Fulham’s International Fanbase

If I can’t write for this website in times like the current, then I should retire my pen (or keyboard). I sit here locked up having had my one period of daily activity, swiping aimlessly on Tinder and binge-watching Netflix shows, it’s time to do something a little more productive.

Clint Dempsey, Mark Schwarzer, Graham Leggat, chance matches and emigrations are some of the threads that have connected Fulham to an international fanbase. This past week I’ve been asking for some of our international fans to give me an insight on their experiences being a Fulham supporter overseas, from closer to home like Ireland to further beyond in the United States and Canada to even further in Japan and Australia, there’s a footprint of football fans that call Fulham FC their team.

Whilst us closer to the Cottage are leaving home to journey to the Cottage, for me it’s South East London so a train and tube around 90 minutes worth (probably including the walk from Putney Bridge), there’s a number of supporters waking up to alarms to get their own Fulham fix of a weekend. For European based supporters, the matchday isn’t too intrusive but in North America, 3pm on a Saturday could be anywhere from 6am to 12pm dependent on location.

There’s a strange obsession on trying to be a truer fan than others, but I admittedly admire the dedication of those in the Australasia area waking up gone midnight on a Saturday, after a week of work to get their taste of Fulham. The volume of supporters Fulham attract to Craven Cottage isn’t anything special, the ability to make an income from other avenues is important to sustainability, especially in a world where Fulham are no longer an established top-flight club. Receiving a revenue stream from an extra few hundred (or thousand) from elsewhere in Europe and further out does make a difference.

Maybe it’s the ‘Rona but I’m feeling quite sentimental in terms of togetherness. I feel the pessimists reading this thinking ‘f*** the tourists.’ Well, this isn’t a post for you and I apologise for wasting your time, bro.

The footballing world has developed massively over the past decade, streams have become more accessible and social media has created an ability to connect with the rest of the world instantly. Twitter, for example, isn’t even 10 years into serious popularity, the occupation for anyone in social media or most things digital is new and ever-changing and it just displays how bloody awesome it is to be able to talk to people in the US about the same thing.

Tangent over, one of the things I wanted to get from talking to our foreign Fulham family is how they do stay attached to the family, how they remain connected the football club. Social media, understandably was top of the criteria whether it was Fulham supporter run pages (such as here, or Fulhamish/Fulham Focus or Cottage Talk) but also these supporters are making their own avenues – did you know for example; that ‘FFC Norway’ is extremely active on Facebook? I’m not a big Facebook guy but I find it so cool that people from Oslo or Tromso are taking time to talk Fulham let alone actively support or put money into the Fulham bank account.

There wasn’t really a real point to this post I guess, just a shout out to the life of those that support Fulham even if Craven Cottage isn’t within commutable distance on a regular basis. However, you start supporting the club, it’s a testament to the current fanbase and the unique feel that people who may only see the team once a year (or even less than that) are still determined to be a part of it all.

Thanks to all that helped me gather information, hope to see you all at the Cottage in the future.

Just a quick side-note, I noticed this past week that Fulham froze their ‘FFCTV’ membership payments this month given the lack of games – I personally wouldn’t have minded them taking the cash. With that in mind, I thought it’d be nice to donate the money that would’ve gone to the club to the Fulham FC Foundation who do lots of good in the community. It didn’t get much traction on Twitter but heck, a last plug here also.

JustGiving Page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/frankie-taylor2?newPage=True

RT here if you don’t mind: https://twitter.com/fptaylor_/status/1242051615349264386?s=20

Building the Fulham philosophy

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.

Resiliency, The FA Cup and Permanent Loans

It’s been a strange couple of months for Fulham, December started with a disastrous trio of defeats to play-off chasing rivals in Bristol City, Preston and Brentford as Scott Parker’s position was teetering in the eyes of many. A win over Leeds felt like a job saver and Fulham have gone on to lose just one of the seven matches since Christmas. An odd result at home to Reading is the anomaly of the purple patch but still raises legitimate questions about Fulham’s potential to win games when they go behind (they’ve only won one of the twelve matches they’ve conceded first, losing eight and drawing the other three).

But the Whites have still managed to win four of their last six and most notably, three of the four wins have been by a goal to nil, a scoreline that has recently felt unattainable to hold once the last flurry of pressure comes from the opposition. People have noted that reasons for this include Kevin McDonald’s reintroduction into the Fulham team alongside the incoming Michael Hector, and whilst both have had a positive impact, it doesn’t count for the 1-0 win at Stoke on the final game of 2019 where neither were in the squad.

There appears to be a mentality change, at least when Fulham are ahead in games. They seem more intent in protecting Marek Rodak (who by the way, has earned the number one shirt, he’s played just 36 minutes more than Marcus Bettinelli but made more than double the saves – 43 to 21). This more resolute Fulham side have (largely) not lost the core aspect of their philosophy in the process, Stoke had Jack Butland to thank for the game not being out of sight by half time and Jonathan Woodgate would have been delighted that by half-time, Middlesbrough were still within a goal of a result.

