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Fragile Fulham lacked fight

Our Saturday lunchtime date with Coventry turned horribly sour in the second half. Perhaps the most alarming element of Fulham’s second half collapse was the fact that the visitors seemed to lack the stomach for the fight. We need to start being honest with ourselves. The Championship is one of the toughest divisions in the world to get out of. You have to wonder whether the idea that this side would walk the league, amassing a hundred-plus points, had percolated through to the players. It simply isn’t going to happen – but the team looked like they believed they only needed to turn up to win.

As the old proverb goes, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. It seems inconceivable that Marco Silva and his backroom stuff hadn’t prepared meticulously for Coventry. Mark Robins’ men might have exceeded all the early season expectations with a fine start – they are a serious proposition on their own patch, as evidenced by their 100% record back at their own ground, and have a forward line to rival any in the league. Silva savaged his players’ second half showing afterwards – nothing went right from when Ream and Onomah got in each other’s way after Gazzaniga’s wayward pass, a mistake that highlighted both an absence of communication and a lack of awareness.

It would be easy to blame the second half collapse on the dreadful penalty decision but, although the officials at this level consistently fall below an acceptable standard, Silva was right to say it wasn’t the reason why Fulham slumped so badly. Robinson was unfortunate to be penalised for what was a shocking day, but Fulham’s defence had already been lackadaisical in the penalty area. It took a terrific saving tackle from Harrison Reed to prevent the peerless Callum O’Hare from sauntering through a terribly porous back line, which saw Matty Godden the chance to throw himself down. Denis Odoi endured an awful afternoon, giving away countless free kicks in dangerous positions, and consistently finding himself in the wrong position when sky blue shirts ran at him.

You could have been forgiven for thinking Fulham felt the job was done after the first 45 minutes. We simply weren’t awake. There was a distinct lack of closing down, with home players allowed to pop off shots from inside the area – Ian Maatsen’s strike was a perfect example of this. Odoi didn’t get to him quickly enough and suddenly the game had got away from us. The frustration was evident both in the stands and on the pitch but everyone in black has to take a long hard look at themselves. I’m confused as to how some starters remain fixtures in the team. Fulham offered painfully little going forward after the break. Wilson was largely anonymous again, although I’m confused why he isn’t on the free-kicks.

I could spent a long time detailing the failings of a number of players, but the painful truth is most of Silva’s starting line up simply wasn’t good enough. This was our worst showing since the Scott Parker days – forget the defeats by Blackpool and Reading – having got ourselves into a winning position, collapsing like that was utterly unforgiveable.

Gazzaniga: I’m not as down on him as some elements of the fanbase, but there comes a time when you have to realise, it isn’t working. Rodak is proven at this level and was starting for Slovakia as they qualified for Euro 2020. A change in goal is long past necessary. 1

Odoi: There still seems to be a sense amongst some of the fanbase the Belgian is beyond criticism after his service to the club. He looks woefully short of the defensive standard required at right back. When wide players are running at him, he appears completely out of his depth. The decision not to recruit a new man in this position after Tete’s injury is proving more and more costly. 2

Robinson: The American shouldn’t have started for me if Bryan was fit enough to be on the break. He gave Gavin Ward a decision to make by leaving his leg out for Godden to go to ground and comprehensively lost the battle with Dabo on the Coventry right. Too many of his passes went astray and, despite being a sublime athlete, he makes too many elementary mistakes. 2

Mawson: I actually felt sorry for the big man. He was wanted eighteen months for a league start and was drafted into to this mess. Comfortably Fulham’s best defender – although that is really damning him with feint praise – and he dealt with most of the balls into the box. 5

Ream: That dreadful mistake right at the start of the second half seemed to see him go to pieces. You just had a sense he wasn’t going to recover from the stumble and heavy touch after Gazzaniga’s poor pass, although Onomah’s part in this comedy of errors shouldn’t be forgotten about. I expected more leadership and communication from one of Fulham’s most experienced players. 3

Reed: I felt Harrison was lacking in a lot of departments this afternoon and was getting frustrated watching him by the end. 4

Onomah: Certainly didn’t take his chance after Silva’s strange decision to leave Seri out. Typified our lack of intensity in a dozy performance that culminated in his crazy blocking off of Ream for Coventry’s equaliser. 3

