Fulham Chairman and Owner Shahid Khan paid a visit to the club’s Motspur Park training ground earlier in the week. The visit coincided with new Head Coach Slavisa Jokanovic’s first full week in charge and gave our owner the opportunity for some face time to the new boss.
Khan’s welcome visit to London comes after a near two month period of unrest at Fulham which ended with the appointment of Jokanovic shortly after Christmas. The prolonged period of uncertainty of the change of management and the news of a transfer embargo led to many fans openly questioning Khan’s personal commitment and level of involvement in Fulham, so this visit was likely considered a necessary photo opportunity to mend a few fences.
Khan was accompanied at Motspur Park by his PR advisor, Jim Woodcock of Public Relations company FleishmanHilliard, who tweeted a picture of the visit before a video was later posted online by the club. The video it must be said did appear quite contrived given it was obvious it wasn’t exactly off the cuff but it certainly did the job from a public relations perspective.
Mr Woodcock has proven something of a good sport over the past year or so. Ever since his email got leaked on various forums, he’s been inundated with a barrage of emails from Fulham fans with no other method of sending sentiment to our owner. Anecdotally it seems he’s responded to nearly all the emails he’s received.
Public relations and image is something that Shahid (“Shad” has yet to catch on here) Khan has had a good reputation for in Jacksonville by all accounts, but less so over here amongst the Fulham community. That might not be because he’s done a lot wrong bar not being Mohamed Al-Fayed, but being an overseas based owner for whom football clearly isn’t second nature, he was fighting a tough PR battle from Day 1. Factor in the cavalcade of misery that we’ve had on the pitch since he took over and, well, you can see why he has a retained PR company.
Whether the reason for this visit was simply to get some overdue good PR or if there was some other business to attend to, having Khan at the club this week has to be viewed as a positive. Photo-op or not, for the players and managers to see the Chairman in person must be a good thing. Players are far more likely to play for an owner who cares.
It would be nice if at some point Khan would engage with the fans on more than a superficial basis. With a PR conglomerate working for him, our Shahid Khan sightings almost always come across as staged, or just a bit too perfect. He always says the right thing, and you often wonder how. Programme columns are a perfect example or where you might hear from the Chairman, but there is no guarantee that the words haven’t been vetted to ensure they don’t upset the apple cart.
With ongoing questions regarding the timeline of the Riverside Stand development, board oversight in light of the breach of Financial Fair Play regulations and the seemingly mishandled and certainly miscommunicated search for a manager, a healthy and open dialogue between the Fulham owner and the fans would only strengthen our club.
As a Director of the Fulham Supporters Trust, I would encourage Mr Khan to engage with the Supporters Trust, who already have productive monthly meetings with the CEO and other senior management of the club. However, as a fan I would just encourage more engagement with the fanbase in general. A photocall and increased visibility is certainly the first step in the right direction but the ongoing problems at Charlton show what can happen when the relationship between an absentee owner and fanbase deteriorates. We’re not at that stage, but a perilous league position always has fans wondering at the back of their mind when, not if, our owner will get bored and decide to cut his losses.
The Jokanovic appointment has given everybody associated with the club a bit of positive momentum. Despite the iffy performance last Saturday, there is an air of good feeling around the fans at Craven Cottage for the first time in months. Something that was palpable at Craven Cottage last weekend.
For our charismatic Chairman, the appointment of a new Manager has deflected attention back to the football field rather than the Boardroom. If our Chairman and his advisors are as media savvy as they should be, now is the time to press on. Khan’s visit will mean for nothing if he’s not heard or seen again until August.
On field results will of course be the first dictator of whether any positive vibes remain; but a united, healthy and engaged relationship between fanbase and ownership will go a long way.
P.s. Did anyone else notice how much longer Khan spent talking to Moussa Dembele than other players? I’m not sure how long it takes to say “How much do you want?” but it’s not that long.
P.p.s. Hopefully a trip to Jermyn Street was on his agenda. For a billionaire, his clothes could do with an upgrade.
Fulham have entered the wilderness of the football league. Our season can aptly be described by three m’s: mediocrity, mismanagement and missed opportunity.
