So, another loss was compounded by another tactically absent performance last night
Having taken the decision, a few weeks ago, to take an emotional step back from Fulham for a little while, I must confess my life has been quite refreshing. Following the draw with West Brom and the loss to Cardiff quite a few fans, myself included, whipped ourselves up into quite the frenzy. What good can come from that?
In the meantime, Fulham have won a fortuitous home victory against a toothless and tactically mis-managed Stoke, beat a hapless Crystal Palace thanks to two world class goals, lost abysmally to Southampton and gone out of a cup that we were lucky to still be in after being the second best team in the victories over both Burton and Everton. In essence, we are back to square one.
Except there’s now one major difference, this time around nearly the entire social media-active fanbase is in a frenzy. Last night saw an enormous number of impassioned cries for heads on spikes, and one head in particular.
There appears to be a head-in-the-sand mentality in the club’s hierarchy : “If we keep our heads down, maybe the supporters will forget there’s a systematic problem”. Random acts of individual brilliance will only get you so far, but they do work in temporarily deflecting attention. They have also, frustratingly, saved Martin Jol’s job on more than one occasion already.
Had Hugo Rodallega not equalised at Burton Albion, we could be several months into a new regime. We could already be talking about an integrated tactical system and optimistic youth development, rather than an absence of tactics and youth getting a maximum of one representative in the first team at a time.
Therein lies the problem. The current on-pitch management of Fulham is tactially inept, though it almost feels wrong to use the word inept as that implies there are tactics. There don’t seem to be any at all. The chosen pathway for the first team appears more akin to chaos theory than the beautiful game. Jol’s mantra of putting eleven men on the field, a couple of whom are still within a few years of their prime, in the vague hope that perhaps they will magic three points is becoming so blindingly frustrating that I’m sure it’s not just the fans who are getting ready to lay down their arms in exasperation.
As time presses on, what is becoming increasingly evident and worrying is the off-field management’s refusal to address the issues at hand. Last week saw Shahid Khan, our undeniably charismatic new owner, in London as his Jacksonville Jaguars were in town for the first of their four annual matches at Wembley. What became increasingly obvious during this visit is that the pigskin form of football is where his priorities lie, at least they seemingly do for now. When your football club becomes third on the list of your owners’ business priorities, it takes special day-to-day management to keep the ship straight.
Fulham’s Board of Directors now consists of four men – the aforementioned Khan and Mark Lamping, his right hand man from Jacksonville and the lone non-exec Director of FFC, along with CEO Alistair Mackintosh and Finance Director Sean O’Laughlin. Mackitosh and O’Laughlin have to run the business, covering every management role from Director of Football to Operations. Yes, there is a management board in place, but show me another successful limited company with a turnover stretching into nine figures with a board of this size and I’ll show you a pig that can fly.
While both Mackintosh and O’Laughlin appear football savvy, and both are genuine fans of the game, to give them what is akin to day-to-day absolute power is a considerable risk from Khan. If I were buying a £200m business in an industry I had no idea about, I might look to take an expert or five with me, just to make sure those already running the business there were doing a decent job.
At Fulham, there is seemingly nobody there to view the situation from a step back. Perhaps then, it is no surprise that decisions are taking longer to be made than they should. Football is not the NFL, a season of failure followed by retrospective accountability, as was the formula in Jacksonville, is not a viable plan here. Relegation looms large. Operational synergy can get you a sponsor or two, but it doesn’t win matches and to downgrade the club’s ambitions to mere survival is, at this stage, tantamount to heresy when Mohamed Al-Fayed spent over a decade working hard so that Fulham could look forward, and not back.
Last week’s Google session with Khan and several fans was little short of orchestrated gimmickry under the watchful eyes of the ever-controlling Fulham press department. Khan’s answers to the mostly pre-determined questions were bland, non-committal and largely unsatisfactory. Did you wonder why none of the mainstream press picked up the session despite doubtlessly being sent to all of them in a press release.
When asked about young players, Khan was justifiably able to tout Kasami thanks to his wonder-strike the night before, though he ignored the fact Pajtim was the only player under-25 on the pitch for FFC that night. When asked about ticket prices, he spouted nonsense about players wages, and when asked about the Riverside Stand he refused to say anything concrete despite the planning application receiving full planning permission in July.
