In the end it was a marriage that just wasn’t meant to be.
Following another home defeat that was more humiliating than humbling, Kit Symons was dismissed as manager of Fulham Football Club over the weekend.
The defeat to Birmingham City on Saturday was the fourth time during Symons’ tenure that Fulham have conceded 5 goals at home. Saturday’s result highlighted the crippling defensive problems that will last as one of enduring legacies of the former defender’s time in charge at Craven Cottage.
What mustn’t be forgotten once the dust has settled on Symons exit is that Kit has left Fulham in a far better state than he found it. Whilst his reign as manager was not spectacular, or even overly successful, it served a very important purpose given the position inherited following Felix Magath’s departure.
Under his immediate predecessors, Fulham went from Premier League stalwarts to becoming very serious candidates for Championship relegation. Symons’ year in charge was the first step on the long road back. From a position of considerable weakness, Symons leaves behind a solid platform on which to build.
The move by Mike Rigg and Fulham to move on from Symons is one that points to the future as much as it does to the past. This isn’t a move born simply out of results, although Saturday’s defeat undoubtedly made it easier. It is a conscious decision to take Fulham above and beyond where Symons would have been able to take us.
On paper Symons had everything we could want in a Fulham manager – a former fan favourite, off pitch affability and a genuine desire to take the job. Unfortunately it became fairly obvious not too long after he was given the job permanently that those off-field credentials were not backed up by any natural managerial talent. If that sounds harsh, it is not meant to. He was the right man at the right time last season, but this season was just a step too far for a man with no managerial experience. Eight horrendous games at the start of last season are no reason to accept mediocrity this season.
A mutual parting of the ways back in the summer would have been better all round. Even after he was allowed to drop the “Caretaker” from his job title, Kit’s role last season was really that of extended caretaker, getting us to the end of the season when the whole club could start again.
Whilst even his most ardent detractors (and there were an ever steady and increasingly growing number) would admit much of last season’s malaise was due to the poorly assembled and browbeaten squad he inherited, his managerial inexperience often showed. Aside from his inability as a former defender to organise our defence, Symons leaves behind a record of consistently inconsistent performances and results.
In moving into a second season, Kit gave up any chance of being treated with a degree of home-grown forgiveness when it came to his job status. Ours is a fanbase that has become accustomed to disappointment over the past few seasons. Success breeds short memories and disappointment lingers. Whilst Symons was excused for last season, he was under pressure from Day One this year. After a full season in charge, there became a point when tactical naivety began to a lot like ineptitude and it was obvious this was as far as he could take us.
The warning signs were ominous, in less than a calendar year, the Hammersmith End went from singing “stand up for the Kit Symons” to “you don’t know what you’re doing”. Symons’s early success had set him up for failure.
It is a sad end to a long Fulham career, but as soon as he threw away the shackles of caretakerdom, Kit exposed himself to the harsh realities of management. His departure is the right decision and my hope is that in time, Symons is remembered as the man who stepped into the breach when called upon and saw us through in our season of need. He does not deserve anything less.
Like many Fulham fans I wish Kit Symons well. I would be surprised if he is offered an immediate return to management elsewhere, but hope that in time that Fulham can find a place for him to return home in another capacity, and that Kit could find the humility to return.
Deciding to replace Symons is only the first step, where Mike Rigg goes next is the most important part of the entire story.
Like the rest of the fanbase I sit with baited breath to see who comes in.
If last week’s general election has taught us one thing, it’s that social media can often be a bit of an echo chamber. One opinion becomes the vocal majority. But is the vocal majority actually a majority?
In the case of Kit Symons’ future as Fulham manager I’m not sure. We know for sure that the vocal majority want the Fulham manager to be someone else, but is it actually a majority of Fulham fans that want Kit gone?
It certainly looks and sounds for now as though Symons is to remain Fulham manager; but what follows is an in-depth look at his performance as Fulham manager to date and the reasons people may or may not want him replaced.
Back to social media; what is so unique to the Symons situation is that there is much less vitriol in this debate than over the fates of previous managers such as Jol and Magath. Their departures were very much wanted sackings. In the current scenario, it is not so much that fans seem to want Symons sacked more that they just want somebody else to have his job. Symons is like a politician with a good personality and bad policies.
The Symons question is as much an existential one as it is one simply of results. After two lacklustre seasons in the Premier League that culminated in our relegation in 2014, the majority of the fans expected something better last year, both in terms of performance and results. Regardless of the start under Magath, it has been the lack of quality football under Symons that has led to his alienation as much as the results.