However, hope doesn’t have to be lost. Scraping a draw at home to Rotherham can be a watershed moment if we let it be. We are a club with potential. Premier League infrastructure, the ground and our academy mean than we are not a lost cause. Things have to change. A top to bottom re-organisation of the entire football club is needed. If not, we risk wasting another season.
Fulham need a radical new approach. There is obviously no secret formula or every club would do it. Even clubs with stellar football DNA and a model system can have shockers, see yesterday’s departure of Jurgen Klopp from Borussia Dortmund as Exhibit A.
However, in order to avoid another year of stifling mediocrity, there are for my reckoning three key policy areas that need to be re-thought:
1. Coaching & Management
The club must find a manager who has that blend of experience and ability. Kit Symons was appointed amongst a wave of optimism and popular opinion but even back when the five man panel was deliberating it was possible to see that he might not have been the long term solution. It was an opinion voiced in private as any doubt over our performances was outweighed by the upturn in results, caused mainly through a mix of confidence and sheer determination, that followed his temporary appointment. Even when we were winning whilst he was still caretaker we weren’t playing particularly good football, but Symons’ appointment provided the club with a much needed cuddle at the time. It has however, transpired to become a nod to accepting a lost season and simply being barely good enough to survive. Hindsight is once again waving its fickle finger at Fulham.
You feel for Symons though. He accepted the poisoned chalice with such reckless abandon and glee that it was hard for anyone to not be taken in by his enthusiasm. He has, of course, not helped his downfall with lacklustre team selections and substitutions and a complete absence of tactical wherewithal. Yet, this was always going to be a tough job, even for a manager with experience, let alone one with none. Symons has gone from having the entire Hammersmith End signing “Stand Up For The Kit Symons” to having the entire ground sing “You Don’t Know What You’re Doing”. This cannot be easy to take, let alone for someone who holds the club dear, but we cannot let sentimentality rule the head for a second time when it comes to Kit’s future over the summer.
I for one hope Kit has the humility to accept his own failings and request the opportunity to fade back into the background of youth coaching or assistant work, the club needs a new Ray Lewington and Kit is not our new Roy Hodgson. If he doesn’t though, the axe must not fall in vain. Kit mustn’t be dismissed only to be replaced by whichever name happens to be flying in the wind on the day.
You only have to look at Norwich for what can be achieved. They appointed their own in-house manager Neil Adams last season at a time when they needed to look from within. Following relegation and a mediocre start that looked positively successful in relation to ours, they let the head rule the heart and replaced Adams with a manager with real ability but no name who was plying his trade in Scotland, getting experience from the coalface to throw onto the fire. It has worked, they are within touching distance of automatic promotion and are guaranteed the playoffs at a minimum.
2. Player recruitment
This is the key strategic element of any new approach at Fulham. We must stop signing has-beens and veterans. It is almost a broken record to say the club must start thinking about sell on value, but we have wasted the first year of parachute payments and will soon need new ways to fund ourselves. Clever recruitment is one of those.
Even more importantly than that though, Fulham need some players in their prime. At the moment we don’t have anyone who is logically within their peak performance years. Well, maybe Smith and McCormack, but those aside, are there really any players in our squad who you look at and go “yeah, we’re getting the best out of him”. Fair enough having players who are developing and are approaching their peak, but to waste valuable resources on players with diminishing returns is simply beyond the point of it being acceptable.
Fulham have addressed recruitment with the appointment of Mike Rigg to oversee the process, so we wait with baited breath to see if he has a positive impact. However, this season has simply been an extension of the previous years of mismanagement when it comes to transfers. Last night we had 4 loanees starting in a must win game with another on the bench. Of these loanees, 3 were from teams within our division, meaning teams above us had decided they weren’t good enough. This is not a recipe for success. Desperate times call for desperate measures but this is not a long term solution. Hopefully we are now safe and the loanee firefighting technique has worked enough to allow us to crawl to the finish line, but it is not a strategy and cannot be allowed to continue unabated going forward.
So what should be the recruitment strategy? Well, I’d firstly instigate a rule that nobody over 26 signs for the club unless they are a defensive player, and even then nobody over 28. I’d then place greater emphasis on physical characteristics such as speed and power. Finally, I’d like to see a greater emphasis placed on scouting the lower leagues. If we do this we have the best chance of hitting the ground running come August, or at least developing a squad for the long term.
