Parker named new Fulham boss on two-year contract

Fulham have this afternoon confirmed the permanent appointment of Scott Parker as the club’s manager on a two-year contract.

The former England captain has impressed the club’s hierarchy since stepping up to replace Claudio Ranieri on a caretaker basis in February. Although the 38 year-old was unable to prevent the Whites from being relegated from the Premier League, Parker did lead Fulham to three consecutive wins against Everton, Bournemouth and Cardiff City, keeping clean sheets in all three games.

He told the club’s official website that he was delighted to be offered the opportunity to do the job on a permanent basis:

“I’m delighted to be appointed Head Coach of Fulham Football Club and I thank the Chairman for entrusting me with this responsibility, as well as the support and encouragement that both he and Tony Khan have provided me.

The players, staff and fans have all been fantastic with me since I took temporary charge. We are now all focused on ending this campaign with a positive result on Sunday against Newcastle and look forward to preparations for the new season, which have already begun.”

Parker, who was previously first team coach at Fulham under Slavisa Jokanovic and the Tottenham Hotspur under-18 head coach for a season, finished his illustrious playing career at Craven Cottage, making 128 appearances for the Whites and scoring six goals.

Fulham chairman Shahid Khan added:

“Scott was brave to accept a very difficult challenge in February when appointed as our Caretaker Manager. Since that time, day by day, whether in training or on matchday, we’ve undeniably become a better football club.

Scott will now have another challenge to face, and that is to return Fulham to the Premier League. I fully believe Scott is more than up to the task. I appreciate that he’s been clear for many years that his ultimate goal is to excel as a manager, and he will be given every opportunity to succeed at Fulham. I also have no doubt that he knows and loves this Club every bit as much as our supporters, and that’s an intangible that everyone can welcome.”

Tom Cairney – Fulham’s perfect building block

One of my favourite kind of pieces to write are those with a story, where you have a clear start, middle and end. In football, these are particularly satisfying especially when telling the tale of new signings or a player on excellent form playing at his peak ability. In April of 2017, I did one of these on Fulham captain Tom Cairney and it’s crazy to think of how the story has progressed in just a little over two years later. While the playoff attempt for Slavisa’s side that season was unsuccessful, Tom Cairney was made full-time captain for the ultimate success, becoming the first Fulham player to score at Wembley and lead the club back to the Premier League.

The return to the big time wasn’t quite what any of us had hoped. Tom Cairney, in particular, saw Slavisa Jokanovic, a coach he described as “giving me my best years” was sacked after a horrific start and was replaced by Claudio Ranieri, a coach who had no interests in utilising the strengths of the Fulham captain as Cairney spent a spell in and out of the side. Now under Scott Parker, a former team mate, Cairney has returned to the line up as more of a traditional no.10 in a 4231 and contributed his first goal of the season at home to Everton.

The improved mood around Craven Cottage was boosted further after the influential captain was announced to have signed an extension to his stay at Fulham. Whilst the realist will understand this new deal likely negates any relegation pay cuts and probably will make him one of the highest paid players in the Championship next season, the statement from both the club and player was much needed heading into a summer of uncertainty over the future of so many.

Fulham has become a home for the Scotland international, a club where he has played his best football, a club where he made his international debut, a club that gave him his first real taste at Premier League and a club where he became a father. And for Fulham, Tom Cairney became the identity of a footballing style, he may not be athletically blessed but Cairney is technically wonderful with the ability to thread through a perfect pass, dictate an entire game or bend in a beauty from outside the box. The feeling is very much mutual.

For Scott Parker, or whoever is in charge come July for pre-season, they will know that they will have one of the Championships best in midfield. Sure he’s likely being paid handsomely for Championship standards, but the cost to replace the impact of a Cairney would not be cheap and we should welcome the fact that he wants to stay through thick and thin.

This coming season, Cairney will likely become the first Fulham player to play on over 200 appearances since 2014 and could overtake the likes of Chris Coleman, Simon Davies, Damien Duff and Sean Davis en route what will hopefully be a quick return to the Premier League. Cairney stated he hopes to finish his career with Fulham at Craven Cottage and his current contract would take him up to the traditional 10-year testimonial game of which he’ll be 34 years old. While football is a business and things change from week-to-week let alone yearly, it’s a huge statement for Fulham FC and keeping players and people of this mould at the football club is something we should yearn for.

Cairney signs new Fulham contract

Fulham captain Tom Cairney has extended his contract with the club until 2024 – despite the Whites’ relegation from the Premier League this season.

