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The Lion, The Switch and Who Knows What Wardrobe

It’s like opening the door to Narnia. From the moment the transfer window opens on January the 1st football fans go on a perilous month long journey of discovery in search of Aslan The Official News Lion.

It is 31 days of rampant speculation. Did someone see Nani on the Fulham Road? Did Alistair Mackintosh meet with Steven Defour’s agent? Were Lionel Messi and Ferenc Pushkas seen playing Deal or No Deal on the Itbox at The Earl Beatty pub next to Motspur Park station?

As fans we have little way of knowing what’s actually going on. Is our club actively trying to recruit new faces? Have they planned for the window with comprehensive scouting and budgeting? Were those plans ripped up with the comprehensive change of management? What will actually happen?

The trade off in January is much written about. To get quality, you have to pay for it. That is not Fulham’s style. We are not a club who goes out wantonly looking to sign other club’s best players. Our ethos has long been attempting to secure value by signing players unwanted or undervalued at other clubs. Indeed our transfer philosophy since the time of Roy Hodgson and before has been to secure experienced professionals at knock down prices with an occasional drop of high expectation prime of their career stardust mixed in for good luck.

Unfortunately the last real player signed for top Euro was Bryan Ruiz two and a half years ago, and he made his debut for PSV Eindhoven back in the Eredivisie last weekend. Under Mohamed Al-Fayed there was an obvious reluctance to drop too many coins in the ocean. For whatever reason Fulham’s three biggest inbound transfers (Ruiz, Andrew Johnson and Steve Marlet) have left SW6 without setting the world alight. Johnson (when fit) and Ruiz (when confident) had their moments where glimpses of their fee were justified, but they never quite lived up to the billing, though Bryan may yet have the opportunity to resurrect his Fulham career after the World Cup.

With any luck, the new regime does not bare old scars. For Fulham to progress beyond the sedate spiral to anonymity that has been our path so far this season money will need to be spent. 3, 4 or 5 players are needed in the next week for this window to not go down as a failure. There is for all intents and purposes, a summer’s worth of work to get done in a little over seven days.

Yet it appears we might get our wish. The month long game of cat and mouse and agent is being played out in public for several reported targets. When Rene Meulensteen let slip the verbal dogs of war regarding Ravel Morrison last week, West Ham couldn’t publicly cry foul fast enough. A player of Morrison’s talent would not be on Fulham’s radar unless they felt they had a realistic chance of signing him, including the financial resources. That is not to say we should expect Fulham to pay any more for him than they feel he is worth. As often stated, Fulham’s management are not the sort to be held to ransom.

For a player to move you need two things: a willing player and a willing club. But there is something else that clubs want prior to making a transfer, the upper hand, or at least the perception that they are the ones getting a good deal. Apart from ransom sales of players with expiring contracts, this is where the media repartee comes in. Were West Ham really upset that Meulensteen spoke of Morrison because it destabilised the player, or were they livid that the knowledge he wanted to leave made him cheaper?

The gulf between planning and execution gets exponentially wider in January. There will be a library’s worth of stories we don’t know. Players Fulham wanted to sign or came close to signing. In the past month there have been reminders that Fulham have in the past tried and come close to signing Alvaro Negredo and Andre Pierre Gignac only for deals to fall through for one reason or another. Indeed it was widely reported last January whilst he was still a Roma player that Maarten Stekelenburg got as far as Heathrow airport before being told Roma had decided against selling him to Fulham.

Then there are those who did join as the end-of-transfer window back-up plans, the likes of Orlando Sa, Eyong Enoh and David Elm. We will have to wait a few more days for the results of this month of mystery deal making to reveal themselves. Its often what’s not told, those stories of business left unfinished, that would truly capture our imagination.

Unfortunately though, it is those stories that have an official ending that matter. Who will have their photograph taken holding a pristine new white shirt before February 1st? We’ll just have to wait a little longer to find out.

COYW

Athleticism and Physicality: Why Fulham Need Both

If the Pep Guardiola years at Barcelona taught the football world anything, it’s that size isn’t everything. The greatest team of the 21st Century to date was, and still is, dominated by pint sized footballing magicians such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. These three players are the exception though and not the rule.