Symons’ tendency to revert to risk aversion in every situation led to some dour football at times, often manifesting itself in substitutions and tactics that seemed only to make sense to him. However, given our precarious position when he took over, was that justified? As paying customers we are several years removed from Fulham being classified as value for money entertainment, but Symons’ job last season was predicated on results and not entertainment – so did fulfil his job in keeping us up?
So here’s the crux of my question? Has Symons simply proven the victim of a poisoned chalice, where the situation meant he could never truly succeed or is he now in a hole of his own doing and at the limit of his managerial potential?
To answer that question we have to be both subjective and objective. As well as asking what do we as fans and paying customers want from our football team next season, and who is likely to be best placed to deliver those wishes?
There were three periods of management last season; Felix Magath, Kit Symons – Caretaker & Kit Symons – Manager. We know the first eight games under Magath were a disaster, so let’s write them off. So dividing Symons’ tenure into two, we have the eight games he was caretaker and the 37 he was permanent manager.
In order to assess whether or not he is the right man for Fulham going forward I will look at the following areas; Results, Performances, Style and Intangibles.
|Kit As Caretaker
||Average Points Per Game
|Kit As Manager
||Average Points Per Game
As you can see, results under Kit got considerably worse after he was appointment the permanent manager on 29th October. Interestingly enough, an average points total of 1.19 per game extrapolated over the course of the entire season would have had us finish in 17th, the same position as we actually did. The totals in the table above include the four cup fixtures we played under Symons after he became permanent manager. If you remove the cup fixtures, the PPG total becomes slightly higher at 1.21, which would still have had us finish 17th.
What can you conclude from that? Symons’ good start merely served to balance out Magath’s bad one. 17th was a justified league position based on the entire season. Yes, it was Magath’s squad so that must be taken into account, but with two loan windows and the January transfer window, Symons’ cannot be given a free pass. Symons’ had a total of 39 league games and we finished a thoroughly justified 17th.
One of the big accusations against Symons’ Fulham was our lackadaisical defending. To the naked eye, Symons, as a former defender, has shown a staggering lack of ability to get any improvement out of our defenders. Is that the case statistically and how much of this is down to them being the wrong players to begin with?
What is interesting is if you compare our goal difference over the two Symons periods:
|Kit as Caretaker
||Goals for per game
||Goals Against Per Game
|Kit as Manager
||Goals for per game
||Goals Against Per Game
In truth, the defence maintained a nearly identical level of performance throughout Symons’ entire tenure. However, the attack got considerably worse. If we delve even deeper into the numbers, it is possible to see that Fulham under Symons actually had a break even goal difference all the way until we played Blackburn at the end of January.
I find this worsening of performance particularly concerning as you would expect a team to perform better once a manager has had a time to coach and influence a team, especially considering the loan and transfer windows. However, under Symons, we got considerably worse once the initial gloss of his appointment wore off.
It was this performance over the latter half of the season that has turned many fans against him as there was simply no sign of any improvement, and certainly no sign of any coaching impact on his behalf.
If you believe the theory that luck and confidence played their part in his caretaker spell, these numbers might give your theory some credence.
One of the big criticisms levied at Symons is his lack of adventure. He is tactically the equivalent of a man who goes to an ice cream parlour and orders vanilla with no toppings. Worse than that though, at times the football under his leadership appeared to lack a coherent purpose or style other than trying to eke out as many points as possible. Symons’ philosophy was certainly one of the glass being half empty. Why enhance a lead when you can protect it?
However, the end of Fulham’s season was characterised by panic tactics. We were in trouble and needed points to keep us up. This led to Matt Smith’s recall from Bristol City and a change in style. If we compare Symons’ tenure as permanent manager when Smith started and when he didn’t, the results look particularly ominous:
|Games When Matt Smith starts
||Average Points Per Game
|Games When Matt Smith Doesn’t Start
||Average Points Per Game
When Matt Smith didn’t start, Fulham’s PPG total was 1.13, a 0.3 PPG fall from games when he did start. Considering it was Symons who loaned Smith out in the first place and then showed reluctance to use him, we can assume his eventual inclusion was out of desperation rather than desire.
When Symons played his tactics, i.e. not the emergency long ball to Smith, our PPG fell below his overall average PPG, meaning we were worse off results-wise when Symons was left to his own devices tactically.
