The drawbridge is about to rise and another transfer window set to close. With that in mind, a quote in Felix Magath’s latest letter where he claims Fulham were quoted £12m for a Championship goalkeeper has left me wondering why Fulham seem to have so much trouble when it comes to selling players? We either seem to give them away on the cheap or can’t sell them at all?
This might actually be a false assumption. When it comes to transfers, appearances can be deceiving and reports in the press can be highly deceiving. Comparing one deal to another is a fool’s errand at the best of times, let alone without the full facts to play with. Seeing one well respected journalist tweet a comparison between the transfers of Ross McCormack and Xabi Alonso today shows the ease at which transfer stories can be manipulated and misinterpreted.
However, one undeniable fact is that, on the face of it, Fulham have for a while now, appeared to under-value our players when it comes time to show them the exit. Felix Magath’s £12m goalkeeper claim comes in stark contrast to the sale of David Stockdale to Brighton for a paltry £1m. Bryan Ruiz reportedly has a £3m price tag around his neck despite costing £11m and starring at the World Cup, while Kostas Mitroglou seems to have been linked to every team in Europe with nobody yet willing to pay us what we paid for him seven months ago.
So why then, do Fulham appear to come off on the bad end of these deals?
Communication (or-lack thereof)
Under the club’s current communications regime it is safe to say there has been a reluctance to share information. We may have actually profited on some deals, but Fulham could have sold Ashkan Dejagah to Qatari side Al Arabi for half of Doha and 50,000 barrels of crude oil and we’d still be told it was an undisclosed fee. The need-to-know basis on which information has been shared with fans and journalists over the past few years has restricted the flow of facts to the very minimum. This has led to rampant speculation amongst fans and a need to get information from other sources for journalists. Hence the talk of Ross McCormack’s fee being £11m coming from the Massimo Cellino spin machine at Leeds. With no retort from Fulham is it any wonder we’ve been the butt of so many ill-fated comparisons so far this summer.
*Of course there must be reason to Fulham’s methods, indeed one can’t help but think this week’s tub-thumping bout of verbal mud-slinging between Felix Magath, Shahid Khan and former owner Mohamad Al-Fayed has come about thanks to an apparent bypass of the club communication team. Although, while the public blame game has now turned somewhat unsavoury, it is at least nice to see Fulham actually make the papers. With perpetual undisclosed fees and player quotes normally coming straight from watered-down club website PR puff pieces this change of tact is at least a tiny bit refreshing.
Selling at the wrong time
Part of the blame for Fulham having to sell low is that we’re currently obvious sellers. Having been relegated and left with disillusioned players, Fulham’s negotiation poker face has been turned into a blank stare. When buyers know you want to sell, there is no incentive to pay fair value, let alone over-pay. The transfer window system has made the entire business of negotiating player movement one giant game of chicken. Unfortunately for us it is usually the party in the more eager position that blinks first. Fulham have been panic buyers in previous windows and are facing the prospect of being panic sellers on Monday.
An example is Bryan Ruiz in whom Fulham have a player they do not wish to keep, and one who himself does not wish to stay. With a year left on his contract, Bryan currently resembles a used car, if he stays at the club a minute past the transfer deadline, his value will plummet below its already deflated asking price.
Selling the wrong stock
Of course you can’t sell what you don’t have. Unless Alistair Mackintosh is sat at Motspur Park practicing his best Jordan Belfort impression, there is little chance of him conjuring up any miracle transfer fees. Of the playing staff from last season there was barely a player of decent value amongst them. Most were old and suffering from a decline in performance even Mohamed Al-Fayed’s ‘peppermints’ would have struggled to fix. The younger ones were nearly all played sparingly or out-of-position by Fulham’s cavalcade of different managers, diminishing any prospect of generating future hope value.
