Football moves quickly, especially in modern culture where technology allows us to have anything we want without leaving the sofa and all your entertainment is on demand. That ‘on-demand’ lifestyle has been dripping into the beautiful game for a few years as the length of time given to coaches and players has diminished whilst there’s no room for sentiment; coaches that once accomplished great things at a club are thrown out by the very same after one period of poor form. Football has hills and valleys, especially when the squad turnover is as high as is it is now. All of this is relevant Fulham, I promise.
Javier Pereira, once of Slavisa Jokanovic’s backroom staff, was a victim of sackings during our Premier League campaign as the Khans decided to move on in a desperate attempt to secure safety in the top division. Over a year has passed since Slavisa and Javier patrolled the dugout at Craven Cottage and, whilst some supporters have been nolstagic for the return of the Serbian, I don’t think anyone saw the appointment of Javier Pereira as the assistant director of football operations coming.
In the announcement from the club, Javier Pereira’s role was described as ‘working closely with Tony Khan on football business matters including talent identification and development but his primary focus will be on embedding the Club’s playing philosophy through all Fulham’s teams, from youth level to the first team.’ It’s quite an interesting definition and you do wonder whether the ‘power’ of the first-team coach could be reduced by a potential buffer between them and Tony.
But my main focus for this piece was looking at the club’s philosophy. Tony Khan was later quoted as saying ‘We [Javier Pereira and I] share the same vision for Fulham and the same philosophy of football, and we’ll work together to apply that shared vision to deliver success.’ It is clear to anyone who watched Fulham under Jokanovic what this means – possession football. The approach has continued Scott Parker in a slightly different manner. Jokanovic’s iteration was very much central midfield focused with ‘inside-forwards’ and a lot of more of the width being provided by the full-backs. Parker’s vision has seen more from the wide players.
Let us take a look at the chances created. In the top five from Fulham’s promotion season are three central midfielders (led by Stefan Johansen), a full back and then Ryan Sessegnon who played a good chunk of that season at left-back following the sale of Scott Malone and complete failure of Rafa Soares. It wasn’t until Matt Targett was brought in that Sessegnon truly got to enjoy the role on the wing. For Parker so far this season, the top five comprises two wingers, a full back, a central midfielder and striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.
The model for this style is most obviously Barcelona, but, already in the two coaches who have applied their vision, we’ve seen the difference in how to create chances and contribute to scoring goals. Even Barcelona have evolved through iterations of their values and everyone has their favourites. For me, I most enjoyed the side that beat Manchester United in the Champions League final back in 2011 – a line-up of Valdes; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Abidal; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Villa but I wouldn’t hate you for enjoying the side that next won the Champions League (2015), with the eleven as follows ter Stegen, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar. Some may even prefer the Rijkaard era that featured Ronaldinho, Deco and Eto’o before the era of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta broke through.
I won’t delve too deeply into the history of footballing philosophies (there are some great books for those of you who are interested – including Jonathan Wilson’s ‘Inverting the Pyramid’) but it would be criminal to link Barcelona to possession football without mentioning Johan Cruyff. Cruyff was in charge at the Camp Nou for eight years and won four titles plus the Champions League, but it was his cultural change of the entire football club that laid the groundwork of what was to come. The great La Masia academy that has records in providing the most players from one club to play in a World Cup final and also host all three finalists of the Ballon D’or was the Dutch legend’s brainchild. His legacy will forever live on, not just through Barcelona, but in the shape of Pep Guardiola, who starred in Cryuff’s Barcelona side, and has taken that philosophy to his own coaching career. Guardiola is just today’s pinnacle of Cruyff’s ‘coaching tree’ that is going to have so many roots as time progresses.
At Fulham, Javier Pereira’s primary focus will be embedding our style of play throughout the club. How this will work is quite interesting as the academy has Ben Bartlett as the Head of Academy coaching and you imagine they will work quite closely on creating training plans that will benefit the young players and their pathway up the age groups to the first team. When you watch the highly-heralded Liverpool kids play for the senior side, you’re struck by how they’re near carbon copies of the players they’ve come in to replace. That’s years of coaching building a long term identity under Jurgen Klopp and, whilst it’s unknown how much time Pereira will spend on the pitch coaching, the idea is definitely beneficial for the entire football club.
Hopefully, Pereira will be able to add some tactical knowledge to the recruitment process given his understanding in what is required from every position. Though whoever is head coach will have their own flavour, keeping continuity in recruitment is vital for the long term success of the football club. Who is replacing Tom Cairney? What is it stylistically you are looking for from that player? If you can have a list of even five to ten players to replace every player of what you feel is your strongest eleven, you almost need a conveyor belt churning out talent. There’s an interesting insight in Michael Calvin’s The Nowhere Men on David Moyes’ recruitment strategy which you can read about here but the book is worthwhile for an unparalled insight into player evaluation.
I understand this has turned into a long post, but honestly, I could probably double it. I will leave you by returning to theme that football moves quickly. Coaches just aren’t given the time that they probably should be. In a similar vein to the recruitment process, the list of potential coaches to replace yours should also be in mind. Who is coaching your style of football well? If you are going to input this process, there can be no more Ranieri’s. I do admire the Sean Dyche way of playing the game but that’s a no go and, similarly, Chris Hughton is not an option. You have to be constantly assessing football across the world and keeping an eye on coaches that could come in and carry on the job.
Thanks for getting through that if you did, I’m more than happy to discuss in more detail in the comments or on Twitter.