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Things Are Bad At Fulham, But The Only Way Is Up

So, almost inevitably and as predicted by the man himself, Martin Jol has been sacked as Fulham manager less than 24 hours after Saturday’s defeat against West Ham. It followed a run of six successive losses (in all competitions), the climax to an abysmal run of form which included eighteen defeats in twenty four and a points return of around 35 from the last 38 games (estimated from the data a couple of weeks ago). Jol had always been a little sullied, but the aura of resignation that emanated from him in every press conference of the last few weeks seemed to turn this into a self-fulfilling prophecy anyway. Rarely are managers so defeated before their game has even finished.

To be honest, we’ve been playing so badly that it all seemed inevitable. Like a particle within the Schwarzschild radius, we were being sucked in to a black hole by the end of Jol’s, a rut from which there was no escape; even with the addition of renowned coach Rene Muelensteen things failed to improve.

And there’s just so much wrong with Fulham at the moment. There’s nothing to celebrate in the senior team at all. I won’t elaborate because it’s been done exhaustively before by anyone who has a word to say about Fulham, but everything from the lack of cohesion going forward to the abysmal defensive shape and organisation, about as much pattern in our play as the store layout of Holland & Barrett (you shouldn’t have to spend 20 minutes looking for wheatgerm), a complete failure to integrate the best youth team in England in to our first team squad outside of Europa League qualifiers, team lineups which chop-and-change arbitrarily, dropping players for no apparent reason, exiling others for no apparent reason, a team playing too individually, an unbalanced squad… There is a lot of Jol’s tenure in the last 13 months that is utterly baffling, and we are left with a team with no resolve, completely mismanaged.

And I say the last 13 months, because for a time Jol’s Fulham was quite gorgeous to watch. We put 5+ goals past teams 4 times within between October ’11-August ’12, and he gave us a wonderful double over QPR with some nice wins over the bigger teams too (we won at Anfield! What dreams are made of!). Our run of form after signing Pogrebnyak and Diarra was truly sparkling. It was why I was willing to give him time after an indifferent second season, to work out what our established norm was, and I don’t think I was being deluded or an apologist in doing that. It’s just a shame that we settled on ridiculous rather than sublime, and actually I would have gotten rid of him after the Cardiff game. Realistically, we should be grateful that we are on 10 points already, and not below Palace. We’ve had three wins in ever so fortunate circumstances, and the only game I can think of that we deserved to win over 90 minutes was West Brom at home – a game in which they scored from a last minute set piece, and can you think of a goal that sums up our current predicament more right now?

How about things outside of Jol’s control? Is he entirely to blame? Probably not. As I say, in the first season, we looked set for something special. Dembele and Diarra were blossoming as a partnership, and probably remains the most complete central midfield Fulham has ever had, most certainly one of the best in the League at the time. Dempsey, playing left midfield, broke all sorts of scoring records. Frei had broken through, and Kacaniklic was on his way up through the Fulham ranks too. But then Dempsey, desperate for Champions League football, moved to… Spurs… and then the US… while Dembele had an offer he couldn’t refuse from Tottenham also. Diarra’s loyalties were misplaced, and got injured with yet another career-defining knee injury which it looks unlikely he’ll ever recover from. The £22m from the Double D sale was not invested fully back in to the squad as it should have been, and with a team as old as ours we needed to go through a Milan-esque revamp of the squad. That didn’t happen. (And what was the point of appointing Muelentseen to work with Jol, then sacking Jol 17 days later? Why not just do it then and there?)

But our players are not so bad that we can’t manage a shot on target away at West Ham who were level on points going in to the game, or get outshot 20-6 in almost every game this season. You do not have to be of a certain standard of player to give commitment, and demonstrate an understanding of each other and themselves on the pitch. Those are universal qualities that are expected in every football team, from Barcelona to the Unibet divisions, and those qualities were wholly absent for far too long.

