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Warnock admits defeat in Muniz race

Neil Warnock admitted defeat tonight in the race to sign Rodrigo Muniz – confirming that the Brazilian striker would not be coming to the Riverside Stadium this summer.

Speaking after Boro’s friendly win at Rotherham United tonight – where Fulham full back Marlon Fossey played the full ninety minutes as a trialist for the Millers – Warnock conceded that his interest in the 20 year-old forward was over. “It looks like it. I think it was Inter Milan, Fulham or Middlesbrough. I can’t believe he’s turned us down.

“He’s just a different type of player, he’s got energy, pace. Still a bit of a gamble but [chairman] Steve [Gibson] wanted to gamble with that age group and we are disappointed as a lot of work went into it. “It’s left us a bit short. We have missed out on one or two players because we’ve waited so it’s been a difficult period but I’m sure we’ll come up with something.”

Brazilian reports this afternoon claimed that Muniz was poised to take a medical ahead of a proposed £6.8m move to Craven Cottage after the Whites moved ahead of their Championship rivals in the race to sign the Brazilian title winner. Marco Silva had made Muniz his top summer target and Fulham chief executive Alistair Mackintosh’s personal intervention in the negotiations had broken an impasse.

Fulham face Middlesbrough in their Championship opener at the Cottage on Sunday 8 August.

Muniz set for Fulham medical

Rodrigo Muniz is poised to undergo a medical in Brazil ahead of his proposed permanent transfer from Flamengo to Fulham, according to reports this afternoon.

Leading Brazilian journalist Vene Casagrande reports that Flamengo’s directors have concluded negotiations with Muniz and the striker’s representatives and that the player will have his medical in Brazil before travelling to London to meet his new team-mates. Flamengo accepted Fulham’s offer of around £7m in two staggered payments after the Londoners switched from an initial loan approach in order to secure the 20 year-old’s services. The Brazilian outfit are also entitled to a 20% sell-on clause, which they believe to be an excellent return for a player who only broke into their first team last year.

Flamengo are also understood to believe that a successful deal for Muniz could strengthen ties with leading European clubs. Fulham, following a successful intervention from chief executive Alistair Mackintosh, reached agreement with both Flamengo and Muniz, who has verbally agreed a five year contract at Craven Cottage, after being impressed by new manager Marco Silva’s personal approach. Both Genk and Al-Nasr had agreed fees with Flamengo but were rejected by the young forward in favour of the move to London.

Fulham closing in on Muniz capture

Fulham are close to completing the signing of Brazilian striker Rodrigo Munez from Flamengo, according to reports this evening.

O Dia journalist Vene Casagrande reports that Fulham chief executive Alistair Mackintosh made contact with the Flamengo board this afternoon to finalise the details of the transfer. The structure of the deal to bring the 20 year-old to Craven Cottage on a permanent basis appears to be an approximate £3.4m up front free followed by a second instalment of around £3.4m. Flamengo will also be entitled to around 20% of any future sale of the youngster. Mackintosh’s intervention appears to have assured the Brazilian side’s board – and the transfer could be completed as early as tomorrow.

The influence of new Fulham manager Marco Silva also appears pivotal in convincing Muniz to pick the London club ahead of Middlesbrough, who also submitted a bid to Flamengo for the forward. Muniz is understood to have been impressed that Silva telephoned the young striker personally to talk through his ideas for his progress at Fulham and suggesting that he could repeat the sort of progress Richarlison made in English football when Silva signed him for Watford.

Muniz, who broke into the Flamengo first team as they clinched the Brazilian title last year, is believed to have verbally agreed a five-year contract at Craven Cottage and would initially be an understudy to Aleksandar Mitrovic, whom Silva described as Fulham’s ‘key player’ this afternoon in his first press conference as the club’s head coach.

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

Fulham’s Roadmap to Regeneration: Part I – The Future of the Boardroom

This was originally intended to be one article detailing four key steps Fulham must take this summer to commence the journey to return to the Premier League. However, after writing the first two points and ending up at thesis length, it seemed evidently obvious that such issues require proper discussion and not just sound bites within a puff piece on Fulham’s demise.

