Parker’s prideful Fulham

Premier League safety is vastly unlikely for Fulham after a horrific year back at the top sparked by dreadful recruitment, management and coaching all intertwining to create a relegation displaying everything not to do once you reach the ‘big time.’

Scott Parker mentioned in the lead up to the SW6 Derby that he wanted to see Fulham play with a bit more pace in attack, that came with the return of Ryan Sessegnon to the starting line up and quicker attempt to the final third, whether that came with longer balls or general speed of play from back to front – we saw longer balls utilised more frequently than usual but Tom Cairney was excellent in finding space and collecting the ball between Jorginho and the Chelsea back line before sliding some lovely passes in behind for the aforementioned Sessegnon typically.

Though individual mistakes were still visible, Fulham’s general performance was full of fight and had a period where they absolutely had Chelsea on the ropes. Scott Parker has already gained the support of Tom Cairney who has called for the permanent appointment of the former Fulham captain, and whilst we must be wary to avoid the Kit Symons experiment, this feels different. I think Scott showed some tactical intelligence on his first game as Cairney exploited the space behind the Chelsea midfield and he flipped Ryan Sessegnon to the right who saw some joy against Italy international Emerson. If not for some Man of the Match winning calibre saves from Kepa Arrizabalaga then Scotty Parker could well have salvaged at least a point from his managerial debut.

Back to something different about this ‘players coach’ appointment surrounding a ‘we’ve got our Fulham back narrative.’ Scott Parker throughout his playing career always seemed to command a certain level of respect and that saw him named captain, a leader who lead by example, Parker has always had the potential to have an authority over a team. Having set about his coaching ‘badges’ (my least favourite term in football, badges don’t exist) whilst at Tottenham Hotspur, this moment is years in the making. The return of Stuart Gray brings an aura of legitimacy also as an experienced and excellent coach in his own right which will help Scott through the early days of his management career whether it lasts 9 more games at Fulham or not.

Scott Parker’s Fulham made a nice start on Sunday and according to the former England international, have set a standard for the remainder of the season “I shouldn’t expect anything less, the challenge for me now is that needs to stay and how is this going to happen, making sure that it’s a given every single week.” He understands the core principles that this football club should never reject ‘passing football and a family football club.’

Every coach has to start somewhere and for Scott Parker (and Fulham), familiarity and a mutual understanding philosophically is a solid ground to build upon.

Ranieri’s replacements?

Claudio Ranieri has been relieved of his duties at Fulham Football Club (or vice-verse works too). In preparation for the event, I asked Fulham Twitter to send me their picks to replace the Italian at the helm of the football club and these are the five most popular choices analysed and evaluated with honourable mentions at the bottom.

Chris Wilder:

Wilder’s Sheffield United squad have a completely British squad utilising a 352 where Oliver Norwood acts as the midfield anchor and is having an excellent season, creating seven goals and only Leeds’ Pablo Hernandez has created more chances than the Northern Irishman that spent 2017/18 on loan at Craven Cottage prior to his permanent move to Sheffield.

Whilst Sheffield United don’t play with the pizazz and polish of a Leeds or Norwich, also contending for automatic promotion from the Championship, Sheffield United have the second best defence in the division and are only outscored by Norwich and West Bromwich Albion thanks mostly to veterans Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick.

I admire what Chris Wilder has been able to do at Sheffield United, but also at Northampton Town before then as he won League Two in impressive style. It’d be fascinating to see what he could do with a larger budget but as a Sheffield born professional with seven years of his playing career spent at Sheffield United, I’m not sure he’d leave the club where he has more ‘old-school’ managerial responsibilities for us in the same division with someone with zero footballing experience giving him the tools to work with and happy to sack him if it doesn’t work.

Oscar Garcia:

The man replaced by Slavisa Jokanovic at Watford, it was at Brighton where Garcia caught the eye for me at least. His possession based footballing style starved the opposition of the ball to the extent where they had the second tightest defence in the division. In his sole season at the Seagulls, he replicated Gus Poyet’s unsuccessful play off campaign from the previous year despite a lack of goals beyond top scorer Leonardo Ulloa.

The Guardian have a nice write up which hints as his tactical philosophy (https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2017/aug/21/saint-etienne-unshackled-from-lifeless-approach-by-oscar-garcia). Groomed in Spain, notably ex-Barcelona, the comparisons can be drawn between Oscar Garcia and former Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic – the inability to really hold down a position prior to ‘arriving’ at Fulham, the aesthetics of their footballing philosophy and even the clubs (both coached Watford, Maccabi Tel Aviv and both have success in the outer reaches of global football – Jokanovic in Thailand and Garcia in Austria).

Oscar Garcia would be fascinating appointment, and arguably a correct one for the footballing parallels this squad was built for and accustomed to. Though question marks will no doubt hover over the futures of the likes of Tom Cairney and Aleksander Mitrovic with relegation, there’s enough there to replicate that style by looking back to those that were part of the promotion squad.