The press interviews that circulated with Shahid Khan on Friday were, on the other hand, rather impressive. Khan is a master of neutral audience PR. Talk of respecting heritage and operational synergy sounds great to a less heart-invested mind who won’t ask “how?”.
I don’t want to indefinitely judge the man on the basis of his first three or so months. Coming into the Premier League as a self-confessed football newbie must be incredibly daunting, even if he chose to pay £200m for the privilege and lives on another continent. He clearly invests emotion in the team as was shown by his celebrations at Palace. Perhaps we can only hope he becomes a fan like us. It is, after all, important for an owner to remember why football clubs were founded in the first place.
The next three months will prove crucial in Fulham’s season and in Khan’s tenure as custodian. If the head-in-the-sand management continues past January, the trouble that’s been brewing will have become a fully-fledged superstorm, and we all know how much the UK press love a storm. Should Martin Jol’s management stretch much beyond a loss to Manchester United in three days’ time, Khan may find a few more people, rightly or wrongly, turning the focus of their attention to his chairmanship.
He could of course prove the ruthless and demanding Chairman that there are whispers he is behind the wide smile. Should Martin Jol’s charge come to an end in the hours or days to come that is only the first half the job. Choosing the correct replacement is a far harder task than simply deciding whether or not to pull the trigger. But losing can become an indelible habit and without stage one of the process, the club cannot expect to move forward.
This quagmire has been developing for some time; Khan’s arrival has merely fallen at a time when affirmative action was needed, not a period of learning and indolence. Under-spending, indifferent results and poor performances stretch back beyond the short term memory of just this season. Time has been and gone, and now come again, for something to change, and change very soon. If it doesn’t, then I doubt I would be the only fan taking a step back, and I’m not sure how that fits into the Chairman’s plan for a sustainable business.
Tu ne cede malis sed contra audientior ito
Yield not to misfortunes but advance all the more boldly against them
I have refrained up till now of canonising my thoughts on the matter of Fulham’s management into words, preferring to give a team and a manager the common decency of time to improve.
There is, though, a quote by Oscar Wilde that sums up most of the opinion swirling around the Fulham managerial position that has now reached a crescendo; “It is absurd to divide people into good and bad, people are either charming or tedious”.
As it is, after another largely lifeless late loss, Martin Jol’s tired and passionless attempts to lower expectations in post match interviews have crossed to the point of tedium.
Change will not come if we wait for some other time, for some other moment of despair. The time for action is now, not posturing or equivocation.
The current situation at Craven Cottage is not something that has just arisen out of the blue either. Calls for the manager’s head are not new and they are not unexpected. Form has long been a matter for concern and it has now reached breaking point.
Had we not won at Swansea on the last day of last season, it is not unreasonable to believe we would be under different management already.
Three weeks ago the excuse was that at least we were still mid-table. Well now we are in the relegation zone and at risk of being cut adrift. Our points tally this season is also somewhat misleading with the one shot opening day win at Sunderland masking glaring deficiencies from back to front.
The match yesterday felt like a dead man’s walk to the gallows. The midweek victory over Everton seems little more than a stay of execution. If body language tells more about a person than their words, then this Fulham team and its management are in deep trouble.
Following Jordan Mutch’s spectacular but deserved winner for Cardiff yesterday, Martin Jol slunk into the dugout like a man resigned to his fate. While Paolo Di Canio’s opposite tact of standing in front of fans taking the flack was the polar extreme prior to his dismissal last week; the lack of any passion from Jol was a similar moment of separation from his people. While we had to stand there and take it and then share a walk through Bishop’s Park with swooning gleeful Welshmen, our manager was making excuses and attempting to lower expectations.
This side, like their manager, appear passionless.
Brede Hangeland, club captain, is playing like a dethroned monarch; sunken, sullen and afraid to gee up his troops. His worst performance, or close to it, in a Fulham shirt yesterday shows that he either doesn’t like working with Jol or the manager has failed to spot a glaring lack of leadership from Fulham’s would be defensive talisman.