3. Develop Our Own:
This is a point we’ve all been reiterating for some time already, so I’m sorry for doing it again. This season there has been no obvious plan in place for how to integrate and develop our young players. With the exception of Marcus Bettinelli in goal, we have seen youngsters come in and out the team with alarming frequency.
Let’s look at the examples:
Jack Grimmer has looked steady in his development but finds himself usurped behind a loanee at right back. Lasse Vigen Christensen was diabolically rushed back from injury in a pointless cup game and has lost the second half of his season as a result. Cauley Woodrow has hovered on the bench, while Moussa Dembele has been used with such irregularity he’d have to wonder whether he’d be best suited elsewhere. Emerson Hyndman was thrust in too soon then disregarded. The same can be said of Cameron Burgess. Sean Kavanagh has been used too often and never in his natural left back position. George Williams was played then sent out on loan only to injure himself. The crowning mismanagement has been the treatment of Patrick Roberts. Undeniably Roberts isn’t ready to start every week, but Symons’ reluctance to embrace the most exciting player at the club, even off the bench, has jeopardised our ability to keep him at the club, something which in itself is unforgivable.
On top of this, some of those slightly older players approaching their peak years like Sean Hutchinson and Dan Burn have never been given consistent game time. One mistake often leading to banishment to the bottom of the pecking order. Alex Kacaniklic was recalled from his loan at FC Copenhagen only to be given game time out of position. Now he’s lucky if he’s warming the bench.
The problem this season is that we simply haven’t ever been good enough to put together a consistent run of form (if you exclude losing every week). It is hard to justify giving players experience if it is at the detriment of the result. In truth though, have results been any better when the youngsters haven’t played in favour of the experienced or the borrowed? No.
Next season and beyond there needs to be a clear strategy on who is going to be used and how. This year there was no joined up squad thinking. As such we have been left with one that has been criminally unbalanced. In US Sports, the concept of a depth chart is familiar, Fulham need one. Constantly changing tactics and players leaves youngsters with no direction and no development plan. Our best hope remains that these young players develop into solid first teamers. Of course, not all will, but at the moment, we are not even giving them the chance.
For too long now we have been beholden to short termism, and it has failed now for three seasons in a row. The club has this week offered some solace in reduced season ticket prices, and good on them, not all teams would, but when you are staring down the barrel of a gun, you have to do something radical.
For me, this starts at the top and filters down from there. None of the above can be done without fresh leadership at the top. Chief Executive Alastair Mackintosh has been at the helm throughout the entire sinking of the good ship Fulham. To put all of this at his door is not appropriate but there comes a point when a new start means a new start.
Mackintosh is like a firefighter in a city with no fires, he keeps having to start a few in order to keep himself in a job. Unfortunately for him those fires have now burnt down his house. Whilst he may have been working with a mandate, our owner is not here and does not live and breathe football. He has a CEO who does that for him and the buck must stop with him. With Symons very much doubtful to remain as our manager into next season a time must come when you have to wonder if it’s not the managers, but the system in which they operate that is the bigger problem.
From a personal standpoint, I would be sad to see Mackintosh leave as he has been good to the Fulham Supporters Trust, meeting with representatives of Fulham supporters on a monthly basis. He doesn’t have to go for the club to instigate a complete rethinking of strategy and implementation, but at this point, we are running out of places to look. If we keep our senior management the same, then there certainly needs to be a change at board level.
As I wrote here last summer, we simply do not have the resources or club representation at board level to succeed. A four person board is not appropriate for a club of Fulham’s size, especially when two members are overseas and two work at the club on a daily basis. There is no independent oversight and no long built passion to ask pertinent questions. If there had been, perhaps someone would have questioned Felix Magath’s appointment, Kostas Mitroglou’s waistline or Kit Symons failure to believe in wingers.
Macintosh’s desire to at least superficially involve the fans is very admirable and is not to be taken for granted, but the club need to go further. It might be fanciful to hope for fan representation on the board, but that was the case under Al-Fayed and we had our most prosperous ever years.
We are at a crossroads. Continue to walk into the wasteland or embrace change and start again. It’s time to hit the reset button.
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.
