Today it was finally announced that Fulham have been handed a transfer embargo by the Football League as a result of breaching Financial Fair Play regulations.
It is a mark of how jaded by failure we’ve become over Fulham’s short but extraordinary fall from grace that this news does not come as a surprise. That does not make it any less infuriating, but is a sad indictment of the ever-growing list of mismanaged situations that have come to be synonymous with our club in recent times.
We are a laughing stock. Not to the outside world – they stopped caring a while ago, but to ourselves.
The club’s statement is little more than a fourteen line excuse.
“Football League has since recognised this limit is low, especially for clubs recently relegated with Premier League overheads in place, and the limit has now increased to £13m per annum”.
Why then are Fulham the only relegated side to be included in those receiving sanctions?
In years gone by, we would have sat atop our high horse and sneered at clubs like Leeds, Blackburn and Nottingham Forest. These were all club’s with bigger pasts that Fulham but who had spectacularly let their fans down during their decent into the obscurity of ordinary club status. Yet here we are, just 5 years on from a Europa League Final staring at the bleak reality that we have become one of them. Indeed we now sit alongside Nottingham Forest on the naughty step.
Financial Fair Play is incredibly complex and as fans we are not experts. We simply want and assume our club is going to do everything it can to succeed. We just aren’t doing that. Yet the simple question that you can’t help but ask in this situation is how did Fulham let themselves fall foul of a system they know is in place? Was there oversight or did we simply think we were too big to get caught?
The club’s statement states they knew an embargo was coming hence the investment in the squad. However, it is not like our investment was particularly seismic. The club spent in the region of £7.5m on transfer fees last summer but at the end of the day the squad is still imbalanced and two of our most important players actually arrived on free transfers.
To an outsider looking in, it appears FFP does not look too kindly on owners supporting their clubs with parachuted capital. It may be that our breach was something of a necessary evil given what came before. Any breach or irregularity likely to relate to the financial investment that was committed in an effort to keep Fulham in the Premier League combined with the staggering loss of income as a result of us failing to do so. The Club’s statement alludes to this but it is hard to know to what extent this breach is Mitroglan.
As the club want us to believe, this may be an indictment of the system itself. The Premier League exists as a champagne bubble so highly removed from the financial reality of the Football League that this FFP breach may be more a result of the system than anything else. However, if that was really the case, why don’t all relegated clubs fall foul of the financial regulations and also get hit with sanctions?
No, this is our bad. Like the bungled search for a new manager, this is just another notch on an increasingly sad bedpost.
Last week I posted the first half of my thoughts on the coaching and management, focussing on the coaching side of things. This second instalment looks into the world of management and in particular the appointment process for managers in the Football League.
Before embarking on the research that shaped what you’ll read below my thought process revolved around a couple of questions. How risky was it for Fulham to appoint a rookie manager in Kit Symons and how is the perception of his performance skewed by our collective affection for him as a former Fulham player?
To answer those questions properly would probably require some multi-faceted research worthy of its own thesis, but as a start, I thought it would be good to look at Symons relative to his peers at the other 71 Football League clubs.
That meant splitting the question into two parts when looking at each of the 72 managers across the Championship, League One and League Two;
· Did they play for the club they currently manage?; and
· Did they play for the club at which they were given their first managerial job?
Starting in the Championship, only 12.5% of current managers are also former players of their current club. 12.5% is 3 managers, and of these three managers, Kit Symons is the only rookie in his first job.
Nottingham Forest’s Dougie Freedman is in his third job, whilst Birmingham City’s Gary Rowett is in his second.
Freedman was also given his first job at a former club (Crystal Palace) and is now on his third club in the division despite not having really excelled at any point along the way.
Rowett was also given his managerial start at a former club, Burton Albion. However, down in League Two, he was able to develop under a less intense microscope. In two seasons at Burton, Rowett showed real talent getting to the play-offs twice, losing in a semi-final and then a final. His stock was obviously rising having been offered the Blackpool job only a short time before he took over at Birmingham. The lure of a former player to a former club proving too strong for either side in that instance.
With the Championship having just 3 out of 24 managers having played for their current club, how does this compare to the lower divisions? Well, combined, 14 (or 29%) out of the 48 League One and Two managers are former players of their current team, with 11 of those currently in their first job. That is a staggeringly higher number than in the Championship and could reflect any number of factors ranging from a willingness to give young (and cheap) managers a start, less intense pressure meaning the risk associated with appointing a rookie is slightly lower and an inability to attract successful experienced managers.