Also, I must state that there are obviously many more than four steps on the path to our redemption. This series of four articles serves merely to bring up for debate 4 key areas that must dictate and shape our off-season.

Part I – The Future of the Boardroom

The first area that must be resolved is that of who is making the decisions. Before any decisive action can be taken to overhaul our troubled squad, there must be a clear system and personnel in place to oversee such a process.

It is not coincidence that our worst year on the field in the Premier League has happened in a year when there was consistent volatility off it. With such inadequate systems in place and so many lingering question marks following Shahid Khan’s takeover, is it really any wonder that the team and staff put in place were not up to the job?

Meeting as I did with several senior members of the FFC hierarchy a month ago as a delegate of the Fulham Supporters Trust, there was a palpable tension in the room from members of Fulham’s Management Board. The impression given was one that the conclusion of this season would bring about a final denouement to our yearlong off-field state of flux one way or another. Now relegation is confirmed it remains to be seen whether that means a changing of personnel.

With efforts and minds at the club solely focused on attempts to remain in the Premier League over recent months and weeks, the question must be asked what next? There has seemed a reluctance to accept relegation as a possibility, hoping it would simply go away and be brushed under the carpet if it was ignored. In a year when there was barely ever any reason to believe, it has seemed at times a blind mantra spouted by the in-house communication team.

For a club of Fulham’s stature you can only hope that appearances are deceiving. Planning for relegation must surely have been at hand since it first became an evident possibility. On-field planning matters are key to a side chasing their ultimate goal of promotion, more so than in the money spinning world of the Premier League, where efforts in off-field activities can seem equally paramount to a club’s success.

However, before any on-field decisions can be made, Shahid Khan must make those tough decisions needed to repair our off-field hierarchy. In layman’s terms, the first decision must be whether or not to retain the services of Chief Executive Alistair Mackintosh. Khan’s rhetoric has been consistent about holding those responsible to account.

It was all smiles when Khan took over last summer

It was all smiles when Khan took over last summer

 

This is not a straightforward decision, and one that may have more long-term bearing on the future of our club than any other. There are arguments for both sides and this is not going to be an article calling for anyone’s head. Along with most others, I did quite enough of that during the dog days of Martin Jol’s tenure.

First and foremost, Mackintosh must hold his hands up and accept some level of responsibility for the catalogue of disastrous decisions that followed one after the other over the last ten months.

It is not for anyone to say whose fault they were in their entirety, even though they would on the face of it appear to fall at Mackintosh’s door.

Was Martin Jol retained for far too long because it was Mackintosh’s will or Khan’s? Were the ill-thought out transfers that plagued last summer on the behest of Mackinstosh, Jol or anyone else? The budget that framed the summer of under-spending was doubtlessly a result of one owner cutting costs prior to the sale of the club and then another man hesitant to blow vast sums of money before he’d even got his toes wet.

The managerial situation has been a farce. Rene Meulensteen was a target at first team coach from almost the moment David Moyes released him from Manchester United. That he arrived when he did months later was down to whose leadership? The subsequent departure of Jol and the frankly comical and embarrassing developments leading to us having “3 managers” in Meulensteen, Wilkins and Curbishley must fall on someone’s head.

January saw much needed transfer dealings incomprehensibly wait until the last minute. Some will argue that deals in January are impossible until the last few days, but team’s like Hull got their business done early and have subsequently reaped the rewards. Decisions such as ridding us of Dimitar Berbatov without a replacement, terminating the loan of Adel Taarabt yet keeping Darren Bent and scattergunning yet more loan and short-term signings look troubled with the benefit of hindsight. Only John Heitinga has really proved a prudent addition, as even the pedigreed Lewis Holtby has been limited to only marginal contributions despite his obvious talent. Indeed Felix Magath has said this weekend that Holtby has lacked the fight we so desperately needed.