Goal statistics don’t make for better reading:
|Matt Smith Starts
||Goals for per game
||Goals Against Per Game
|Matt Smith Doesn’t Start
||Goals for per game
||Goals Against Per Game
Stylistically this doesn’t bode well for Kit. With Smith, we play a tighter, simpler and more controlled game (long ball doesn’t exactly take much instruction). We score less but we concede less. Simply put, we are boring, but reasonably effective.
Without Smith, we are a bit more interesting, but considerably worse. Symons systematically failed to strike any kind of balance between style and substance. This is something most of us could have said without statistical evidence. Our football was rarely aesthetically pleasing and Symons never really showed any grasp of consistent tactics. The obsession with a narrow diamond formation was a particular failing. Tactically it fast became one game to the next, survive and protect. Considering our start that’s hardly surprising, but it was very bad to watch at times.
This is where the debate becomes personal and very subjective. There are some fans who just don’t like sacking managers, while there are undoubtedly some who do. There are some fans that’ll defend Symons because he is a “Fulham man”, there are others, myself included, who feel that shouldn’t come into it.
However, there are several other unquantifiable intangibles to Symons’ management style that will contribute to his judgement:
A) Stalled development – I’m not going to claim that with Roberts and Dembele playing 40 games we’d have won the league, far from it. However, Pat Roberts played 450 minutes over the course of the entire season, and Dembele 575. That’s less time than it would take to sit through the entire Hobbit trilogy. How on earth are they going to develop into a position where he can help us next season by playing so little this year? The same can be said of George Williams, Moussa Dembele and several others, such as Jack Grimmer who was dropped in favour of a loanee who was not discernibly better. All the while 21 year old Sean Kavanagh played over 20 games despite largely floundering.
B) Favouritism – Symons’ inconsistent and at times “teacher’s pet” style of team selection certainly wound up a large proportion of the Craven Cottage crowd. Players like Jazz Richards, Kavanagh and Tunnicliffe were all at times shown favouritism that was hard to comprehend. On the reverse, the likes of Chris David, Roberts, Dembele and Matt Smith were often cast aside without warning.
C) Square Pegs in Round Holes – McCormack as a left midfielder, Tunnicliffe as a winger, Kavanagh as midfielder, Bodurov as a right back. Symons’ team selections were often hampered by a lack of players to choose from and littered with players playing out of position. How many more points would we have gotten should Ross have played the entire season up front? Why did Kit both refuse to play with width and then not sign a single winger?
D) Hands in the Pockets – This is a minor point, but I’d really like a manager who is less passive during the matches. Contemplative can begin to look like cluelessness if it’s your only move.
E) The Smile – this isn’t a list of reasons he’s not the man. If we play well, Kit and his enthusiastic smile are very easy to like. We just didn’t play well often enough.
F) The Squad – our squad balance was poor last season, but Symons had opportunities to re-shape it and didn’t set the world alight with his choices. However, the summer is the best time to buy and sell players. Does Kit deserve a summer window? Or indeed will he get to control the squad framework even if he does stay on? With Mike Rigg controlling talent identification now, there is an argument to say having a good coach as the manager is more important than ever. Is Symons that man?
G) Experience – Kit Symons’ managerial career is 37 games old so let’s not put the cart before the horse and call his career over. However, he’s had several seasons managing at youth level so we’re not talking about an ex-player taking the immediate leap. If Kit stays in his post and shows signs of learning from last season then I’m all for giving him a chance. However, there is a school of thought that suggests 37 games is more than enough to show your capabilities.
H) Substitutions – I’ve alluded to this above, but Symons’ biggest flaw in the eyes of many fans is his mis-use of substitutions. Either he wouldn’t use them or he’d be defensive. The very few times we did manage to see the likes of Woodrow, Williams, McCormack and Roberts on the field together were electric, but all too few and far between. The conundrum facing fans and ownership alike, was this risk aversion a product of circumstance? For all our sake I hope so.
I look at the current situation as an opportunity. We must decide whether or not Symons is the man to help develop and implement a strategy to return Fulham to the Premier League. As a club, we must stop being reactionary and start to get ahead of the curve. If Symons stays on just because people felt “he deserved a chance”, only to lead us on to the path to 17th next season and get sacked, then we as a club will have failed. No ifs and no buts.
Do I think he deserves that chance?
Symons was the right man at the right time after Magath. The players and fans needed a smile, a hug and their hands held. Symons did that, and we stayed up, but next season is an opportunity for a clean break from recent failings and, for me, that includes a fresh start at manager as well.