While the substitution of Alex Kacaniklic worked tactically, the young winger was then promptly ignored by his manager upon reaching the dugout. For a manager who has a reputation in hushed tones for behind closed doors favouritism and as a bully boy [example Kasami’s 18 month extrication, Kerim Frei’s sale and the disappearance of Ashkan Dejagah], this cold hearted and callous gesture showed more than he’d care for it to. The shift in tactics to a never before seen 4-3-1-2 also the act of a man scrambling for a lifeline.
Martin Jol referenced Danny Murphy’s late winner at Portsmouth in 2008 and Clint Dempsey’s goal against Liverpool in 2007 seemingly ignoring three top ten finishes, two 12ths and two European campaigns that have taken place since that day at Fratton Park 5 years ago. I can only imagine his insistence on tempering expectations is a tactic to keep himself employed.
A Dad’s Army summer recruitment strategy, narcoleptic defending and schizophrenic tactical pack shuffling has left Fulham as a team as bereft of confidence as they are points.
Yesterday’s game against Cardiff was embarrassing. Bryan Ruiz’s magical equalizer served merely as temporary pain relief, with the problems running deeper than one or two abhorrent performances.
There are rumblings that Martin Jol has lost the dressing room. Despite his nepotistic recruitment it is evident this team are not playing for him, while some of them don’t even seem to be playing for us.
Even if he hasn’t yet lost the players; inside the ground, talking to fans of all ages and creeds, there is one thing that is blindingly evident, he has lost the fans. Fulham is a family club, and there is a large proportion that won’t holler, scream and boo, but the near unanimity of season ticket holders in our section in the Riverside is that change, starting with the manager, is immediately necessary.
It is never nice to see vitriol pointed at one man, but a football club’s manager is its figurehead. Cardiff yesterday out shot us 22 to 9, had more possession at 51.5%, had double the number of key passes and out passed us in general 432 to 386 with a better completion percentage. All this against a team without a top-flight away victory since 1961. It simply isn’t good enough.
There is also talk of a justifiable split inside the club, with the seeming insistence on keeping the talented academy and the first team as separate entities at the whim of the Dutchman. The out-of-the-blue first team debut of Mesca at Chelsea last week an obvious reaction to the catcalling for more youth from many after the West Brom debacle the week before.
Life moves on, and so should we. The quicker Mr Khan and Mr Mackintosh let go, the sooner we can begin to improve. Yes inheriting an aging team such as ours is not an easy job for any manager, but this Fulham team isn’t far from being half decent, it just has no idea how to get there.
If change doesn’t come, we are in danger of leaving it too late.
Football fans are prone to mood swings. The occasional bout of emotion fuelled over-exaggeration comes as standard. There is not a fan in the land that hasn’t called for a manager’s head in a sudden burst of anger following a defeat, or proclaimed their player should start for England after a particularly good game. What Fulham fans are now feeling after the summer transfer window is not a fleeting emotion, but the collective response to 13 months of spiraling mediocrity.
It is easy for clubs to forget that football is a game based on emotion in the modern world of transfers, tv rights and the business of high level sport.
Since Shakid Khan’s takeover of Fulham back in July, talk has been focused on sustainability. The only tangible plan seemingly in place at the moment is that of the pre-existing Riverside Stand redevelopment.
The problem with this is that football doesn’t stand still. Ambitious plans off the field have been met with a puzzling lack of ambition on it.
The summer transfer window just gone was a perplexing one for Fulham fans. Enough to intrigue and infuriate in equal measure, any talk of realistic top ten ambitions can be seen rather more as a pipe dream than a modus operandi for the here and now. Survival, it seems, is the plan once again.
On the face of it Fulham had an ok transfer window. It was a player recruitment window where the focus was on bulk additions of game ready veterans rather than looking to the long term with any incisive incomings of players approaching their prime. Seven new first teamers joined the club, with energizer bunny Sascha Reither additionally arriving on a permanent deal and Greek man of war Giorgos Karagounis re-signing for a further year.
The national football publications will no doubt conclude that our window was positive. To see it as such though, shows a remarkable lack of appreciation for the situation as a whole. It is rather like buying the ingredients for a nice supper without having the kitchen in which to cook it. Indeed the Telegraph called it for what it really was; a 5/10 nod to muddling through.
