Fulham have no identity.

When Fulham were promoted, it was with a reputation of swagger and of good football (proper football). They scored (and conceded) a lot of goals, were always entertaining and one of the best footballing sides to grace the second division of English football in a long time. There was a narrative that you can’t ‘play’ in the lower leagues; that it has to be rough and tumble and that group of players proved them wrong.

With today’s loss at Burnley, Fulham have won nine points from an available thirty and been knocked out of the FA Cup at the first time of asking in an embarrassing loss at home to Oldham Athletic. A squad that was built (rather poorly) with Slavisa Jokanovic’s footballing style in mind became pointless once Tony Khan made the decision to sack and replace with the antithesis in terms of coaching philosophy in Claudio Ranieri.

Ranieri’s Fulham has scored more than one goal just once in his first eleven matches (including League Two opposition) and have two clean sheets, that’s a bad recipe for success and it’s failure at both ends of the football pitch.

Despite having the likes of Tom Cairney, spending £30m on midfield conductor Jean Michel Seri and £20m on Alfie Mawson (who in 2017/18) was in the top 11 of centre backs for completed short passes (and also the top Englishman), possession based football was dead the moment the Ranieri appointment was made. We now have signings whose strong characteristics are to be wasted, Seri for example is a passer to the standard of Barcelona sniffing around for him a year previously is now put in a Ngolo Kante role of breaking up play. Fulham have been lucky to find that Calum Chambers, a ball playing central defender who put in some underwhelming performances at the back can be a productive defensive midfielder.

While Fulham have a pair of really good Championship full backs, it’s appeared early on that they may be just that. Though both Joe Bryan and Cyrus Christie are more suited to offensive responsibilities from the full back/wing back position than the team round defensive focus attempting to be instilled by Claudio Ranieri. We wasted a Premier League loan slot on Timothy Fosu-Mensah as he’s set to return to Manchester United and Tony Khan added no speed or athleticism in the final third for a Premier League that is notorious for the speed and power of the league.

A rant about the way the squad was assembled would need a post on its own, from the timing and urgency of players coming in, to the lack of investment in certain areas and considering the characteristics of top level Premier League football. The Khan’s were desperate for safety, and sadly it’s showing in the worst way. Another manager with circular glasses is tasked with taking a unbalanced squad currently unfit (in another way) for his style is facing relegation in the eyes and like a sad man desperate to get laid of Friday night, wrong decisions have been made and the club has the feeling of insecurity of a Saturday morning walk of shame.

Whether you liked Slavisa or not, whether you enjoyed possession based football or not, whether you hated seeing us concede goals with such ease in the Premier League or not, Fulham at least had an identity. This club was going to try and play football and every player knew their role; the youngsters that come through at Fulham are largely talented with the ball at their feet and that’s stressed upon. This is all at risk with the decisions being made and the sooner Fulham return to a plan, identity and quality in recruitment, the better. I don’t really care if that’s in the Premier League or not.

Tony Khan’s new venture

Ok HammyEnd readers, I’m out of the closet. I’m the best person on the HammyEnd writing team to write this piece and I will not be ashamed of it anymore.

The noise has been around for months, but 2019 saw the official announcement of All Elite Wrestling. All Elite Wrestling is allegedly set to receive $100m worth of investment from Shahid Khan to support his sons’ new venture. Tony Khan will take up the position of president of the new company which is frequently utilising the term “by the fans, for the fans.” Listening to Tony on the X Pac 12360 podcast, I was impressed by his knowledge of the product and background information, if you listen to the ‘General Manager’ of Fulham FC speak about the art form of professional wrestling for even five minutes, you can tell that this guy just loves it.

Professional wrestling has had a gap for a while, the independent scene is booming but no company had the clout, finances or buzz to really whet the appetite for the wrestling community that is deep into the product. All Elite Wrestling merchandise is already number one of Pro Wrestling Tees: an online store that houses the merchandise for many a wrestling company, wrestler or wrestling personality that is not part of the giant that is WWE.
The buzz is largely thanks to Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks (Nick and Matt Jackson) who take up the position of Executive Vice Presidents within the company. Cody was part of the WWE machine from a young age making his debut on television at the age of 21 (his father is the late Dusty Rhodes, a member of the WWE Hall of Fame for his long litany of work in the industry). Rhodes left the WWE, disillusioned with the mollycoddled and uncreative environment of World Wrestling Entertainment and became the hottest individual on the independent scene. He came together with the Jackson’s (all three are members of the wrestling stable: the Elite) to create a wrestling event called All In. All In became sold out in 30 minutes with over 10,000 people in attendance, becoming the first non-WWE or WCW event to do so in the United States since 1993.