For a club in Fulham’s position to have appointed a rookie manager in the Championship appears something of an unnecessary risk given the fact that the division appears laden with experienced bosses. However, this then leads to a question I will have to leave unanswered. How many of those managers who took their first job at a former club got their chance first as a caretaker before being promoted after a series of good results? With caretaker managers often being on the receiving end of the boost in performance after clubs change manager, how many of these appointments ended up being misjudged, with the first few results under a caretaker not being indicative of their actual managerial ability?
To what extent do players need former clubs to give them their first opportunity? How many good managers have fallen through the cracks through a lack of opportunity and how manager managers who shouldn’t be managers are given an undeserved chance?
Across the entire Football League, a whopping 63% of managers got their first job at club they played for. That’s 45 out of the current 72 managers.
Split between the leagues, the Championship has the lowest percentage, with 58%, followed by League Two at 63% and League One at 67%.
The conclusion is that the cream rises to the top. The extrapolation of both sets of stats together suggests that the more successful managers are those who did not start at a former club…although with the trend coming down to just a few managers, that might be something of a tenuous conclusion.
A more sensible conclusion is that managers, whether or not they started at a former club, benefit from having experience lower down the Football League pyramid. Championship clubs evidently prefer experienced candidates, although that isn’t always the case.
While, at the moment Kit Symons at Fulham is the only club home-grown first time manager in the Championship, there are five others in their first professional managerial job; Paul Clement (Derby), Chris Ramsey (QPR), Lee Carsley (Brentford), Aitor Karanka (Middlesbrough) and Karl Robinson (MK Dons).
Of those, only Karanka and Clement were hired from outside the organisation and Carsley is a temporary appointment. Karanka and Clement both came to the division having been Real Madrid assistant manager, Karanka to Jose Mourinho and Clement to Carlo Ancelotti, so although both are rookie’s neither are exactlt inexperienced.
That leaves Robinson, Ramsey and Symons. Robinson has been MK Dons manager since 2010, and was previously assistant manager to Paul Ince and a coach at Liverpool and Blackburn. His was not a sentimental hire, rather a young coach being given an opportunity in testing circumstances. However, he still got his opportunity thanks to a club giving a chance to someone they were familiar with and is an example of how in-house appointments can succeed. However, MK Dons have been patient with Robinson and Milton Keynes isn’t exactly a pressure cooker environment for a manager.
So to answer my initial questions, was it a risk to appoint Symons? Yes, of course it was, appointing any rookie manager is a risk. Whether or not you believe he’s had the benefit of home-grown goodwill is a lot harder to answer and depends upon who you talk to – one man’s former hero is another man’s current public enemy. So while sentimentality definitely played a part in his appointment, as the data shows, that’s not unusual. How he’s treated as his managerial career progresses may well dictate whether or not sentimentality proves to be a good thing or a bad thing.
As a footnote, whilst we’re not currently in the market for a new manager, when we are it might be worth noting that Cambridge’s Richard Money and Swindon’s Mark Cooper are the only other Football League managers who have played for Fulham, while in Italy, our former striker Vincenzo Montella is currently without a club having left Fiorentina.
For now though, Symons is in his own way defying convention and regardless of anything else, it is human nature for us all to want him to do well.
Ben Pringle (Rotherham), Andy Lonergan (Bolton), Jamie O’Hara (Blackpool), Tom Cairney (Blackburn), Ashley Richards (Swansea), Luke Garbutt (Everton – loan), Sakari Mattila (Aalesunds)
Patrick Roberts (Manchester City), Bryan Ruiz (Sporting), Ryan Williams (Barnsley), Adil Chihi (released), Tim Hoogland (released, now VFL Bochum), Gabor Kiraly (released, now Szombathely), Josh Passley (released, now Dagenham & Redbridge), Hugo Rodallega (released, now Akhisarspor), Dino Fazlic (released), Mark Fotheringham (released), Lyle Della Verde (released, now Fleetwood Town), Elsad Zverotic (released, now FC Sion), Jonathan Buatu (released, Wassl-Beveren), Tom Richards (released, now Aldershot), Solomon Sambou (released), Kostas Safylidis (loan return), Michael Turner (loan return), James Husband (loan return), Danny Gurthrie (loan return, now Blackburn), Richard Lee (loan return, now retired), Maarten Stekelenburg (Southampton – loan), Stephen Arthurworry (Yeovil Town – loan), Liam Donnelly (loan – Crawley), Mesca (AEL Limassol), Kostas Mitroglou (Benfica – loan)
Players likely to leave before the window closes:
Fernando Amorebieta, Thomas Eisfeld
Signing of the Summer:
This is a tough one, as our transfer business has so far has been good across the board. The standout buy is probably Tom Cairney. The midfielder arrives at Fulham from Blackburn, where he was the creative force in a team that was not short of goals last season. He’s a central midfield playmaker by trade but is also able to operate on the right. As long as he’s played in the right position, Fulham’s new Number 10 has the chance to become one of Fulham’s key players week in week out. I’m also a big fan of the Ben Pringle signing as our lack of width was a significant problem last season. Pringle’s arrival fills a key need whilst taking a top player away from a division rival. Jamie O’Hara’s free transfer arrival also represents a low risk, high reward deal that could prove a masterstroke.