Long-term gaps at left back and central midfield were left unfilled, deadwood was not moved on, while the squad became stockpiled with an influx of nonchalant attacking enigmas and aging defensive midfielders.
On the whole, the signings showed a lack of strategy, and that sustainability remains a piece of blue sky thinking rather than anything we can move towards on the field.
This is perhaps not wholly unexpected. The new chairman arrived amongst much fanfare, but quite understandably shows signs of wanting to assess the situation for longer than 6 weeks in the summer prior to any en-masse pocket dipping. With the whole takeover reportedly concluded within the space of a month, it is no surprise Mr Khan wants a period of basic continuity before any radical changes. The path of sustainability is indeed the one we want to take; we just don’t yet have the map to get there.
Indeed, why give a manager more funds than he needs to survive when he may not be the man who you eventually entrust your credit card to?
Have we spent enough to stay in the league? If our short-term goal is simply to survive whilst a plan to execute long-term strategy is formulated, will we?
The yearlong on-field malaise since the departures of several stars last summer suggests we are not guaranteed anything. Home form at Craven Cottage has taken the trajectory of the Lusitania while our overly static defense looks more and more fragile with every passing week. Fulham have been playing without anything resembling consistent tactics, desire and creativity for the better part of a year, whilst the summer signings appear as square pegs in round holes designed to paper over some significant cracks.
It is going to be a long hard season for Fulham fans. We were not given anything to overwhelmingly excite us over the summer months and performances have remained uninspired. Time is on our side for now, but it will soon be staring us in the face.
There is a focus within the club on how to improve away attendances. A coherent performance resembling anything close to entertainment might be a start. Should our home form not improve, the focus may be forced to shift to wondering whether an expensive new stand is such a good idea.
The grains of sand in the egg timer of Martin Jol’s tenure in SW6 are reaching the bottom. Whether there will be anyone there to turn it over remains to be seen. Should the insipid performances continue and results fail to materialise, it would be foolish of Fulham to stand idly by.
Of the summer signings, only two, Elsad Zverotic and Fernando Amorebieta, show the hallmarks of a legacy signing – one that the club and not the manager engineered on the basis of the higher recruitment strategy. Michael Calvin’s immensely readable book The Nowhere Men highlights this practice at Fulham, where Roy Hodgson rejected the chance to sign Mousa Dembele from AZ Alkmaar and it was only once he had left the club that Mark Hughes signed off on the deal. Whilst Scott Parker has never before played under Martin Jol he was still widely known and Derek Boateng had played against Fulham for Dnipro two years ago in one of Martin Jol’s first games in charge. Adel Taarabt, Maarten Stekelenburg and Darren Bent are all former charges of the excuse-making Dutchman.
Whether they can gel is squarely on Jol’s shoulders. Having met Alistair Mackintosh and been thoroughly impressed, not least by his ability to mix passion with objectivity, and having heard and read nothing but positive things about our CEO from within the game, I am most surprised that he facilitated such a summer of fraternal patronage.
This is it though; it has been a summer of mixed messages at Craven Cottage. We have the best academy in the country but the oldest first team. We speak of targeting a place in the top ten but have but have been in the bottom five of spending for the second summer in a row. We target sustainability yet sign not a single first team player with sell-on value in mind. We have a manager preaching offensive football yet led the league in long balls last season.
Is it any wonder the fans don’t know what to think?
For a team entering its 13th consecutive season in the top flight, where fans will regularly spend over £1000 a season following their team, the prospect of another year looking over our shoulders is a hard one to stomach.
Below the first team, the summer again showed our growing reputation. The most pivotal deal of the summer might be 17-year-old French striker Moussa Dembele signing a new contract. After his hat trick in the academy final there were doubtless bigger clubs considering a move for the most exciting player in our youth set up. The recruitment of 15-year-old Yaya Toure impersonator Foday Nabay from the fringes of the Birmingham City first team could also prove significant in years to come.
At senior level though, our rivals have out spent or out performed for too long. Newcastle fans are justifiably irate with their management at the lack of a single penny spent in anger, but at least they deserved their 3 points against us last weekend.