So, what now? I can’t work out if Muelensteen is our new permanent manager, it’s all a little vague and we are hearing different things depending on who you speak to. I am apprehensive because of his abysmal management of Brondby, but hopefully 6 years at United have learnt a little bit on how to deal with players. There’s no doubt he’s a good coach, but I would be much more comfortable with someone above him – a Director of Football even, who can produce a cohesive plan and comprehensive identity throughout the club. Perhaps Huw Jennings should get a little more influence too. If we DO go down, then we are in a good position to adapt well to the Championship, with a great Academy and plenty of high-earners contracts running down this summer.

However, we are at a pit now where we are playing so badly that we cannot play any worse, surely. And then by definition, things can only get better. I have not enjoyed Fulham for a long time now, and I am desperate that we have something to excite us on the pitch, a bit of verve, fight, some reason to get out of our seat.

Finally, while I feel it was needed, it gives me no pleasure at all to see Jol get sacked. On a personal level, I don’t have a problem with him. He always spoke honestly I feel (maybe a little too honest at times, as I alluded to at the beginning), and he seems like an affable kind of guy who left with dignity, wishing the club well. And so I will have to say, some of the way us fans have acted towards him have been nothing short of disgraceful. Things got far too personal. Like how some fans would literally stop calling him by name, and prefer to use “FDM” (Fat Dutch Mess, but considering the belly of some of them I’d be careful about throwing stones in glass houses). “Dutch c***” was another popular one. At West Ham on Saturday, one fella behind me spent the last 20 minutes calling Ruiz and other Fulham supporters “spineless gayboys”, and sitting near Dan was someone who chanted “Muslims out!” at Taarabt. And I mean, really? Really? We want to call ourselves a dignified family club, when we act like this? This is what we have become? Like parodies of playground characters? It was not a negligible minority either – or the ‘younger generation’, as some’d like you to believe. This isn’t some kind of precious rant demonstrating how delicate I am, but our football club is sacred, and while things on the pitch have been next to awful, it is the behaviour among the supporters that really turned me off. I feel like we lost a bit of the soul that made Fulham. Rich hit the name on the head in his article when he spoke about people who want ‘our Fulham back’. This is our Fulham. Through thick and thin. So by all means, pass judgement on Jol’s managerial ability, or the players competence on the pitch. But at the end of the day, football is not worth sacrificing dignity and integrity, is it?

Onwards and upwards.

LRCN

Meulensteen surprised by Jol sacking

New Fulham manager Rene Meulensteen insists he was surprised by the decision to sack Martin Jol as boss following Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to West Ham.

Former Manchester United assistant boss Meulensteen has replaced his fellow Dutchman in the hotseat after arriving at Craven Cottage as head coach last month.

There has been speculation that his promotion was inevitable but Meulensteen is adamant that he did not expect this chain of events.

“I totally disagree with that because it has been a quite long process of me bringing myself into Fulham and I spoke numerous times with people at Fulham,” Meulensteen told Sky Sports News.

Rene Meulensteen has taken over at Fulham with immediate effect following the sacking of Martin Jol. “I have known Martin for many, many years and my departure from Manchester United took some time but eventually I felt it was the right thing to do to come to Fulham and to help Martin at Fulham Football Club.

“It was definitely not something that I was anticipating. We wanted to turn this corner together.”

Meulensteen, who has already spoken to Jol following his departure, was to hold talks with Fulham chief executive Alistair Mackintosh on Sunday evening and he believes he can turn around the struggling Premier League club’s fortunes.

He said: “I will meet up with Alistair later to discuss the new situation and how we are going to progress from here.

“We know that Martin has been released which is a shame because I didn’t see that coming from within the club and it was something I didn’t want to happen to be fairly honest.

“We want some clarity with regards to how we are going to progress on a daily basis from now.

“We know what position we are in. It’s a position that Fulham don’t want to be in, the staff don’t want to be in and the players don’t want to be in.

“But this is where we are at and if I am given a responsibility of making sure that I carry out the manager’s job for the foreseeable future then we have to do our utmost to get Fulham back up the table.

“The most important thing is that we close our ranks, we know where we are in the league and it is not the place Fulham wants to be.

“It’s a massive challenge but at the end of the day when you are faced with a challenge like this it comes down to making sure that you get the basic things right.

