Today it was finally announced that Fulham have been handed a transfer embargo by the Football League as a result of breaching Financial Fair Play regulations.
It is a mark of how jaded by failure we’ve become over Fulham’s short but extraordinary fall from grace that this news does not come as a surprise. That does not make it any less infuriating, but is a sad indictment of the ever-growing list of mismanaged situations that have come to be synonymous with our club in recent times.
We are a laughing stock. Not to the outside world – they stopped caring a while ago, but to ourselves.
The club’s statement is little more than a fourteen line excuse.
“Football League has since recognised this limit is low, especially for clubs recently relegated with Premier League overheads in place, and the limit has now increased to £13m per annum”.
Why then are Fulham the only relegated side to be included in those receiving sanctions?
In years gone by, we would have sat atop our high horse and sneered at clubs like Leeds, Blackburn and Nottingham Forest. These were all club’s with bigger pasts that Fulham but who had spectacularly let their fans down during their decent into the obscurity of ordinary club status. Yet here we are, just 5 years on from a Europa League Final staring at the bleak reality that we have become one of them. Indeed we now sit alongside Nottingham Forest on the naughty step.
Financial Fair Play is incredibly complex and as fans we are not experts. We simply want and assume our club is going to do everything it can to succeed. We just aren’t doing that. Yet the simple question that you can’t help but ask in this situation is how did Fulham let themselves fall foul of a system they know is in place? Was there oversight or did we simply think we were too big to get caught?
The club’s statement states they knew an embargo was coming hence the investment in the squad. However, it is not like our investment was particularly seismic. The club spent in the region of £7.5m on transfer fees last summer but at the end of the day the squad is still imbalanced and two of our most important players actually arrived on free transfers.
To an outsider looking in, it appears FFP does not look too kindly on owners supporting their clubs with parachuted capital. It may be that our breach was something of a necessary evil given what came before. Any breach or irregularity likely to relate to the financial investment that was committed in an effort to keep Fulham in the Premier League combined with the staggering loss of income as a result of us failing to do so. The Club’s statement alludes to this but it is hard to know to what extent this breach is Mitroglan.
As the club want us to believe, this may be an indictment of the system itself. The Premier League exists as a champagne bubble so highly removed from the financial reality of the Football League that this FFP breach may be more a result of the system than anything else. However, if that was really the case, why don’t all relegated clubs fall foul of the financial regulations and also get hit with sanctions?
No, this is our bad. Like the bungled search for a new manager, this is just another notch on an increasingly sad bedpost.
Merry Christmas Fulham style
Last week I posted the first half of my thoughts on the coaching and management, focussing on the coaching side of things. This second instalment looks into the world of management and in particular the appointment process for managers in the Football League.
Before embarking on the research that shaped what you’ll read below my thought process revolved around a couple of questions. How risky was it for Fulham to appoint a rookie manager in Kit Symons and how is the perception of his performance skewed by our collective affection for him as a former Fulham player?
To answer those questions properly would probably require some multi-faceted research worthy of its own thesis, but as a start, I thought it would be good to look at Symons relative to his peers at the other 71 Football League clubs.
That meant splitting the question into two parts when looking at each of the 72 managers across the Championship, League One and League Two;
· Did they play for the club they currently manage?; and
· Did they play for the club at which they were given their first managerial job?
Starting in the Championship, only 12.5% of current managers are also former players of their current club. 12.5% is 3 managers, and of these three managers, Kit Symons is the only rookie in his first job.
Nottingham Forest’s Dougie Freedman is in his third job, whilst Birmingham City’s Gary Rowett is in his second.
Freedman was also given his first job at a former club (Crystal Palace) and is now on his third club in the division despite not having really excelled at any point along the way.
Rowett was also given his managerial start at a former club, Burton Albion. However, down in League Two, he was able to develop under a less intense microscope. In two seasons at Burton, Rowett showed real talent getting to the play-offs twice, losing in a semi-final and then a final. His stock was obviously rising having been offered the Blackpool job only a short time before he took over at Birmingham. The lure of a former player to a former club proving too strong for either side in that instance.
With the Championship having just 3 out of 24 managers having played for their current club, how does this compare to the lower divisions? Well, combined, 14 (or 29%) out of the 48 League One and Two managers are former players of their current team, with 11 of those currently in their first job. That is a staggeringly higher number than in the Championship and could reflect any number of factors ranging from a willingness to give young (and cheap) managers a start, less intense pressure meaning the risk associated with appointing a rookie is slightly lower and an inability to attract successful experienced managers.