Yet it is with sad obviousness, that the entirety of the above pales into insignificance when compared to the debacle that has been the Kostas Mitroglou saga. Signed for a record amount as the great hope of our survival. His name was genuinely marquee, and our eggs were most definitely thrown into his basket. Yet he arrived injured and unfit. Ready not to fight for survival and months later he is still not ready. If I were an owner who had just seen my money wasted, this would be the straw that broke the camel’s back. A failed deadline day move for Icelandic striker Alfred Finnbogason suggests knowledge of Mitroglou’s medical status might have been more known than was publicised.

Shahid Khan, convinced enough to provide significant transfer funds, has been let down by his staff when it came to the execution. Money was obviously there. That it was spent so badly is not the fault of our owner.

Yet in moving stealthily to appoint Felix Magath under the radar on Valentine’s Day, Mackintosh may have just saved himself his P45. It was a move that gave us a chance, and that he recognised the faults in the management structure he appointed and moved to arrange the attempted solution must be acknowledged.

Mackintosh’s successes must be remembered as well. It was, after all, he by appointing Malcolm Elias and Huw Jennings who put in place the academy system that currently sits as our great white hope for the future.

Khan is no longer smiling

Khan is no longer smiling

 

So then, where does the blame lie? More importantly, what can be done to fix it and move on?

Foremost, our board structure must change. That the story of our season falls seemingly on our CEO’s head is testament to our inadequate executive management structure. Our Board of Directors currently sits as a group of four. Two of whom, Shahid Khan and Mark Lamping, are based in the USA and bring little by way of background knowledge of the sport to the table. The other two, the aforementioned Alistair Mackintosh and Finance Director Sean O’Laughlin, sit on the board as representatives of the club’s day to day management. In effect, there is nobody in place whose job it is to challenge Mackintosh or Khan. There is no one who can question if decisions are right.

My point here is not to single out any one individual for perceived failings. With the structure we have in place there is simply not enough in the way of checks and balances.

Under the Al-Fayed regime the Board had Dennis Turner, Michael Cole and Mark Collins supporting the Chairman at Board level. While each had a different prerogative, Turner as fan and Collins as Al-Fayed confident for example, each brought gravitas, real world experience and knowledge as a football fan to the table.

In a successful company the CEO is there to execute the strategy he and his Board have carefully planned; Fulham have asked Mackintosh to both singularly run the business, shape the strategy and execute the footballing plan, all in constantly changing circumstances with a Chairman who simply cannot give the club his undivided attention.

Whist Mackintosh is an easy fall guy for the calamitous decisions of this season; we are as a club more reliant than ever on the whims of our owner-chairman. Before a line can be drawn under this past season, Shahid Khan must decide how he sees the club being run going forward. In stark similarity to the position he inherited at Jacksonville, will the front office be cleaned out like it was there after a disastrous first season? These decisions must be made early in the summer so Felix Magath can commence preparations for next season.

Fans quick to dismiss the current management hierarchy will be well placed to consider Mackintosh is one of the few remaining links to our heritage in our hierarchy. The next few months are about next season, but beyond that there is a club whose strategy needs shaping and a future to protect. The Riverside Stand is likely at least 12 months away from breaking ground, but any CEO, incumbent or otherwise, will have that on his plate as well as managing the on-field matters.

If, as it appears, Felix Magath is staying as manager, he will demand authority over transfer business. Moving the transfer buck may not be a bad thing. Recourse will be necessary, as more time wasted on whom to blame if transfers go wrong helps nobody. That being said, it is imperative the club maintains its scouting network and plans for the future. We do not want to be left in a situation where the manager signs yes men for players then leaves a mess for others to clean up. We are in that situation at the moment.

Regardless of the outcome, who stays, who goes and who comes in. It is crucial that a system is decided upon and put in place. Only then will the football management be in the position to make the un-wavering decisions necessary to regenerate our fatigued playing staff.

Hopefully this afternoon’s match against Crystal Palace will be the start of a new era at Fulham Football Club.

COYW