I think for Kit to actually be sacked would be mighty harsh considering his modus operandi last season. I’d like to think the club might make room for him to stay either as an assistant or back in the youth ranks where he succeeded before. Or I’d love for Kit to admit his own limitations and step back into a reduced role, but I think we all know he’d be too proud to do so.
This summer is a time to grab our future as a club by its undercarriage and take control. That might mean being ruthless. Just look at Norwich, they were in a very similar situation to us 12 months ago and let one of their own, Neil Adams, stay on as manager last summer only to dismiss him during the season as results didn’t improve. They now sit 180 minutes from a return to the Premier League.
No longer can Fulham amble on the path to mediocrity. Starting from the top, Fulham must come out of this summer with confidence and a clear, united message. If that means Kit Symons is manager then I hope and expect him to show a willingness to learn and the club to show him support whilst displaying progress on and off the field. If they do that, then they have my full support and I suspect they’ll have yours too. However, if this is simply another risk not taken, another stride towards the middle ground, then the club is on a hiding to nothing and it won’t take them long to find that out.
With the final blow of the referee’s whistle at Carrow Road on Saturday, Fulham’s tumultuous maiden season in the Football League Championship will draw to a close. It has not been one of heroes, but largely of ignominy and ingloriousness. Misfortune is a cornerstone of comedy and at times this season there has been little left to do but look back and laugh. So here are my Alternative Fulham End of Season Awards
Worst Managerial Appointment of The Season
Has any club been mismanaged quite as badly as Fulham recently? Yes. Several actually. One of them happens to be Wigan, who were officially relegated to League 1 last night only two years after dropping out the Premier League. However, whereas they exited the top flight as a harmless club punching above their weight in a town dominated by a passion for rugby league, they fall from the Championship as a shambles nobody is particularly sad to see the back off. The reason for this was the midseason appointment of former Cardiff manager Malky Mackay. Mackay, in case you were living under a rock for the past year or so, was sacked by Cardiff City after he was exposed to have sent offensive text messages that in this age of super political correctness were actually very offensive. In doing so he managed to undo all of the goodwill he’d bought for himself whilst working stoically under maniacal super-villain lookalike Vincent Tan. What people forgot in the whole episode was that Mackay was tactically as adventurous as a building society branch manager and was on for the sack from Cardiff anyway. Wigan’s appointment of Mackay made no sense from both a political or footballing sense. Compounded by the fact that selling their best player to the MLS in January also somehow went wrong, Wigan have paid the price and will play next season a division down.
The Oxymoron Award for Best Loan signing
This is a tough decision as they’ve nearly been failures to some degree. The nod probably goes to Michael Turner, whose 9 appearances towards the end of the season helped to steer us to safety. Would you welcome him back next season. Probably, yes. Can the same be said for any of Ashley Richards, Kostas Stafylidis, Seko Fofana, Richard Lee or Danny Guthrie? No not really. Maybe Guthrie on a good day. Fofana looked bright in patches and supplied on of the few feel good moments of the season up at Huddersfield but you always felt we were developing someone else’s player by giving him games. The exception to the above is James Husband. The young left back who joined from Boro in a loan swap with Fernando Amorebieta looks to have real potential. Should Boro wish to part with him, I’d gladly send Mr Khan’s money up to Teeside to get him back.
The Village Idiot Award
Kostas Stafylidis – for his absurd two yellow cards in less than a minute red card against Leeds. This minute of madness has likely cost young Kostas any chance of converting his loan from Bayer Leverkusen into a permanent transfer. On the subject of discipline, this season has been very un-Fulhamish (if you’ll excuse the phrase). 7 red cards in 45 games is a poor showing by anyone’s standards and a long way off the Fulham that got into the Europa League via fair play. Red cards cost you points and we had too many cards and not enough points.
The Richard Osman Award for Most Pointless Transfer of the Season
Richard Lee. A goalkeeper on the verge of early retirement due to persistent injury joined from Brentford in March on loan deadline day. Why? I’m not even sure he knows.