The Defence. Whilst our transfer business has been universally well received so far, the glaring omission is the lack of any new central defenders. For a team whose main weakness is its defence, the lack of reinforcements at centre back is a genuine concern. This doesn’t appear for the lack of trying, but Brighton have unsurprisingly so far been reluctant to sell us Lewis Dunk. With three days till opening day there are questions why Fulham haven’t moved onto other targets. It may also be a lot to expect of Dunk or another player to have an immediate midas touch. Fulham’s defence will be a work in progress for the first portion of the season, with no one guaranteed their place in the back five following Luke Garbutt’s ankle ligament injury picked up against Crystal Palace, which has re-exposed another glaring weakness with the left back out for six weeks. Uncertainty over Marcus Bettinelli’s future also means Andy Lonergan may be playing more than initially expected.
Not to have seen more of Patrick Roberts in a Fulham shirt before he left for Manchester City. Lots has been said and written on Roberts’ transfer to Man City which doesn’t need rehashing, but Roberts was an exciting talent and it’ll be a shame not to see him wear the white of Fulham again.
There is an air of positivity at Fulham at the moment, fuelled by Kit Symons and his players saying they are targeting promotion. Yet going into the summer there were significant question marks lingering over the future of Kit Symons. Seemingly only a minority of fans wanted him to stay on as manager. Given the circumstances in which he became manager, perhaps some of the criticism was unfair, but question marks over Symons managerial ability will resurface should Fulham not get off to a decent start. With his own squad now at his disposal and a full pre-season under the belt, the pressure is on Symons to get this squad firing. It’s worth remembering though, that with Mike Rigg controlling transfers the lack of a new central defence isn’t solely down to Symons.
Highlight of the Off-Season:
The vastly improved media output from the club. Albeit the bar was set reasonably low, but the video content this summer has been the best the club has put out in years. The three way interview with Kit Symons, Mike Rigg and Alastair Mackintosh set the tone early, with entertaining and informative interviews and features proving regular this summer. The club has provided extensive highlights of the pre-season friendlies and used GoPro cameras to provide unusual and additional films from the team’s summer training camps on their YouTube channel. On top of this, the club has launched a new match day preview radio show for fans not able to go to games. All in all, a tip of the cap in the club’s direction.
Lowlight of the Off-Season
All the above being said, the club have rather botched the revealing of this season’s playing strips. No it’s not a big deal in the scheme of things, and in truth, the new home kit actually looks excellent, but with less than a week to go before the start of the new season there is still some uncertainty over what we’ll be playing in at Cardiff. The “deliberate” leaking to Channel 5 for the advert for their new highlights show was actually a clever idea if it was indeed deliberate, however, the whole thing just feels a bit slapdash. Especially given that the “leak” wasn’t followed up with a marketing reveal.
Summer signings have all been revealed in polo shirts and even now, after the team actually played in a sponsor-less version of the new kit against Crystal Palace, there is still no sign of the final version. After last year’s garish monstrosity there will be many a fan who would like to get to the shop before the Brighton game on the 15th. The delay is undoubtedly due to a lack of confirmed sponsor and hopefully the good looking new kit won’t be ruined by a hideous logo when one is announced and as long as the sponsor isn’t heinous, this is a lowlight that can easily become a highlight.
Similarly, the club cut it fine to start delivering new season ticket cards, but with them now on the way all will be forgotten with the first 3 points of the season.
Ross McCormack. It is hard to overstate Ross’ importance to Fulham. He was the landslide player of last season and as club Vice-Captain carries an important leadership role. With a better supporting cast meaning he should play the entire season up front, hopefully his goals can fire us up the table and not just away from the bottom.
Under the Radar Key Player:
Shaun Hutchinson. Fulham fans can’t seem to decide on which of the existing centre backs at the club are any good. There is a vast swathe of fans who believe it is none. However, I fall in the camp that believes Shaun Hutchinson is the best of what we have. What he hasn’t had in his Fulham career so far is an experienced and regular partner to help him. He doesn’t yet have one, but it is hard to believe Fulham will end the transfer window without signing another centre back. Either way, Hutchinson figures to play a key role this season and how he copes will be a big determining factor in how we do.