The Scottish international, whose new deal also includes an option for the club to extend his stay in west London for a further year, had no hesitation in committing his future to the club and described Fulham as ‘feeling like home’. Cairney, who scored the winner in last season’s Championship play-off final against Aston Villa, professed to having unfinished business following Fulham’s disappointing return to the top flight.

Cairney told the club’s official website:

“The Club’s been amazing to me, and to extend my contract again is an amazing feeling. I want to stay for a long time, and hopefully finish my career here.

“This place feels like home. I don’t think you can put a price on happiness, and your life off the pitch as well, and I can’t see myself anywhere else. I feel like I’ve got unfinished business. I want to stay here and I want to get the Club back to the Premier League.

“I want to bounce straight back next season. I know how hard the Championship is, but knowing our owners and how ambitious the Club is, I’m sure we’ll give it a good go.”

Cairney, who signed for Fulham from Blackburn Rovers in the summer of 2015, has made 161 appearances in his four years with the Whites scoring 28 goals.

Ryan Sessegnon, assessing the future

The Premier League is unforgiving for young players in general, the speed and physicality of modern football at the very top can often become a deer in the headlights effect for those early in their professional career. For Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon, he came into the top division with a few years of flurrying media buzz as at 16 and 17 years old, the former left-back now winger has shone in the Sky Bet Championship playing with relative comfort. Two seasons in the second division has delivered the Roehampton born midfielder with two Team of the Year appearances, a Championship Player of the Season, a Championship Young Player of the Season and Championship Apprentice Award.

With awards and honours of this magnitude for a teenager understandably sees the football media discuss the vultures circling to prey on another talent from a smaller club. As Fulham FC were promoted with a reputation of swaggering, sexy football fronted by the future of the England national team all eyes were on South West London and Sessegnon to provide a pizazz outside of the top six. Alas, the season hasn’t quite gone how either party would have planned sees Fulham in a more vulnerable position to predators with young Ryan Sessegnon a prime feast.

The England under-21 international season has been fine, though many have may have bizarrely expected more of an 18-year-old in his first season of Premier League football, I believe that to play in a relegated team that has largely been poor alongside a spell on the sidelines as part of Ranieri’s exodus and still come up with contributing eight goals is strong. He has to get better physically, has to do a better job with retaining possession of the ball but while his goal opportunities are fewer and farther between, he’s had a nice season in that regard.

So what happens now? Ryan Sessegnon turns 19 years old in May, his current contract at Fulham Football Club is up in 2020 and he has scored 25 goals and by the last game against Newcastle at Craven Cottage, he’ll likely make his 120th appearance. As much as I would love to see the day that a young academy product with talent could break Johnny Haynes’ appearance record (658 which has stood strong since 1970) or Gordon Davies’ goal record (178 across two spells, the last of which in 1991); you must understand that modern football is much more financially fuelled with a top-heavy monopoly unlikely to be tested bar mass rule changes. There’s only so long a club like Fulham can reject millions of pounds and there’s only so long an individual (and his agent) can reject millions of pounds of personal wealth, European football, a greater chance of national recognition and more sponsorship offers.

Today’s Evening Standard (I’m writing on the 30th April 2019) is suggesting that Tottenham lead the way for our young winger with a £20m-£25m, a price tag which would represent Fulham’s biggest sale but a year removed from the figure discussed being £50m. As fans, we’ll likely never know what the true figure is but using £25m as a point, Fulham could keep Ryan Sessegnon for the remaining year of his contract knowing he can produce in the Championship and promotion would likely financially benefit the football club far greater. The risk you do play is not getting promoted and you lose the best player the academy has produced for a pittance in compensation should he move abroad. In this case, if Ryan Sessegnon was to remain in England, you can take the financial compensation to tribunal but may not receive the money for a while. In June 2015, Danny Ings left Burnley and moved to Liverpool following the expiration of his contract. The two clubs had a period of discussion but took the case to a tribunal which decided that Burnley receive £6.5m, £1.5m in performance-related extras, as well as 20% from the fee, should Liverpool sell – but this was not resolved until the following April.

