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.

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

Feeble Fulham look doomed

Being beaten by a Manchester United side who are experiencing a renaissance under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can’t be considered a disgrace. But the lack of a clear strategy to trouble the visitors – or a plan to redeem themselves after the concession of a couple of soft goals in the first half – should deeply worry both the Fulham hierarchy and Claudio Ranieri. After all, the Italian was brought in to replace Slavisa Jokanovic on the understanding that he would be able to fortify Fulham’s leaky defence and the improvement has been marginal at past.

The boos that greeted the second half replacement of Andre Schurrle with Cyrus Christie summed up just how out of the touch the Fulham manager is with the Craven Cottage faithful. Ranieri thought the home fans were lampooning his decision to introduce a full-back for Schurrle, who had struggled with the flu in the build up to this fixture, or switch to 5-3-2 when the Whites were already 2-0 down. In actual fact, the Fulham fans were disappointed that Ryan Sessegnon and Tom Cairney, consigned to the bench again with the need for a win almost reaching desperation point, weren’t summoned forward to add a spark to what had become a limp display.

Omitting Fulham’s two most consistent performers during their promotion-winning season wasn’t the only way in which Ranieri’s selection was muddled. He went with a five-man defence at Crystal Palace last week when Roy Hodgson’s side were likely to sit in during a tense contest, but opted for a flat back four this afternoon when Solskjaer’s side were always certain to come at the league’s worst defence with all guns blazing.

Denis Odoi, shifted from centre back to right back here after Cyrus Christie had conceded a penalty at Selhurst Park last weekend, struggled in the same position at Old Trafford earlier in the season. He was like a fish out of water against the pace and power of Anthony Martial. The French winger skipped away from him before creating the opening goal with a clever pass for Paul Pogba, who squeezed his finish between Sergio Rico and his near post. The Spanish goalkeeper perhaps should have done better – but the contest was effectively over after fourteen minutes.

Martial then displayed the blistering pace and mesmerising skill that prompted United to pay Monaco a rumoured £36m for his services back in 2015. The winger received possession from Phil Jones and sprinted fully forty yards before curling an unstoppable finish beyond Rico, darting away from both Odoi and the unfortunate Maxime Le Marchand, to double United’s lead. At that point, it seemed as if the visitors could have as many goals as they wanted. It was something of surprise that they only added one more, which came when Pogba clinically converted a penalty after Paul Tierney pointed to the spot when Juan Mata tumbled after Le Marchand’s challenge twenty minutes into the second half.

Fulham’s defensive disarray is old news. Without Alfie Mawson due to a freak injury, the Whites are without a genuine top flight centre back – and it shows. There seems to be a brittleness to their spirit, too, these days that suggests they are beaten once the opposition gets in front. After a bright start, Ranieri’s men showed very little in the second half. The closest they came to a semblance of fight was when Aleksandar Mitrovic squared up to David de Gea in stoppage time after the pair challenged each over for a loose ball.

Time is running out for Fulham and Ranieri. The Italian manager hasn’t been able to make a decent fist of this survival mission – and the placid Craven Cottage crowd appears to have turned against him. The Whites actually started this game at quite a tempo and almost caught United cold at the very start but Luciano Vietto scuffed a simple finish at the back post when he had been sent clear by a raking crossfield ball from Schurrle. A nightmare run of fixtures and a ten point gap to Cardiff – after the Bluebirds’ emotional win at Southampton this afternoon – suggests that a side who achieved promotion with such a swagger last season will soon leave the top flight with barely a whimper. It is a terrible shame and one hell of a missed opportunity.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rico; Odoi, Bryan (R. Sessegnon 81), Le Marchand, Ream; Chambers, Seri; Schurrle (Christie 53), Babel (Cairney 77), Vietto; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Fabri, Anguissa, Ayite, Kebano.

BOOKED: Bryan, Chambers, Mitrovic.

MANCHESTER UNITED (4-3-3): de Gea; Dalot, Shaw, Smalling, Jones; Matic, Herrera (Bailly 85), Pogba (McTominay 74); Mata, Martial (Sanchez 70), Lukaku. Subs (not used): Romero, Young, Lingard, Rashford.

