A crestfallen David Moyes, soon to be put out of his misery as Manchester United manager, told the press that ‘it doesn’t get any worse than this‘. His reaction was understandable – anyone who had watched the Sunday afternoon live game from Old Trafford would have considered one of the most remarkable results of the weekend – after bottom of the table Fulham resisted 81 crosses, a whole barrage of United pressure and then claimed a precious point thanks to Darren Bent’s injury time equaliser.
Whilst Moyes was left to lick his wounds following what was widely lamented as the nadir of his spell in the home dugout at Old Trafford, this result marked the high point of former Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen’s brief spell in charge of Fulham. The Belgian followed this draw with a gut-wrenching injury-time defeat by Liverpool at Craven Cottage and, after a far flatter performance saw the Whites eliminated from the FA Cup in a fourth round replay by League One Sheffield United, Meulensteen was replaced by the eccentric Felix Magath in a doomed attempt to preserve the club’s Premier League position.
Meulensteen had sprung a surprise on his return to Old Trafford by handing Fulham debuts to Jonny Heitinga and Ryan Tunnicliffe, the Heywood-born midfielder who had captained United to FA Youth Cup success and left for London only ten days earlier on transfer deadline day, whilst teenage forward Muamer Tankovic made his league debut. The new coach preferred Dan Burn to Brede Hangeland in the centre of defence, with the young defender making headlines in days following the game by comparing United’s constant crossing with the type of attacking he faced during his non-league days.
Fulham absorbed home pressure from the off, but stunned Old Trafford by taking the lead against the run of play twenty minutes in. Little Lewis Holtby dinked a delightful ball over the United defence and there was Steve Sidwell sliding in to steer a finish past the stranded David de Gea. Robin van Persie, who had already been denied by a fine Sascha Riether tackle, should have equalised almost immediately but lifted Rafael’s cross over the bar at the back post. The visitors had another lucky escape when Maarten Stekelenburg parried Michael Carrick’s effort before Sidwell bravely blocked van Persie’s follow-up.
The visitors should have made it two before the break, when they hit United on the counter attack. The impressive Tankovic, looking far from overrawed on the big stage threaded a ball through for former United utility man Kieran Richardson, but the ex-England international fired over the bar. Had Tankovic opted to play the ball right rather than left, Tunnicliffe would have been free for a tap in. As it was, Fulham would still have considered themselves fortunate to head in ahead at half time.
The same pattern continued after the interval. Stekelenburg made a sensational save to keep out Wayne Rooney’s effort from a van Persie cross and it was soon all-out-defence from the man in white. Jon Arne Riise got in the way of a venomous van Persie drive and substitute Scott Parker also produced a block tackle on Rooney, when the England skipper looked certain to score. When Fulham’s defence was breached, they caved in twice within the space of two minutes. First, a tiring back four could only clear Patrice Evra’s cross as far as Juan Mata and van Persie poached the equaliser from two yards and then Michael Carrick’s deflected drive from the edge of the box wrongfooted Stekelenburg to put the hosts ahead.
It looked for the world as though Fulham’s brave rearguard action would count for nothing, but that assessment reckoned without the late drama. Bent, who had been something of a spectator in the final third having replaced Tankovic at half time, stopped to head home the equaliser in the fourth minute of added time after David de Gea could only push Richardson’s shot up into the air, sparking wild scenes of celebration in front of Fulham’s travelling supporters.
Steve Sidwell is looking forward to returning to former club Fulham with promotion-chasing Brighton and Hove Albion.
The 34 year-old midfielder spent three and a half years at Craven Cottage, making 114 appearances and scoring 17 goals for the Whites as they qualified for the Europa League.
“It’s good to go to back to one of my former clubs,” Sidwell said. “I’ve done it several times now.
“It will be nice to go back and I have very fond memories of playing at the Cottage, it’s a lovely place to go. But I’ll be in the away dressing room and fully fighting for the cause.
“I can picture it now, Brighton fans taking that whole section behind the goal. It will be a good game, taking place at the turn of the year, and I have been very impressed with them. I’ve been to see them a couple of times this year and I thought they were one of the best teams we’ve played this year football wise.”