Now I don’t want to just dismiss the influence of both Kevin McDonald and Michael Hector. Whilst McDonald doesn’t possess the mobility of either Harry Arter or Harrison Reed, his size and positional discipline creates somewhat of a third centre back. Scott Parker spoke following the Hull game how important he felt it was to have at least five behind the ball with McDonald influential. Hector on the other hand, has brought a serious smooth feel to the defence. He may not have the distribution ability of either Tim Ream or Alfie Mawson, but I think you can safely argue that he’s perhaps the purest ‘defender’ we’ve had at the centre of defence for a long time. That circa £7m initially felt an overpay, but it may not end that way. Could the Aston Villa – Fulham comparisons continue? Is Michael Hector our Tyrone Mings? Only time will tell…

Scott Parker will be pleased that his side has picked up winning form and in January his options are growing despite the disappointment of losing talisman Aleksandar Mitrovic for a few weeks. With Michael Hector becoming eligible and Terence Kongolo joining Fulham on loan from Huddersfield, Scott Parker has the centre back depth to play three at the back on a regular basis if he wished with personnel allowing him to play that with five or four across midfield opening up the potential of a striking partnership (of which we haven’t seen at Fulham since Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele) or the current front three. I know a lot of people don’t like a 3-4-3/3-5-2 but I grew fanatical after watching Antonio Conte’s Juventus side manage to dominate the middle of the park but also cause issues thanks to the two up top. Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio were energy bunnies ahead of Andrea Pirlo that allowed them do the leg work for him, get up the pitch to support the forwards and come back to support the wing back on the outside.

The FA Cup

I got sidetracked there admittedly, but I thought the timing of this piece was ideal. I’m sure we can all agree that an FA Cup game away to Manchester City doesn’t mean in a thing in the grand scheme of things this weekend. Fulham and Scott Parker can only ‘win’ by knocking out the reigning Premier League champions (or taking them to a replay). In fact, I quite enjoy these games because it’s the peak of what we’ll be up against all season. Even against poor Port Vale, Pep Guardiola started with Joao Cancelo, John Stones, Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, David Silva and Sergio Aguero; so I’m sure we can expect no less, especially given the title race is over and this is an opportunity for silverware.

Permanent loan moves

It’s been a while so why not turn this into somewhat of a longer piece? Fulham have reaped the rewards of including options to buy in their loan business this past summer. Triggering the option for Ivan Cavaleiro opened up a match day loan spot for Terence Kongolo to come in and beef up our backline whilst news broke yesterday that Tony Khan has also made Bobby Decordova-Reid a Fulham player permanently and you presume that’s to open another potential loan spot for a forward given the injury issues at the top of the pitch for Fulham that were evident against Charlton in midweek. It probably would’ve been cheaper to pick Harry Arter or Harrison Reed for permanent moves, credit to Tony for going for who has impressed most. Whilst I dislike his “I’m bloody brilliant, aren’t I?” attitude when announcing transfers, perhaps (just perhaps) Tony Khan is learning on the job.

Parker’s Fulham begins to take shape

After six league games and a League Cup experiment, we’ve got a pretty good idea of what Scott Parker wants his Fulham team to be. Ahead of the most recent game in Cardiff, Scott hinted at the idea that there’s no right or wrong way in football but he believes this controlling, possession-based style is not only how he wants to play but is what puts Fulham in the best position for winning games of football. The start of the season has been mixed with the Whites unable to cope with Barnsley’s swarming pressing in the opening game and then producing the most dominant display in Championship history with a 4-0 decimation of Millwall after close-fought victories over Blackburn and Huddersfield. Nottingham Forest managed to overcome the starvation of the ball with Lewis Grabban clinically putting away their two only real chances of the game, whilst on Friday, a red card saw the trip to Cardiff transformed from Fulham pushing for a winner to battling for a good point in the end.

During this period, academy product Steven Sessegnon tied down the right-back position, thus eliminating one of the few question marks in the starting eleven. The older of the Sessegnon twins will admit he could have done better a few goals against this season but has shown a bite and confidence at full-back that hasn’t really been seen since Ryan Fredericks. Steven has already made more interceptions than any other Fulham player so far this season and looks the part as he looks to follow his brother’s path in establishing himself as a starter for a Fulham side that gets promoted back to the Premier League.

The goalkeeping position remains somewhat in flux. We’ve not been comfortable in our starting goalkeeper since Mark Schwarzer, who left Fulham in 2013. Marcus Bettinelli is a fine goalkeeper in the Championship but I’m still unsure on his potential to win us points and matches. In six fixtures, ‘Betts’ has conceded five goals, made five saves and has two clean sheets. I actually think that the defence has done a good job in reducing the volume of quality chances against our goalkeeper overall but where are the saves when we need it most? The moment we get caught on the transition, where is the goalkeeping equivalent of putting away that 1v1? I don’t think we’ve seen it yet and after Marek Rodak’s promising display at Craven Cottage against Southampton, the pressure is back on Bettinelli (and not for the first time in his Fulham career) to keep ahold of that starting goalkeeper position.

