I don’t think that I have ever seen a response to a managerial change quite like the one in the aftermath of Fulham’s announcement yesterday. While things were looking ominous on the pitch, Jokanovic seemingly had the support of those in high places at Craven Cottage. The reaction to the sacking hasn’t been one of relief that we sometimes see with these things, but was one of sadness. What Slavisa Jokanovic did for Fulham was incredible. From being in danger of slipping down to League One, to getting promoted to the Premier League through the play-offs was an epic turnaround. Some of the football we have played over the past few years has had us nearly drooling but for some reason it just hasn’t worked in the top tier of English football. I’ll get to where things maybe went wrong further down the piece, but for now I want to try and sum up why my overwhelming emotion about the news of Jokanovic’s sacking is sadness.
The loss of our project manager- I’ve said before that I love the idea of a manager taking on a job with the view to a long term project. Football has become a place where job security doesn’t exist. Look at our new manager for example; he led Leicester to the Premier League in what was possibly the greatest football underdog story of all time, but was sacked within a year! Clubs are so scared of getting relegated that often logic doesn’t come into decisions regarding managerial jobs and so often managers are hired as a short term solution to a long term problem. This is where Fulham have gone against the status quo a bit with Jokanovic’s reign. He very easily could have been sacked last year after our miserable start, but the Khan’s chose to stick with their man and we were rewarded with promotion. For this reason, I am gutted that our project manager is gone. He fixed things about our club and that resulted in the best day of my footballing life at Wembley back in May but it was only after he had made mistakes along the way.
Recruitment, recruitment, recruitment- When I try and think about what has went wrong this year, I keep coming back to the same answer-recruitment. People will harp on about 100million this and 100million that but ultimately we ended up with a very unbalanced squad. I have no doubt that we have extremely talented players at our club, but the team as a whole in how it plays is poor. One of the problems was that we have relied on loans over the past few years so when these came to an end we were left with just 12 first team players at the club. And it wasn’t like we got rid of the fringe players- no, these were players who had a huge impact on our promotion journey. Players like Tomas Kalas and Ollie Norwood have been huge losses given our rocky back four and the injury to Cairney. These might not be world class players, but I believe that the consistency might have helped this season. Jokanovic found himself in a position were he not only had to acclimatise to the huge step up in class, he also had to incorporate a staggering eleven new players into the club. Looking back, I don’t think it was ever going to end well.
Acceptance- While I am really sad about Jokanovic’s sacking, I can understand it. There are only so many times that you can recover from a slow start, and this is Jokanovic’s third season in a row were there have been question marks over him. I backed him to the hilt last year but, admittedly, I have found it harder and harder to back him 100% this time around. I wanted more than anything for him to do well, but his stubbornness and his sometimes baffling line-ups made me begin to think that he had lost his way a bit. While I didn’t want to read that he had been sacked (not yet anyway) I do understand the decision. The problem was that he gave the Khan’s a decision to make, and if you do that you are in dodgy territory. I think that I would find this much harder to take if we ended up with Sam Allardyce or Alan Pardew leading the club, but Claudio Ranieri is undoubtably a great manager. You don’t win the Premier League by accident and while I know that’s certainly not our target, we can be relieved that it’s him and not someone else. The key now for us is to continue to support the team.
Memories- I could write a book about all the memories I have over the past three years alone supporting Fulham. We have had heartbreak, but we have also had the most surreal day back in May. We have watched our team playing some beautiful football but have also seen some calamitous decisions. Instead of going through a lot of things, I think I’ll focus on just one match that I think summed us up in a nutshell. When we went to St James Park in the 2016-17 season, we all knew that it would be an incredibly tough game. We were, after all, going to take on the league leaders in front of 50,00 odd passionate Geordies with Rafa Benetiz in charge. We were on a good run of form, but nobody there that day expected us to go 3nil in front, with 16 year-old Ryan Sessegnon silencing everybody apart from the 1000 Fulham fans in the clouds up on the top tier. We absolutely tore the league leaders apart and it was probably the best performance that I had witnessed from Fulham in some years. To make it fulhamish, however, we conceded a stupid goal before missing an injury time penalty. Yes, we won the game 3-1, but we managed to make an impressive victory a bit difficult for ourselves. While we all went home happy, I feel that it sums us up under Jokanovic really well. We played some sizzling hot football, yet defended slightly naively and then made the crazy decision to get centre back Tim Ream to take a penalty and miss, instead of letting a 16 year-old kid have the chance to score his first professional hattrick. It was a wonderful day, but done very much in the style of Jokanovic’s Fulham.
To close I just want to say this; I’m devastated that it hasn’t worked out for Jokanovic this season, but unfortunately there is no room for sentiment in football any more. He will always be welcome back to the Cottage by me, but for now we have to say “Best wishes, Slav and welcome, Claudio.”