At the end of November at the Amex, Albion mounted a second half recovery, goals by Sam Baldock and Glenn Murray turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 victory against a Fulham side that sparkled for 45 minutes.
Sidwell said: “In the first half it felt like I was playing back in the Premier League and if they had taken their chances they could’ve been 3-0 up. So we know that we need to be on top form defensively and attacking wise as well.
“They had a really good start to the season and they probably showed to people that last year was a blip for them. They went on a really good run of playing good football and people said Fulham could be a force this year. Then they slowly tailed off and are coming back in. From what I’ve seen and performance wise, they’ve been relatively sound throughout the season and not taken their chances.”
With Part 1 in this series discussing the need to first sort out Fulham’s structure off the field, the next set of decisions must come about those on it. Before any transfer dealings or youth call-ups can take place to help reconstruct the first team, Fulham must first take stock and then exorcise the demons within the first team and clean house.
Read Fulham’s Roadmap to Regeneration: Part I – The Future of the Boardroom here.
Relegation is a bitter pill to swallow. For some clubs it can be particularly bad. Those clubs who carefully built teams but just don’t quite make the grade are often then broken up and pillaged for talent, setting them back in their quest for a return to the promised land.
In Fulham’s case however, relegation may be just what our squad needed. Aging, assembled on the basis of apparent short term rational and with players loyal to fallen regimes. Below is a list of the first team squad separated into three categories; those who should leave, those who could leave; and those who will leave. It would be foolhardy to assume any single member of the squad is safe. Underperformance was endemic last season and young first team players aside; places and careers are very much on the line.
For the purposes of this list, academy and other young players are left out and will be covered in the follow up article covering youth promotions; this includes Dan Burn, Alex Kacaniklic, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Larnell Cole. So here is the Fulham squad and how their futures may lie:
The Former Dutch Number One is stuck at Craven Cottage unless someone comes in with a sensible offer. His wages will not be as high, but QPR suffered a similar situation when Julio Cesar was deemed surplus to requirements at Loftus Road last season. Having justifiably lost his place to David Stockdale and with a cavalcade of promising young goalkeepers at the club, we have likely seen the last of the goalkeeper signed by Martin Jol a year ago.
John Arne Riise
After three seasons of trying, John Arne Riise never did score that elusive goal. The Norwegian left back is a shadow of his former self and is extremely unlikely to have his contract renewed. The only place the kraken is being released is likely back in the Norwegian Tippeligaen as it’s hard to imagine a top flight club in a major European league giving John one last shot.
After signing a four year contract last summer, Amorebieta came to Fulham with a reputation as a no nonsense centre back of international calibre. Unfortunately the so called “Butcher of Bilbao” has flattered to deceive with his best performances in a white shirt coming as a makeshift left back. The recent draw with Hull highlighted the best and worst of Amorebieta as he scored our second and then lost his marker to concede the heartbreaking goal that all but ended our season. A return to La Liga is a likely outcome though he would undoubtedly prove more than a match for Championship opposition.
One of the few remaining survivors from Roy Hodgson’s Europa League team. Duff has had his season ruined by injury and at 35, the Irishman must call time on his top flight career in England. Performances have been wavering for several seasons and unless he gets fit and performs a Giggsesque switch to central midfield his career anywhere might be over. A faithful servant who deserved a proper farewell, Duff may get himself a swansong back home in the League of Ireland.
The single worst personnel move of last season. The day Bent decided against a move to Crystal Palace was the day alarm bells rang with any Whites fan who’d watched him play for Aston Villa the year before. With a worse first touch than Stephenson’s Rocket and an uncanny ability to miss one-on-ones, the striker will not be missed in SW6. His goal against Stoke in the autumn was also responsible for the hanging chad that kept Martin Jol employed longer than he should have been. The termination of Adel Taarabt’s loan in January and the departure of Dimitar Berbatov in favour of keeping the Englishman has proved just one of many decisions regarding Bent that now seem foolish with the benefit of hindsight. His 3 league goals from 24 appearances (albeit 13 as a substitute) made up a third of our laughably poor return of 9 goals from the Berbatov, Bent and Rodallega striking triumvarate.
