It says something about modern football that the concept of the former player takes up so many column inches these days. How will fans react to one of their old heroes returning and should a player celebrate a goal against his previous employers. There was none of the studied indifference to scoring from Chris Martin the other night when he equalised against Norwich – and I think the whole idea of respect in this regard is a little precious from fans who can be abusive and quite derogatory when the mood takes them. It says something about how people have moved on from Ross McCormack, however, that when an Aston Villa-supporting colleague asked me what sort of reception he’ll get from the Fulham fans tomorrow, I had to confess I hadn’t given it out a lot of thought.
The boos are almost customary these days. You can see why they might resound around the area section with McCormack’s every touch. He was clearly a class apart in the Fulham side that he played for – our most creative influence and the team’s only consistent source of goals until Moussa Dembele began to hit his stride. He cashed in on a big-money move when he might have stayed and been a part of the new outfit that Slavisa Jokanovic was trying to build and there’s no doubt that even this team badly misses his presence in the final third of the field. The emotional reaction would be to air some dissatisfaction that one of the division’s finest footballers isn’t still wearing the white shirt, but I hope that doesn’t happen.
Here’s why. McCormack never let Fulham down. He was clearly sold the prospect of a swift Premier League return when he swapped Leeds for London in the aftermath of Fulham’s relegation and got the maddening dysfunction of the Felix Magath era. Even in two sides that struggled badly to adjust to the harsh reality of the Championship and grappled with the drop for far too long, McCormack carved out chances and scored goals of ridiculous quality. Think about those free kicks that curled majestically into the net, the majestic strikes from distance – such as against Sheffield Wednesday – the moments of individual brilliance (like that impudent finish against Bristol City) and his coolness from twelve yards. The simple statistics don’t do him justice – but 43 goals in 96 appearances is some record.
When the vultures circled last winter, offering him the chance of a step up to the top flight – which, let us not forget was the reason McCormack relocated from Yorkshire in the first place – the Scottish talisman was clearly tempted. But rather than take the first deal on the table, he renegotiated his contract with Fulham and played his heart out during another relegation battle – his blossoming partnership with young Dembele being the primary reason why Fulham aren’t playing League One football this term. Signing that new deal meant Fulham were in the best possible position to demand a fee around what they paid Leeds for his services back in 2014 when suitors started surrounding McCormack this summer – and it’s not something every footballer would have done.
It is a reflection of how comfortable McCormack felt about the atmosphere at Craven Cottage that not only did he release a personal note to the Fulham fans after his departure (something that was entirely his decision, by the way) but he also brought his son back to the club to watch a Cup tie earlier this season and buy him a club kit. Fulham have always been a club with a bit of class, recognising quality both from ourselves and the opposition, and a friendly place to watch football – sometimes to our own detriment. It would be shame for a petulant reaction to McCormack’s departure to sour his whole-hearted contributions when he pulled on our shirt.
Fans are, of course, free to make up their own mind – this is merely a personal view. Loyalty has largely gone out of the window in today’s game – the concept of the testimonial seems now to belong to a bygone era – and McCormack’s motives might have had plenty to do with the realisation that this summer could have been his last opportunity to secure a bumper contract before his career comes to a close. Whatever the reasons, I’d prefer to remember his contributions in the memories he made at Craven Cottage and not the fact he chose to leave, because unlike the fans, players unfortunately always do.
I wanted to get this written and published prior to the potential sale of our Scottish striker to avoid the accusations of either being against the ‘mainstream’ for the sake of it or being a shade too ‘glass half full.’ You may not like this post, you may not agree with it but everything I am about to say about the possibly departing Ross McCormack are theories, and theories of which I believe as to why Fulham can be better off without him.
Before really getting started, I want to address the theory of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias, essentially, is the development of opinions that are moulded mostly thanks existing feelings or beliefs. What I ask from you, as readers, is to remove any bias or love you have towards Ross McCormack as I address points as to why the football club can (and I believe likely would) become better for the removal of Ross McCormack.
I want to avoid the use of confirmation bias early and broadcast my appreciation of the goals he has provided which have undoubtedly led to better results and likely the avoidance of becoming a League One football club. I’m not going to sit here and deny that he has positives – his goal record since joining is very good and he has the added benefit of a striker that also builds up a nice assist number too. Are his goal-scoring exploits out of this world? Not really, and that’s part of my argument. It’s not like Ross McCormack sits on 30 goals and 10 away from his nearest competitor; his job as a striker is largely to put the ball in the back of the net and whilst he does it well, does he do it at a level which makes selling at £12m unthinkable? I think not.
The £12m spent on Ross McCormack makes him the most expensive striker of players within 5 goals of his final tally last season – beyond Abel Hernandez (signed whilst Hull were a Premier League club); his nearest competition is Andre Gray who scored more at half the price. I’m generally not too keen on Ross’ style of play and how he forces us to attack; he has no athletic or physical qualities meaning he has to play in a strike pairing to be effective – which also means forcing others out of position, like Tom Cairney to the right if playing a 442 for example.
That takes me to my next point, Tom Cairney – our most creative player – would likely be even more influential if given runners and given the role in the team to create goal scoring opportunities and chipping in himself. If Ross McCormack cannot play as a lone striker – are we cutting off our nose to spite our face? If we accept that Ross McCormack’s goals are not out of this world, as evident by players around him in the final scoring charts (for much cheaper), would Cairney benefit more from a quicker striker – whose main priority is to score goals – for Cairney to thread balls through to? Since relegation, the thing our side has lacked has been width and pace – we now have an opportunity to address these issues under a top quality coach who had pace at his disposal as he took Watford to promotion.
