Emerald Isle Diamonds

As much as I enjoy international football, I have never really been absolutely buzzing for international breaks to come around. They always seem to disrupt the domestic football and there aren’t as many matches. At the minute, however, any distraction form the Premier League is a welcome one. Things haven’t been pretty on the banks of the Thames, to put it mildly. So instead of talking about Fulham’s disaster of a season, I thought I’d talk about another favourite topic of mine, Northern Irish and Irish players who have played throughout the years in our famous white shirt. I’ll limit to just my top 5, as I have a game to get to tonight at Windsor Park at 1945!

  1. Aaron Hughes

The Hangeland-Hughes partnership will go down as one of the greatest centre back pairing in Fulham’s Premier League history. Under the guidance of Roy Hodgson Fulham became defensively sound, something that we badly crave this season, and Hughes was vital in this. He racked up 250 appearances for Fulham across all competitions and scored a handful of goals along the way. He was a crucial part of both the Greatest Escape year in 2008 and then the Europa League run of 2010. He is my all time favourite Northern Irish player and captain .

2. Ollie Norwood

It might have only been a loan deal, but the decision to bring Norwood to Fulham turn out to be a stroke of genius. Norwood has always had a touch of quality about him, we have known that for years in Northern Ireland. He might try a Hollywood pass too often for some, but it’s that vision that has been so important for Northern Ireland. Last season at Fulham we badly needed someone to step in for Cairney when he was injured, and Norwood was the one to do that. He might not quite be the level of Cairney but he is what we needed at the time. And who could forgot THAT tackle in the dying seconds of the play-off final that prevented Aston Villa’s final chance? What a guy.

3. Damien Duff

Damien Duff celebrates his equaliser against Birmingham

Damien Duff was one of those players who when they are signed, you get very excited about. He may have been slightly past his prime but we all knew what he was capable of from his time at Chelsea and Newcastle. He was one of those players who had a sweet left foot, but played on the right for the majority of his time at Fulham. The Craven Cottage crowd used to get such a buzz when he would cut in from the right and have a pop at goal. He always had a bit of magic about him and I loved seeing him play at Fulham.

4. Chris Baird

Bairdinho. When he announced his retirement this year I was genuinely gutted. He has been such an important figure for club and country for years and there aren’t many out there quite like him. Baird was one of the most versatile players at Fulham, and he was happy to play wherever was required. He was a typical ‘leave everything on the pitch’ kind of guy, and those goals at Stoke City will stay in Fulham folklore forever.

5. Rodney McAree

Not many players can say that they have a chant that is still sang around a club 20years or so after they have left, but Rodney McAree can. I was too young to remember said goal, but I doubt there are many Fulham fans out there who don’t know about McAree’s goal up at Carlisle. Rodney also happens to be one of the nicest guys in football. He gave me one of my first exclusive interviews a couple of years back, something that I really appreciated. He owns a little part of Fulham history so he is rightfully remembered by the Fulham faithful.

Going down with a wimper

It’s around 7pm on 25th May, 2018. Ten of thousands of Fulham fans are in complete delirium at Wembley, completely overwhelmed at what we have witnessed. Our Fulham sealed promotion to the Premier League playing a wonderful, fun-filled style of football. We have done it with a group of players who clearly love playing with each other, and with an 18 year-old kid who has been a revelation in the side. We have owners willing to spend both on and off the pitch with a new stadium development incoming. The future is very bright for Fulham.

Fast forward to 10pm, 27th February 2019. We have just witnessed an extremely deflated Fulham side limp to a 2-0 defeat to relegation rivals Southampton. Our Italian manager, the man who led Leicester to the most unlikely of Premier League titles a few years ago, set his side up in a negative way, playing players out of position and leaving our best midfielder in Seri out of the side altogether despite saying that we had no injury concerns.

To say I’m angry at the state of affairs at Fulham right now would be an understatement. I’m furious. What a complete and utter shambles this season has been. What a wasted opportunity. While I think that Slav was out of his depth, I would honestly rather have stuck with him than have sacked him when we did for Claudio Ranieri. While there were some slight improvements at the start under him, the negatives since then have just piled up.

Alongside his frustratingly negative tactics and his insistence on playing Cairney out wide whenever everything good comes through him in the middle, it’s his treatment of Ryan Sessegnon that upsets me the most. He has turned Sessegnon into someone afraid of the football. Benching him, publically saying that he is out of form, not strong enough etc and then the few times that he does play, hauling him off at half time because of a couple of mistakes have all contributed to deflating the player of confidence . Sessegnon was our brightest spark last season and that was because he was given the opportunity to flourish. I’m from a teaching background, and I remember my tutor at university saying that our job as teachers was to create an environment in which pupils could, and wanted, to flourish. I believe that coaching football, or any sport for that matter, has the same principles. Ranieri should be laying the foundations for our players to become great, but instead it’s like the life has been sucked out of them, and it’s just heartbreaking.