The earnest Dane was only on loan in SW6 and with our relegation his likelihood of staying is slim. He’s Mr Reliable as a midfield pivot but he is unlikely to want or suit a year in the Championship. Central midfield is a key area where we must get younger, something the Dane is unfortunately not. A return to Stuttgart is likely.
At 107 Karagounis already defies the laws of human nature in still playing. I’d actually like to keep the Greek legend and feel strongly that he’s been underused this season, but our midfield must get younger and there are simply too many veteran cooks spoiling the midfield broth. Likely to retire or enjoy a highly paid trip to one of football’s new leagues in the USA or Australia.
The great eight figured white elephant. Signed for a record figure (which was hopefully conditional and in instalments), the supposedly prolific Greek striker was signed to score the goals to keep us up. Unfortunately he arrived injured and unfit and has failed to start but a single game in Fulham’s colours. With a Magath pre-season under his belt and a ban on Dominos Pizza he could obliterate the Championship, but high wages mean he is likely to be more burden than bonus. Perhaps a loan to a top flight club would keep him in our ranks should we ascend back to the top flight, but the chances of Mitroglou being here come September seem very unlikely.
The rare spotted Zverotic is a little seen species of Montenegrin utility footballer found mostly on substitutes benches and training fields. After a year of absenteeism and fleeting gusts of averageness (see his cameo start against Crystal Palace on the final day) when he has appeared, our Montenegro international is likely to depart somewhere if we can find a taker [note that it says taker not buyer].
The even rarer spotted Boateng of the Derek variety arrived at Fulham after a near two year courtship only to be discarded almost as soon as he arrived. Failure to make the grade under three juxtaposed managers tells a story in itself. Failure to agree a January loan suggests Boateng will want a club who promise to play him next season. With an FFC career totaling 5 appearances that club is highly unlikely to be Fulham.
12 months is such a long time in football. When Shahid Khan bought Fulham last July, the first team were on tour in Bryan’s home country of Costa Rica. The captain of his national team, he has been on loan at PSV Eindhoven since January and has the opportunity to re-enter English football’s consciousness in Brazil this summer. If nothing else, I’d like Bryan to stay a Fulham player until after the World Cup. Eye-catching performances in England’s group would be both enjoyable to watch and financially beneficial to the Motspur Park coffers. Bryan is the Margaret Thatcher of Fulham players; half the fans seemed to love him and his superb technical abilities, while the other half loathed his perceived weakness and lack of workrate. Undoubtedly gifted, a long term career in England is not overly likely and a return to Europe must surely be on the cards. With a better supporting cast Bryan may yet prove some of his doubters wrong, there’s just very little chance of it being at Fulham.
The German has suffered from the sophomore blues this season after converting his successful loan spell into a permanent transfer from FC Koln last summer. As he was a near ever present in our defence, it is impossible to ignore Riether’s role in making our defence the worst in the country and the second worst the Premier League has ever seen. Jack Grimmer and Josh Passley wait in the wings for their chance to replace the likable German, and after being dropped for the final two matches of the season, Felix Magath may sanction a return to Germany for the defender.
The likely recipient of player of the season award after proving our top scorer with 8 goals (let’s just forget the first 10 games when he was scapegoated after some woeful displays), there would be few fans who would begrudge Sidwell the chance to keep his top flight career alive. Aside from the positive’s Sidwell also committed the second most fouls of any player in the Premiership this term. Out of contract and as one of the few players who showed any fight, Sidwell would be a good player for several of the bottom rung Premier League teams looking for experience. I’d like him to stay as an experienced head in a young squad but our midfield needs a new look, not to mention a better passing range, and if that means starting from scratch without Sidwell it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
We should have let Parker go to QPR. Every Fulham fan could see we needed to spend proper money on a central midfielder last year, but instead we signed a 33 (now 34) year old with nagging injury worries in the downslope of his career on a three year contract. While the papers eulogised about their Scotty, there was a mild trepidation amongst the fans cautious that we beat a team in a lower division to his signing. However, like Sidwell, Parker is one of the few battlers we have, and entering the dog-eat-dog Championship, this should not be forgotten. A near sure fire bet to stay with Fulham because of his contract length, keeping the former England captain would be no bad thing. However, if we have learned only one thing from this season, it is that he and Sidwell must NEVER EVER play in the same team.