For a club in Fulham’s position to have appointed a rookie manager in the Championship appears something of an unnecessary risk given the fact that the division appears laden with experienced bosses. However, this then leads to a question I will have to leave unanswered. How many of those managers who took their first job at a former club got their chance first as a caretaker before being promoted after a series of good results? With caretaker managers often being on the receiving end of the boost in performance after clubs change manager, how many of these appointments ended up being misjudged, with the first few results under a caretaker not being indicative of their actual managerial ability?
To what extent do players need former clubs to give them their first opportunity? How many good managers have fallen through the cracks through a lack of opportunity and how manager managers who shouldn’t be managers are given an undeserved chance?
Across the entire Football League, a whopping 63% of managers got their first job at club they played for. That’s 45 out of the current 72 managers.
Split between the leagues, the Championship has the lowest percentage, with 58%, followed by League Two at 63% and League One at 67%.
The conclusion is that the cream rises to the top. The extrapolation of both sets of stats together suggests that the more successful managers are those who did not start at a former club…although with the trend coming down to just a few managers, that might be something of a tenuous conclusion.
A more sensible conclusion is that managers, whether or not they started at a former club, benefit from having experience lower down the Football League pyramid. Championship clubs evidently prefer experienced candidates, although that isn’t always the case.
While, at the moment Kit Symons at Fulham is the only club home-grown first time manager in the Championship, there are five others in their first professional managerial job; Paul Clement (Derby), Chris Ramsey (QPR), Lee Carsley (Brentford), Aitor Karanka (Middlesbrough) and Karl Robinson (MK Dons).
Of those, only Karanka and Clement were hired from outside the organisation and Carsley is a temporary appointment. Karanka and Clement both came to the division having been Real Madrid assistant manager, Karanka to Jose Mourinho and Clement to Carlo Ancelotti, so although both are rookie’s neither are exactlt inexperienced.
That leaves Robinson, Ramsey and Symons. Robinson has been MK Dons manager since 2010, and was previously assistant manager to Paul Ince and a coach at Liverpool and Blackburn. His was not a sentimental hire, rather a young coach being given an opportunity in testing circumstances. However, he still got his opportunity thanks to a club giving a chance to someone they were familiar with and is an example of how in-house appointments can succeed. However, MK Dons have been patient with Robinson and Milton Keynes isn’t exactly a pressure cooker environment for a manager.
So to answer my initial questions, was it a risk to appoint Symons? Yes, of course it was, appointing any rookie manager is a risk. Whether or not you believe he’s had the benefit of home-grown goodwill is a lot harder to answer and depends upon who you talk to – one man’s former hero is another man’s current public enemy. So while sentimentality definitely played a part in his appointment, as the data shows, that’s not unusual. How he’s treated as his managerial career progresses may well dictate whether or not sentimentality proves to be a good thing or a bad thing.
As a footnote, whilst we’re not currently in the market for a new manager, when we are it might be worth noting that Cambridge’s Richard Money and Swindon’s Mark Cooper are the only other Football League managers who have played for Fulham, while in Italy, our former striker Vincenzo Montella is currently without a club having left Fiorentina.
For now though, Symons is in his own way defying convention and regardless of anything else, it is human nature for us all to want him to do well.
A rumour that popped a little while ago, Fulham today announced that they “just couldn’t stop” themselves and have signed former Rotherham midfielder Ben Pringle on a free transfer. Pringle, along with ex-Bolton goalkeeper Andy Lonergan will join the Whites officially on July 1st when their current contracts have expired.
Along with the ability to make endless references to the Pringles crisp advertising campaigns, these two signings represent a canny and successful first bit of business this summer for Fulham from the new Mike Rigg, Kit Symons and Alistair Mackintosh brain trust.
Anyone that saw Fulham’s draw with Rotherham at home in April will have spotted Pringle as the best player on the pitch by some margin and he was one of, if not, Rotherham’s best and most consistent player last season as the Millers narrowly avoided relegation to League One. Following a debut season at Championship level with Rotherham, the midfielder decided not to renew his contract at the Yorkshire club. It appears fan reaction to Pringle leaving has been a mixture of disappointment and understanding, with Rotherham fans seemingly comprehending of Pringle’s desire to play at a slightly higher level. Albeit I’m sure they’d have liked a transfer fee.