If Tony Khan was to surround himself with three non-WWE members to create a wrestling company, these were likely the best three. The wrestling community is truly excited for what is to come from All Elite Wrestling as they promise the best to fans and wrestlers (Chief Branding Officer Brandi Rhodes announced at their rally in Jacksonville that both male and female wrestlers of a similar level will be paid exactly the same). There have also been mentions of a favourable schedule on the road which may help them attract stars from WWE, much like TNA did in its prime as they once held a roster containing the Dudley Boys, the Hardy Boys and Rob Van Dam to name but a few. AEW have also said that they will compensate their talent for any injuries and possibly long term a health care package. Tony Khan has also mentioned potential full time jobs in the office as well for wrestlers, it really sounds like an opportunity for people to be ‘All In.’ To add to all this positive press, at their rally in Jacksonville, the Executive Vice Presidents announced that the second show from AEW will be in the city with a “large portion” of the money to go towards victims of gun violence.

Trademarks were filed for all the branding months ago, but one of which is the name ‘Tuesday Night Dynamite.’ This potentially hints at All Elite Wrestling targeting a weekly television slot which would be a major boost should it come with a strong network. WWE programming does not currently have a cable slot for Tuesday night which is a positive for the initial growth of All Elite Wrestling’s fan base (of which is already has over 120,000 followers on Twitter).

At the rally in Jacksonville, a number of roster additions were announced which included British wrestler PAC (formally known as Neville in WWE), Hangman Page and most notably, Chris Jericho. Chris Jericho, a veteran of the business, is a superstar and like a fine wine is doing some of his best stuff as he gets older. Jericho spoke of not needing the money, but he “believes in doing something new and different.” The Canadian wrestler will bring eyes alone and is a huge pull for the company in its early days.

Tony Khan on the aforementioned podcast said he spends his time working for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham FC but his free time was spent watching and taking in professional wrestling, all but confirming that the 36 year old has zero free time left in his life. “Wins and losses will never matter more” which suggests that All Elite Wrestling will display the product with a respect to the athletic art form that it is and not the wink of “we all know this isn’t real.” A tape trader and self confessed fan of ECW back in the day, Tony as a fan will have a vision of what he wants All Elite Wrestling to be and it does feel like it’s been a very impressive start as a budding promotion.

‘Double or Nothing’ is the first event to promoted by All Elite. It will take play at the MGM Grand Arena on May 25th with the first match all but announced, Hangman Page vs. PAC in a match that could carry a card on its own.

Professional wrestling has an injection of excitement that it’s missed for a long while, if you were previously a fan or grew up to appreciate the product, now is the time to get back in as All Elite look to assemble a roster of excellent wrestlers. I’m interested, no matter what my disagreements are with Tony Khan on a footballing basis.

Sunday Bloody Sunday…

Embarrassing and abject, Claudio Ranieri didn’t even really rest first team regulars as Fulham exited the FA Cup in a home tie to Oldham Athletic. You could argue that 8 of the 13 utilised by the Italian will be involved at Burnley on Saturday and yet still out of the cup in the second largest ‘giant-killing’ of the third round (though honestly, during the whole narrative of ‘giant-killing’ in the FA Cup is only time we’ll hear Fulham regarded as a ‘Premier League giant’ as by the BBC live feed this afternoon).

Sheffield United, who were knocked out by Barnet with a larger positional gap than today’s fixture at Craven Cottage, at least can say they made 10 changes to their starting eleven. Fulham’s six included the goalkeeping change, Cyrus Christie out for £30m man Jean Michel Seri as Denis Odoi slid out to the right hand side of a back four, Calum Chambers returned for the injured Alfie Mawson and was next to Tim Ream with Maxime Le Marchand in for Joe Bryan and going out to the left back position. Ibrahima Cisse retained his place as at Arsenal. The entire front three from the game at the Emirates were on the bench (although two game on to no – positive – impact for Fulham) and Atletico Madrid loanee Luciano Vietto, former Ligue 1 regular Floyd Ayite and Congolese international Neeskens Kebano starting up front.

