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Into the Wilderness and Back Again: How to Re-Build Fulham Football Club

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.

COYW

What the Magath? A lesson in (mis)communication

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.

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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.

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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.

COYW

Looking Forward: The FFC Christmas List

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Sign at least one young central midfielder

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

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

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

Will Hughes

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

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Stefan Johansen

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

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2. Sign a strong centre forward

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

Pavel Pogrebnyak

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

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Jordan Rhodes

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

3. Sign a left back

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

Alexander Buttner

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

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Jamaal Lascelles

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

4. Bring Clint Dempsey back on loan

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

5. Expand the Board

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

Postscript: Requiem for a Dutchman 

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

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

COYWs

I Hope We Get Our Fulham Back

As trigger points go, being sat here on a Sunday evening seeing Fulham in the bottom three is a fairly bad one.

Whomever you blame, and there are various candidates, Fulham are nothing better than an embarrassing shambles at the moment.

Following yesterday’s thrashing at the hands of Liverpool, one national journalist tweeted the best comment I’ve seen about Fulham this season:

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.

COYWs

The Summer of Mixed Emotions

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.

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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.

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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.

COYW