Financially, Pringle’s arrival on a free transfer represents obvious good value, whilst also leaving funds in the kitty for what is likely to be an expensive summer for Fulham, with both starters and squad players needed across nearly every position. Although as always with free transfers, the player is likely to be on slightly inflated wages, these are unlikely to be anywhere near those of the players left over from the Premier League squad of 18 months ago. Getting a player who could well end up as a starter on a free is nothing to be scoffed at.
Left midfielder Pringle has just turned 26, so unlike far too many of our recent signings, he is in the statistical prime years of his career. To get the best player from a division rival is a good move, to get one on a free transfer is even better.
In fact it is a move like this, although showing how far we’ve fallen in the last 18 months, that shows we are finally starting to think smarter about how to get back up the footballing pyramid. While it is not necessary to have a squad full of players with Championship experience, we desperately need a few more, and to get a player such as Pringle who is in his prime is a smart piece of business.
I’m particularly pleased with Pringle’s arrival as he fills a severe positional need. We survived last season with a complete lack of width. It wasn’t a good tactic. Aside from the inexperienced George Williams, whose style is not that of an out and out winger, and converted left back Sean Kavanagh, we do not have a genuine left midfielder in the squad. Pringle’s pace, passing and more specifically his crossing ability will help create genuine chances for a frontline far too often starved of service last season.
Statistically, Pringle made 40 appearances last season, scoring 3 goals with 7 assists. What stands out is Pringle’s ability to create chances. His 99 chances created was 20 higher than the nearest Fulham player (Ross McCormack – 79). By contrast, Bryan Ruiz created only 42 chances, Lasse Vigen Christensen created 41 and Hugo Rodallega 40, albeit all of these had reduced playing time for one reason or another.
Meanwhile Pringle’s 92 “Key Passes” was 22 higher than Fulham’s highest, Ross McCormack with 70. Scott Parker was second with 40 and Ruiz 3rd with 39.
From a financial and statistical point of view, Pringle represents a clever start to Fulham’s summer.
Welcome to Fulham, Ben.
If last week’s general election has taught us one thing, it’s that social media can often be a bit of an echo chamber. One opinion becomes the vocal majority. But is the vocal majority actually a majority?
In the case of Kit Symons’ future as Fulham manager I’m not sure. We know for sure that the vocal majority want the Fulham manager to be someone else, but is it actually a majority of Fulham fans that want Kit gone?
It certainly looks and sounds for now as though Symons is to remain Fulham manager; but what follows is an in-depth look at his performance as Fulham manager to date and the reasons people may or may not want him replaced.
Back to social media; what is so unique to the Symons situation is that there is much less vitriol in this debate than over the fates of previous managers such as Jol and Magath. Their departures were very much wanted sackings. In the current scenario, it is not so much that fans seem to want Symons sacked more that they just want somebody else to have his job. Symons is like a politician with a good personality and bad policies.
The Symons question is as much an existential one as it is one simply of results. After two lacklustre seasons in the Premier League that culminated in our relegation in 2014, the majority of the fans expected something better last year, both in terms of performance and results. Regardless of the start under Magath, it has been the lack of quality football under Symons that has led to his alienation as much as the results.
Symons’ tendency to revert to risk aversion in every situation led to some dour football at times, often manifesting itself in substitutions and tactics that seemed only to make sense to him. However, given our precarious position when he took over, was that justified? As paying customers we are several years removed from Fulham being classified as value for money entertainment, but Symons’ job last season was predicated on results and not entertainment – so did fulfil his job in keeping us up?
So here’s the crux of my question? Has Symons simply proven the victim of a poisoned chalice, where the situation meant he could never truly succeed or is he now in a hole of his own doing and at the limit of his managerial potential?
To answer that question we have to be both subjective and objective. As well as asking what do we as fans and paying customers want from our football team next season, and who is likely to be best placed to deliver those wishes?
There were three periods of management last season; Felix Magath, Kit Symons – Caretaker & Kit Symons – Manager. We know the first eight games under Magath were a disaster, so let’s write them off. So dividing Symons’ tenure into two, we have the eight games he was caretaker and the 37 he was permanent manager.
In order to assess whether or not he is the right man for Fulham going forward I will look at the following areas; Results, Performances, Style and Intangibles.
|Kit As Caretaker
||Average Points Per Game
|Kit As Manager
||Average Points Per Game
As you can see, results under Kit got considerably worse after he was appointment the permanent manager on 29th October. Interestingly enough, an average points total of 1.19 per game extrapolated over the course of the entire season would have had us finish in 17th, the same position as we actually did. The totals in the table above include the four cup fixtures we played under Symons after he became permanent manager. If you remove the cup fixtures, the PPG total becomes slightly higher at 1.21, which would still have had us finish 17th.