We are so far away from that showing of unity last year. Our next three games at home are Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City- all games that 7 months ago we were relishing. Getting to see your club compete with some of the biggest clubs in the world is something that every fan should relish, but now I just wish that we could fast forward a month. We have a talented squad, but under our current boss I don’t see those players being able to play with any sort of freedom. At the minute we aren’t just going down, we are plummeting so fast that it’s a blink and you’ll miss it sort of scenario.

 If we are going down, I want us to go down fighting but to do that we need to remove Ranieri now. I don’t want us to rush into another managerial change, so my choice would be Parker until the end of the season to buy time to consider properly who we want in charge of the team. Another rushed decision isn’t going to do us any favours, but keeping Ranieri for me will do more harm than good.

#COYW

Ben Davis and National Service

Fulham made a little bit of history back in 2017 when Ben Davis, a 16 year old from Singapore signed to the academy. A Singaporean has never played in the Premier League or Championship, and Davis could be the first one to do that. The only other player from Singapore to play in the professional game in England is Daniel Bennet, who played for Wrexham in the  old English Third Division a number of years ago.

However, back when Davis signed for Fulham, the question of his duty to complete National Service in Singapore when he became 18 came up straight away. In Singapore, every male at the age of 18 must complete some form of National Service for two years. Around the same time that Davis signed, he and his family had applied for deferred NS, but his request was rejected. NS can be deferred, but it mostly happens for academic purposes, but it can happen for the Arts and for sport. Sport is a difficult one, because it’s only for sportsmen and women who are “…representing Singapore in top-tier international competitions,” or “…displaying potential to win (medals).”

While Davis is seen as a huge talent in Singaporean football, he isn’t yet close to helping them win medals at an event. In fact, deferring NS for sport has only happen three times since 2003, twice for national swimmers and once for a sailor. Davis has been called up to the Singapore national side but is yet to win a cap which could be one of the reasons why he hasn’t been able to defer it. It’s important to note that Davis is not trying to get away with doing his NS altogether, rather it’s putting it off until his football development is much further on.

We are now at the stage were Davis should be back in Singapore starting his NS, so because he has essentially defaulted, he is now in danger of being sent to prison if and when he returns home. He is at the age were NS is due, and he should have reported back to Singapore in January. According to ‘Singapore Legal Advice’, any defaulter can be punished with “…a fine of $10,000 and/or a term of imprisonment up to 3 years.”

This is a potentially very serious issue for Davis and his family if he ever wants to return back to Singapore, but his family are said to be appealing the original decision to reject to request of deferment. Generally speaking, countries who have NS are very strict with it. In the case of Son Heung-min of Spurs, he had to actually win the Asian Games with his South Korean football side to be spared military service there, so who knows if Davis will ever be in a position were he can help Singapore win a competition.

One thing is sure though, taking two years out of football at 18, just when you could be on the brink of making it, is more of less kissing goodbye to a career in England. Watch this space.

A Long Term Solution

This seasons seems to go from calamity to calamity. We perhaps re-entered the Premier League with an air of complacency, but even at that we have fallen so far below our expectations for this season it’s painful. One hundred million pounds later and we have a squad filled with talented individuals but with limited team spirit.

We have shown flashes of a strong side this season, but we have lost our soul and identity, especially when we brought in Ranieri. Let me be clear, I wasn’t fully against the sacking of Jokanovic. I thought that he was out of his depth and the fact that he played a different defensive line in each of his Premier League games showed that he clearly didn’t know what he wanted from his squad. However, sacking him when we did to bring in Claudio Ranieri, was in my eyes, the biggest mistake that has been made this year. We went from a very attacking manager, to one who sets up with five at the back and it wasn’t going to end well. Hindsight is a great thing.

However, my biggest issue with Ranieri isn’t necessarily his footballing style. It can work with the right squad, as we witnessed when Leicester won the Premier League under him, but it has been a disaster on the banks of the Thames. My issue is the treatment of Ryan Sessegnon and Tom Cairney. Say what you want about Jokanovic, but he allowed Sessegnon to flourish and become one of England’s hottest prospects while giving Cairney the captain’s armband and allowing him to be the heartbeat of the side got the best out of him. The relationships that Jokanovic spent a long time developing have been destroyed in 14 Premier League games under Ranieri. I have never been the sort of person who wants a manager to go at the first sign of trouble, but if Ranieri went now I’d be happy. He hasn’t improved things anywhere near enough to justify Jokanovic’s sacking, and while I can understand why Jokanovic had to go, Ranieri was the wrong choice to replace him.

I don’t think it will happen, but IF Ranieri was to go this week, I’d be content with Scott Parker until the end of the season, then let the owners and board have a good think about who to bring in for the long term. What should be happening right now in the board room is discussions about our long term future on the pitch, and I don’t think Ranieri is the one, even if he pulls a miracle out of nowhere and keeps us up. He has been poor for both squad and fan morale.