Decordova-Reid: Was he even out there? Missing in action. 4

Kebano: The Congolese winger was far from our worst performer, but he wasn’t good either. First touch had gone to pieces long before he was hauled off and you can see why a succession of managers have seen fit to only use him as an impact sub. 5

Wilson: Seems to be struggling now that sides are taking steps to limit his effectiveness. Coventry cleared put two men on him this afternoon and that dramatically reduced the Welshman’s impact. He might be better suited to filling the number ten role in Carvalho’s absence. 3

Mitrovic: Looked to have the beating of McFadzean in the first half – not just in the air, but in the way he was dropping deep to link up the play effectively. Hardly saw any of the ball after the break but you could totally understand his frustration after he was blocked off by Clarke-Salter as he tried to burst through the Coventry defence, even if his boiling rage resulted in an unnecessary booking. 5

Moving forward, there could be a case for changing the system slightly. A lot of Championship sides have successfully deployed a back three this season and, with Mawson’s return to the side, there is the potential to play three centre halves. Tosin was sorely missed today – and simply can’t be dropped or rotated again. Bryan has to start on the left and operating as a wing back might reduce defensive deficiencies. Decordova-Reid did well at right wing back last season and might be worth a try until Tete is fully fit. Rodrigo Muniz probably deserves a start after a number of bright cameos off the bench – I’d like to see him partnered with Mitrovic up top from the start against QPR. Suddenly, the derby looks like a massive game after the international break.

Reflections on Fulham’s first defeat

Where to begin? Fulham’s unbeaten record is no more after Marco Silva’s side were humbled at the seaside today as Blackpool battled to their first league win of the season. The Tangerines thoroughly deserved their victory this afternoon – they were clearly the better side on the day and there was a worrying lack of intensity, flair and desire from a Fulham side who looked very flat after the international break.

After the euphoria of four straight wins, it is easy to forget that Fulham’s Championship campaign actually began with an underwhelming draw against Middlesbrough when Silva’s side appeared to take their foot on the pedal and allow their opponents back into a game that should have been beyond them. Fulham were similarly sloppy this afternoon – giving the ball away carelessly and seemingly surprised by the unrelenting nature of Blackpool’s high press and their energy both in and out of possession.

Silva has spoken throughout his time in charge about the need to maintain the high standards he has set for his squad. They certainly slipped this afternoon – and this defeat should serve as a timely reminder that nothing is won in the early weeks of the season. It may be too early to offer a take on this Fulham squad, but we are looking more and more like vintage Fulham.

Silva has made this team more alive than in the any of the past three seasons. The new manager is hungry to prove that he can still crack English football and he has certainly made life down by the River Thames enjoyable again. There can be no doubt about the fact that he has been the driver of the club’s transfer strategy, having brought in several signings over the course of the summer. The acquisitions of Wilson and Gazzaniga came quickly after Silva’s appointment and he was the pivotal factor in the purchase of Rodrigo Muniz. Similarly, he has held a longstanding interest in Nathaniel Chalobah since his time at Watford. Perhaps the only thing he didn’t get in the transfer window was a new right back after Kenny Tete’s injury. I might be one of the few Fulham fans who considers such a signing a priority as I sadly believe that Denis Odoi is well past his peak as a full back.

Gazzaniga hasn’t had much to do in the games I’ve seen this season but he doesn’t look too confident when the crosses come in. You’d have to think that Championship clubs will test him out under the high ball the longer the season goes on. The Argentine will be disappointed to have let Josh Bowler’s winner go through him at the near post this afternoon – and you can make an argument for him probably needing to do better for several of the goals Fulham have conceded this season. I would have liked to have seen Marek Rodak return between the sticks, especially after how impressively he performed the last time we were at this level, but either keeper is fine for me.

The surprise central midfield combination of Jean-Michael Seri and Josh Onomah has been one of the most unremarked parts of Silva’s summer evolution. Today was probably the first game where that partnership didn’t really do enough. Onomah came close with a couple of shots, but Seri gave the ball away in dangerous area far too regularly – one of which led to the Blackpool winner. You can’t question Seri’s commitment to date and, even if I might still quibble about certain technical elements of Onomah’s game, it would be churlish to deny that he’s had an impressive start to the season.