What can you conclude from that? Symons’ good start merely served to balance out Magath’s bad one. 17th was a justified league position based on the entire season. Yes, it was Magath’s squad so that must be taken into account, but with two loan windows and the January transfer window, Symons’ cannot be given a free pass. Symons’ had a total of 39 league games and we finished a thoroughly justified 17th.
One of the big accusations against Symons’ Fulham was our lackadaisical defending. To the naked eye, Symons, as a former defender, has shown a staggering lack of ability to get any improvement out of our defenders. Is that the case statistically and how much of this is down to them being the wrong players to begin with?
What is interesting is if you compare our goal difference over the two Symons periods:
|Kit as Caretaker
||Goals for per game
||Goals Against Per Game
|Kit as Manager
||Goals for per game
||Goals Against Per Game
In truth, the defence maintained a nearly identical level of performance throughout Symons’ entire tenure. However, the attack got considerably worse. If we delve even deeper into the numbers, it is possible to see that Fulham under Symons actually had a break even goal difference all the way until we played Blackburn at the end of January.
I find this worsening of performance particularly concerning as you would expect a team to perform better once a manager has had a time to coach and influence a team, especially considering the loan and transfer windows. However, under Symons, we got considerably worse once the initial gloss of his appointment wore off.
It was this performance over the latter half of the season that has turned many fans against him as there was simply no sign of any improvement, and certainly no sign of any coaching impact on his behalf.
If you believe the theory that luck and confidence played their part in his caretaker spell, these numbers might give your theory some credence.
One of the big criticisms levied at Symons is his lack of adventure. He is tactically the equivalent of a man who goes to an ice cream parlour and orders vanilla with no toppings. Worse than that though, at times the football under his leadership appeared to lack a coherent purpose or style other than trying to eke out as many points as possible. Symons’ philosophy was certainly one of the glass being half empty. Why enhance a lead when you can protect it?
However, the end of Fulham’s season was characterised by panic tactics. We were in trouble and needed points to keep us up. This led to Matt Smith’s recall from Bristol City and a change in style. If we compare Symons’ tenure as permanent manager when Smith started and when he didn’t, the results look particularly ominous:
|Games When Matt Smith starts
||Average Points Per Game
|Games When Matt Smith Doesn’t Start
||Average Points Per Game
When Matt Smith didn’t start, Fulham’s PPG total was 1.13, a 0.3 PPG fall from games when he did start. Considering it was Symons who loaned Smith out in the first place and then showed reluctance to use him, we can assume his eventual inclusion was out of desperation rather than desire.
When Symons played his tactics, i.e. not the emergency long ball to Smith, our PPG fell below his overall average PPG, meaning we were worse off results-wise when Symons was left to his own devices tactically.
Goal statistics don’t make for better reading:
|Matt Smith Starts
||Goals for per game
||Goals Against Per Game
|Matt Smith Doesn’t Start
||Goals for per game
||Goals Against Per Game
Stylistically this doesn’t bode well for Kit. With Smith, we play a tighter, simpler and more controlled game (long ball doesn’t exactly take much instruction). We score less but we concede less. Simply put, we are boring, but reasonably effective.
Without Smith, we are a bit more interesting, but considerably worse. Symons systematically failed to strike any kind of balance between style and substance. This is something most of us could have said without statistical evidence. Our football was rarely aesthetically pleasing and Symons never really showed any grasp of consistent tactics. The obsession with a narrow diamond formation was a particular failing. Tactically it fast became one game to the next, survive and protect. Considering our start that’s hardly surprising, but it was very bad to watch at times.
This is where the debate becomes personal and very subjective. There are some fans who just don’t like sacking managers, while there are undoubtedly some who do. There are some fans that’ll defend Symons because he is a “Fulham man”, there are others, myself included, who feel that shouldn’t come into it.
However, there are several other unquantifiable intangibles to Symons’ management style that will contribute to his judgement:
A) Stalled development – I’m not going to claim that with Roberts and Dembele playing 40 games we’d have won the league, far from it. However, Pat Roberts played 450 minutes over the course of the entire season, and Dembele 575. That’s less time than it would take to sit through the entire Hobbit trilogy. How on earth are they going to develop into a position where he can help us next season by playing so little this year? The same can be said of George Williams, Moussa Dembele and several others, such as Jack Grimmer who was dropped in favour of a loanee who was not discernibly better. All the while 21 year old Sean Kavanagh played over 20 games despite largely floundering.