Unanswered Question #1: Who Partners McCormack Up Front?
Pre-season hasn’t shed much light on how Symons intends to line up come Cardiff on Saturday. It looked as though Matt Smith would start the season in the team, but his demotion to the side that played at Colchester last Saturday raises more questions than answers. Cauley Woodrow partnered McCormack against Crystal Palace but the young striker has looked inconsistent in front of goal. The wild card is Moussa Dembele, who’s bulked up and looks ready for regular first team football. Adam Taggart is also on the books but is likely in need of a loan spell to regain sharpness after a year out injured. Rumours that we’re in for Crystal Palace forward Dwight Gayle suggest Symons and Rigg may not be happy with the current options and there is also a chance Symons opens the season with a 5 man midfield leaving McCormack on his own.
Unanswered Question #2: Will Dembele, Hyndman and Bettinelli be at the club in September?
Aside from Lasse Vigen Christensen, who seems firmly embedded in the first team, there are persistent rumours that Dembele and Emerson Hyndman, both with only a year left to run, won’t sign new contracts. With Marcus Bettinelli, who’s also yet to sign a new contract, still rumoured to be the subject of interest from Chelsea, there are doubts over the long term future of some of the club’s brightest young stars. Dembele and Hyndman need game time and while you feel both could help the first team it is hard to see either starting regularly, but should they sign new deals, loan moves may follow in order to guarantee game time.
Quick Fire Season Preview:
Between 7th and 10th – good enough for top half but not making the playoffs with this defence.
Lasse Vigen Christensen to captain the side at some point
Most Looking Forward To:
Having a corner taker beat the first man
Least Looking Forward To:
Losing the debate with my wife every Saturday about putting the highlights on now they are on at the prime time of 9pm on a Saturday night meaning I’ll still watch them on sky+ on a Saturday morning.
All I want For Transfer Deadline Day Is:
To have not left signing a centre back to the last minute
Two words to sum up my feelings towards the new season:
If last week’s general election has taught us one thing, it’s that social media can often be a bit of an echo chamber. One opinion becomes the vocal majority. But is the vocal majority actually a majority?
In the case of Kit Symons’ future as Fulham manager I’m not sure. We know for sure that the vocal majority want the Fulham manager to be someone else, but is it actually a majority of Fulham fans that want Kit gone?
It certainly looks and sounds for now as though Symons is to remain Fulham manager; but what follows is an in-depth look at his performance as Fulham manager to date and the reasons people may or may not want him replaced.
Back to social media; what is so unique to the Symons situation is that there is much less vitriol in this debate than over the fates of previous managers such as Jol and Magath. Their departures were very much wanted sackings. In the current scenario, it is not so much that fans seem to want Symons sacked more that they just want somebody else to have his job. Symons is like a politician with a good personality and bad policies.
The Symons question is as much an existential one as it is one simply of results. After two lacklustre seasons in the Premier League that culminated in our relegation in 2014, the majority of the fans expected something better last year, both in terms of performance and results. Regardless of the start under Magath, it has been the lack of quality football under Symons that has led to his alienation as much as the results.
Symons’ tendency to revert to risk aversion in every situation led to some dour football at times, often manifesting itself in substitutions and tactics that seemed only to make sense to him. However, given our precarious position when he took over, was that justified? As paying customers we are several years removed from Fulham being classified as value for money entertainment, but Symons’ job last season was predicated on results and not entertainment – so did fulfil his job in keeping us up?
So here’s the crux of my question? Has Symons simply proven the victim of a poisoned chalice, where the situation meant he could never truly succeed or is he now in a hole of his own doing and at the limit of his managerial potential?
To answer that question we have to be both subjective and objective. As well as asking what do we as fans and paying customers want from our football team next season, and who is likely to be best placed to deliver those wishes?
There were three periods of management last season; Felix Magath, Kit Symons – Caretaker & Kit Symons – Manager. We know the first eight games under Magath were a disaster, so let’s write them off. So dividing Symons’ tenure into two, we have the eight games he was caretaker and the 37 he was permanent manager.
In order to assess whether or not he is the right man for Fulham going forward I will look at the following areas; Results, Performances, Style and Intangibles.