“You make sure that you stay mentally strong and that the fans are getting behind the team – I think that is one of the most important things.

“We need to make sure that the players believe and then you make sure you get the basic things right – work-rate, discipline, that sort of thing. They are cliches but these are the things you need to put right first and foremost.

“We need to make sure we make every decision that will increase the chances of making sure that Fulham is a Premier League club next year.

“That’s where they belong and that’s what we need to do and if investment is needed in whatever area it is then we need to live up to that because otherwise you might be paying a very high price.”

Looking Forward: The FFC Christmas List

The departure of Martin Jol has seen Chairman Shahid Khan thankfully taking some overdue action to arrest Fulham’s alarming season. Fulham fans have finally got their wish on the first day of Advent. With November turning to December it is less than a month till Christmas and the opening of the January transfer window. How the next two months now unfold could set the tone for years to come.

With change now affected, it is a time to look forward. There is a month for Rene Meulensteen, Alistair Mackintosh and co to plan, and on the somewhat wishful assumption that cash will go into Fulham’s January transfer kitty, who, or what, would you like to see on your Fulham Christmas Wish List? All the cries for a managerial change were only as fans wanted the best for their club. So what now? Will we get a late Christmas present from Santa Khan come January the 1st or will it be bargain hunting at the January sales come the end of the window?

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Before I list what I’d like to see happen in January, here are a few assumptions and hopes:

• The list is written on the basis, likely or not, that Shahid Khan sanctions actually spending some money. By finally pulling the trigger on Martin Jol’s tenure there is the sign that Khan understands the severity of Fulham’s current predicament. That the situation is also largely the result of penny pinching underspending last summer will hopefully also not have gone unnoticed.

• Though January is well recognised as the worst time to go spendhappy – prices are inflated, good deals are rare and unscrupulous agents look to secure transfers for their players off a whim or a prayer or less – another cheapskate transfer window is not an option. January shopping sprees can go both ways; Roy Hodgson kept Fulham up with some smart January spending in 2008 but QPR wasted millions in a vain effort to stay up last season.

• No more past-their-prime formerly decent players can be allowed to arrive on Ryanairesque budget. Players to be signed will hopefully have been long identified and mercilessly scouted, fitting the club’s style and philosophy, rather than simply the manager’s {well we’ll give Rene a chance with an old boy or two seeing as his former club is rather more successful than any of Jol’s} or on the basis of reputation or former talent.

1. Sign at least one young central midfielder

Stamina and a lack of fitness have been one of several alarming traits that have characterised Fulham’s season so far. Whilst training, or the lack thereof, may have contributed significantly to our lack of physical athleticism, the age of the side is also an undoubted factor. In Boateng, Sidwell, Parker and Karagounis, our engine room options top a combined 120 years old. One of our more technical weaknesses also appears to be the inability to get the ball from midfield to the attack. Finding someone who can play a full 90 minutes as a defence to attack pivot could prove crucial to survival hopes.

Good athletic central midfield playmakers don’t exactly grow on trees, and when they do come round they tend to be on the expensive side of the equation. Unfortunately for Mr Khan’s wallet, this is one position that Fulham’s academy doesn’t appear ready to fill. Of the two leading candidates, Lasse Vigen Christensen has shown considerable promise at U-18 and U-21 level but is not yet first team saviour material, whilst the leading creative central midfielder in the youth ranks, Emerson Hydnman, is a year or so off senior football.

All this means the owners’ chequebook needs to be opened. Here are two targets I’d like to see Fulham linked with:

Will Hughes

18-year-old prodigy Hughes is the English crown jewel in the football league. With over 50 first team appearances already under his belt for Derby County, his is the signature that nearly every Premierleague club would give their proverbial right arm for. The teenage midfield maestro with the peroxide blonde hair is said to have an asking price in the mid teen millions, however how Derby would react to a concrete offer in the multiple millions remains to be seen. Though costly, Fulham could offer Hughes near automatic first team football, something that bigger suitors, such as Liverpool who were linked last week, could not. Signing young talent like Hughes would also make coming back from relegation a lot easier should the worst happen.