Back to the style of play, under Slavisa Jokanovic in the promotion season, four of Fulham’s top five in terms of short passes completed was midfielders Tom Cairney, Stefan Johansen, Kevin McDonald and Oliver Norwood. So far this season under Scott Parker, three of the top five are Tim Ream, Alfie Mawson and Joe Bryan, with Steven Sessegnon on pace to take over Tom Cairney to enter the top five. In every league game this season, Fulham’s most common passing combination has been Mawson either playing to or receiving from his centre back partner (Denis Odoi in the first game, Tim Ream in the subsequent matches). This does appear to show a far more passive and patient approach from Scott Parker’s Fulham as opposed to Slavisa Jokanovic’s midfield heavy approach.

Fulham visually may have somewhat of a creative problem, but only five teams are above the Whites for shots per game with Fulham level with Middlesbrough and only four teams have scored more with Fulham level with Leeds, Luton and West Bromwich Albion so the numbers don’t quite back that up but it’s perhaps arguable that Fulham have somewhat struggled to create clear-cut chances, a beauty from Tom Cairney, a couple of them from Ivan Cavaleiro and a Mitrovic penalty accounts for four of our ten scored whilst Mitrovic’s header at Huddersfield was created by a moment of madness from Juninho Bacuna. It’ll be interesting to see this progress after the international break with Scott Parker seemingly unsettled on the final piece to his midfield trio: Tom Cairney was partnered by Kevin McDonald and Stefan Johansen on the opening day before Harry Arter came in to tie down the holding role but most recently Harrison Reed came in for Johansen to take the holding role and Bobby Decordova-Reid has most frequently come into the midfield for his league cameos so far this season.

It’s been a mixed start for Scott Parker’s men with a style of play now very clear but the next step must be improving the link between defence and attack – in the five games we’ve conceded in this season, we’ve won just one of them. High possession is simply going to be how we play this season and once relationships continue to build, the teams settle and momentum comes into play, you hope Fulham can build upon a decent points return from the first six and really start to take a stranglehold on a side expected to compete for automatic promotion.

Fulham’s statements of intent

While this summer has moved slower than many Fulham supporters would like, the business done off the pitch has been with only one target in mind: promotion. Tony Khan began his summer business while the season was yet to finish as the future of Tom Cairney was settled with a five-year deal despite relegation confirmed and two games to go until the season was over. Out of the gates before the window had even opened, Khan secured his next bit of business a month later and it was more in-house dealings as striker Aleksandar Mitrovic also committed himself to Fulham Football Club undeterred by relegation and with that, the Championship was aware that they would be facing one of the divisions best playmakers of recent years and a forward who scored 12 goals in 18 starts in his last period at that level.

Tony Khan’s feeling for the next season was clear before a first signing was seemingly close according to reporting. However, six days later after a week of bubbling Fulham announced the signing of electric Wolverhampton Wanderers winger Ivan Cavaleiro who saw his game time at the club drop in the Premier League due to change of shape. A year prior as Fulham were contending in the play-offs, Cavaleiro’s 21 goals and assists (while playing around 900 fewer minutes) was only bettered for goal contribution by Diogo Jota (22) on the other flank for Wolves. A menacing direct winger with a recent Championship title, excellent form in his previous stint in the division and at 25 still has room to grow; Tony Khan in attracting Jorge Mendes client Ivan Cavaleiro to the football club made the perfect statement of intent with this transfer window and Fulham not only got better for the coming season but should promotion come, they will be better in the Premier League.

Fulham’s attack was already looking menacing but eight days later it turned absolutely ruthless. Anthony Knockaert signed, like Ivan Cavaleiro, on a loan with an option to buy next summer and like that, Fulham’s front four now contained a Championship Player of the Year from just two seasons ago. The French winger pipped Chris Wood (then of Leeds) and Dwight Gayle to the award with 15 goals and 8 assists as part of a Brighton team that didn’t leave the top 2 from the end of October and were just a point behind Rafael Benitez’s Newcastle United. An underlying tone is also that Anthony Knockaert helped Brighton maintain their Premier League status and is leaving the coastal club as their most goal productive wide player from last season.

Four bits of business, two headline retentions and two incomings set the tone for Scott Parker’s Fulham this season. Whilst pre-season has shown evidence of a more direct wing play heavy attack inserted into a possession focused football team, Tony Khan has made this football team stronger, deeper and containing two more players you can take into the Premier League and produce. He’s had his critics (and admittedly, I’ve been one of them) but he’s showing signs of learning, growth and depth beyond spending multimillions. While there is business still left to do, namely within the back four and the centre of midfield, Fulham has roared into not only being promotion favourites but favourites for the Championship title. Scott Parker has been supported to an extent where he has everything to lose in his first full season as first team manager – this team is set up for promotion and whilst a title or promotion will look good on Parker’s record, the offseason business has made it so anything less will be a complete and utter failure.