Consider this scenario, what if there was a second player with the exact same talent of Lionel Messi, but he had the frame of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. If you put them in identical teams, over the course of a season, who would score more goals? Logic would dictate the more physically dominant of the two. However, this may not be the case, for every defender that the Zlatan type could out-jump or overpower, there is a player the Messi type could go round or out-manoeuvre. When your natural talent base is so superior to your opponents, your body type is largely irrelevant.

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Now consider this, instead of a player with the best talent in the world, what if there was a player with the talent of say, Steve Sidwell. Our very own Ginger Iniesta is experiencing something of a renaissance under Rene Meulensteen and he is certainly playing above and beyond his physical stature. However, were there a universe of infinite multiple Sidwells of different shapes and sizes all sharing the same underlying talent level, there would be an expectation that the faster and stronger incarnation would be the most successful.

The emphasis in that last statement is that it is faster and stronger, not taller and heavier, that would succeed. Being tall or heavy is no guarantee of success. But utilise physical prowess and turn it into athleticism, and there would be a correlation. Athleticism is the balance at play between multiple physical attributes not a product of any one on its own. The perfect player is strong but fast and dominant but agile. Complexities are abound and the perfect athletic player would have strength [requiring weight] but also be quick and agile [requiring lightness].

Given equal talent, the athlete will prevail.

In a sport where the margins between success and failure are often miniscule, something as simple as physical attributes must be taken into consideration when putting a team together. At the bottom end of the Premier League table, the difference in talent level between sides can often be so marginal that it will be the more athletic and fitter side that come out on top.

This was obvious with Fulham earlier this season. Fitness levels were clearly lacking and results suffered as a result. Regardless of fitness, Fulham lack athletes. We have various technically skilled and gifted footballers, but we are short on athletic prowess. It is rare for us to out-pace, out-muscle or out-jump other teams.

Of course, fitness is an attribute that can be improved and worked upon. Indeed, any look at the form of Adel Taarabt over the past few weeks would see a fitter player having more success as a result. However, given the assumption that all players receive the same level of fitness training, those players with greater physical prowess are likely to be the ones who excel athletically.

Unfortunately football doesn’t record a uniform set of athletic statistics. Short of height and weight, it is rare to see a physical or athletic characteristics charted in the public eye. This can make a lot of the analysis surrounding athleticism highly subjective from a scouting perspective. Once a club gets their hands on a player they can ProZone them till their heart’s content but until then there is a lot of guesswork and the patching together of statistical information that may or may not infer a measure of athletic performance.

6 foot 7 Brondby striker Simon Makienok is a reported transfer target

6 foot 7 Brondby striker Simon Makienok is a reported transfer target

 

American Football, where athleticism is placed at a particular premium, has a stringent set of methods for measuring the athletic ability of potential players entering the NFL. Whilst not by any means a conclusive judge of future success, the NFL pre-draft scouting combine forces players to perform a number of athletic challenges and tests which are used to define a players’ on-paper athleticism statistically. These challenges, such as a 40 yard sprint, single rep and multiple rep bench pressing and agility courses can give scouts an idea as to whether a player’s athleticism synergises with their physical characteristics. This can then be used, along with technical and talent scouting to determine whether or not a player is desired.

If we return to football, where there are no such openly available measures of athletic performance, we can look at the basic physical stats of height and weight as a crude measure of potential athleticism.

Take four clubs as an example: Fulham, Newcastle, Southampton and Swansea. Three of these sides are teams currently above us in the league to whom we should be a peer.

Let’s look statistically at the strikers, where height and strength are ever crucial in the modern game.

Team Forwards Average Height (m) Average Weight (kg) BMI (heigh/weight) League Goals 2013/14
Fulham Berbatov / Bent / Rodallega 1.83 74.67 0.0245

 

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Newcastle Ameobi / Cisse / Remy 1.86 76.33 0.0244 10
Southampton Lambert / Rodriguez / Osvaldo 1.85 79.33 0.0233 17
Swansea Michu / Bony / Alvaro 1.85 78.67 0.0236 8

 

The statistics are for the three main forwards in each side’s case. Fulham are shown to be the worst team physically having the lowest average height and weight and the highest BMI. This translates into the lowest goals total in the league this season of the four sides. Fulham coincidentally also have the oldest striking trio at an average age of over 29, compared to the youngest, Swansea, at 26.