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Stefan Johansen

22-year-old Norwegian Johansen would be the perfect signing for Fulham. The majestic playmaker was recently voted Norway’s co-Player of the Year, sharing the award with our very own Brede Hangeland. It was a moral victory for the Stromsgodset player as Hangeland himself admitted to forgetting to cast his vote, which he retrospectively said would have gone to Johansen. A ringing endorsement from our skipper which should help Johansen’s cause in getting a move out of Norway, though truth be told he doesn’t need much help. A glorious left foot and the ability to glide across the pitch saw Johansen star for a strong Norwegian Under-21s last summer at the European championships in Israel and has seen him go on to progress into the Norwegian senior side, where a debut goal v Sweden and a league title as the star of lowly Stromsgodset capped a stellar year.

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2. Sign a strong centre forward

While the common opinion would have Fulham set up front, there are a plethora of problems with Fulham’s striking core. Aside from devastatingly talented 17-year-old Moussa Dembele, Fulham’s entire attack is on the decline. Berbatov has looked uninterested and sub-par all season, Darren Bent is proving unreliable and well past his prime and will hopefully be sent back to Villa for good as a 32 year old come the summer and the Hugo Rodallega experiment is a year and a half in. While Hugo would be a great striker at Championship level should we get relegated, a fit, hungry, agile and strong top level hitman or partnership is lacking and very much needed. Academy talent Marcello Trotta and Cauley Woodrow are both gaining experience on loan and Muamer Tankovic will likely do so at some point this season. This leaves reinforcements being needed. Though a midfielder should be the first cash deposit of January, some firepower is needed, even if on a short-term basis. Here are two below the radar options:

Pavel Pogrebnyak

One thing Fulham have lacked up front this season is an ability to hold onto the ball. The little round thing is never up front long enough to take any pressure off the midfield and defence. Former Fulham man Pogrebnyak was a fan favourite in his 6 months here. A long term Fulham target, Pogrebnyak was brought to Fulham on the instructions of chief scout Barry Simmonds, not the manager. He knows the club and the league, and is stronger than all our current strikers put together. At 30 he’s not exactly the long-term answer, but a loan from Reading would take the striker’s wages of the Championship club’s books and provide us some strength up front in a move that would potentially suit all parties.

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Jordan Rhodes

Blackburn striker Rhodes is someone I’ve wanted Fulham to sign for several years now. Stuck outside the top flight in a Blackburn side not going anywhere fast, Rhodes would likely jump at the chance to move up a division. Rovers might also be tempted to sell should the right offer come in. A natural poacher with 36 goals in 59 league games for Blackburn, at only 23, Rhodes would provide the long-term striker Fulham need rather than any of the current crop at Fulham, all of whom should be gone after the season closes.

3. Sign a left back

Oh Kieran, honestly it’s not your fault; you’re just not a left back. Yes, one of Martin Jol’s more foolhardy moves has been to rely upon converted midfielder Kieran Richardson at left back. While this has been predicated mostly by the alarming decline of John Arne Riise and injury and lack of faith in Matthew Briggs, Richardson simply isn’t good enough to line up in a defence that needs to be better than the sum of its parts. A fine squad player, the left footed Chris Baird, I’d like to see Richardson stay at Fulham as a utility player, able to cover various positions. The defence has issues across the line. There is no doubt a centre back is needed but there is a good player in Amorebieta and Dan Burn will start next season, but full back is consistently a source of encouragement for opposition, just look at Jarvis and Downing for West Ham during the abysmal showing on Saturday.

Alexander Buttner

The somewhat obvious suggestion, Buttner was a supposed Fulham target before his surprise move to Manchester United in 2012 where he worked under fellow Dutchman and new Fulham Head Coach Rene Meulensteen. A pacy natural full back, a loan or permanent move for Buttner would suit Fulham’s needs at left back.