Kit As Caretaker
Average Points Per Game
Kit As Manager
Average Points Per Game
As you can see, results under Kit got considerably worse after he was appointment the permanent manager on 29th October. Interestingly enough, an average points total of 1.19 per game extrapolated over the course of the entire season would have had us finish in 17th, the same position as we actually did. The totals in the table above include the four cup fixtures we played under Symons after he became permanent manager. If you remove the cup fixtures, the PPG total becomes slightly higher at 1.21, which would still have had us finish 17th.
What can you conclude from that? Symons’ good start merely served to balance out Magath’s bad one. 17th was a justified league position based on the entire season. Yes, it was Magath’s squad so that must be taken into account, but with two loan windows and the January transfer window, Symons’ cannot be given a free pass. Symons’ had a total of 39 league games and we finished a thoroughly justified 17th.
One of the big accusations against Symons’ Fulham was our lackadaisical defending. To the naked eye, Symons, as a former defender, has shown a staggering lack of ability to get any improvement out of our defenders. Is that the case statistically and how much of this is down to them being the wrong players to begin with?
What is interesting is if you compare our goal difference over the two Symons periods:
Kit as Caretaker
Goals for per game
Goals Against Per Game
Kit as Manager
Goals for per game
Goals Against Per Game
In truth, the defence maintained a nearly identical level of performance throughout Symons’ entire tenure. However, the attack got considerably worse. If we delve even deeper into the numbers, it is possible to see that Fulham under Symons actually had a break even goal difference all the way until we played Blackburn at the end of January.
I find this worsening of performance particularly concerning as you would expect a team to perform better once a manager has had a time to coach and influence a team, especially considering the loan and transfer windows. However, under Symons, we got considerably worse once the initial gloss of his appointment wore off.
It was this performance over the latter half of the season that has turned many fans against him as there was simply no sign of any improvement, and certainly no sign of any coaching impact on his behalf.
If you believe the theory that luck and confidence played their part in his caretaker spell, these numbers might give your theory some credence.
One of the big criticisms levied at Symons is his lack of adventure. He is tactically the equivalent of a man who goes to an ice cream parlour and orders vanilla with no toppings. Worse than that though, at times the football under his leadership appeared to lack a coherent purpose or style other than trying to eke out as many points as possible. Symons’ philosophy was certainly one of the glass being half empty. Why enhance a lead when you can protect it?
However, the end of Fulham’s season was characterised by panic tactics. We were in trouble and needed points to keep us up. This led to Matt Smith’s recall from Bristol City and a change in style. If we compare Symons’ tenure as permanent manager when Smith started and when he didn’t, the results look particularly ominous:
Games When Matt Smith starts
Average Points Per Game
Games When Matt Smith Doesn’t Start
Average Points Per Game
When Matt Smith didn’t start, Fulham’s PPG total was 1.13, a 0.3 PPG fall from games when he did start. Considering it was Symons who loaned Smith out in the first place and then showed reluctance to use him, we can assume his eventual inclusion was out of desperation rather than desire.
When Symons played his tactics, i.e. not the emergency long ball to Smith, our PPG fell below his overall average PPG, meaning we were worse off results-wise when Symons was left to his own devices tactically.
Goal statistics don’t make for better reading:
Matt Smith Starts
Goals for per game
Goals Against Per Game
Matt Smith Doesn’t Start
Goals for per game
Goals Against Per Game
Stylistically this doesn’t bode well for Kit. With Smith, we play a tighter, simpler and more controlled game (long ball doesn’t exactly take much instruction). We score less but we concede less. Simply put, we are boring, but reasonably effective.
Without Smith, we are a bit more interesting, but considerably worse. Symons systematically failed to strike any kind of balance between style and substance. This is something most of us could have said without statistical evidence. Our football was rarely aesthetically pleasing and Symons never really showed any grasp of consistent tactics. The obsession with a narrow diamond formation was a particular failing. Tactically it fast became one game to the next, survive and protect. Considering our start that’s hardly surprising, but it was very bad to watch at times.
This is where the debate becomes personal and very subjective. There are some fans who just don’t like sacking managers, while there are undoubtedly some who do. There are some fans that’ll defend Symons because he is a “Fulham man”, there are others, myself included, who feel that shouldn’t come into it.
However, there are several other unquantifiable intangibles to Symons’ management style that will contribute to his judgement:
A) Stalled development – I’m not going to claim that with Roberts and Dembele playing 40 games we’d have won the league, far from it. However, Pat Roberts played 450 minutes over the course of the entire season, and Dembele 575. That’s less time than it would take to sit through the entire Hobbit trilogy. How on earth are they going to develop into a position where he can help us next season by playing so little this year? The same can be said of George Williams, Moussa Dembele and several others, such as Jack Grimmer who was dropped in favour of a loanee who was not discernibly better. All the while 21 year old Sean Kavanagh played over 20 games despite largely floundering.