BOOKED: Matic, de Gea.

GOALS: Pogba (14, pen 65), Martial (23)

REFEREE: Paul Tierney (Lancashire)

Palace push Fulham closer to the drop

A limp surrender at Selhurst Park stood in stark contrast to the rousing revival against Brighton and Hove Albion. All the hope rekindled by that blistering comeback on Tuesday night evaporated after the needless concession of a penalty by Cyrus Christie. Fulham were in the game until that point, but showed very little after half time to suggest they were capable of redeeming the situation. Seven points off survival with games fast running out, Fulham’s predicament looks perilous. Claudio Ranieri insists he still believes – but he might be the only one.

The high-pressure stakes seemed too much for a Fulham side that appeared unwilling to take the game to the opposition, even when they were on top during the early exchanges. The result could have been different had Aleksandar Mitrovic converted the visitors’ only clear opening instead of sending a free header wide from Joe Bryan’s cross – and that glaring miss seemed to weigh heavily on the Serbian’s shoulders.

Palace, content to sit deep and make themselves difficult to play through as per the Roy Hodgson handbook, had barely threatened before the 25th minute. There appeared to be little danger when James McArthur drove a crossfield ball towards Christian Benteke on the left corner of the Fulham box. The big Belgian forward might have pushed Christie as he jumped, but there was denying the Fulham full back’s hand was far too high when it made contact with the ball. To make matters worse, Sergio Rico dived the right way and got something on Luka Milivojevic’s spot-kick but couldn’t keep it out.

There was inevitability about how the rest of the afternoon played out. Fulham failed to lift themselves and were indebted to Rico for keeping the scoreline respectable. Benteke rattled the bar with a ridiculous overhead kick just before half-time and Rico saved smartly from Jeffrey Schlupp in the second half. Mahmadou Sakho glanced a header fractionally wide as Palace pushed for a second, which eventually came with three minutes left when Rico superbly stopped substitute Michy Batshuayi’s goalbound drive, but was powerless o prevent Schlupp from snaffling up the rebound.

Fulham failed to ask any serious questions of the Palace rearguard after the break, despite dominating possession. Late efforts from Luciano Vietto, introduced at half-time, and a frustrated Mitrovic were the visitors’ only answers. Ranieri’s men didn’t register a single shot on target – and the continued absence of Ryan Sessegnon, an unused substitute here, seems particularly baffling.

CRYSTAL PALACE (4-4-2): Guaita; Wan-Bissaka, Tomkins, Sakho, van Aanholt; Townsend, McArthur, Milivojevic, Schlupp (Sako 90); Ayew (Batshuayi 82), Benteke (Meyer 72). Subs (not used):
Hennessey, Dann, Kelly, Riedewald.

BOOKED: Ayew, Wan-Bissaka.

GOALS: Milivojevic (pen) 25, Schlupp (87).

FULHAM (3-4-3): Rico; Odoi, Le Marchand, Ream (Vietto 45); Christie (Fosu-Mensah 62), Bryan, Chambers, Seri; Cairney, Babel (Ayite 88), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Fabri, Cisse, R. Sessegnon, Kebano.

BOOKED: Le Marchand, Odoi, Babel.

REFEREE: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).

ATTENDANCE: 23,355.

Fulham swoop for Markovic

Fulham have completed a deal to sign Serbian winger Lazar Markovic on a free transfer from Liverpool.

The 24 year-old, who played alongside Aleksandar Mitrovic at Partizan Belgrade, where he helped his boyhood club to back-to-back Serbian titles. He spent a treble-winning season at Portuguese giants Benfica before moving to Liverpool, but Markovic struggled to establish himself at Anfield, despite making 34 first-team appearances in his first season in English football.

Markovic, who has won 22 caps for Serbia, has since spent time on loan with Fenerbahce, Sporting Lisbon, Hull City and Anderlecht. His new club suggested that Mitrovic had ‘highly recommended’ the tricky winger to the Whites. Fulham’s director of football operations Tony Khan said:

Lazar Markovic is a gifted young player; we’re pleased to welcome him from Liverpool for the remainder of the season. Lazar is known as a great teammate, he has the support of our Manager, and he has the talent to strengthen our attack.