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Jamaal Lascelles

20-year-old England U-20 centre half Lascelles might seem a surprise answer to our defensive issues but a move for the Nottingham Forest man would suit Fulham in several ways. By signing a centre half, Amorebieta could play at left back for the remainder of the season, where he has done well when tried, and though not a natural left back, he is far more solid than Richardson. Signing a young centre half to potentially pair with Burn going forward is some forward thinking we’re not used to. While academy players Jack Grimmer and Liam Donnelly could well play first team football in the future, loan periods will be required before they are ready. Lascelles’ ability to play right back would also allow for more cover for Sascha Reither who has looked sub-par and unfit himself at times this season and Montenegran utility man Elsad Zverotic. Albeit this might be a pie in the sky suggestion too far. Lascelles is perhaps just too inexperienced to drop into the fire pit that is a relegation dogfight, but Fulham are the opposite to most struggling sides who usually have an abundance of exuberance but a lack of experience, we have the opposite, all the experience but non of the youthful exuberance.

4. Bring Clint Dempsey back on loan

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Not a complicated decision this one. Yes he left acrimoniously, but that was a result of ambition fuelled by incessant chirping in his ear from the US media that Fulham weren’t good enough for him. Fact is, we were. I’d bet a good dollar or two Clint now knows that, and with a loan to Europe supposedly being written into his MLS contract with Seattle, it is a deal that would hardly need mountains to be moved to get it done. We need goals and don’t have a bona fide starter on the left wing; Demspey is our record Premierleague goalscorer and scored nearly all of them from a starting position on the left of midfield. Put the ball in the back of the onion bag once again and all will be forgiven for the way he left.

5. Expand the Board

The departure of Martin Jol this afternoon was a decision that came not a second too soon. The entire management debacle has shown Fulham’s new ownership and management structure to be somewhat understaffed. Top down decisions come from the owner who along with Mark Lamping, make up half the board whilst being based several thousand miles from Craven Cottage. Day to day responsibilities in running the entire enterprise that is Fulham Football Club fall onto the other half of the board in the form of CEO Alistair Mackintosh and Finance Director Sean O’Laughlin. No wonder then that decisions seem to take a while under disjointed circumstances. Khan and Lamping need more help on the ground in England. A Non-Executive Director or two would give the existing directors some operational help and perspective. A few extra Fulham or Football brains in positions of influence would also help Fulham look beyond the week-to-week and towards the long term.

Postscript: Requiem for a Dutchman 

Seeing a man lose his job is never great. Wishing downfall on a man is not great, but there has been something not right at Fulham for some time. Whilst his first season in charge was successful, it was largely an inherited team and club scouted additions that led the success. Fulham have never recovered from losing those key men, Murphy, Dempsey and Dembele in 2012, and Jol’s tenure has only been going one way since. Comments about expectations and the fans led to alienation from the fanbase for Jol while on-pitch performances have been declining for over a calendar year (Sunderland last November was the beginning). Whilst always wanting to wish someone the best for the future, it was time for Fulham and Martin Jol to part ways and move on.

Bring on the first game of the Rene Meulensteen era, however long that is. We await news of his tenure and backroom staff. January will be crucial. Time for making excuses is over. Results must now improve. Fulham are a Premierleague club, starting on Wednesday lets all show it again. The energy has been put back into Fulham Football Club. Perhaps now we can believe again.

COYWs

Fulham sack Jol

Fulham have sacked manager Martin Jol with Rene Meulensteen assuming responsibility for the first team with immediate effect.

The Dutchman has been under increasing pressure following the Cottagers’ miserable start to the season and Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at West Ham proved to be the final straw for chairman Shahid Khan.

“Today I spoke with Martin to thank him for his efforts on behalf of Fulham Football Club over the past three seasons and, in particular, since my becoming chairman earlier this year,” Khan said in a statement on the club’s official website.

“Martin was very gracious and I appreciate his understanding of the situation. There is no question Martin is an excellent football man and he has my utmost respect for the commitment he made to our club.

“However, our poor form and results this season are undeniable, and Fulham supporters deserve better. With more than half the season still ahead, an immediate change was necessary.”

Former Spurs boss Jol, 57, took charge at Craven Cottage in June 2011 but Fulham have managed to win only three of their 13 Premier League games this season and the loss at West Ham was their sixth successive defeat in all competitions.