B) Favouritism – Symons’ inconsistent and at times “teacher’s pet” style of team selection certainly wound up a large proportion of the Craven Cottage crowd. Players like Jazz Richards, Kavanagh and Tunnicliffe were all at times shown favouritism that was hard to comprehend. On the reverse, the likes of Chris David, Roberts, Dembele and Matt Smith were often cast aside without warning.
C) Square Pegs in Round Holes – McCormack as a left midfielder, Tunnicliffe as a winger, Kavanagh as midfielder, Bodurov as a right back. Symons’ team selections were often hampered by a lack of players to choose from and littered with players playing out of position. How many more points would we have gotten should Ross have played the entire season up front? Why did Kit both refuse to play with width and then not sign a single winger?
D) Hands in the Pockets – This is a minor point, but I’d really like a manager who is less passive during the matches. Contemplative can begin to look like cluelessness if it’s your only move.
E) The Smile – this isn’t a list of reasons he’s not the man. If we play well, Kit and his enthusiastic smile are very easy to like. We just didn’t play well often enough.
F) The Squad – our squad balance was poor last season, but Symons had opportunities to re-shape it and didn’t set the world alight with his choices. However, the summer is the best time to buy and sell players. Does Kit deserve a summer window? Or indeed will he get to control the squad framework even if he does stay on? With Mike Rigg controlling talent identification now, there is an argument to say having a good coach as the manager is more important than ever. Is Symons that man?
G) Experience – Kit Symons’ managerial career is 37 games old so let’s not put the cart before the horse and call his career over. However, he’s had several seasons managing at youth level so we’re not talking about an ex-player taking the immediate leap. If Kit stays in his post and shows signs of learning from last season then I’m all for giving him a chance. However, there is a school of thought that suggests 37 games is more than enough to show your capabilities.
H) Substitutions – I’ve alluded to this above, but Symons’ biggest flaw in the eyes of many fans is his mis-use of substitutions. Either he wouldn’t use them or he’d be defensive. The very few times we did manage to see the likes of Woodrow, Williams, McCormack and Roberts on the field together were electric, but all too few and far between. The conundrum facing fans and ownership alike, was this risk aversion a product of circumstance? For all our sake I hope so.
I look at the current situation as an opportunity. We must decide whether or not Symons is the man to help develop and implement a strategy to return Fulham to the Premier League. As a club, we must stop being reactionary and start to get ahead of the curve. If Symons stays on just because people felt “he deserved a chance”, only to lead us on to the path to 17th next season and get sacked, then we as a club will have failed. No ifs and no buts.
Do I think he deserves that chance?
Symons was the right man at the right time after Magath. The players and fans needed a smile, a hug and their hands held. Symons did that, and we stayed up, but next season is an opportunity for a clean break from recent failings and, for me, that includes a fresh start at manager as well.
I think for Kit to actually be sacked would be mighty harsh considering his modus operandi last season. I’d like to think the club might make room for him to stay either as an assistant or back in the youth ranks where he succeeded before. Or I’d love for Kit to admit his own limitations and step back into a reduced role, but I think we all know he’d be too proud to do so.
This summer is a time to grab our future as a club by its undercarriage and take control. That might mean being ruthless. Just look at Norwich, they were in a very similar situation to us 12 months ago and let one of their own, Neil Adams, stay on as manager last summer only to dismiss him during the season as results didn’t improve. They now sit 180 minutes from a return to the Premier League.
No longer can Fulham amble on the path to mediocrity. Starting from the top, Fulham must come out of this summer with confidence and a clear, united message. If that means Kit Symons is manager then I hope and expect him to show a willingness to learn and the club to show him support whilst displaying progress on and off the field. If they do that, then they have my full support and I suspect they’ll have yours too. However, if this is simply another risk not taken, another stride towards the middle ground, then the club is on a hiding to nothing and it won’t take them long to find that out.
The drawbridge is about to rise and another transfer window set to close. With that in mind, a quote in Felix Magath’s latest letter where he claims Fulham were quoted £12m for a Championship goalkeeper has left me wondering why Fulham seem to have so much trouble when it comes to selling players? We either seem to give them away on the cheap or can’t sell them at all?
This might actually be a false assumption. When it comes to transfers, appearances can be deceiving and reports in the press can be highly deceiving. Comparing one deal to another is a fool’s errand at the best of times, let alone without the full facts to play with. Seeing one well respected journalist tweet a comparison between the transfers of Ross McCormack and Xabi Alonso today shows the ease at which transfer stories can be manipulated and misinterpreted.