The argument which I am attempting to make here is that Fulham need to pay greater attention to athleticism when analysing potential transfer targets. Financially the problem is that the most talented and most athletic footballers will cost the most on the open market. For a club like Fulham, to make players affordable, there is a likely necessity to take a hit on either athleticism or talent. At the top end of the table, talent is crucial, at the bottom, where team talent levels are closer to each other, there is a need for defining athleticism.

Take some examples of individual players; Bryan Ruiz is one of the most technically gifted footballers at Fulham. He is just not athletic in the traditional sense. Were he stronger and quicker, he would have cost more than £10m and not be the subject of speculation as to an impending departure.

Clint Dempsey came to Fulham as a waif like bundle of trickery who would be pushed off the ball with the merest breath of a passing butterfly. Over the course of his Fulham career he gained an ever improving level of upper body strength which made him physically more athletic and as such, gave him the platform with which to use his skills. Were Bryan to put on half a stone of muscle, I’d wager good money on him improving his productivity.

David Elm, for those of us that remember the David Elm experience, was a technically graceful footballer. He was, however, as flat footed as a duck-billed platypus.

For a non-Fulham example, Aaron Lennon is one of the best known examples of the other side of the coin. He’s a player with electric raw pace but questionable technique but who is still good enough to play for a top 10 side. Were Lennon blessed with David Beckham’s pace, he would struggle to get in any Premier League side, however, if he had Beckham’s technical ability, he’d essentially be Gareth Bale, and be the world’s most expensive transfer.

If you look at Fulham’s current squad, there are a number of players who follow this pattern; were Hugo Rodallega blessed with Erik Nevland’s technique and talent he’d be a consistent scoring threat, simultaneously if the above-mentioned Steve Sidwell was blessed with Dickson Etuhu’s athleticism, we’d have a European calibre box to box midfielder.

Physical prowess is no guarantee of success and each position requires a different physical skill set. It’s not that we need a taller team or heavier team, but I doubt many would complain if we got stronger and faster.

Beanpole centre half Dan Burn has been recalled from loan

Beanpole centre half Dan Burn has been recalled from loan

 

While height and weight do not conclusively prove a players’ likely athleticism, they do count for one factor for certain; intimidation. Saturday’s victory against West Ham was a lot harder to secure once West Ham took off Modibo Maiga (1.85m / 76 kg) and replaced him with Carlton Cole (1.91 m / 84 kg).

While nobody is suggesting we’ll be able to afford someone with the all-around technique and athletic balance like Alvaro Negredo, the Manchester City forward who may just be the best example of the perfectly balanced striker, it would be nice to see Fulham look for players this January who can take control of games athletically. Too many of our defenders resemble statues, our midfielders get out-muscled, our-wingers outpaced and out strikers out-everythinged.

It is important that we sign good technical players who can satisfy the desired Fulham way of playing (if there is such a thing) a flowing and passing style of football. However, it is important that we look to sign athletes as well. At the moment we fail to compete physically in too many games. By adapting the scouting and transfer outlook to improve our physical and by nature our athletic presence, we would give ourselves the platform with which to let our talent win us football matches.

Lowering the squad’s average age will contribute to an increasing of fitness levels across the board, but it could be argued that age alone is not a barrier to fitness. Scott Parker is arguably the fittest player in the Fulham squad but at 33 he is also one of the oldest (and at 1.75 m he is the second shortest). Reduced stamina and diminishing physical capabilities are though a correlated result of the aging process and Parker is like Messi, Iniesta and Xavi, in that in his own way he is an exception and not the rule.

Fitness coaching must not take a back seat. While management changes have come in abundance at Motspur Park of late there has been little said with regards to fitness. A fitness coach can only work with what he has in front of him though, and Fulham must give coach Scott Miller a younger and more athletic squad.

A side cannot be all brute strength and height, but must instead be a balance of athleticism, technique and talent.

The challenge facing Fulham in the next month is to sign several players who can simultaneously improve the athleticism and fitness levels of the first team whilst lowering its average age and increasing its talent level.

Who’d be a scout eh? Or a Head Coach, Technical Director or Chief Executive for that matter?

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.

Manchester-United-left-back-Alexander-Buttner-is-set-to-open-talks-with-the-club-regarding-a-new-deal-at-Old-Trafford.

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

All at Swansea: A Game Too Soon or a Game Too Far?

As we reach the end of November, a month adopted as Movember for many around the world, Fulham remain in charitable spirits when it comes to opposing teams.