Borussia Dortmund, Paris St Germain, Juventus, Manchester United, and Liverpool join Tottenham as premium destinations for Ryan Sessegnon and all have benefits for different reasons. From seeing success and playing with friends to playing with superstars via joining up with a coach with renowned expertise in giving opportunities to and developing young players. The humble boy from Roehampton has heard it all since he was 15 but now it feels real and true possibility. Upon signing his first contract with the club, Ryan was quoted as saying “Last season I got a lot of opportunities so I want to continue that. When you are young you just want to play as many games as you can.” Barring the disastrous Claudio Ranieri experiment, Ryan Sessegnon has continued to play on a weekly basis and having publicly backed former teammate Scott Parker to take the reigns on a permanent basis, maybe (just maybe) the opportunity to continue to play games, to win promotion again and to play under a coach he believes in and knows could convince him to stay. In an interview with Sky Sports, Ryan Sessegnon was coy about his future at the football club, “I’m still a Fulham player, contracted until 2020, So I’m still a Fulham player and in terms of that, that’s all I can say at the moment.”

This was never to be a piece on what I think will happen, or what Ryan should do or what the club will do. Simply laying out the possibilities of sell, keep or keep and extend. Ryan’s future is undoubtedly above Fulham and in an expected summer of an overhaul, the eyes on Ryan Sessegnon’s future will be most pressing as the boy with the world at his feet has an international and European future ahead of him. Is now the time? I could say ask Wilfried Zaha how his experience was jumping from Crystal Palace to Manchester and the response could easily be, “what about Dele Alli from MK Dons to Tottenham?” Whatever happens, I think Ryan has the support of all in the Fulham family in and out of the Motspur Park doors. He’s seen the support he has from the crowd both home and away and I’m speaking for us all, but I think if he chose to move on, we hope it’s too the right club that can treat him how he should be treated and harness that talent that has representing Fulham since under 9s football.

Shahid Khan’s Dilemma

We are about to enter a crucially important phase in the Shahid Khan era at Fulham. The decision about who you want in charge of your football team is likely the most important decision to be made for any owner, particularly when the club is in a fragile position. It’s like surgery to me. Everything has to be done carefully and concisely, yet each move has to also be made with complete confidence and any mistake can be catastrophic.

For me the fatal move this season was replacing Slavisa Jokanovic with Claudio Ranieri. While I think that Slav’s days were numbered, I would rather have stuck with him than have Ranieri at the helm, purely because of just how different the footballing philosophies were of the two men. There are a heck of a lot of ‘ifs and buts’ when it comes to life in general, never mind football, and sometimes we are better just getting on with it than going down the rabbit-hole and trying to dissect every decision ever made. That’s not to say that those in charge shouldn’t be assessing, evaluating and learning, but as fans we shouldn’t worry too much about what is behind, and instead focus on the road to come.

The question now for Khan is who is his man to take the club forward following our terrible Premier League return. Arguably Khan’s only successful appointment has been Jokanovic, with Rene Meulensteen, Felix Magath, Kit Symons and Claudio Ranieri all failing to live up to expectations, some drastically worse than others. However, with five years now under his belt as the owner of Fulham I believe that lessons have been learned from each of these.

In classically Fulham fashion, we have turned in three very solid displays since our relegation at Watford at the start of the month, and have won three on the bounce with three clean sheets. When Scott Parker took over he had Chelsea, Leicester, Liverpool and Manchester City in his first four games so losing his first four was hardly a surprise. We did get a decent reaction from the players, however, and weren’t far off taking points from the Chelsea and Liverpool games in particular. Parker has clearly had an impact.

Scott Parker understands Fulham. He knows what it is like to play for the club, and this is something that can’t be underestimated. There is no doubt in my mind that he has the heart for this job. The question for me now is does he have the head for it? We have been better since he took over, and three wins in a row is a barely believable but I feel that he got things wrong at both Leicester and Watford. I think he was outmanaged in both of those games which is a worry for me. He is still developing his own way of playing but the early signs are that he prefers a style more Jokanovic than Ranieri, something that I’d welcome at the club. My fear is that the games that we have won, not taking anything way from them individually, have been games played with no pressure. Already relegated, we have been playing for pride and while it’s great to see pride restored to an extent, it’s a different ball game entirely getting results in the Championship.

It could work, but it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. Parker is turning a lot of heads and making a lot more fans believe in him. Clearly the players like playing for him, but we have no idea what the squad will look like come August. All we can do as fans is sit and wait.

#COYW

What do we do now?

When an interim coach in charge of first-team affairs is losing fixtures, it’s understandably a lot easier to walk away than if results pick up, as does the atmosphere and performances around the football club. Even a club the size of Manchester United saw that impact as something that they could not reject after ‘loaned’ Ole Gunnar Solksjaer won over the board and was rewarded with the permanent position after winning losing just once in his first 13 fixtures and pushing what looked to be a lost season into Champions League contention. Following the permanent appointment of the Norwegian, United’s form has swung back the other and as I type, the Red Devils have lost five of their last seven matches (including exiting the Champions League).