However, one undeniable fact is that, on the face of it, Fulham have for a while now, appeared to under-value our players when it comes time to show them the exit. Felix Magath’s £12m goalkeeper claim comes in stark contrast to the sale of David Stockdale to Brighton for a paltry £1m. Bryan Ruiz reportedly has a £3m price tag around his neck despite costing £11m and starring at the World Cup, while Kostas Mitroglou seems to have been linked to every team in Europe with nobody yet willing to pay us what we paid for him seven months ago.
So why then, do Fulham appear to come off on the bad end of these deals?
Communication (or-lack thereof)
Under the club’s current communications regime it is safe to say there has been a reluctance to share information. We may have actually profited on some deals, but Fulham could have sold Ashkan Dejagah to Qatari side Al Arabi for half of Doha and 50,000 barrels of crude oil and we’d still be told it was an undisclosed fee. The need-to-know basis on which information has been shared with fans and journalists over the past few years has restricted the flow of facts to the very minimum. This has led to rampant speculation amongst fans and a need to get information from other sources for journalists. Hence the talk of Ross McCormack’s fee being £11m coming from the Massimo Cellino spin machine at Leeds. With no retort from Fulham is it any wonder we’ve been the butt of so many ill-fated comparisons so far this summer.
*Of course there must be reason to Fulham’s methods, indeed one can’t help but think this week’s tub-thumping bout of verbal mud-slinging between Felix Magath, Shahid Khan and former owner Mohamad Al-Fayed has come about thanks to an apparent bypass of the club communication team. Although, while the public blame game has now turned somewhat unsavoury, it is at least nice to see Fulham actually make the papers. With perpetual undisclosed fees and player quotes normally coming straight from watered-down club website PR puff pieces this change of tact is at least a tiny bit refreshing.
Selling at the wrong time
Part of the blame for Fulham having to sell low is that we’re currently obvious sellers. Having been relegated and left with disillusioned players, Fulham’s negotiation poker face has been turned into a blank stare. When buyers know you want to sell, there is no incentive to pay fair value, let alone over-pay. The transfer window system has made the entire business of negotiating player movement one giant game of chicken. Unfortunately for us it is usually the party in the more eager position that blinks first. Fulham have been panic buyers in previous windows and are facing the prospect of being panic sellers on Monday.
An example is Bryan Ruiz in whom Fulham have a player they do not wish to keep, and one who himself does not wish to stay. With a year left on his contract, Bryan currently resembles a used car, if he stays at the club a minute past the transfer deadline, his value will plummet below its already deflated asking price.
Selling the wrong stock
Of course you can’t sell what you don’t have. Unless Alistair Mackintosh is sat at Motspur Park practicing his best Jordan Belfort impression, there is little chance of him conjuring up any miracle transfer fees. Of the playing staff from last season there was barely a player of decent value amongst them. Most were old and suffering from a decline in performance even Mohamed Al-Fayed’s ‘peppermints’ would have struggled to fix. The younger ones were nearly all played sparingly or out-of-position by Fulham’s cavalcade of different managers, diminishing any prospect of generating future hope value.
Those that did command fees on departure mostly left under the aforementioned iron curtain of undisclosed ambiguity, such as Kasami and Dejagah. Others, like Stockdale, were reportedly sold disaffected and un-wanted. It’s the exact method Roy Hodgson used so brilliantly to acquire the likes of Etuhu and Murphy for us in exchange for little more than a few grains of sand.
The outward transfer of Kerim Frei in 2012 was a prime example on the face of it. Our brightest academy prospect at the time, he left for Besiktas under-valued and over-weight. Players must be nurtured in order to yield magic beans come transfer windows and up till now the pressures of Premier League football have prevented that from truly taking place.
One look at Southampton this summer though and we can see where Fulham might be in a few years in terms of transfer fees received. There is little to suggest that the likes of Roberts, Woodrow, Dembele, Hyndman, Bettinelli and Burgess don’t have the talent to emulate the Lallana, Shaw, Forster, Chambers and Schneiderlin’s of the world in years to come. Given the right environment and regular game time these players could command significant fees in the future. Of course not every young player has the potential to be bought for £20m but it’s amazing the value that big clubs will place of young players who have actually played.
