Divided Opinion – Aboubakar Kamara

I can’t remember a Fulham player dividing opinion among fans quite as much as Aboubakar Kamara has done over the past few months. To an extent we had a debate over Dimitar Berbatov, when some believed that his talent alone should keep him on the team sheet back in 2013, while others pointed to his disruptive behaviour being reason enough to get rid. Then we were consumed by intense discussions about the goalkeeper situation. That one ranges back seasons, with Marcus Bettinelli always the man involved.

But it seems different this time. AK has pushed all boundaries and after his antics over the penalty yesterday the debate rages on over whether or not he should even play for Fulham again. I’ll try my best to address this question here.

Little was known about AK when we signed him for an undisclosed fee back in the summer of 2017, but it became apparent very quickly that this was a player with limited technical ability, but one who would run through a barge door for you if you got him on your side. He has chipped in with a decent amount of goals considering he has only been a bit-part player since his signing, but it’s his overall play that causes so much frustration amongst fans, coaching staff and likely team mates. He earned a red card in just his fifth league start for the club for a daft push on Bailey Wright of Bristol City last season, and has come close to receiving his marching orders on a number of occasions since then. He dives, he barges into people for no apparent reason and yesterday showed that he has a ‘me over the team’ attitude. You could point to his age, claiming that at 23 he still has a lot to learn, but Aleksander Mitrovic is just a year his senior. I simply can’t use his age as an excuse for his immaturity. For me, Kamara has to learn his place in the team, and that needs to come from the players around him and from the coaching staff. He needs to grow up. I looked at his appearances last season, and in his last five games at the end of last season his received a yellow card in each of them (not all back to back games). His discipline should be at the top of the list for things to work on.

However, if we are going to decide whether or not he should play for the team again, we have to look at what he can bring to us. There have been quite a few games recently, and then towards the back end of last season, were AK made a very positive difference to the team. During the play-off games against Derby he stretched their defence causing a lot of problems. Then when I think about the last few games, to me it was evident that we were a more effective, attacking side with him in it. He is a speed merchant, and is built like train, two attributes that defenders absolutely hate in attackers. We don’t have a lot of speed in our squad, so when we have someone like Kamara he can make a huge difference. While his behaviour yesterday for the penalty was unacceptable, I suppose you could say that any hungry striker would do it. As soon as the spot kick was given, he sprinted 30 yards to get the ball that had been cleared as he was adamant that he was taking it. I think disobeying your manager, your captain is disrespectful and it can’t happen again, but for the good of the team maybe all should be forgiven. Booing him if he plays again isn’t going to help anyone.

In summary, I think that whether he plays again will depend on one thing; is he willing to accept that it was the wrong decision and agree that it can’t happen again. If the answer is yes, then I’d have him back because of what he brings to the side. But if he remains ignorant of the fact that he was massively disrespectful to his team, manager and fans yesterday then that points to a player who isn’t interested in the team. If that’s the case, then good riddance. No player is bigger than the club.

It’s up to you, AK. What’s it going to be?

#COYW

The need for Mitro’s Flame

Fulham need a hero right now.

Seventeen games into the Premier League season, Fulham have conceded 42 goals and only tasted victory twice leaving us stuck at the foot of the table and in desperate need of some Christmas cheer. We are currently just three points adrift, so the situation isn’t quite at critical yet, but if we don’t pick up at least 6 points from the next three games then I’m not sure if we can come back from this. The opportunities are right there in front of us with a trip to Newcastle tomorrow before hosting Huddersfield and Wolves. While there are no easy games in this league, the run ahead of us is probably the most gentle run that we have considering positions in the table.

In games like these we need our players to stand up and be counted, and tomorrow’s trip to Newcastle could provide extra motivation for one Fulham man in particular. Aleksander Mitrovic first tasted English football with Newcastle, but the Serbian picked up an unfair reputation as a hot head and a liability. There have been several reasons put forward as to why it just didn’t work for Mitrovic in the North East including that he didn’t get on with Rafa Benitez and that the style of football didn’t suit him. It was a match made in Heaven when Mitrovic was brought to the Cottage under Slavisa Jokanovic last January, with the striker firing us to the Premier League with his goals in the back half of last season.

He also has an impressive seven goals for us this season, not bad for a player whose club currently sits at the very bottom of the league. Without his goals we would be too far adrift already. As we approach a really busy Christmas period of festive football, Fulham need Mitrovic to reignite into a goal machine again. Recently he has found himself isolated and has then cut a frustrated figure, so the team need to increase the intensity and the speed of passes up to the Serbian upfront. We have been far too pedestrian most of the season, and this has resulted in our forward line seeing less and less of the ball. This naturally results in less chances and therefore less goals. It’s not rocket science really.