(Although I do quite like the rumour that he’s actually an advance scout for Mark Warburton in the event Warburton joins as manager in the summer)
The Michael Ricketts Award
Amongst the legacies from Felix Magath’s reign of doom will be his scattergun approach to transfers. A couple of the more random ones have been semi successful – Tim Hoogland & Nikolay Bodurov, but there is a large contingent that have not been. There’s the aforementioned Fotherinham, pyjama bottomed goalkeeper impersonator Gabor Kiraly, the lesser spotted Thomas Eisfeld, the even lesser spotted Kay Voser and the never spotted Dino Fazlic. However, the award for the greatest of the one hit wonders goes to Adil Chihi. The lumbering winger made a solitary substitute appearance against Cardiff City in August and actually didn’t look atrocious (that’s not to say he was good), however he was never to be seen of again. Presumably he’s been busy phoning Giles Barnes and Jari Litmanen for advice on what to do after a non-playing Fulham career.
The OMG That Was This Season, I’ve Already Blocked That Out Award
Two words…Mark Fotheringham
The Chris Baird Award for Player Who Made a Catastrophic Start but Might Actually Be Quite Good
Shaun Hutchinson. The defender had a nightmare start to his Fulham career being largely at fault for both Ipswich goals on opening day. Subsequent appearances were hardly any better and included a sending off. However, given time and despite a rotating cavalcade of partners at the back, Hutchinson is now slowly resembling a decent centre back. There are still holes in his game and he is living proof of how poor Scottish football is as preparation for the real world but I have a feeling Hutchinson might yet prove an astute piece of scouting and become a future lynchpin of our defence.
The Tutti Fruiti Award for Flavour of the Month
Football manager can probably only be topped by Government Minister for the title of profession where public opinion can spiral out of control against you in a worse manner. Poor old Kit Symons came on the scene as the all-smiling warm hug of a manager we all wanted to replace Felix Magath back in the autumn. Having been recommended by the Five Man Panel of Shared Responsibility to Shahid Khan, Kit was temporarily in vogue as a veritable Mr Fulham until the shine wore off and his tactics didn’t show any sign of getting better. Unfortunately for poor old Kit, a series of dire results and lacklustre tactical performances culminated in all sides of the ground uniting against him in the draw at home to Rotherham a few weeks ago. Hopefully, Kit will eventually find a happy middle ground and perhaps stay on in a role at the club even if he leaves the top job, however he is the latest in a long line of managers to suffer their rise and fall over a short period of time.
The Surprising Thing I Miss About The Premier League Award
Being last on Match of The Day? No.
Losing every week? We still do that.
Having good players? Debateable.
No the thing I miss the most is the referees. The standard of refereeing down here is just so bad. I actually miss the likes of Clattenburg, Moss and Oliver sometimes making semi-logical decisions, though it is nice to not really have any big team bias go against you.
The Abdesalam Ouaddou Award for Most Mispronounced Name
This season saw Ivan Berry replace Diddy David Hamilton as the Cottage’s man on the mic. Poor Ivan hardly had the best of starts to his new career with barely a goal to announce in his first few games and he has got steadily better over the course of the season. What he lacks in gravitas, he does make up for in enthusiasm. However, he has a very annoying habit of mispronouncing two of the simplest names at the club in Hoogland and Hyndman. Ivan over emphasises the “land” in Hoogland as if his name was double barrelled and the over emphasis on “man” in Hyndman would make you thing young Emo is a burgeoning superhero. You probably never noticed, so, well, sorry about that but now you will.
The Adidas Infra-red Award for the Worst Use of the Colour Orange
This season’s home kit was just not good. Grey and White vertical stripes with bright orange trim. Along with the bizarre kit, Adidas gave us black training kit with white and gold shoulders. Hoping we wouldn’t notice, they also gave the same training stash to all of their other template kit teams, so when we played Brentford you had the odd scenario of two teams playing each other with the coaches in identical kit. Hopefully next year’s offering will be white with black trim. It’s not that hard.
The Star Wars Episode VII Award for Excess Hype
Prize wunderkind Patrick Roberts has played so infrequently under Symons you’d be forgiven for wondering if he was still at the club. However this hasn’t stopped several national papers from proclaiming him “the best young English player” and linking him to every club under the sun. It really doesn’t seem to take much to convince a paper someone is worth £15m as Roberts, for all his potential, is yet to justify the proposed price tag when he has played. I’m sure he will, but perhaps the horses need to come back to the stable for now.
The Laughing Cow Award for Best Cheese To Treat an Injury
You’ll have to ask Brede Hangeland. Personally I’d go for some cheddar melted over ham, though perhaps I’m only saying that because it’s lunchtime.
That’s all for Part 1 of the Awards Special. In Part 2 I’ll crown the Fulham Player of the Season.