Alistair Mackintosh has always had a good reputation when it comes to negotiating. There often seemed a “take it or leave it” hard-line stance to our negotiations. We rarely usurped other teams when buying, and when we wanted rid of players we sold them with little fuss and fanfare. The Jol years slowly seemed to change that though and the now infamous Dembele & Dempsey summer was particular disastrous. The Belgian’s release clause was set at the frustratingly realistic sum of £15m, while we were surreptitiously held to ransom by a wantaway Dempsey. Of course, none of us know whether Mousa’s release clause was a condition of his transfer from AZ Alkmaar in the first place, but it was hard not to feel as if a part of Fulham’s soul got burned that fateful August week in 2012.
Whether you bear in mind the fact he largely dealt himself the hand in front of him, considering what he had to work with our CEO did actually do quite well to get any return on some transfers. Getting Monaco and Valencia to absorb the contracts of Dimitar Berbatov and Philippe Senderos felt a bit like giving a piece of rubbish to someone else to put in the bin. That both players are actually now playing at a higher level above and beyond their performances for Fulham is more a testament to our lack of decent coaching and management than anyone’s negotiation skill.
Ashkan Dejagah was sold almost immediately following a stellar World Cup and you rather feel we missed a trick not selling Bryan from a beachside cabana in Brazil while his stock was at its highest in July.
There is one other factor making sales difficult, foreign exchange. The British Pound is incredibly strong at present. The value of £1 Sterling has risen 10 cents from €1.16 to €1.26 in last year.
If you consider Bryan Ruiz’s reported asking price of £3m, currency fluctuations over the past 12 months would mean an increases cost of £300,000 (or €380,000) for a continental European buyer. If we also consider that Ruiz is likely to command anywhere up to £40,000 a week, currency movement alone has increased his wage by £208,000 a year (€262,000). Over the course of a four year contract that’s an additional £1,150,000 in total cost for a European team looking to buy Bryan. If you consider then that the majority of our more expensive players would be targets for clubs in the Eurozone (as opposed to domestic £GBP sales) and combine that with players’ ages, contract length and desire to leave along with our position as known sellers, the only realistic outcome is that asking prices become reduced.
Similarly, why would a club like Werder Bremen who are struggling financially mess around structuring a transfer deal in multiple currencies when they have the option not to?
It is cheaper for European countries to sign players from areas where the Euro is the stronger currency. It is perhaps then no surprise that we discover Werder Bremen’s biggest transfer outlay this summer has been €1m on Argentinean defender Santiago Garcia from Chilean club Rangers Talca. The Euro has risen almost 20% against the Chilean Peso in the past year. As Garcia was signed at a pre-agreed price following a loan spell, were the fee agreed in Pesos at the start of the deal, he would have been €200,000 cheaper at the end of his loan deal than at the start. Though that transfer was likely hedged against currency movement, the point still stands that it will always be easier to import to a strong currency than export to places with a weaker currency.
The final point is that relative value is generated in each particular market. This is not necessarily a currency point and more a multi-layered question as to a player’s style, experience and perceived compatibility to a particular league. Does a £1,000,000 fee in England for one player equate to a €1,000,000 fee or a €1,260,000 fee for an identical player in Europe? Is it a question of currency or relativity? With the in-built wealth present in the English game, it is inherently a question of relativity.
The highest transfer fee paid domestically in England this summer was the £30m paid by Manchester United for teenage left back Luke Shaw from Southampton. The biggest domestic fee in Germany on the other hand was the €14m paid by Bayer Leverkusen for Hamburg attacking midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu. The highest fee in Italy was €22m, paid by Roma for Argentinean winger Juan Iturrbe from Hellas Verona, however, Hellas themselves had simultaneously exorcised a €15m purchase option in Iturrbe’s loan from Porto in order to cash in on a player who had taken immediately to Serie A. The Iturrbe deal aside, the next highest domestic fees in Italy were the equal €5.5m deals Lazio completed for Dusan Basta and Marco Parolo respectively, while the highest in Spain was the €20m Barcelona paid Valencia for experienced French centre half Jeremy Mathieu.
Would any of those transfer fees have been as high if there were only foreign clubs in for the players? Maybe as each players value comes as a result of supply and demand, but as long as there’s a player who’s a proven commodity in any particular league, demand for signature will always be higher. This explains the Ross McCormack price as he is worth more to a team in the Championship, where he is proven, than a team in the Premiership where he’d present a risk.
The magnitude of those domestic European deals serves to reinforce the assertion that the intrinsic value held within the English game places it at a premium above its European rivals. For a smaller club like Fulham looking to the European markets to sell, this premium can make it incredibly difficult to sell unless our expectations of fees received come down.
When you put all these together, perhaps it’s little wonder that Fulham haven’t been able to cash in this summer.