Graham Potter:

Under the radar, Graham Potter is having a really excellent first season at Swansea where he has harnessed an excellent crop of young players to play some eye catching, tidy football in a mid-table season. Though finishing mid-table isn’t quite the most appealing characteristic, it’s about where their playing squad belongs at this point in their rebuild following relegation whilst 9 of their 13 most used footballers this season are aged 24 or younger.

The Swans didn’t even reach £10m spent in their first summer back in the Championship yet with Potter’s coaching and some smart recruitment, Swansea are set up for the future with their cavalcade of prospects (including Dan James who was subject of £12m interest of Leeds in January). Potter has taken a tough situation and Swansea are 100% in a better place now than where they were when he took over and that is always a good sign of excellent coaching, this amongst some chaos and confusion in the upper management.

Graham Potter is a modern footballing man and a ‘proper’ football coach. He wants his teams to play good football, is happy to work with young players but brings all the values you want in the current footballing climate. Whilst he may not be ‘keen’ on leaving a club that offered him such a great opportunity, a bigger budget and life in London could tempt him. I think Potter has shown he’s no fluke or novelty, he’s a bright, young coach who will be in the Premier League soon enough, it’d be nice if Fulham were that club.

Slavisa Jokanovic:

I won’t go on too long, but Slavisa Jokanovic was in the top 5 of Fulham Twitter’s picks to be the next permanent Fulham manager. After the Ranieri experiment, it seems supporters may be showing their fickle side and saying “oh, it wasn’t quite you.” I hated the sacking at the time but to go into that side is another post for another day.
?We know what we get from Slavisa Jokanovic teams, it’s passing, attacking football that saw us become one of the more entertaining, appealing and eye catching teams in recent Championship history. We saw improvement with each year despite the club forcing a rebuild level of player movement with each window and that’s promising.

I don’t see this happening, but I wouldn’t hate it.

Lee Johnson:
?Perhaps aided by the ‘Fulham’ connection, his father Gary (current manager of Torquay United), grew up in Fulham and is allegedly a Fulham supporter. This has probably led to Fulham eyes more so than usual but his success already in his career before the age of 40 is commendable.

Lee Johnson got his first managerial job at Oldham at the age of 31, his first season was amidst a successful relegation battle. In his first full season, he rebuilt the squad and took the club to their highest ever finish in League One. He left Oldham for Barnsley in February 2016 where he stayed for a year before moving to Bristol City. Like at Oldham, Johnson has taken Bristol City from relegation contenders to play off pushers and this is despite a fairly frequent turnaround of players (since taking charge, he’s had to deal with the losses of: Jonathan Kodjia, Tammy Abraham, Luke Freeman, Aden Flint, Bobby Reid and Joe Bryan).

Johnson’s team impressed at Craven Cottage in our promotion campaign, displaying high pressing and quick interplay were rewarded making a squad that would ultimately go down as one of the most entertaining in the division as very ordinary. We were naturally quite disappointed when later that season we went to Ashton Gate and Bristol City played long ball, long throw and ‘kick-em’ football but I believe that to be a tactical decision against us (which was odd given performance earlier in the season). Johnson has dealt with adversity, receiving death threats and calls for his resignation but has won the Bristol City supporters around after the board kept faith (importantly). Lee Johnson also has an EFL Cup run to his name, a semi final no less that was ended by Manchester City and were a 92nd minute Sergio Aguero goal from a draw at the Etihad and a 96th minute Kevin De Bruyne winner from a draw at Ashton Gate – along this run, Johnson’s side knocked out Watford, Crystal Palace and Manchester United.

In terms of availability, it’s easy to sit here and say “why wouldn’t he join Fulham?” But Johnson has been shown faith, they’ve let him work through hard periods and he knows he’s backed by wealthy investors in the football club (not near Shahid Khan’s billions but billions nonetheless). We chewed up and spat out the saviour to our time in the Championship because the players purchased for him were poor and didn’t fit – so why would Johnson leave his situation for this?

Johnson is an intriguing option, and according to my Twitter feedback, is the popular option. I wouldn’t be unhappy for sure, but whether he’s the best option? I would have some doubts. Though to be fair, there’s doubts for every manager – no one is truly ‘risk free’ – which is why you shouldn’t throw away a good one for a poor run of form…

Honourable mentions:

Daniel Stendel (Barnsley), Steve Clarke (Kilmarnock), Dean Smith (Aston Villa), Aitor Karanka (unattached), Carlos Carvalhal (unattached), Nathan Jones (Stoke City), David Wagner (unattached).

And a couple from me not mentioned by others: Alex Neil (Preston North End) and Michael Appleton (unattached).