Not wishing to flog a dead horse, there is little that needs to be said around the management situation at Fulham. It is really just starting to get very tiresome watching Fulham lose every week.

Questions in the media have shifted to Fulham as relegation candidates and what would happen if we went down. It is telling that while the fans tried to embrace some cautious optimism following Rene Meulensteen’s appointment over the last fortnight, the press focussed on how Jol was now on borrowed time with his successor in place.

What we needed on Saturday was some glimmer of hope, some ray of light, a performance or a result. We got neither.

The sense of optimism that was palpable on the walk through Bishops Park – with the arrival of Moussa Dembele to the first team squad, Berbatov correctly dropped as captain and Boateng starting in place of Sidwell – quickly dissipated as soon as Swansea woke up after the first ten minutes.

While Jol’s post-match comments touted Darren Bent’s trio of wasted chances as testament to Fulham being in the game, only his missed header was created as a systematic result of team play. The others, and particularly the shot that hit the post, were the result of freak breaks in play such as a miscued Chico Flores header. Swansea on the other hand created chance after chance as the game wore on. Three outstanding Stekelenburg saves and a Sidwell clearance were the only reason the scoreline looked so close come the end.

37% possession and being double-digit outshot at home say more than the scoreline. It would be unreasonable to expect much from Rene Meulensteen’s coaching in such a short space of time, it was a game too soon, but there was little for us to cling to in reality.

Any talk of the team carrying significantly more shape ignores the fact we had no width. Defensively there actually was more seeming solidity, in fact, Hughes and Amorebieta played pretty well for their first time together. It was possibly Fernando’s best game in a Fulham shirt. Yet with Richardson and Zverotic having to push forward and act as almost flying wingbacks with no midfield support out wide, the team became bloated and overstuffed in the middle like a thanksgiving turkey. Boateng as a sweeping midfielder worked until he got his seemingly obligatory booking. Kasami was pigeon-holed to the left of central midfield for the mostpart and could only get into the game in fits and starts. Parker was the lone emblem of solidarity. His goal capping a captain’s display.

Up front it was not the good, the bad and the ugly, but a case of ugly, fugly and grotesque. Bryan Ruiz was again lacking in substance, and struggled to get into the game in his role as conduit from midfield to attack. Berbatov got 90 minutes despite failing to have a shot and Darren Bent, only in the team to take the sparing chances he does get, spurned three gilt edged opportunities and showed the first touch of a steam locomotive.

The problem with this squad that Martin Jol has assembled of his own accord is that to get our best team on the field we’d need to play with thirteen men.

Maybe there were glimmers of hope. The more you think about it perhaps Rene will be able to have an impact. However, the main questions remain. Why not make the actual managerial change rather than a soft half measure? With Rene Meulensteen looking after coaching, it is Jol’s job to motivate and finesse the tactics (what tactics I hear you sarcastically cry)? How then can he be excused for sending Fulham out the dressing room after half time looking like a fearful deer in the headlights, while Swansea came out firing like hunters going for the kill.

For the first time a tuneful “We want Martin Out, say we want Martin Out” was audible coming from the Hammersmith End. It didn’t exactly turn into a chorus but it was clear and distinct even from a different stand. One fan had to be restrained by stewards for giving his opinion near the dugout in the Riverside. It could well be the case of a game too far for Martin’s Fulham career.

Swansea wanted and deserved the three points. Credit to them. Their passing was crisp and efficient, but without their leading attacker, Michu, and winger, Pablo Hernandez, they could be forgiven for taking their time in sealing the points. Fulham looked like losing, especially in the second half. Was Jonjo Shelvey’s goal a surprise? No.

The game at West Ham next weekend is crucial. Another week under the tutelage of Rene Meulensteen will hopefully give Fulham’s players more chances to improve.

The Swansea match provided more questions than answers. With each passing game those answers will get harder to find. If Meulensteen’s appointment signals that Jol’s end is nigh, why wait? If it signals that the previous coaching staff were failing, is one man enough to save a system and regime mired in negativity and failure? Who selects the team and who chooses the substitutions? If, as appeared on Saturday, one man does one and one does the other then there can be little hope.

After a decade slowly but legitimately raising expectations brick by brick it is painful seeing them being knocked down at once by management and board’s consistent stubbornness that eschews common logic . It’d be nice to begin to enjoy going to The Cottage again. Hopefully it won’t take being in the Championship for that the happen.

In hope, fear and desperation COYW

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