Though Fulham retained and recycled the ball well, their creation of chances was lacklustre and mustered just the two shots on target, the opening goal from Denis Odoi (of all people) and Aleksandar Mitrovic’s penalty (which in all honesty, shouldn’t have stood). No youngsters – Ryan Sessegnon is a fully fledged first team squad member – were given a run out, it was simply a poor turn out from players that are to be charged with Fulham’s Premier League survival.

The change of system was probably unnecessary with Odoi, Ream and Le Marchand likely to start at Burnley anyway. Were we really that desperate to rest Cyrus Christie and Joe Bryan? Any more so than Tom Cairney, who appeared to pick up a knock to the ankle? Or Ryan Sessegnon or Aleksandar Mitrovic? Both of which may as well have stayed at home given their time played and contributions of a conceded penalty and a missed one. Steven Sessegnon could easily have slotted in at right wing back for Ranieri to see what he has long term, Joe Bryan on the left. Luca De La Torre could have been one of the three in the front three, or in the squad at least to show some intent of future of the football club.

This was a bad day for the club all round, it showed a worryingly lack of creativity, a lack of fight to see out a win at home to League Two opposition and some questionable managerial decisions. Fulham next travel to Burnley, and whilst it’s easy to wallpaper over some cracks and say ‘we can now focus on the league;’ never underestimate the power of a win, the power of a clean sheet. Fulham now face a tough trip to Burnley with our prime attacking threats playing a bad part in two penalties and a back four that conceded two to a team in the bottom division of the Football League pyramid, letting alone now having to face Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes.

Congrats to Oldham, a cup set is something to savour and something to enjoy. Their supporters took over Craven Cottage and it probably would’ve suited Fulham more to play this tie away and remove the effect of a ‘big day out.’

I’d love to end this talking about how the fringe players showed their not worthy of their spot, but sadly, there was a lot of first team regulars out there and business has to be done by Tony Khan and Claudio Ranieri to improve the quality at the top end of the depth chart at the football club.

Hammyend Team – Memories, Hopes and Dreams

As a New Year breaks, we thought it was time as a team to give you our collective memories from 2018 as Fulham fans and what we hope for in 2019. Enjoy!

Memories from 2018

Dan Crawford – 

2018 was full of incredible memories that make it very difficult to pick one. The whole of our unbeaten run was so mesmorising and some of the football Slavisa Jokanovic’s side played was heavenly. The spirit and fortitude shown by the boys to keep plugging away even when it seemed automatic promotion was out of reach was just incredible – and the drama of the play-offs was just something else. That night against Derby at Craven Cottage is unforgettable and the suddeness of the turnaround, with those goals from Sessegnon and Odoi, made it all the more memorable.
And then there was Wembley. I never thought I’d see Fulham play at the famous ground. But to win there: in a such a high stakes game, well that has to go down as one of the best days of my life. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched that glorious goal again. Sessegnon’s composure and vision to set Cairney away and the coolness of the finish. The desire to see it through after Odoi’s red card and that magnificent Ollie Norwood tackle. The final whistle brought all kinds of emotions – relief, joy, disbelief – bubbling to the surface.

 

Alan Drewett

Last year will be a year that will stick in the mind of every Fulham fan. We eventually got to Wembley and we gained promotion back to the big time. It was a year that started off with a 23 game unbeaten run and just falling short of the automatic places. The addition of Mitrovic was certainly the season defining moment for us. The first half of the season we were crying out for a centre forward that could finish, hold the ball and slot in to our free flowing way of football and he ticked all the boxes.

The play off semi final win at home to Derby will also be a memory I will never forget. We were a team that rarely threatened from corners and it was a Denis Odoi header from a corner that sent us on the way to Wembley. The pitch invasion afterwards allowed my 3 year old son to face the Craven Cottage turf for the first time. Everywhere you looked, there was pure jubilation from everyone on the pitch. Denis Odoi being held aloft is one particular image which will always bring a smile to my face.

Frankie Taylor

Slavisa Jokanovic’s swaggering Fulham side clinched promotion in dramatic style throughout the play offs following a remarkable unbeaten run towards the end of the season which left Fulham a whisker away from the automatic slot. Our first day at Wembley since 1975 was ended in joy, a day I’m sure no Fulham fan will forget… not less Ryan Sessegnon threading through a gorgeous pass to captain Tom Cairney (and arguably the poster boy of Jokanovic’s era at Fulham) to slot beyond Sam Johnstone in the Aston Villa goal. For the turnaround in fortunes, the style of football and the ultimate success, Slavisa Jokanovic should never be unspoken when discussing great managers of the football, though for whatever reason it didn’t work out in the Premier League, he played a mighty big part in getting us there.