The summer of disenchantment ended with the sale of fans favourite Kerim Frei to Besiktas on Friday. The 19-year-old winger who was shunned by Martin Jol has left without even an explanation as to why. A player who 18 months ago was seen as the jewel in our crown has left for a marginal fee without so much as a goodbye. One suspects this sale was more to do with Frei, who having been showered with too much praise and a four year contract at an early age may have forgotten the hard yards had yet to be done. It is though, another mark of disappointment for a fanbase devoid of energy.
The threat of relegation looms large and is not one the club can afford to ignore. When the Jacksonville Jaguars season comes to an end in January it could be too late. With no room to manoeuvre in the transfer market, all eyes will now be on management. Can an ageing and piecemeal squad come together and play as a united force? I’m not convinced and I’m not sure who is.
The mixed range of emotions felt by Fulham fans over the last three months has been quite the rollercoaster.
First there was happiness at the impressive early transfer activity. Then there was shock, surprise, intrigue and excitement around Shahid Khan’s takeover as Fulham Chairman from Mohamed Al-Fayed.
This was followed by a period of slowly increasing anxiety at transfer inactivity and mild despair after a trio of poor friendly performances. Frustration made way to hope with the arrivals of Adel Taarabt, Darren Bent and Scott Parker. These signings, coupled with a hard fought victory at Sunderland on the opening day then led to a breakout of mass excitement and evergreen optimism before last weekend’s home opener against Arsenal.
Now, following a meek surrender in that game to Arsenal, and a dismayingly poor showing from the First XI at Burton, we are here, at a point of fear and loathing as the scene that will be left in the aftermath of a turbulent summer begins to reveal itself.
The past week has, quite frankly, not been a good one for Fulham and its fans. The pair of aforementioned poor performances were compounded by a debacle surrounding the last minute placing and notification of a camera gantry smack in the middle of the Johnny Haynes Stand for the Arsenal game. Obviously with this issue there are forces at play beyond purely the club’s control, but, it is the offhand dismissal of the issue by the club, league and tv company who broadcast the game that has caused more frustration than the camera itself.
The performance at Burton was three minutes from being the final straw for many fans. Having suffered the ignominy of watching near ten months of consistent mediocrity on the field, especially at Craven Cottage where our home form is disappointing to say the least, this is most certainly a fan base lacking energy and enthusiasm at present. Had Hugo Rodallega not volleyed home a barely deserved equaliser in the East Midlands, there would have been more than a few voices calling for certain heads to roll.
The mood amongst fans is though, ever changing. One win, one performance, one signing and the mood in the gallery would lift immeasurably. Yet is important to try and stand back and view the scene as a complete picture. With mere days to go until the end of the transfer window, the picture could yet change significantly. But will it?
There is an increasing sense that there are certain people at Motspur Park are sat in an Ivory Tower of Self-Defiance. Transfer policy and team selection seem to be dictated by a wretched stubbornness to appreciate the bigger picture beyond our metaphorical four walls.
It is not good enough to simply worry about what we are doing. The business of football inherently forces your performance to be directly correlated to that of your rivals’, and this summer, there is little doubt we have been left somewhat behind.
Our transfer policy shows a lack of financial firepower that is less a nod to sustainable financing and more a sign of frugal penny pinching. This same transfer policy also exudes the kind of footballing nepotism that belies any intelligent scouting system. Of our 6 summer signings, 3 have previously played for our manager, 1 played against us in a European fixture and has been wanted since, 1 is a former England international known to every fan and his dog and the other a La Liga defender linked to several clubs in the tabloid papers in January. Not exactly the fruits of a well established and in depth scouting system, even though I am sure Fulham posses such a system as scouting at youth level has been remarkable of late.
Martin Jol often talks about having to be clever in the transfer market, signing players when they are bad or out of favour and making them good again. There is an argument for this, but there is a school of thought that says being clever in the transfer market means finding some of your players before your competitors do. Sometimes it is not good enough to just sign players on the decline, hoping to rekindle their former glories; sometimes you have to sign a player in their prime. Without anyone in the prime of their careers, is it any wonder performances have been trifling for so long, when other clubs have perhaps lesser players performing at their peak week in week out.