Fulham replace Ranieri with Parker

Fulham have sacked Claudio Ranieri after just sixteen Premier League games in charge and replaced the Italian with former captain Scott Parker as a caretaker manager.

Ranieri, who was only appointed in November as the successor to Slavisa Jokanovic, had run out of road at Craven Cottage after a dismal defeat at the hands of Southampton last night. The 67 year-old’s final game in charge saw Fulham start with three defensive midfielders and never look like seriously challenging one of their relegation rivals after conceding two first half goals.

Ranieri, who only won three of his games in charge and saw his side dumped out of the FA Cup at the third round stage by League Two Oldham, leaves Fulham ten points from safety with ten games left. Parker, who returned to the club this summer after a spell coaching Tottenham’s under 18 side, will take charge for the first time against Chelsea, one of his former clubs, in a west London derby on Sunday afternoon.

The 38 year-old, who made 128 appearances in a four-year playing career at Craven Cottage, completed his coaching badges prior to hanging up his boots and the former England captain has spent this season as Fulham’s first team coach.

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.

Fulham should go out fighting – on the front foot

If you are anything like me, you probably used the weekend to forget all about the fine little mess Fulham Football Club have gotten ourselves into. The romance of the FA Cup, in which we played a bit-part role last month in capitulating to a spirited Oldham Athletic side roared to victory at Craven Cottage by their magnificent supporters, stands in stark contrast to the monotony of the Premier League, where even the most noble of ambitions is soon sacrificed as you desperately try to cling on to a seat at English football’s top table.

There’s no point revisiting the hole Fulham fell into after that glorious day at Wembley in May – we’ve had our fill of the £100m problems with the club’s summer recruitment, whether Slavisa Jokanovic was given enough time to try and figure out a way of playing in the Premier League or even if Claudio Ranieri was the right replacement when the powers-that-be decided to pull the trigger. The predicament is pitiful now – remaining in the top flight will require the sort of escape that Steve McQueen would blanch at, never mind Roy Hodgson.

The defeats, especially the most recent reverse at the hands of a revitalised Manchester United, are becoming a little too routine now. I’m reminded of that wonderful scene in The Lion in Winter, where three brothers were locked in Henry II’s dungeon awaiting their execution. Richard tells them to take their fate like men only for Geoffrey to protest, ‘You fool!
As if it matters how a man falls down.’ The reply is wonderful: ‘When the fall’s all that’s left, it matters a great deal’.

Fulham’s fall has been far from glorious to date. A defence that has looked dazed and confused ever since they emerged blinking into the unforgiving light of Premier League football has hardly improved under Ranieri’s tutelage, which was supposed to be the main reason for his appointment. To what extent the Italian can be fairly blamed for that – given that there’s probably only one proven Premier League centre back amongst all the defenders on Fulham’s books – is question that might never be satisfactorily resolved.

Ranieri’s attempts to remake a misfiring side in his own image have floundered largely because Fulham have been too busy shooting ourselves in the foot. The glee that greeted a couple of clean sheets either side of Christmas proved fleeting – and the manager’s preferred method of accruing points, boring the opposition into submission, dates from the last century. It is so far removed from the flowing football that brought the Whites back to the promised land, we might as well be on another planet. You could stomach it for salvation, but at the moment it feels like Fulham’s agony is prolonged.

Ranieri’s demand for more fighting spirit was probably designed to get everyone pulling in the same direction – but it has had the opposite affect. It provoked some literal fisticuffs in the case of Aboubakar Kamara, but not enough bite from a side that still looks far too easy to play through. The presence of Andre Schurrle, who produces the odd moment of effortless brilliance and then glides through games as if unhurried by the gravity of the situation, only serves to infuriate at this point, especially when two of the club’s most successful battlers – in Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegon – are confined to the sidelines.

Fulham have barely managed to put together a compelling ninety minutes under Ranieri – but the closest they came was in a stirring second half comeback against Brighton. They wiped out a 2-0 half-time deficit by scoring four without reply in a display that married some of last season’s flair with plenty of fight. Cairney and Sessegnon featured prominently, as they did when combining to set up Aleksandar Mitrovic for the stoppage-time winner against Huddersfield back in December. It is inconceivable that any other manager would conclude that they wouldn’t form part of Fulham’s best side.

And that leads to my final point. Caution is understandable if you are trying to hold onto a result against the top six, who seem light years ahead of what Fulham can muster at the moment. But, with the Whites sitting some eight points from safety and time ticking away, some ambition and adventure are required. Ranieri’s rearguard isn’t good enough to grind out results so taking on the opposition is the only way Fulham will glimpse survival now. The question is whether Ranieri is willing to deviate from his classical Italian method.

If Fulham are going to fall through the trapdoor, as appears ever so likely now, they might as well give us something to remember aside from atrocious defending. These might be our last few months of seeing Sessegnon in a Fulham shirt. Let’s at least go out in a blaze of glory.