This past week we learned that Slavisa Jokanovic had returned to Motspur Park ahead of the start of pre-season “getting some work done” despite some pretty hefty graft during the close season. Looking ahead to the 2016/17 Championship season, we’ve learned about the first team releases of Shaun Hutchinson, Dan Burn, Jamie O’Hara and Alex Kacaniklic as well as the rather disappointed news that Emerson Hyndman felt his development be better in the hands of Premier League AFC Bournemouth rather than Craven Cottage. On top of these deals, Kostas Mitroglou has been sold to Benfica, Andy Lonergan has been sold to Wolves, whilst rumours circulate with regards to the sales of Fernando Amorebieta and Matt Smith as well as the unsurprisingly speculation to where Moussa Dembele will start the coming season and the continuing tales of Ross McCormack’s future. When you wrap all of this up, you can tie it up with pretty bow considering the potential sales of Maarten Stekelenburg, Jazz Richards, Nikolay Bodurov and Ben Pringle; we’re looking at a rebuild perhaps bigger than any of us anticipated.
So what does a Jokanovic team look like? To be frank, he’s not worked anywhere really long enough to do something this extensive, but by using past quotes and looking at his time at his former clubs, we can start to build an idea. With the stare of a immersed mafia boss and the rough, croaky voice that can make his English sound more broken than it actually is – his demeanour can reflect his preferred footballing style – Finnish midfielder Sakari Mattila had this to say in the early days of the Jokanovic era, “He wants us to be more aggressive when we are defending, to take and be tougher. He wants us to get in their face. He wants us to press the ball quicker.” A hardnosed Serbian, Slavisa Jokanovic yearns for fight, for intensity, for desire and although the impact of Jokanovic’s style could be seen, the players simply did not match his philosophy with results yet to come. The closest Fulham came to an ideal Jokanovic performance would likely be the win over QPR at Loftus Road where it seemed to click; the players were intense, they did fight, they created chances and they blew away their opposition with clinical and incisive attacking play.
Always with an eye on the opposition, Slavisa and his backroom staff want to make the opposing team uncomfortable. Whilst at Watford, he was quoted in a match preview as saying “We must play with the right intensity and with the right energy. If we play in this way and if we are working well on the pitch, we have the possibility to make it difficult for the other team.” To get the upper hand in a football match is half the battle, arise a personal favourite line from the Fulham manager, “football is not a game for pussies, it’s a job for real men.” This hard and serrated mentality shouldn’t been read without a want for style. Slavisa Jokanovic has previously been cited as discussing a want to “play like Barcelona” but understands it’s not always possible. At Watford he argued (probably rightly) “we have to play like Watford. It is about these players and their characteristics will determine which way we play.”
Slavisa Jokanovic now – following the previously discussed rebuild – has the opportunity to bring players in to play in the Barcelona style he desires, which undoubtedly would also feature his own aggressive and fighting spin. Fulham are Jokanovic’s 6th club since 2012 and with that, his first with the opportunity to make the entire football club his own and in his own image. With how the rumours are shaping up, it’s likely that Fulham will bring in an entire 442 and potentially more.
A fascinating and vital summer is ahead of us as Fulham supporters as a successful, hungry, determined and exciting coach leads us into our third season in the Championship. Slavisa Jokanovic has frequently utilised the word “ambition” and how we need to be more ambitious in training, in games and in recruitment. A charismatic enigma, Slavisa Jokanovic’s ambition for Fulham FC and for the Premier League could be the driving force required to take Fulham from the consistent dip over the last few years to an attractive, intense and aggressive football club on the rise.