“It was a privilege to manage Fulham, one of the great clubs in the Premier League or anywhere in the world,” Jol said.

“I am disappointed in this season but know there are better days ahead for Fulham and its supporters. I will always treasure my experience here and want to thank Mr Khan and everyone at Fulham for the opportunity.”

Dutchman Meulensteen, 49, was appointed as Fulham’s head coach on November 13 after working at Manchester United alongside Sir Alex Ferguson between 2007 and last summer.

“Rene Meulensteen was brought to Fulham to assist Martin and today was offered the challenge and opportunity to step in for Martin,” Khan said. I thank Rene for accepting and now we move forward. I have great confidence in Rene and high expectations for our squad to respond.”

Meulensteen, who takes over a team 18th in the Premier League ahead of Wednesday’s home game against Tottenham, said: “I appreciate the faith Mr. Khan has put in me and will do my very best to honour his trust. We aim to get Fulham back on track, starting Wednesday night.”

Hammers leave Jol on the brink

West Ham eased to a comfortable victory over Fulham leaving Martin Jol fearing for his future after losing five games on the bounce.

The Dutch head coach admitted before this London derby that the Cottagers’ next two fixtures could shape his future but Fulham were so abject in what felt like a must win game that it is distinct possibility that Jol could lose his job immediately. West Ham could have been out of sight at half time after dominating the first 45 minutes, but Fulham somehow clung on to parity until the interval with Modibo Maiga’s effort rattling the base of the post. In perhaps a sign of his desperation, Jol had packed his side full of inventive midfielders but they made virtually no impression on the contest.

The home side kept up a frenetic pace in the second half and it was just a matter of time before Fulham’s fragile defence caved in. It took since 75 seconds after the interval for Sam Allardyce’s side to go in front when Steve Sidwell meekly surrendered possession to Mohamed Diame. The visitors stopped, appealing for fouls on Sidwell and Scott Parker, allowing the Senegalese midfielder to advance to the edge of the box. His speculative shot struck Fernando Amorebieta and completely bamboozled Maarten Stekelenburg.

The goal didn’t exactly galvanise Jol’s troops who seemed to have little idea how to respond. Maiga and Matt Jarvis both spurned good chances to add to West Ham’s lead before Stekelenburg, who had made a string of fine saves in the first half, was almost outwitted by a dipping Stewart Downing cross that glanced the top of the crossbar. Ravel Morrison contrived to miss an open goal before a brief period of Fulham pressure culminated in Pajtim Kasami testing Jussi Jaaskelainen from distance.

But the visitors were soon put out of their misery as two West Ham substitutes made the game safe in the last ten minutes. First, Carlton Cole converted a Downing cross to score his first goal since returning to Upton Park in October only a minute after coming on and Joe Cole curled in a fine third after being teed up by Morrison. On a bleak day for Fulham, even the first team debut of teenage forward Moussa Dembele was marred when the youngster picked up a hamstring injury shortly after coming off the bench.

The Fulham players and Jol were barracked by a mutinous travelling support after the final whistle. The likeable Dutch manager might just have run out of road – but any replacement has a hell of job to keep this Fulham side in the Premier League now.

WEST HAM UNITED (4-3-2-1): Jaaskelainen; Demel, McCartney, Collins, Tomkins; Diame, Noble; Downing, Jarvis (J. Cole 66), Nolan (Morrison 77); Maiga (C. Cole 81). Subs (not used): Adrian, O’Brien, Taylor, Collison.

BOOKED: McCartney, Diame, Tomkins.

GOALS: Diame (47), C. Cole (82), J. Cole (89).

FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Stekelenburg; Zverotic, Hughes, Amorebieta, Richardson (Dembele 83); Parker, Sidwell (Karagounis 77), Kasami, Duff (Ruiz 65); Taraabt; Bent. Subs (not used): Stockdale, Senderos, Boateng, Kacaniklic.

BOOKED: Richardson, Sidwell.

REFEREE: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire).

ATTENDANCE: 34,946.