So what relevance does this have to Fulham? Well, Scott Parker too was put in charge of first-team affairs on a basis of seeing it out to the end of the season for the club to reassess their future. Whilst Ole’s appointment sparked an immediate turn of dominant form, Fulham’s fixture list and quality of personnel saw it unlikely for Fulham to go on a similar run but other than a thoroughly disappointing display at Watford which confirmed relegation, Fulham have looked happier, more competitive and stronger. With a 2-0 home win against Everton and a 1-0 at Bournemouth, Scott Parker’s Fulham has now doubled their clean sheet tally and ensured that Parker will finish the season with more Premier League points than Slavisa Jokanovic, that man that took the Whites to the ‘promised land.’

One could also compare the Parker project to Darren Moore’s appointment at West Bromwich Albion the previous year. Moore was given the reigns after Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew were both let go in between a caretaker spell for Gary Megson. West Bromwich Albion was all but relegated with a 10 point gap and six matches. Wins over Manchester United and Tottenham including a point against Liverpool had West Brom hoping to keep their Premier League status alive until the final day but a Southampton win over Swansea saw the Baggies relegated whilst watching at home. Darren Moore was rewarded with the permanent job and took West Brom into a Championship campaign hoping for an immediate bounce back. Supported with the signings of Sam Johnstone and Kyle Bartley on permanent deals and the loan of Dwight Gayle (among others), Moore had the Baggies in the promotion chase all season but two losses against promotion rivals Sheffield United and Leeds United followed by a draw at home to the now relegated Ipswich Town saw Darren Moore bizarrely (from an outside perspective at least) sacked though it seems that West Bromwich Albion’s finances may not quite enjoy another year in the Championship, the lottery of the playoffs on the face of it was not good enough.

Back to Fulham, the players are openly behind Scott Parker, a good chunk of the squad were teammates of the former club captain but I think you may struggle to find a situation where the players were against the interim coach, especially following a horrible appointment of dinosaur Claudio. It’s hard not to harp back a few years and think of Kit Symons’ appointment following Felix Magath’s reign where the stands were desperate for the then under 23 coach to the first team role on a permanent basis following a strong run of form and very different feeling around the club. That experiment may be one that will worry the Khan’s, the Welshman lasted a little over a year and although through the recruitment of Mike Rigg and Kit Symons improved the playing staff slightly (in came Ryan Fredericks, Tim Ream and Tom Cairney) as well as overseeing the development of Marcus Bettinelli and Moussa Dembele, Fulham remained a team around the bottom of the division.

It would be very difficult to argue against the permanent appointment of Scott Parker being a gamble. The 2019/20 season will see Scott Parker enter his third year of professional coaching after a year with Tottenham’s under 18s and this rollercoaster at Fulham. Parker is currently supported by Matt Wells, a young but vastly experienced coach that was brought over from Tottenham where they worked together and also Stuart Gray, part of Jokanovic’s promotion backroom staff who probably should never have been allowed to leave. Gray has volumes of Football League experience, his stint in charge of Sheffield Wednesday saw them reach their highest finish in the Championship for six years as well as equal their single-season clean sheet record. Where Parker may lack experience on the training pitch, he’s being supported hugely in his backroom staff that he has been allowed to build up to this point.

Since Scott Parker has been placed in charge, we’ve some of the best individual performances from a few players this season. Franck Anguissa has strung together some impressive displays, Sergio Rico at Bournemouth made some impressive saves to ensure he kept a clean sheet and Ryan Sessegnon, playing off of the right, gave Nathan Ake nightmares. Even without Alfie Mawson, the eleven is playing more like a team making the back four feel as solid as it has all season. These last two victories have both been at 0-0 going into half time with an increase in performance once the sides came back out, that really displays a tactical nous and motivational aspect to the job that perhaps isn’t clear to the eye.

The talk of a Steve Clarke won’t go away and I do understand why the Khan’s would want to go in that direction given their previous experience with the aforementioned emotional Kit Symons experiment. I think the last two weeks have shown that Scott Parker can set up and motivate a team in a situation where the players have nothing to play for but pride. If supported with key players staying and adding to the squad, I do believe that Scott and his backroom staff can push for promotion. It is easy to say this when I am not under the pressure of every decision being analysed and criticised, even more so after a disastrous season.