Like Sidwell above, Richardson is a player who has gone from scapegoat to solidarity. Richardson’s problems at Fulham have been caused primarily by apparent ability to play several positions. When played consistently and correctly at his best position of left midfield, he has been one of the few bright spots in this team. A good fit for a Championship promotion push, Richardson may get offers to stay at Premier League level, however, if he’s willing to stay, he’d be one of the few names on my “to keep” list.
If you’d have asked any fan 10 games ago whether Hugo should stay in the event of relegation the answer would have been overwhelmingly more negative than it is now. Having scored at Villa and versus Norwich there was a sense that Hugo really was worth his place. At Championship level that may well be true, but there are still many lingering doubts over Rodallega. His athleticism would be of benefit next season but he isn’t good enough technically or instinctive enough to instill any level of confidence that he’d be the 20-goal striker we need up top next season. Personally I’d be loathed to see him stay and block the progress of our young bucks up front. However, he’s ours to keep unless anyone comes in for him and personally I’d remove his Premier League wages from the bill should the opportunity arise.
Club Captain Brede is on the “could go” list here because that is exactly what could happen. All signs point to loyalty from our Norwegian centre half but with only a year left to run on his contract and his top flight level ability becoming increasingly fleeting, there may be a last hurrah for Hangeland elsewhere. In truth, were Brede to leave would the team suffer a great deal? At Premier League level no, his performances have been on the decline ever since that fateful Sunderland sending off in 2012. However, at Championship level we would be foolish to write off such a canny and physically imposing centre back. At 272 appearances he is also the most experienced Fulham player by some way, such a link to the club’s history deserves not to be ignored. Unfortunately, any partnership with Dan Burn may be doomed with them both being natural left sided centre backs, and Hangeland’s displacement to the right side resulted in showed discomfort when paired with both Amorebieta and Burn last season.
The goalkeeper is only on this list out of bountiful dedication to include every senior squad member. Likely to be set in stone as Fulham’s Number One come August having already displaced Maarten Stekelenburg from the team under Felix Magath. Promotion experience on loan at Hull in 2013 suggests Stockdale is the perfect man to guard our sticks next season.
The 21-year old Swiss midfielder has proved something of a quandary this season. Promoted to the first team out of the blue by Martin Jol at the start of the season, Kasami scored our first goal of the campaign at Sunderland. His goal of the season contender at Crystal Palace in October is one of the few highlights from the season just gone. All told though Kasami never reached those heights again. Despite making 35 appearances in all competitions he never nailed down a consistent starting spot and found himself used in a variety of positions. With grand ambitions fuelled by agent Mino Raiola and a recent call up to Switzerland’s full squad it remains to be seen whether Kasami will still be here in September. Somehow I doubt it, but being left out of Switzerland’s World Cup squad but be a reality check and given a regular position in the middle of the park, Kasami could be a key piece in our potential resurgence.
Likely to Go but would like to stay
Zero percent chance Holtby stays. Lewis was evidently a class above Fulham technically when he arrived, but he never really performed to his best while he was here. Played out of position at times, he also contracted Fulhamitis with his set piece delivery, often failing to beat the first man. Loved having him for 6 months and will monitor his progress proudly, but he never set the world on fire in the white of Fulham. Returns to Spurs and will likely get a chance under their to be named new boss.
One of the players of our season since Herr Magath’s arrival. Dejagah would be a remarkable asset a division down and may opt to stay under Felix’s tutelage safe in the knowledge he’ll keep his Iranian national team berth from a lower tier. However, if I was a Bundesliga club looking for a good squad player I’d be on the phone to Motspur Park as soon as the season ends.