B) Favouritism – Symons’ inconsistent and at times “teacher’s pet” style of team selection certainly wound up a large proportion of the Craven Cottage crowd. Players like Jazz Richards, Kavanagh and Tunnicliffe were all at times shown favouritism that was hard to comprehend. On the reverse, the likes of Chris David, Roberts, Dembele and Matt Smith were often cast aside without warning.
C) Square Pegs in Round Holes – McCormack as a left midfielder, Tunnicliffe as a winger, Kavanagh as midfielder, Bodurov as a right back. Symons’ team selections were often hampered by a lack of players to choose from and littered with players playing out of position. How many more points would we have gotten should Ross have played the entire season up front? Why did Kit both refuse to play with width and then not sign a single winger?
D) Hands in the Pockets – This is a minor point, but I’d really like a manager who is less passive during the matches. Contemplative can begin to look like cluelessness if it’s your only move.
E) The Smile – this isn’t a list of reasons he’s not the man. If we play well, Kit and his enthusiastic smile are very easy to like. We just didn’t play well often enough.
F) The Squad – our squad balance was poor last season, but Symons had opportunities to re-shape it and didn’t set the world alight with his choices. However, the summer is the best time to buy and sell players. Does Kit deserve a summer window? Or indeed will he get to control the squad framework even if he does stay on? With Mike Rigg controlling talent identification now, there is an argument to say having a good coach as the manager is more important than ever. Is Symons that man?
G) Experience – Kit Symons’ managerial career is 37 games old so let’s not put the cart before the horse and call his career over. However, he’s had several seasons managing at youth level so we’re not talking about an ex-player taking the immediate leap. If Kit stays in his post and shows signs of learning from last season then I’m all for giving him a chance. However, there is a school of thought that suggests 37 games is more than enough to show your capabilities.
H) Substitutions – I’ve alluded to this above, but Symons’ biggest flaw in the eyes of many fans is his mis-use of substitutions. Either he wouldn’t use them or he’d be defensive. The very few times we did manage to see the likes of Woodrow, Williams, McCormack and Roberts on the field together were electric, but all too few and far between. The conundrum facing fans and ownership alike, was this risk aversion a product of circumstance? For all our sake I hope so.
I look at the current situation as an opportunity. We must decide whether or not Symons is the man to help develop and implement a strategy to return Fulham to the Premier League. As a club, we must stop being reactionary and start to get ahead of the curve. If Symons stays on just because people felt “he deserved a chance”, only to lead us on to the path to 17th next season and get sacked, then we as a club will have failed. No ifs and no buts.
Do I think he deserves that chance?
Symons was the right man at the right time after Magath. The players and fans needed a smile, a hug and their hands held. Symons did that, and we stayed up, but next season is an opportunity for a clean break from recent failings and, for me, that includes a fresh start at manager as well.
I think for Kit to actually be sacked would be mighty harsh considering his modus operandi last season. I’d like to think the club might make room for him to stay either as an assistant or back in the youth ranks where he succeeded before. Or I’d love for Kit to admit his own limitations and step back into a reduced role, but I think we all know he’d be too proud to do so.
This summer is a time to grab our future as a club by its undercarriage and take control. That might mean being ruthless. Just look at Norwich, they were in a very similar situation to us 12 months ago and let one of their own, Neil Adams, stay on as manager last summer only to dismiss him during the season as results didn’t improve. They now sit 180 minutes from a return to the Premier League.
No longer can Fulham amble on the path to mediocrity. Starting from the top, Fulham must come out of this summer with confidence and a clear, united message. If that means Kit Symons is manager then I hope and expect him to show a willingness to learn and the club to show him support whilst displaying progress on and off the field. If they do that, then they have my full support and I suspect they’ll have yours too. However, if this is simply another risk not taken, another stride towards the middle ground, then the club is on a hiding to nothing and it won’t take them long to find that out.
Unlike the uncertainty surrounding tomorrow’s General Election, Fulham’s Player of the Season can barely be any more clear cut.