I started this post over the weekend, slowly chipping away and trying to find the right wording whilst in the creative mind set, so the talk of Fulham making a big money move to sign Dwight Gayle came after the first few paragraphs were written. With what I’ve written thus far, I feel it right to say that Gayle is the perfect replacement. Despite largely being a bit part player since his move to Crystal Palace, Gayle has still showcased an ability to worry defenders with his pace and the capacity to score all types of goals. Dwight Gayle’s last (and only) stint in the Championship was a 6-month spell at Peterborough, joining from League Two and making the step up with ease, scoring 13 goals and claiming 6 assists to become the clubs’ top scorer despite relegation.
You may well read all of this and feel like I’m talking absolute nonsense, which is fine; and we’ll only ever know once (and if) it happens. I do believe that Ross McCormack, despite his goals, despite his impact and despite his help in his two years here, is a damaging player to have at the club. Not least his desperation to leave the football club in January as a so-called vice captain and key player on and off the pitch; and I haven’t even gone into detail to talk his lack of pressing from the front and making the opposition uncomfortable.
When I look at all of the evidence: his lack of athleticism, his lack of physical attributes, his goals being strong but not unreachable for somebody else, his inability to lead the line alone, his want for McCormack rather than Fulham and the potential for Fulham FC in a life post-McCormack, I see a bid of £12m absolutely acceptable at his age in a time of “thanks, but it’s not quite worked out” as we completely rebuild the playing staff with seven first teamers gone already and more likely to follow.
Theoretical Fulham team without Ross (from midfield forward):
- Scott Parker and Thomas Delaney shielding the back four – rumours also link Fulham with the signing of Celtic midfielder Stefan Johansen.
- Tom Cairney with the free role behind Dwight Gayle.
- No rumours – but to help build the picture: Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Ikechi Anya to provide the width, pace, creativity and supportive firepower to Slavisa Jokanovic’s new black and white army.
A report in this morning’s Daily Mail claims that Sheffield Wednesday are preparing a £12m bid for Fulham striker Ross McCormack.
The paper suggests that the Scottish international was ‘left frustrated’ by not being able to join Middlesbrough during the January transfer window. McCormack subsequently signed a contract extension to keep him at Craven Cottage until 2018 – although there has been frenzied press speculation that the new deal includes a release clause that would allow him to talk to interested parties.
Fulham would fiercely resist McCormack’s departure after the forward scored 23 goals last season and his regular partner up front Moussa Dembele is set to leave when his contract expires at the end of this month. The Mail say that Wednesday boss Carlos Carvahal sees McCormack as the type of player to boost his attacking options following their play-off final heartbreak, although the 29 year-old was quoted last week emphasising his desire to play in the Premier League at some point.
Ross McCormack insists Fulhams fate still lies in their own hands after Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Bristol City saw the Whites slip to just a point above the drop zone.
McCormack had put Fulham in front against Fulham’s relegation rivals with a sublime chip for his 21st goal of the season as the Whites dominated the first half. But City looked a different side after the break and Marlon Pack levelled matters, before Lee Tomlin’s free-kick won it in the final minute.
“I could see it coming,” a deeply frustrated McCormack said. “We sat far too deep in the second half and let them into it when we should have carried on doing what we were doing in the first half when they didn’t have a sniff. Second half, it’s usual Fulham, we were in control and threw it away.”
The result leaves the Whites a point above the drop zone ahead of a tricky looking trip to Birmingham City on Saturday, but, as McCormack pointed out, Fulham’s hopes of survival is something they can control.
“We’ve been in a fight for weeks,” continued McCormack. “As it stands now, it doesn’t look too good for us so it’s vitally important we start picking up wins. Next week is Birmingham away – a very good side – but it’s vital we go there and try and get something as we need a result. It won’t be easy, but it’s in our hands and we need to show character.
“You can only say we’ve got a good enough team for so long. People said we had the squad to get promoted, then we had the squad to finish mid-table and now we’ve got the squad to beat the drop – it’s about time we started showing it.”
On his brilliant opener, McCormack admitted it now counted for little, adding: “It was a good goal, but it doesn’t really mean anything. We should have seen the game out or added to my goal.
“We’re all desperately disappointed so it’s important the lads get away from the place for a day or two and gather their thoughts, because it’s going to be a long few weeks. We need 48 hours to get our heads right, come back refreshed and go again Saturday.”
Fulham captain Ross McCormack says the squad’s attitude will be crucial in their bid to move away from the Championship relegation zone.
The Whites have won just one of their last seven league games and sit 19th, six point above the bottom three.
“We are in a dogfight and we need to show some character,” the 29-year-old said.
“It is important for the experienced boys in the squad to pull together and give the younger lads guidance.”
Fulham’s campaign has been marred by inconsistency, with the west London side registering back-to-back league wins on just two occasions this season.
The Whites are the joint third highest-scorers in the second tier, with 47 goals in 31 games but also have the third-worst defensive record, having conceded 53 times.
Moreover, Slavisa Jokanovic’s team have not kept a clean sheet in 21 games in all competitions – a run stretching back to the goalless draw with Middlesbrough in October.
“We are a team that can’t really put two or three similar performances together in a row,” Scotland international McCormack added.
“If we are to get through this it is time we start doing that.”
Fulham welcome strugglers Charlton to Craven Cottage on Saturday (15:00 GMT) and, with the Addicks six points adrift of safety, in 23rd place, McCormack has called on his side to play to their potential.
“Charlton are below us in the table and we intend to keep them there,” he said.
“We are at home and we need to take the game to them. If we can reach the levels we know we are capable of it will take care of itself.
“We need to show we are good enough to pull away from the relegation zone.
“Fitness-wise things are not going to be a problem. It is more mental.”