It says a lot about the Premier League these days that getting a draw at Old Trafford is enough to see a manager sacked.
Although sacked might not be the word – more usurped.
With Alistair Mackintosh and Shahid Khan now sat bolt upright in seeming the headlights of doomsday fast approaching, the move last Friday evening to appoint Felix Magath as Fulham’s third boss of the season represents one final throw of the dice in the hope of retaining the club’s top flight status.
The arrival of ex-Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich manager Magath is, to borrow a phrase from Khan’s other sport, something of a Hail Mary. To see how this is going to pan out would be to see into the proverbial crystal ball of football uncertainty. That ball is still very much up in the air and with 12 games to go, 36 points to play for, any outcome is yet possible.
It was a move the caught everyone off guard. Should it though? Under likeable Dutchman Rene Meulensteen it appeared Fulhamwere on the road to recovery, but we were certainly taking the scenic route and may well have had to go through relegation before getting back to pass go.
Under Meulensteen we had simply not improved enough on the lamentable performances that got our first Dutch manager dismissed. In the third of a season Rene was ‘in charge’, Fulham only won 2 league matches, kept only 2 clean sheets in all competitions and got knocked out of the FA Cup to a side in the relegation zone of the division two below our own. Team selection was schizophrenic, tactical focus appeared lacking and the much maligned defense remained on their six month long holiday.
Whilst many of the problems were not of Meulensteen’s making, he failed to bring any true leadership. It may have been unrealistic to assume anything else was possible from a man with little to no managerial experience on his CV, and none in either the Premier League or a relegation scrap.
Finding anything insightful to say or write about Fulham over the past few weeks has been remarkably difficult. There has been a prevailing sense that the dice had already been rolled for the last time. The six new players who arrived at Motspur Park on the final two days of the transfer window appeared big move in the race to stay up. Kostas Mitroglou was our final £11m trump card.
The excitement of transfer deadline day suffered something of a hangover as the despondency of another convincing home loss at the hands of Southampton arrived less than 24 hours later.
As fans all we had left was hope. Hope not grounded in fact or reason, but the irrational blind hope that a miracle was possible. We didn’t know how or when or why our fortunes would change but there was and is an ever-flickering hope, slowly extinguishing with each new way this team finds a way to disappoint.
Then came Old Trafford and that game against Manchester United. It was written in the stars that Rene would walk back into his old stomping ground and leave with his head held high. The Dutchman had the audacity to start Muamer Tankovic the exciting 18-year-old rookie at centre forward, the ingenuity to drop the undroppable Scott Parker and the gumption to replace skipper Brede Hangeland with debutant John Heitinga, trusting 21-year-old Dan Burn to anchor the defense. Not to mention there was a debut for a 21-year-old Ryan Tunnicliffe who left Manchester United for Fulham only 9 days before.
What transpired that Sunday afternoon was in the eyes of many the watershed moment for this Fulham side. It was the first game Meulensteen had his squad available at his disposal, liberated of the uncontrollable burdens left to him by his predecessor. Free from the personnel shackles, this was a moral victory for Rene, even if it took a 95th minute equalizer from Darren Bent (the Darren Bent who was rightfully dropped for Tankovic) to actually secure anything from the game.
Tasked with the then near impossible follow-up fixture, the performance at home to Liverpool was again encouraging. Both games were examples of stripped back tactics, a lesson in doing what you can do rather that attempting what you can’t. For this Fulham side, learning to play without the ball is something they should have started a long time ago. At this stage of the season, to be leading twice at home only to lose is simply not the form becoming of a team staying in the league.
Whilst Rene was doing some good things, such as successfully blooding youngsters, there had been little to tangibly show for it. If staying up is the only goal from now on, Meulensteen may simply not have been the man for us. A case of the right man at the wrong time.
There is much to question the logic of Meulensteen’s appointment into our predicament. Were he appointed in July with funds at his disposal and a pre-season to train the players his appointment would have made more sense. To task such an inexperienced manager with the job of keeping a mismatched and ill-fittingly assembled squad in the league on short notice was perhaps a fool’s errand in the first place, and one that does not reflect well on Fulham’s Chief Executive and owner with the benefit of hindsight.