Blackpool handled Mitrovic well today, isolating him from his team-mates for much of the contest, but I would suggest that was easier in the absence of Carvalho and Wilson. Muniz looks like a good addition to the side – he linked up well with Mitrovic in his cameo today – and created more in ten minutes than the team had managed in the previous eighty. I feel like Wilson will be a regular source of goals and assists, as will the lively Bobby Decordova-Reid.

We shouldn’t get too down about a defeat to an unfancied side. Such is the unpredictability of the Championship – I’m sure there will be more of these results before the season is out. The Whites are still well placed after the first four weeks of the season and, mostly importantly, Silva has brought the enjoyment back to watching Fulham. Improvements will be necessary and he will demand them. I can’t wait to get back to watching the Whites at Craven Cottage.

What do Fulham need in the final hours of the transfer window?

The transfer window will finally slam shut on Tuesday and Fulham are in the unusual position – in recent years, at least – of having already conducted the majority of their business. Marco Silva has signed three players – two of whom have quickly become key fixtures in his starting eleven as the Whites have stormed to the top of the Championship. Paulo Gazzaniga has started every league game in goal and Harry Wilson has added dynamism and goalscoring ability down the right flank.

Against the prevailing narrative of Fulham blowing huge wads of cash in an immediate attempt to return to the Premier League, the pair cost next to nothing. Gazzaniga arrived on a free transfer following his release by Tottenham earlier this summer, whilst Wilson has signed on an initial loan with payments on his permanent transfer from Liverpool deferred until next summer. The protracted saga of Rodrigo Muniz’s switch from Flamengo has now concluded, but only the first payment of two sets of £3.4m has been shelled out.

There have also been departures from Craven Cottage this summer. Stefan Johansen joined QPR and proven a key component in Rangers’ impressive start to the new season, whilst Aboubakar Kamara completed a move to Aris that may net Fulham as much as £4m. The precise nature of the deal that took Maxime Le Marchand to Strasbourg at the end of last week is not known, but contrary to some reports on Friday, Fulham did receive a fee. There may yet be further outgoings with Silva suggesting that Cyrus Christie could well leave the club early next week as the Republic of Ireland international is not in his plans and several Italian sides still hold a serious interest in Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa.

Silva’s squad is stacked full of talent but the head coach himself has made plain that he would like to supplement his resources in the final days of the window. There remains a lack of depth in terms of defensive midfielders, even though Harrison Reed’s return as a substitute against Stoke City this weekend was welcome. The proposed move for Matt Grimes appears to have gone quiet, but being linked with a replacement of the pedigree of William Carvalho was particularly eye opening. Fulham might also need a back up number ten as concerns persist about Tom Cairney’s long-term fitness – however well Fabio Carvalho has taken to senior football.

Silva did speak earlier in the window about the possibility of adding defensive cover, which might be a subject broached again in the corridors of power at Motspur Park now that Le Marchand has returned to France. There were surprising links with a loan for Manchester United’s Phil Jones last week, but his lack of game time over the past two years and a questionable injury record would make that something of a gamble – especially as Fulham already have two injury-prone defenders on their books. A younger alternative, such as the former Milan centre half Rodrigo Ely, could prove a sensible signing. In more recent days, the focus has been on a potential attention at right – given the seriousness of Kenny Tete’s hamstring injury – and it remains to be seen whether Denis Odoi’s assured display yesterday has changed Silva’s mind about re-entering the transfer market.

Silva’s system demands quality in the wide areas and I’d love the romance of offering Ryan Sessegnon a respite from his struggles at Spurs. He is a proven goalscorer at Championship level and desperately needs to recover his confidence after injuries and a lack of first-team football have several hampered his development in north London. You fancy he’d flourish in the Silva system and a consistent run of games would help him recover that zest that made him one of the country’s most promising talents.

Fulham do love a dramatic transfer deadline day – and I suspect the club will still have several irons in the fire. There will be links a plenty and Silva has been quite vocal about the fact that his work to improve the squad will not finish until the deadline passes. There’s no doubt that the club is going places will be an attractive proposition to potential signings, so hold onto your hats.

Is Fulham’s financial might really the problem?