Lydia Campbell

2018 will stand forever in the memories as one of the craziest, most exciting and most absolutely mad years as a Fulham fan. A 23 league game unbeaten run will always give us some memories, but what came at the end of it was THAT trip to Wembley and our golden ticket into the Premier League via a Tom Cairney goal. What a day, what a year.

We have had some crazy moments along the way, Middlesbrough away stands out to me with Ollie Norwood’s last gasp penalty sealing the points in a game we probably had no right to win. I was working for BBC Sport NI that day at an Irish League game and very nearly ruined the live post-match interview with Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter as the score came in on my phone. Sorry, Stephen…

Then fast forward to Denis Odoi’s header against Derby which could have been the last thing I saw alive as the guy beside me practically rugby tackled me when the ball hit the back of the net, before lifting me above his head in celebration. It was all good though, if that was the last thing I witnessed before coming to an untimely end, it would have been a pretty good way to go out.

Cue Wembley. It’s hard to really put into words what that day meant to me. Things have been very tough for my family over the past 18 months for reasons that I’ll not bore you with here, so getting to watch Fulham win at Wembley with my dad, the man who introduced me to Fulham all those years ago meant more to me that I could possibly have imagined. Special moments.

Hopes and Dreams for 2019

Dan Crawford

If I’m honest, I’m still a little sad about how it ended for Jokanovic. I was a true believer in the style of football and the philosophy even after it became clear that we were going to struggle in the Premier League. There’s no doubt that Claudio Ranieri has tightened it up and made us much harder to beat. It might not be pretty – indeed, it is the polar opposite of what has gone before, but it is working.
My immediate wishes are for some reinforcements in January. It looks like we’ll need another centre back if Alfie Mawson’s injury is as serious as we fear it could be and that could be a sound acquisition in any case. There’s a clear need for a defensive midfielder since Anguissa has yet to step up to the mark – no matter how good Calum Chambers has been in his new found role. I also think some back up for Mitrovic in the striking role is a must, but Premier League experience – which much of our squad is lacking – is vital. We can stay up, but we need to make the right moves.

 

Alan Drewett

Our return to the Premiership has already been a season to forget. With so many changes made in the summer, 12 players in and £105m spent, we were all hoping to hit the ground running. Unfortunately, it has not gone according to plan. Slavisa Jokanovic has been replaced by Claudio “The Tinkerman” Ranieri and the whole identity is changing. I would like to see us still be a Premiership team come May and use the summer transfer window to allow Ranieri to buy his players and make us a stable top flight club.

I am hoping the board and the owners have learnt something from the summer transfer window and allow the manager to have more of a say on who is brought in. The next 5 months are going to be nervy, tense and certainly a rollercoaster ride with plenty of highs and lows. I hope we use the January transfer window to make the necessary changes to the squad in order to make us compete at this level. It is extremely important we keep the likes of Sessegnon and Mitrovic fit if we are going to stand any chance. I am looking forward to the rest of the season and I am hoping our first away win of the season is just around the corner at Burnley.

Have a fantastic 2019, all! COYW!

Frankie Taylor

Claudio Ranieri now takes the reigns. A dramatic difference in footballing philosophy brings multiple questions, which players suit? Which players will adapt? And who will the manager like and dislike? Leicester title winning leader has already looked to recreate the hardened defensive set up and whilst it lacks the quality of a Ngolo Kante, Riyad Mahrez or Jamie Vardy, Fulham have a January window to get the squad better suited for Ranieri-ball.

Big changes hit Craven Cottage as work is set to start on the Riverside Stand, and the income of Premier League football is vital to helping us through financially that period of time. Extra outlay may be eye watering for the books, but necessary with the Whites in desperate need for players that better suit the quicker play of the new regime to ensure that a fancier, expanded Craven Cottage plays host to Premier League football.

Although Premier League safety will be the biggest aim for 2019 for the football club, I’d like to see a continuation of youth involvement in the first team, beyond Ryan Sessegnon (who is absolutely established in the first team), Claudio Ranieri hasn’t dipped down to see what he has – though the FA Cup game against Oldham may be the best opportunity for that.