Indeed when the dust settles on this traumatic season, there will be an inquisition into the events. Idle speculation as to who is at fault for the chronic indecisiveness will solve nothing with nearly a third of the season to go, but there is little doubt that structural changes above the level of manager are needed to ensure strategy can once again replace emergency planning in the Fulham boardroom.
Enlargement of the board of directors beyond its current four man format is essential. Such a small brain trust places undue stress on Mackintosh in his role as its pivotal member. If the man trying to make the decisions is also the man having to persuade an owner with multiple priorities to back those decisions, is it any wonder determinations have become prolonged and management has at times seen to be lacking focus.
The recent sad loss within the Fulham Family of former director Dennis Turner serves to highlight the current absence of any independent or fan representation on our board. Dennis, a lifelong Fulham supporter served as a non-executive director under Mohamed Al-Fayed and brought his knowledge as both club historian and HSBC’s former chief economist to the role. The club currently has nobody with such outside gravitas.
Whilst Mr. Al-Fayed ran the club with an iron fist, albeit a slightly eccentric one, there is one parallel with our new owner that has surfaced in the last week; Al-Fayed’s sons Omar and Karim were involved at board level, while press reports are now linking Shahid Khan’s son, Tony, to an increased involvement at Craven Cottage. While final decision making power will understandably remain with the Chairman as is his remit, the decision making process remains a critical link to successful strategic planning. Hopefully the Khan’s will follow the Al-Fayed’s lead in extending the board of directors beyond the current close conclave.
From the current episode, it has been the perceived treatment of Meulensteen that has upset many fans along with the miscommunication that has leapt from one misstep to another like a drunk Budweiser frog crossing an ever lengthening pond over the last few days.
Who do we listen to? Who was in charge? Who is in charge? Who still has a job? Uncertainty breeds chaos as it seems so does the certainty of being bottom of the league.
Meulensteen is eminently likeable. His interviews were frank (too much so on more than one occasion) and entertaining and he preached ideals we as fans could believe in. The tumultuous reaction to Martin Jol’s prolonged employment stemmed in part from his attitude towards the fans and ours to him in what became akin to a messy divorce. Rene still had the fans onside. It’s amazing what playing the odd 18-year-old does for the mentality of a fanbase.
There was apparent callousness in the club not confirming Meulensteen’s position after the announcement of Magath’s arrival. The truth is likely more innocent, in that the position was simply not known or agreed. But the incident does not reflect well on the club. Press ridicule has centered on us either bungling the decision making process or our owner and chief executive unsympathetically putting the boot into a man who placed his own reputation on the line by stepping into this fire.
However, it is important to remember Rene was (and maybe still is) Head Coach and has never been our manager and as such his position at the head of the pack never quite seemed set in stone. The arrivals of Alan Curbishley and Ray Wilkins showed Meulensteen’s frailty. They may have been intended to show an edifying willingness to get support, a self appreciation for his own areas of weakness, but in this time of crisis the club, its players and its fans needed genuine leadership, not watered down decision making by committee.
The chant “We’ve got three managers” might have been tongue in cheek, but it was drenched in a sour reality that it might just have been one big cruel joke.
In Felix Magath, we might just have our leader. The German divides opinion in his homeland. He was seemingly close to taking over at Hamburg last week until the board rejected his request for full control over the club. He is an authoritarian, a disciplinarian and foremost an experienced football manager. Should we stay up, his reputation for wheeler dealing may be fun to watch, but for now, we have a specialist captain to rescue our sinking ship. Perhaps in getting one over on Hamburg we can, once again, still believe.
The hope then springs that Magath’s arrival isn’t the latest in a series of decisions that have happened after they should have been made. Martin Jol was relieved of his duties several months after he should have gone. Money was spent in January on the last possible day it could be spent. Hopefully Felix Magath’s arrival won’t be too little too late.
We have a new manager, we are four points (five if you take into account our hideous goal difference) from safety and we have 12 games to seal our destiny. Only time will tell if this move is the latest bottle rocket to emerge from a madhouse or a moment of clarity that will save our season. For now it is the job of all Fulham supporters to get behind the new man and rally to the aid of our side. An already full allocation at West Brom on Saturday shows the fans are doing just that.