In the wake of Fulham’s fine start to the season, the relative strength of the Craven Cottage squad and the club’s financial might has been subject of much comment in the media and on one particular podcast. The situation is more complex that the suggestion that the Whites have spent twice as much as anyone else in the division, so I thought it was worth examining in detail. The amount of money splashing around in this transfer window has been reduced following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, so a fuller analysis needs to take a longer view.

In my previous article, I discussed the spending of a number of clubs such as Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Looking back through the years from when the Whites first competed back in the Championship in 2014/2015 until now, I’ve compiled a list of the most expensive Championship signings as well as looking at the major club spending and who has made the biggest loss.

The record signing in the Championship is currently the Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves, who moved to Molineux for £16m and enjoyed a remarkable campaign as Wolves stormed to the title and was nominated as the EFL player of the year and young player of the year. A list of the other nine most expensive transfers in the division over this period – using the data compiled by Transfermarkt – makes for instructive reading:

1st. Ruben Neves, £16 million to Wolverhampton Wanderers

2nd. Britt Assombalonga £15 million to Middlesbrough.

3rd. Joaõ Carvalho £13.5 million to Nottingham Forest.

4th. Hélder Costa £13.5 million to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

5th. Ross McCormack £12 million to Aston Villa

6th. Harry Wilson, £12 million to Fulham (although this has been widely reported as being an initial loan from Liverpool).

7th. Benik Afobe £12 million to Stoke City.

8th. Jonathan Kodjia £11 million to Aston Villa

9th. Isaac Mbenza £11 million to Huddersfield.

10th. Andre Gray £11 million to Burnley.

I have now looked at the transfer income received and spent by each Championship club season-by-season since 2014/15 to look at who really have been the big spenders.

In 2014/15;

Fulham spent: £15.69M, income: £16.11M – profit £420k.

Middlesbrough spent: £10M, income: £5.53M. – loss £4.47M.

Norwich spent: £18.32M, income: £17.44M. – loss 876K. 

Watford spent: £8.10M, income: £0.495K. – loss £7.61M.

QPR spent: £12.74M, income: £16.57M. +£3.8M in profit.

2015/16 season;

Burnley spent: £23.13M, income: £16.63M. -£4.5M in loss.

QPR spent: £15.67M, income: £10.62M. -£5.05M in loss.

Middlesbrough spent: £30.06M, income: £6.39M. -£23.67M in loss.

Derby spent: £30.65M, income: £0. -£30.65M in loss.

Sheffield Wednesday spent: £13.91M, income: £1.22M. -£12.69M in loss.

Fulham spent: £7.80M, income: £8.57M. +770k in profit.

Brighton spent: £12.12M, income: £0. – £12.12M in loss.

2016/17 season;

Newcastle spent: £57.83M, income: £90.79M. +32.96M in profit.

Norwich spent: £23.81M, income: £33.03M. +£9.23m in profit. 

Aston Villa spent: £76.95m, income: £41.22M. -£35.73M loss.

Derby spent: £15.54m, income: £14.63m. -905k loss.

Sheffield Wednesday spent: £9.81m, income: £0. -£9.81m loss.

Birmingham spent: £9.08m, income: 180K. -£8.90m loss.

Wolves spent: £32.49m, income: £2.69m. -£29.80m loss.

Fulham spent £23.00m, income: £21.40m. -£1.59m loss.

2017/18

Hull City spent: £17.86m, income: £40.65m. +22.79m in profit.

Middlesbrough spent: £50.09m, income: £48.87m. -£1.22m loss.

Reading spent: £12.69m, income: £1.86m. -£10.83m loss.

Sheffield Wednesday spent: £13.68m, income: £0m. -£13.68 loss.

Fulham spent: £18.15m, income: £16.38m. -£1.77m loss. 

Leeds United spent: £25.59m, income: £15.75m. -£9.84m loss.

Cardiff City spent: £11.40m, income: £2.39m. -£9.02m loss.

Wolves spent: £22.15m, income: £5.69m. -£16.46m loss.

Bristol City spent: £12.09m, income: £2.97m. -£9.12m loss.

Birmingham spent: £15.89m, income: £4.23m. -£11.66m loss.

2018/19 season

Stoke City spent: £56.61m, income: £27.14m. -£29.48m loss.