There is a financial sustainability argument behind a scouting based transfer system. Sign a 20-25 year old, build him up and get years of the player in his prime whilst then benefitting from sell on value.
Our three domestic signings this August show little financial long-term planning. Parker is 32, so his wages and transfer fee are a sunk cost, where any financial uplift is based purely on the gain for the team as a direct result of his performances over the duration his long 3 year contract. While any benefit of Adel Taarabt’s play will result in an increase in his sell-on value to the profit of his parent club. Darren Bent meanwhile is little more than an expensive borrowing. A football bridging loan designed to help us muddle through another season.
Of course that is the glass half empty look at those signings. They should all help us this season, even if they were not what we exactly needed going into the window. I believe all three could have a significant impact on the team if we are flexible enough on-the-field to prevent them appearing as square pegs put in round holes.
For a club who’s prevailing message, especially since the takeover, has been sustainability, the transfer activity has all been rather short term in outlook, with significant non-recoverable costs.
This would all however, be completely fine, should we not have a manager who refuses to show faith in the young players the club has invested heavily to get to and through the academy. Maybe as fans we are simply impatient. But it is now 3 years since our academy first reached the national final, yet the squad is still dominated by players over 30.
Rather than signing another aging former big name player, why doesn’t our manager give one or two of our supposedly prodigal young talents an opportunity to develop on the big stage? The refusal to trust Matthew Briggs for long enough to see his real potential and the complete reluctance to even put Mesca, Chris David or Marcello Trotta on the bench at Burton is mystifying to even the most casual of Fulham observer. Would Gareth Bale be worth the £80m plus he is today as a 24 year old if he had sat in the reserves into his 20s?
Sustainability as a club must come from both on and off field means. Year to year survival is crucial, but it is not a strategy. By not developing a club philosophy, a long term on-field strategy and an off field plan to execute it, you increase the danger of falling prey to a bad run, a single season of disaster where all your hard work is undone.
The other point of contention with this summer’s strategy has been the lack of a marquee signing. Whilst the losses last summer of the still yet to be replaced Murphy, Dembele and Dempsey were all painful, it is impossible not to tip your cap to the signing of Dimitar Berbatov. This was a signing that meant more to Fulham than football. Brand Fulham was boosted by Brand Berbatov. Fans around the world, those same ones who will have benefited from the dugout footage from the Johnny Haynes camera against Arsenal, know and love Berbatov. This was a signing that boosted Fulham’s stature, in both our minds and those outside the club.
Scotty Parker is loved by vast swathes of cockney London but he’s unlikely to set pulses racing in Singapore or Shanghai. The same could be said of Bent, prior goals records are all well and good but the Aston Villa reserves is not exactly a glamour business partner. There is little marquee about fending off QPR and Crystal Palace for your big name transfers.
There remain at least three positions that sit unfilled by transfer incomings. A starting left back, back up right back and a passing midfielder to sit next to newcomer Parker are all still AWOL. These are not new problems either. The midfielder has been missing for almost exactly a year, while left back in particular has been a problem in waiting for some time now.
All could change in the next four days. A win at Newcastle, or even a loss with a cohesive, dedicated performance, would see doubters silenced for a little longer. There is, however, a cloud forming over Craven Cottage. An underwhelming transfer window and an alarmingly poor home record will soon hit Fulham’s plan for sustainability hard. We all love this club, but we need a reason to be excited, another year like the last one and there’s trouble ahead.
To Newcastle and the transfer deadline beyond.
To spend or not to spend?
Ah the eternal question facing the football fan in the summer. To be pleased with what your side has done, or to always focus on what they are yet to do.
This is the dilemma facing not just Fulham fans at the moment, but probably those inside the club as well. With a around 3 weeks remaining until another fraught summer transfer window comes to a close, it is the question that will be on all our minds for some while yet.
The dilemma permeating my Fulham obsessed brain is that while the business done so far is actually very good, it is all a little underwhelming. Adel Taarabt is a signing I championed here over a month ago, but as a loan signing with no clarity on whether there’s a purchase option, he is frankly not the marquee name a billionaire takeover should merit.