Lydia Campbell

The back half of 2018 has been hard. Results on the pitch have been pretty dire and we have been left with the momentous task of Premier League survival while being the bottom team at Christmas. My long-term hope is obviously survival, but in the short term, I don’t want us to lose all of the flair and spirit that got us into the top league in the first place. We need to be more effective as a team, and we need to be able to grind out results like all teams at this side of the table, but I would like Ranieri to do that without ripping the soul out of the side.

I don’t think he will as I think the likes of Sessegnon, Mitrovic, Cairney and even Odoi have roles at this club in the hunt for survival, but we all need to accept that changes will be made. He has already made us a much better unit, and we haven’t done that by completely sacrificing our attacking play. We have had copious chances in most of the games under Ranieri, so I hope we start taking them!

As a team we would just like to thank you all for reading our material, and want to wish you all a happy and healthy new year.

#COYW

 

Ranieri counting on Fulham’s old guard

Claudio Ranieri says he is counting on the core of the Fulham side that won promotion under Slavisa Jokanovic to steer the Whites away from the relegation zone.

The Italian manager highlighted the crucial contributions of Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon, who have both been rotated during the festive period, as well as the goalscoring prowess of Aleksandar Mitrovic after yesterday’s late win over Huddersfield Town at Craven Cottage. Ranieri revealed that Sessegnon is still building up his match sharpness after returning from injury, whilst there has been speculation that Cairney could be made available during the January transfer window – but the Fulham boss appears to believe the club’s most used combinations will be crucial in the weeks ahead.

Speaking to the press following Fulham’s dramatic win last night, Ranieri said:

It’s very, very important the relationship with old players, young players but old in Fulham. It is very, very important. I don’t have time to make some experience with a friendly match I have to try to do my best and I know we can press all of the match and then I need to choose when is the right moment to press all together.

Ranieri was also full of praise for Mitrovic, both in terms of his coolness in front of goal and his measured response to Aboubakar Kamara’s insistence that he would take the crucial penalty against the Terriers despite the Serbian being Fulham’s nominated spot-kick taker.

He is a young goalscorer but he is an intelligent player. He knows that there are moments you score every match and some moments you wait. I never see him nervous, he’s always calm, working well during the training session and for me this is the best thing. He was great when he understood Kamara didn’t want to give it to him the ball and goes there [to] kiss him and says ‘good luck’.

Let’s kick on after ‘massive’ victory, says Cairney

Fulham captain Tom Cairney has urged his team-mates to use what he described as a ‘massive’ win over relegation rivals Huddersfield Town as a springboard for the remainder of their season.

The Whites claimed a precious three points over the league’s bottom side in dramatic fashion with an injury-time winner from Aleksandar Mitrovic at Craven Cottage yesterday. Cairney, recalled to the starting line-up for the crunch clash, told the club’s official website that Claudio Ranieri’s men were desperate to triumph in the battle between the Premier League’s bottom two sides.

It’s a massive relief. I think we had to win that game and the boys, especially second half, were brilliant. We were banging on the door for a while and it took until the end of the game to win it, but it’s moments like that which boost your morale and turn seasons around, so hopefully that’ll be the case for us.

The first half was pretty dead really. We kept our shape for large periods but they probably shaded it. But second half we took the game by the scruff of the neck a little bit, played a little bit more football, got a few more men forward. The second half was a good one to play in and was a bit more like us last season so long may that continue.

The Scottish international was full of praise for Mitrovic, who played through a fever and keep his cool when put through by substitute Ryan Sessegnon in the first minute of added time.

He 100 per cent deserved his goal at the end. He was ill on Friday as well, he wasn’t even at training, so he did well to stay on for 90 minutes and give everything like he did, so I was delighted for him to hit the back of the net.

The late winner was all the more welcome after the drama of Aboubakar Kamara refusing to hand over an earlier penalty to Aleksandar Mitrovic – despite the attempts of his team-mates to intervene – and seeing his tame effort saved by Jonas Lossl in the Huddersfield goal.

It’s a hard situation. We tried to give the ball to Mitro because he’s the penalty taker, the number nine, our top goal scorer. But how far do you go? Abou believed he could score which is fair enough but obviously everyone wanted Mitro to take it because he’s the designated taker.

You all saw it, there’s no hiding place, but it’s just one of those things. Thank God we ended up winning the game so it doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as it could have. We’ll just move on now.