But who should take over? Who would be willing to take us on? We can’t be that unattractive of a prospect, with owners who are clearly willing to put their hands in their wallets, but sometimes potential managers will look at owners track record with sackings etc and make a decision based on that. The Khan’s have owned Fulham since July 2013, approximately 66 months ago, and in that time five managers have been sacked.

I’ve seen a few names mentioned online so I’ve put together a list of five managers who we could potentially look at. REMEMBER that some of these may be completely unrealistic, but I’m looking at new up-and-comers alongside managers who are currently out of work.

  • Scott Parker- If Ranieri goes before the end of the season, I’d imagine that the Khans will turn to Parker to get us through to the end of the season. It might be too soon for him to take over the official managers position for the long term, but look at how well Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are doing in their first positions. Cairney’s comments on how motivational Parker was in the dressing room for the Brighton game shows that the players already have a real respect for him. Is it too soon for him? Probably. Will he make a great manager one day? Quite possibly.
  • Vincenzo Montella- The Italian only played about half a season at Fulham, but became a fans favourite very quickly. He has a decent record with some big name clubs including Roma, Fiorentina, AC Milan and Sevilla. He guided Sevilla to their first Champions League quarter-final with a 2-1 victory over Manchester United but his league form was the worry for owners, and he has been out of work ever since he was sacked at the end of April 2018. He might be out of our reach, but he already has an affinity with Craven Cottage, so maybe we could tempt him home.
  • Steven Gerrard- This is possibly the most unrealistic of my five candidates as he currently has Rangers challenging for the title in Scotland. He also gets European experience at Ibrox, so I think he would only be tempted away from Glasgow by a Premier League move. He has made a very positive start to his managerial career, though, so it could be a very fun addition if it was to happen.
  • David Wagner- Wagner worked wonders with a poor squad at Huddersfield, so what could he do with a bit of financial backing? He likes to play his football like his friend, Jurgen Klopp, but he just hasn’t had the players to do that this season. He is a passionate manager, and one who like to have a real relationship with the club he works for which is something that Fulham fans love to have. He also knows the Championship and knows what it takes to get promoted, so if we end this season with a relegation I would be confident that he could get us back up.
  • Lee Johnson- Johnson has done very well with Bristol City, but I get the impression that he has brought the club as far as possible. He could be ready for a new challenge, and Fulham could be an attractive one for him. If he is promised funds, then he might feel like it’s time to move away from Bristol. His teams are well drilled and are attack focused, things that I feel that we need at Fulham.

The only thing I am sure about right now is that Fulham are going to have to make changes on the pitch and behind the scenes this summer. Whether we manage to survive or not, we need to find our identity again.

#COYW

Keep Believing

It’s remarkable how 45 minutes of football can change your whole attitude about things. I’ll admit that after the miserable defeat at Burnley that I thought that there was no hope that this squad could drag themselves out of this relegation battle. It’s the first time in years were I have genuinely lost hope in our team and it felt awful. My mood didn’t change after the Spurs game, despite a decent performance, and at half time against Brighton I was one of the many who considered it season over.

But then something changed. While our defence is still a considerable worry, we showed a bit of fight for the first time in ages. I have said for ages that I thought the turning point in our season was the draw away against Brighton where we were seemingly cruising only to end up with a 2-2 draw, so perhaps it is fitting that a possible comeback could come off the back of us coming from 2-0 down against the same team.

It has been a frustrating January so far in terms of the transfer window, with just one player through the doors of Motspur Park. While the signing of Ryan Babel looks like a very positive one, we all know that it is in defence were we really need personnel. With just a matter of hours left in the window, I’m hoping that our business isn’t done yet, but I’m beginning to get a little fearful.

Next up we have a trip to Selhurst Park to take on Roy Hodgson’s Palace, and for once we have already had some fortunate news with a Wilfred Zaha red card meaning their star man is unavailable. It’s mad to think that they apparently haven’t won a Premier League game without him while he has been with them, so hopefully we don’t go all Fulhamish and allow them to turn this unwanted record around. I’m gutted that I can make Saturday as Selhurst Park has been on my football to-do lists for some time, but I’ll be stuck following from afar because of work. I fully expect the Fulham faithful who are there to be making a real racket, especially after Tuesday night’s result. As a fanbase we really can make a difference to what happens on the pitch, and continuing to be behind the boys can help get them over the line.

We still have so much work to do to get us out of this mess, but there have been some positive signs recently. I really hope Ranieri goes with the team that finished on Tuesday night against Palace as we were so much better then than how we started the game. I thought Cairney was sensational, and I hope it puts to bed some of the doubts about his attitude! He was very unfortunate not to score himself, but it was his shot that allowed Vietto to score after it had cannoned off the bar. Shout out to Sergio Rico as well who made an unreal save from a Murray header when the score was 2-2. Chambers, Babel, Mitro and Seri all had great matches in the second half. We have the players who can turn this around, so we need to keep believing.

Great Escape II anyone?

#COYW