The atmosphere at Craven Cottage against Liverpool last Wednesday was one of the best in recent times. We are all fearful of what has at times seemed inevitable. The r-word may well be the outcome of our season, but in throwing this Hail Mary, Shahid Khan and Alistair Mackintosh have given it one last go.
Defensively we are lackadaisical, offensively we are incoherent, we have no leaders and a manager who seems to think it is ok to lose at Anfield because we can get points off teams like Sunderland. Oh yes, the Sunderland that went and beat Manchester City this afternoon.
For a club that sprouts rhetoric about a club philosophy, sustainability and good football, Fulham are sure doing their best to lull the rest of the Premier League into a false sense of security.
The football for the last 12 months, since the defeat to Sunderland at home, has been predominantly awful. 2013 has seen us win ONE of our last nine league matches at home. Fortress Fulham is currently smouldering in ruins.
Away performances are a farce. Sure we beat a Palace team devoid of Premiership talent and a Sunderland team who hated their manager, but we are fast becoming the easiest three points in the league. At least Palace fight and show spirit for more than the first 15 minutes. Teams barely have to try to beat Fulham.
The inane statements offered by our manager are just that, inane drivel. Do you care what Martin Jol has to say anymore? I sure don’t. Apart from collecting more evidence against a man who should be destined for the managerial gallows, what good are his press conferences for? We are told we’re lucky to have him, that we’re lucky to have some of the players he signed and that we shouldn’t expect to win against teams like Liverpool. Great, thanks, glad I stopped my day to listen to that.
Our squad, now one almost fully assembled by the Dutchman, is its worst for several seasons; full of over-ego’d players who were good several seasons ago. We have players signed with no position in mind. Young players are not getting games or are treated like schoolboys and in one week and out the next. What’s worse is that Dimitar Berbatov is bleedin’ captain.
A managerial change will be a good start, but if we are fortunate enough to stay in this league come the end of the season, wholesale changes are needed. If there are more than a handful of first teamers that you honestly want to wear the Fulham shirt come next season, I’m struggling to see them this season.
One thing is a success this season, Martin has got his wish. Expectations have been lowered. At this rate, Fulham can expect to be in the bottom three come May – a far cry from the talk of Top 10 when Shahid Khan bought the club in July. Southampton expected to finish next to us in mid-table and they’re third in the league with three players in the England squad. Expectations are not the crime, how you approach them can be.
It is high time Shahid Khan got off his chair in Jacksonville and did something at Craven Cottage. Ignorance is not an excuse, it’s a problem. Justifying an endless malaise due to your own lack of knowledge is naivety of the highest order. If you can complete a takeover in less than one month, why does it take five to see it slipping between your fingers? Had Fulham’s struggles been a new thing, then Khan would have a leg to stand on. It’s a shame Khan has a fence the size of the Atlantic to sit on.
Had we not beaten Swansea on the final day of the season, Jol would have had his reign of smugness ended six months ago. Perhaps then we would not have wasted our second summer in a row with cheap, unnecessary signings of players past their prime. The sooner fans, the media and a new manager get stock that Fulham’s players might just be good enough to get relegated, the better off the club will be.
The lack of work ethic and the lack of leadership are crippling Fulham. Expectations are constantly being lowered and we are now being told not to expect our team to even compete. I’m glad I’ve bought a season ticket, replica shirt a programme subscription, it’s just so fulfilling to support a team who don’t even try to win.
Change is needed to survive the short term, wholesale changes are needed to survive in the long term.
The performances lost the fans, his comments have ensured they won’t return. With the international break upon us, Fulham must act now.
I rarely look forward to international breaks, they are an unwelcome distraction from the weekly activity of league football. Now, I wish there was an international break every week. We’ll all still be there in a fortnight’s time, but watching Fulham stopped being fun some time ago.
Fan’s infight, atmosphere’s become sour and vitriol is aimed at all corners. A crisis is what Fulham are in. The sooner someone comes out and recognises the problem, the sooner we can do something to put it right. The shirts that this team puts on may say Fulham, but they’re not our Fulham.
It is a long road to salvation but 27 games might just be enough. There is not a single fan, blogger, journalist, enthusiast or badger who wants to be sat here in June going we told you so. Fear is manifesting itself across the board. Fulham are in trouble.
I hope we get our Fulham back before it’s too late.