Aston Villa spent: £17.19m, income: £14.54m. -£2.66m loss.

Middlesbrough spent: £19.35m, income: £43.28m. +£23.93m in profit.

Nottingham Forest spent £24.69m, income: £1.08m. -£23.60m loss.

2019/20

Cardiff City spent: £16.21m, income: 17.82m. +£1.61m in profit.

Fulham spent: £33.30m, income £25.65. -£7.65m loss.

West Brom spent: £19.35m, income: £33.54m. +£33.54m in profit.

Derby spent: £7.38m, income: £1.22m. -£6.17m.

Bristol City spent: £29.66m, income: £43.86m. +£14.21m in profit.

Brentford spent: £31.19m, income: £36.83m. +£5.64m in profit.

Birmingham spent: £9.25m, income: £21.42m. ++£12.17m in profit.

Reading spent: £11.61m, income: 765k. -£10.85m loss.

2020/21 season 

Nottingham Forest spent: £13.45m, income £14.18m. +£729K.

The spending in this current season has obviously not finished – we are not even at the end of the summer transfer window yet. Middlesbrough have spent around £6.86m. Some outlets have suggested that Fulham have already spent £20m but when the club’s only signings have been Paulo Gazzaniga (on a free transfer from Tottenham) and Harry Wilson on an initial loan (which could eventually rise to as much as £12m) you realise that there are some inaccuracies involved. The impending arrival of Rodrigo Muniz for a fee believed to be eventually more than £6m will increase the club’s spending, but you also have to factor in the departures of Aboubakar Kamara – for around £4m – and Stefan Johansen (reportedly sold for an initial £600,000 to QPR) and whether any other players will depart before the end of August.

I have also selected a set of sides, including Fulham, comparing how much they’ve spent, how much income they got from transfers and if they made profit or a loss since 2014/15 – bearing in mind, that like the Whites, several clubs have been promoted and relegation in this period.

Aston Villa 

Relegated to the championship for the 2016/17 season until promotion took them back to the Premier League for the 2019/20 season.

Spent in total: £96.66m, income in total: £71.81m. They made a total loss of -£24.85m in their three years in the championship.

Birmingham City 

Spent in total: £46.72m, income: £54.68m. They made a total profit of +£7.96m

Derby County 

Spent in total: £83.77m, income: £55.66m. They made a total loss of -£28.11m.

Reading 

Spent in total: £47.51m, income: £33.765m. They made a total loss of -£13.745m

Sheffield Wednesday

Spent in total: £41.639m , income: £9.32m. They made a total loss of -£32.319m

Nottingham Forest

Spent in total: £65.06m, income in total: £80.92m. They made a total profit of +£15.86. 

Wolverhampton Wanderers

From 2014 until promotion in 2018

Spent in total: £66.52m, income: £23.6m. They have made a total loss of -£42.92m. 

Fulham

This will be broken down into two sections as Fulham have been up and down between championship and PL – 2014-18, 19-20

From 2014-18 they have spent in total: £64.64m, income: £62.46m. This marks a loss of -£2.18m.

in 2019/20 they spent £33.30m, income: £25.65m. This marks them at a loss of -£7.65m.

in total they have spent: £97.94m, income: £88.11. In total loss of -£9.83m.

Middlesbrough

From 2014 until promotion from the Championship at the end of 2015/16 season.

They spent in total: £40.06m, income: £11.92m. They made a total loss of -£28.14m.

Following their relegation they were back for the 2017/18 season.

Since 2017/18 

They have spent in total: £75.31m, income: £105.286m. They made a profit of £29.976m.

Meaning they are in total profit of £1.836m.

As you can see from the detailed lists above, Fulham’s spending is not an outlier when we consider the recent finances of Championship clubs. There is probably a legitimate argument about whether the financial structures of English football create an even greater gulf between the have and have nots – something that is arguably only enhanced by the parachutes payments that clubs who drop down from the Premier League receive. There is no doubt that the instability of a number of clubs is also caused by the game’s lax governance and the unsuitability of the ironically named fit and proper person’s test for owners and directors. Reigning in rampant spending would be a laudable aim but it requires the powers that be to take action. Until they do, clubs will try to use any advantage possible to put them in the strongest position on the pitch.

