the conclusion of this season would bring about a final denouement to our yearlong off-field state of flux one way or another. Now relegation is confirmed it remains to be seen whether that means a changing of personnel.
With efforts and minds at the club solely focused on attempts to remain in the Premier League over recent months and weeks, the question must be asked what next? There has seemed a reluctance to accept relegation as a possibility, hoping it would simply go away and be brushed under the carpet if it was ignored. In a year when there was barely ever any reason to believe, it has seemed at times a blind mantra spouted by the in-house communication team.
For a club of Fulham’s stature you can only hope that appearances are deceiving. Planning for relegation must surely have been at hand since it first became an evident possibility. On-field planning matters are key to a side chasing their ultimate goal of promotion, more so than in the money spinning world of the Premier League, where efforts in off-field activities can seem equally paramount to a club’s success.
However, before any on-field decisions can be made, Shahid Khan must make those tough decisions needed to repair our off-field hierarchy. In layman’s terms, the first decision must be whether or not to retain the services of Chief Executive Alistair Mackintosh. Khan’s rhetoric has been consistent about holding those responsible to account.
This is not a straightforward decision, and one that may have more long-term bearing on the future of our club than any other. There are arguments for both sides and this is not going to be an article calling for anyone’s head. Along with most others, I did quite enough of that during the dog days of Martin Jol’s tenure.
First and foremost, Mackintosh must hold his hands up and accept some level of responsibility for the catalogue of disastrous decisions that followed one after the other over the last ten months.
It is not for anyone to say whose fault they were in their entirety, even though they would on the face of it appear to fall at Mackintosh’s door.
Was Martin Jol retained for far too long because it was Mackintosh’s will or Khan’s? Were the ill-thought out transfers that plagued last summer on the behest of Mackinstosh, Jol or anyone else? The budget that framed the summer of under-spending was doubtlessly a result of one owner cutting costs prior to the sale of the club and then another man hesitant to blow vast sums of money before he’d even got his toes wet.
The managerial situation has been a farce. Rene Meulensteen was a target at first team coach from almost the moment David Moyes released him from Manchester United. That he arrived when he did months later was down to whose leadership? The subsequent departure of Jol and the frankly comical and embarrassing developments leading to us having “3 managers” in Meulensteen, Wilkins and Curbishley must fall on someone’s head.
January saw much needed transfer dealings incomprehensibly wait until the last minute. Some will argue that deals in January are impossible until the last few days, but team’s like Hull got their business done early and have subsequently reaped the rewards. Decisions such as ridding us of Dimitar Berbatov without a replacement, terminating the loan of Adel Taarabt yet keeping Darren Bent and scattergunning yet more loan and short-term signings look troubled with the benefit of hindsight. Only John Heitinga has really proved a prudent addition, as even the pedigreed Lewis Holtby has been limited to only marginal contributions despite his obvious talent. Indeed Felix Magath has said this weekend that Holtby has lacked the fight we so desperately needed.
Yet it is with sad obviousness, that the entirety of the above pales into insignificance when compared to the debacle that has been the Kostas Mitroglou saga. Signed for a record amount as the great hope of our survival. His name was genuinely marquee, and our eggs were most definitely thrown into his basket. Yet he arrived injured and unfit. Ready not to fight for survival and months later he is still not ready. If I were an owner who had just seen my money wasted, this would be the straw that broke the camel’s back. A failed deadline day move for Icelandic striker Alfred Finnbogason suggests knowledge of Mitroglou’s medical status might have been more known than was publicised.
Shahid Khan, convinced enough to provide significant transfer funds, has been let down by his staff when it came to the execution. Money was obviously there. That it was spent so badly is not the fault of our owner.
Yet in moving stealthily to appoint Felix Magath under the radar on Valentine’s Day, Mackintosh may have just saved himself his P45. It was a move that gave us a chance, and that he recognised the faults in the management structure he appointed and moved to arrange the attempted solution must be acknowledged.
Mackintosh’s successes must be remembered as well. It was, after all, he by appointing Malcolm Elias and Huw Jennings who put in place the academy system that currently sits as our great white hope for the future.
So then, where does the blame lie? More importantly, what can be done to fix it and move on?
Foremost, our board structure must change. That the story of our season falls seemingly on our CEO’s head is testament to our inadequate executive management structure. Our Board of Directors currently sits as a group of four. Two of whom, Shahid Khan and Mark Lamping, are based in the USA and bring little by way of background knowledge of the sport to the table. The other two, the aforementioned Alistair Mackintosh and Finance Director Sean O’Laughlin, sit on the board as representatives of the club’s day to day management. In effect, there is nobody in place whose job it is to challenge Mackintosh or Khan. There is no one who can question if decisions are right.
My point here is not to single out any one individual for perceived failings. With the structure we have in place there is simply not enough in the way of checks and balances.
Under the Al-Fayed regime the Board had Dennis Turner, Michael Cole and Mark Collins supporting the Chairman at Board level. While each had a different prerogative, Turner as fan and Collins as Al-Fayed confident for example, each brought gravitas, real world experience and knowledge as a football fan to the table.
In a successful company the CEO is there to execute the strategy he and his Board have carefully planned; Fulham have asked Mackintosh to both singularly run the business, shape the strategy and execute the footballing plan, all in constantly changing circumstances with a Chairman who simply cannot give the club his undivided attention.
Whist Mackintosh is an easy fall guy for the calamitous decisions of this season; we are as a club more reliant than ever on the whims of our owner-chairman. Before a line can be drawn under this past season, Shahid Khan must decide how he sees the club being run going forward. In stark similarity to the position he inherited at Jacksonville, will the front office be cleaned out like it was there after a disastrous first season? These decisions must be made early in the summer so Felix Magath can commence preparations for next season.
Fans quick to dismiss the current management hierarchy will be well placed to consider Mackintosh is one of the few remaining links to our heritage in our hierarchy. The next few months are about next season, but beyond that there is a club whose strategy needs shaping and a future to protect. The Riverside Stand is likely at least 12 months away from breaking ground, but any CEO, incumbent or otherwise, will have that on his plate as well as managing the on-field matters.
If, as it appears, Felix Magath is staying as manager, he will demand authority over transfer business. Moving the transfer buck may not be a bad thing. Recourse will be necessary, as more time wasted on whom to blame if transfers go wrong helps nobody. That being said, it is imperative the club maintains its scouting network and plans for the future. We do not want to be left in a situation where the manager signs yes men for players then leaves a mess for others to clean up. We are in that situation at the moment.
Regardless of the outcome, who stays, who goes and who comes in. It is crucial that a system is decided upon and put in place. Only then will the football management be in the position to make the un-wavering decisions necessary to regenerate our fatigued playing staff.
Hopefully this afternoon’s match against Crystal Palace will be the start of a new era at Fulham Football Club.