Amidst a season of near universal mediocrity, where his supporting cast that has faltered at virtually every step, with one manager who lambasted his fitness and another who played him out of position and his ideal strike partner bought specially to play with him only to be loaned to a lower division, Ross McCormack has amassed a statistically outstanding season and is the overwhelming choice for Player of the Season.
To put Ross’ season into context, take the following example:
Player A is Middlesbrough’s Patrick Bamford, the Chelsea loanee who won the Official Championship Player of the Season award. Striker B, McCormack, has better headline numbers, and yet was nowhere to be seen at the Football League Awards Gala.
Of course, statistics, especially headline ones like goals and assists don’t always tell the full story, but delve a little deeper, and McCormack’s season remains wholly impressive. In total, he scored 19 goals with 11 assists. Seven of his goals were from outside the box, whilst he went a lethal five from five from the penalty spot. His shot accuracy of 56% was 7% better than the next most accurate player, Hugo Rodallega, and 15% higher than third placed Cauley Woodrow.
Ross also proved the most durable Fulham player, completing 407 more minutes on the pitch than any other Fulham player. The 79 chances he created were also a team high.
Disregarding numbers, McCormack has been a consistent bright light for the Whites this season as a technically superior player who’s presence always seemed to give us a chance. His attacking style, though more bustle than languid, occasionally resembled a certain Bulgarian striker in quality. OK he’s not quite the Glaswegian Berbatov, but Ross’ first touch, vision and technical skill has at times seemed out of place in the rough ‘em tough ‘em style of the Championship, yet he has had a remarkable impact and is the one player who has genuinely made a regular positive difference to this Fulham side.
I don’t want to sound too gushing with my praise. The phrase a rose between two thorns comes to mind. It is easy to praise McCormack in contrast to his supporting cast, who have not exactly set the world on fire. However given a full season where he’s played up front with a strike partner, I have no doubt we’ll see his Leeds numbers replicated in Fulham white.
McCormack’s form this season earned him a recall to the Scotland national team, which was unfortunately curtailed by injury. He also provided arguably the best moment of the season with his 94th minute winner against Middlesbrough a fortnight ago. He also scored the winner at Brentford.
If you were looking for any criticisms of McCormack’s game that you would like to see ironed out next season you could point to his streakiness in front of goal. Of his 19 goals, seven came in a six game spell at the end of the season and another five came in a five game period over the winter. However, the barren spells in between were often due to him being played out of position or with an endless parade of strike partners plus he’s not exactly been blessed for chances laid on by teammates either.
That’s the thing with Ross, he is both tremendously unselfish in wanting to set up others, but at the same time ruthless and confident enough to make his own chances. This does manifest itself in the occasional act of ridiculousness, but virtuosos don’t get it right every time. If he did, Ross would play at a higher level than he does.
Simply put, without Ross there is a very good chance we would have been relegated. It might not be the justification we were originally after when we signed him, but McCormack has been worth every penny of the rumoured £100 billion we paid Leeds for him.
Lasse Vigen Christensen
The Dane was the one younger player to make an impact where you didn’t have to qualify it by saying “for a youngster” afterwards. Though his season came to an abrupt end in February, the midfielder made 25 appearances, scoring 5 goals. He looks a genuine box to box talent and will likely play a central role next season. That is if he remains at the club, with any luck the injury will actually work in our favour and keep the vultures at bay for another year.
Persistently inconsistent form means I can’t consider Bettinelli a genuine rival for McCormack’s title. However the young keeper has shown real potential this season to go alongside some outstanding individual performances and looks to have a long term future between the sticks for Fulham. In only his first full professional season, Bettinelli has had to endure a defence as porous as a Brita water filter and has still walked away with 8 clean sheets in 39 games. Yes, he has made some fairly catastrophic mistakes, but tell me a young keeper who hasn’t? As a goalkeeper, mistakes are part of the game, and are as much a learning experience as anything else. Having seen a young Joe Hart in his maiden season at Man City and Kasper Schmeichal on loan at Bury, I can say with some certainty Bettinelli not behind the curve and will only get better.
Whilst most of his good performances were for another side, Matt Smith has been one of the few Fulham players to actually play consistently well this season. His goals whilst on loan at Ashton Gate helped Bristol City romp to the League 1 title and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Once he returned to Fulham, several crucial goals, including the winner at Blackpool, helped us cross the finish line and stay up. No, his inclusion in the side doesn’t foster champagne football, but he’s effective and is as good a ball winner up front as we’ve had in some time. In a division where route one is an inescapable necessity at times, that is a quality that should not be overlooked.