It was actually Martin Jol’s post match comments following the 1-2 defeat to Parma on Saturday that really hit a nerve. He said that should we sign no more players we would have a season exactly like the last one. Well, firstly I’d argue that is not true, as the sea of teams around us has improved markedly over the summer, and secondly, Martin’s memory must be hazy as last season was all a little too close to call relegation-wise for all of our collective hearts.
I hate to be reactionary voice in our collective quagmire of nervousness, but in these long summer months, a day without a whisper or a rumour feels like a week, and the two months between Maarten Stekelenburg’s signing and Taarabt’s unveiling felt like the Hundred Years War.
With the season mere days away, there is at least, some solace in the inactivity of other teams to counter act the schizophrenic commotion of others. Indeed, were I a Newcastle fan I would be rightfully using these pages to launch a diatribe against the ineffective and dawdling ponderousness of Joe Kinnear, whereas the casual Sunderland fan might indeed be worrying about how Paolo Di Canio will get his cavalcade of mercenaries [10 new signings and counting] to play as a team.
For a team like Fulham, the summer transfer window needs to be about strategic improvement, not wholesale changes. There is however, a balance that must be struck. Queens Park Rangers were relegated last season after signing too many of the wrong players, while Reading were relegated after signing too few of the right ones.
Following the departure of Mark Schwarzer, Fulham have signed world cup finalist Stekelenburg. This should be an upgrade with Schwarzer’s performances slowly declining, but Maarten was largely benched at Roma last season and may take a while to really show his class so the question marks will linger a little longer.
Adel Taarabt is largely a replacement for Urby Emmanuelson who spent the latter portion of last season on loan from AC Milan and only began to really show his talent towards the end of his spell in White. Derek Boateng is a replacement for Eyong Enoh, another successful loanee, whilst also absorbing some of Mahammadou Diarra’s workload. Whilst the capture of Fernando Amorebieta is impressive, the only out and out strategic upgrade, there are still both holes in the squad to fill and major pinpointed strategic upgrades necessary.
With Mladen Petric yet to be replaced and no sign of Marcello Trotta being promoted, there is a gaping hole in the strikeforce. No matter how many games Hugo Rodallega is given, there will still be a gaping hole up front until a striker of genuine quality is signed or a youngster is given a chance. When you also consider that Chris Baird and Simon Davies have left, and Stanislav Manolev has not been signed following his loan, there are still other openings in our squad to be filled, and that’s without that all important central midfield playmaker we all know is missing.
By my reckoning then, that leaves two full backs (a reserve right back and potential starter at left back), a central midfielder and a centre forward still to come in. The central midfielder and the striker both need to be of a calibre good enough to force their way into the starting line-up, as without them this summer cannot be classified as a significant period of wholesale upgrade.
All this aside, and I still have both faith and hope. Still Believe we sang. Still Believe I do.
Where Fulham are concerned, transfers are done behind closed doors. Were it not for a leak onto a QPR messageboard, there is a chance none of us would have got a sniff of the Taarabt deal until he was seen holding up the Fulham shirt. Indeed, in his interview with Sarah Brookes following his arrival, he stated that negotiations took around 3 weeks. That means for all we know, Fulham most likely have engaged their major targets already, and the future is looking brighter, even IF we just can’t see it yet. [Since I wrote this news of a possible new signing this week has broken]
There is also a larger point to be made. Shahid Khan has arrived as new owner with the well-rehearsed mantra of sustainability the central tenet of his message to supporters and journalists alike. Well, for a club like Fulham, a significant method for self-sustainability is the development of young players into saleable assets. The Udinese model of ‘develop-and-flog’ is perhaps a drastic example, but the process of scouting, signing and playing young talent can make a club a lot of money and excite the fans in one fell swoop. Constantly signing players whose value cannot possibly rise over the course of their Fulham career, or those whose value can rise, but for another parent club to benefit, shows a level of short termism that is tantamount to hypocrisy from a club preaching sustainability.
Winston Churchill said that “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”. The results of last season indicated that there was no strategy. Now is the time for Fulham to make that statement, to execute their strategy and to put in place the on-field structure that the growth and performance off it dictates. Sustainable growth though may just require some speculation.
Onto the Stadium of Light.