A superb signing since arriving on a 6-month deal from Everton. I would absolutely love Heitinga to stay in SW6 but in his search for 100 Netherlands caps that seems unlikely. His wages will be above Championship level and he could probably walk into any Eredivisie side. Don’t count out a return to first club Ajax for the excellent defender.
Not your everyday number 9, but squad number aside, Diarra did everything we could have hoped and expected of a veteran midfielder returning from long term injury. His calm head would be a welcome addition to a Championship squad. No he wouldn’t play every game, but his experience and talent would go a long way to keeping our squad balanced. He may feel a debt to FFC after the injury support, but out of contract, retirement or a return to the less strenuous confines of French football may suit the venerable Malian.
So there you have it. When all is said and done, Fulham need to have completely cleaned house before any incoming transfers or youth promotions can take place. We need to know who will be staying, who will be going and what positions need filling. After the worst season in a generation, this is a squad that deserves to be torn apart so that the club can start again.
It would be unfair to place sky-high expectations on the young players, who are either in the squad already or soon to be, but the fact is, they deserve their shot at glory. The majority of the list above has more than had their day in the sun and it is time for them and the club to move on. With Felix Magath at the helm, it looks like that is what we are about to do.
Fulham midfielder Steve Sidwell admitted the team had not performed..
The Cottagers failed to make an impact in a must-win game at the Britannia Stadium, on the weekend, and Sidwell cited last weekend’s 2-2 home draw with Hull City as a factor.
Felix Magath’s side led 2-0 against the Tigers but dropped two vital points as the visitors fought back to draw 2-2.
Sidwell said “I think the Hull City draw probably knocked the stuffing out of us – 2-0 up at home and coming away with a draw.
“We knew we had to go up to Stoke to get a result and it did not work out.
“It’s probably more disappointing with how we performed I think words were said in the dressing room afterwards, that if we were going to go down, let’s go down with a bit of fight and courage – something that’s not been there throughout the season.
Sidwell admitted it has been a tough campaign for the Craven Cottage club who have won just nine of their 37 matches.
“It’s been a bit of pain every week throughout the season, even the games we’ve won. It’s been hard at times,” he said.
“We have had a spell in the last few weeks when we’ve got back into a bit of form and we’ve thought we could get out of it, but at the end of the day the table doesn’t lie. It’s all there for a reason and we deserve to be down there.
“No-one is too good to go down. It’s a squad game and you’ve got to perform on a Saturday and if you are not performing as a team then you deserve to go down.
“There has been a lot of factors that you could make excuses for – different managers, different styles over the course of the season – but we are professionals and we just have to go out there on a Saturday and perform and over the season we have not done that.”
Steve Sidwell believes Fulham can pull off another great escape and secure Premier League safety after a stunning victory at Aston Villa.
Substitute Hugo Rodallega headed a late winner at Villa Park that saw Fulham climb off the bottom of the table and up to eighteenth place, with struggling Norwich – who sit just above the relegation zone – the next visitors to Craven Cottage. Sidwell, the only Fulham player to start every league game this season, is targeting an improvement in Fulham’s poor home form as the key to survival with five games to go.
There is [light at the end of the tunnel]. We said before the Aston Villa game, if we can get a win there and get the ball rolling then we’ve got a great chance [of staying up].
The fixtures that we’ve got to come, especially the home games for us against Norwich, Hull and Crystal Palace, mean we’ve got a chance to get points.
Sidwell, speaking to Talksport, was quick to praise the impact of new manager Felix Magath, who replaced Rene Meulensteen in February, and made light of the German’s reportedly brutal training sessions.
To describe him, he’s hard but fair. When you come into work he wants everything done with 110% [effort], whether it’s stretching, passing the ball or going into a game and doing tactics. In that respect a few of the boys who have had him before over in Germany have said this is nothing compared to what he can do.
He’s come in and he’s been quite open-minded as it’s the Premier League and it’s new to him. He’s asked a few of the senior players like me, Scott Parker and Brede Hangeland what the boys need. He’s not just come in and gone, ‘it’s my way or the highway.