Considering Mitrovic’s rather unhappy time at Newcastle under Benitez, I’d back him to be even more motivated than normal to get one over on his former boss. If we get off to a good start, then we could have a solid platform upon which Mitrovic could tear apart his former side. On the other hand, the team will need to be wary of the Newcastle crowd who will do all they can to put them off. Mitrovic is a confidence player, so it’s crucial that he doesn’t let his head drop.

Our last trip to Newcastle was the best away trip I’ve experienced, with Ryan Sessegnon silencing a hostile Geordie crowd. We can only dream of something like that this time around. Maybe it’s time for another hero?

#COYW

December Woes

My Uncle asked me recently what life was like as a Fulham fan right now and the only word that came to mind was, “Grim.” I’m pretty sure that I thought the Premier League would be much more fun than it has turned out so far. If the increase in prices wasn’t bad enough, we have had to deal with some abject performances from a team that promised so much. We find ourselves in danger of being bottom at Christmas, something that teams rarely survive from. It’s going to take one momentous effort from the squad to get us out of this mess, and we as a fan base need to keep up the support.

I do believe that the team has looked much more organised under Ranieri, and 4points from four games isn’t bad considering we have been away to Chelsea and Manchester United in that time. The games between now and the end of December could either give us the hope that we need, or could essentially relegate us. There are no easy games in this league, but being at home to West Ham, Huddersfield and Wolves alongside a trip to St James Park to face Newcastle is a run of games that could take us off the bottom of the table. It’s an opportunity that has to be taken if we are to stay in the Promised Land next season.

Unfortunately for us West Ham have come in to a little run of form of late and have found there scoring boots. They have already scored 12 goals in the month of December with three in each of their wins over Newcastle United, Cardiff City and Crystal Palace, so we can expect our defence to be tested. It doesn’t bode well for a side still yet to keep a clean sheet this season. Another concern is that those 12 goals have been scored by five different players, none of which are Marko Arnautovi?, who has for so long been West Ham’s main threat. They have quality throughout their squad so there is no room for the silly mistakes that keep hampering our progress.

Ranieri made five changes last time out but I’m not sure that anyone would say that it worked. Denis Odoi was poor at right back while Tim Ream just doesn’t look Premier League ready. Hopefully Chambers will have gotten over whatever kept him out last weekend because he has been one of the positive things about Fulham over the past few weeks. Anguissa will be suspended but his performance wasn’t anything to shout home about so I’d imagine he wouldn’t have been in Ranieri’s plans any way. The next four games need to give us a spring board to something that Ranieri can work with over the January transfer window. It will be easier to attract players if we can show that we have a bit of fight about us. I think little Freddie here has the right idea…

All in all we need some Christmas joy around the Cottage, and soon. Grim times can turn very quickly into joyous times in football. Saturday night is huge.

#COYW

Derby Day

The Claudio Ranieri Era got off to a great start last weekend beating fellow strugglers Southampton at the Cottage to ease the tensions at the football club. While we couldn’t say that it was a comfortable victory, we saw fight for the first time in months and that alone has brought fresh optimism to the banks of the Thames. We know that we have a squad filled with quality, and while it is really sad that Jokanovic just wasn’t able to make it click, Ranieri already looks to have invigorated the squad. It’s early days, but the signs so far are good.

Just 1.4 miles separates Craven Cottage and Stamford Bridge making Fulham’s trip to Chelsea on Sunday one of the shortest in the Premier League. Given that Cardiff, Southampton, Palace all picked up points on Saturday’s round of matches, it’s important that we are not blown away in this one. It’s not a must win game, but there is no question of it being an important game. Playing against your neighbours is always important and I won’t be the only Fulham fan who had this one marked out early when the fixtures were announced in the summer.

Chelsea are on a weird run at the minute. They flew out of the blocks under Sarri, but have now hit a bit of a road block with a 0-0 draw with Everton before being destroyed by Spurs last weekend at Wembley. They have already taken the first step in redeeming themselves with a comfortable victory midweek in the Europa League, but as it was essentially a meaningless game as they had already qualified for the next round, most of their fans will have been looking ahead to the next game in the league. We might be facing a Hazard-less Chelsea tomorrow with the midfielder still struggling with an ankle knock, plus we may see more of the fallout from the Kante saga, but all in all we face a very tough test tomorrow.

I’ve always had this West London derby on my bucket list so I can’t wait for the game tomorrow, and I can’t help but dreaming about getting something from it. It’s been almost five years since we last played Chelsea, and our last win was 12 years ago when Luis Boa Morte scored the winner at the Cottage 2006. You never know, we could have another hero tomorrow!

#COYW

No Room for Sentiment

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.”

#COYW