The tricky nature of the transfer market

Tempers tend to get a bit heated in the middle of the transfer window. It’s called the silly season for a reason – and Fulham’s dealings in the market, as well as their recruitment methods, have been a hot topic for a while now. During a pandemic, with money clearly tight for a lot of clubs, the issue how much people will spend on a new signings is definitely up for debate.

I can’t be alone in considering some of the fees banded about these days as astronomical. Ben White for £50m, Joe Willock for £25m – they seem extremely high for rather average English players. But the big spending Premier League sides are not the only ones to blame. We’ve seen how the financial pinch has decimated all of the French sides bar PSG and the Chinese Super League now seems an attractive destination for players who are chasing a quick pay day. All of this means some very average footballers are able to retire with millions in the bank and worth more than what some League Two clubs are worth.

Fulham are undoubtedly still struggling when it comes to Financial Fair Play as a result of their summer spending spree on reaching the top flight in 2018. It is easy to blame one man, but I think there’s a bigger picture to consider. Inflated transfer fees have been around for a while, but the amount of money going out of the game to agents has risen similarly unchecked. Clubs find it difficult to navigate a way around paying intermediaries – as they are now universally known – and there’s always been a suspicion that this is one of the reasons for some of the more eyebrow-raising deals.

One of the most interesting cases is how Wolves, through their links with Fosun and the super agent Jorge Mendes, landed a lot of premium Portuguese players on their way up from the Championship. Before their amazing ascent to the top of the division, they signed Ivan Cavaleiro – now of this parish – and Helder Costa. Nuno’s arrival saw Ruben Neves sign for nearly £16m and a host of high-profile loanees. It isn’t as though big spending in the Championship is a new thing – Fulham splashed out some £60m on new signings from 2014 to 2018 – Middlesbrough paid out £30m on three strikers, Stoke revamped their squad at a cost of £56m and Aston Villa spent £76m in the season when they bought Ross McCormack.

Nobody is holding a gun to anybody’s head and demanding that they pay extortionate transfer fees. Clubs are shrewd at pricing up their most prised assets. Look at how Crystal Palace have proven able to hold onto their most influential player, Wilfred Zaha, by valuing him at £75m. They know how important he is to their fortunes and have acted accordingly. That is the same price that Barcelona, another club now counting the cost of horrendous financial missteps, paid for Neymar. It may be trite to say so now, but the market approach – and amount of money oozing out of the game – is ruining football. No amount of regulation will be able to stop it and the leagues are essentially powerless.

The game’s problems are far bigger than how Tony Khan choses to act as Fulham’s director of football – whatever we think about whether he should hold the post. Clubs like Wigan, Luton, Bury and Southend have all fallen victim to what appear draconian punishments for actions by absentee owners or unprincipled asset-strippers – and, in Bury’s case at least, the lack of intervention from the EFL should be a permanent stain on that organisation. The leading Spanish clubs are struggling, Tottenham have had to take out a loan worth almost £400m and some of the wages that substitutes are on at the leading continental clubs appear staggering.

The chronology of Fulham’s transfer dealings under the Khans makes for interesting and, sometimes, painful reading. They have been some excellent signings – look at the impact of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Harrison Reed, Joe Bryan, Kenny Tete and loanees like Lucas Piazon, Tomas Kalas, Matt Targett and Oliver Norwood. Fulham’s use of the loan system has been criticised but it got us the likes of Calum Chambers and Joachim Andersen for a season when the pair were quoted as being worth a combined £40m should we want to acquire them permanently. Many others were far less successful and the splurging on Jean Michael Seri, Maxime Le Marchand and Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa looks ill-advised in hindsight, especially as it seemed like Slavisa Jokanovic looked unsure as to how to use them.

The nature of our FFP predicament means that Marco Silva and Fulham will have to get creative in order to add further signings in the closing weeks of the transfer window. But the same issues are afflicting plenty of clubs – look at Liverpool’s lack of transfer business to date; any acquisitions Jurgen Klopp makes are dependent on outgoings from Anfield. The times of Fulham splashing the cash to reach the Premier League belong to that glorious bygone era under Mohamed Al-Fayed and it makes every transfer window something of a waiting game these days.