Those that did command fees on departure mostly left under the aforementioned iron curtain of undisclosed ambiguity, such as Kasami and Dejagah. Others, like Stockdale, were reportedly sold disaffected and un-wanted. It’s the exact method Roy Hodgson used so brilliantly to acquire the likes of Etuhu and Murphy for us in exchange for little more than a few grains of sand.
The outward transfer of Kerim Frei in 2012 was a prime example on the face of it. Our brightest academy prospect at the time, he left for Besiktas under-valued and over-weight. Players must be nurtured in order to yield magic beans come transfer windows and up till now the pressures of Premier League football have prevented that from truly taking place.
One look at Southampton this summer though and we can see where Fulham might be in a few years in terms of transfer fees received. There is little to suggest that the likes of Roberts, Woodrow, Dembele, Hyndman, Bettinelli and Burgess don’t have the talent to emulate the Lallana, Shaw, Forster, Chambers and Schneiderlin’s of the world in years to come. Given the right environment and regular game time these players could command significant fees in the future. Of course not every young player has the potential to be bought for £20m but it’s amazing the value that big clubs will place of young players who have actually played.
Alistair Mackintosh has always had a good reputation when it comes to negotiating. There often seemed a “take it or leave it” hard-line stance to our negotiations. We rarely usurped other teams when buying, and when we wanted rid of players we sold them with little fuss and fanfare. The Jol years slowly seemed to change that though and the now infamous Dembele & Dempsey summer was particular disastrous. The Belgian’s release clause was set at the frustratingly realistic sum of £15m, while we were surreptitiously held to ransom by a wantaway Dempsey. Of course, none of us know whether Mousa’s release clause was a condition of his transfer from AZ Alkmaar in the first place, but it was hard not to feel as if a part of Fulham’s soul got burned that fateful August week in 2012.
Whether you bear in mind the fact he largely dealt himself the hand in front of him, considering what he had to work with our CEO did actually do quite well to get any return on some transfers. Getting Monaco and Valencia to absorb the contracts of Dimitar Berbatov and Philippe Senderos felt a bit like giving a piece of rubbish to someone else to put in the bin. That both players are actually now playing at a higher level above and beyond their performances for Fulham is more a testament to our lack of decent coaching and management than anyone’s negotiation skill.
Ashkan Dejagah was sold almost immediately following a stellar World Cup and you rather feel we missed a trick not selling Bryan from a beachside cabana in Brazil while his stock was at its highest in July.
There is one other factor making sales difficult, foreign exchange. The British Pound is incredibly strong at present. The value of £1 Sterling has risen 10 cents from €1.16 to €1.26 in last year.
If you consider Bryan Ruiz’s reported asking price of £3m, currency fluctuations over the past 12 months would mean an increases cost of £300,000 (or €380,000) for a continental European buyer. If we also consider that Ruiz is likely to command anywhere up to £40,000 a week, currency movement alone has increased his wage by £208,000 a year (€262,000). Over the course of a four year contract that’s an additional £1,150,000 in total cost for a European team looking to buy Bryan. If you consider then that the majority of our more expensive players would be targets for clubs in the Eurozone (as opposed to domestic £GBP sales) and combine that with players’ ages, contract length and desire to leave along with our position as known sellers, the only realistic outcome is that asking prices become reduced.
Similarly, why would a club like Werder Bremen who are struggling financially mess around structuring a transfer deal in multiple currencies when they have the option not to?
It is cheaper for European countries to sign players from areas where the Euro is the stronger currency. It is perhaps then no surprise that we discover Werder Bremen’s biggest transfer outlay this summer has been €1m on Argentinean defender Santiago Garcia from Chilean club Rangers Talca. The Euro has risen almost 20% against the Chilean Peso in the past year. As Garcia was signed at a pre-agreed price following a loan spell, were the fee agreed in Pesos at the start of the deal, he would have been €200,000 cheaper at the end of his loan deal than at the start. Though that transfer was likely hedged against currency movement, the point still stands that it will always be easier to import to a strong currency than export to places with a weaker currency.
The final point is that relative value is generated in each particular market. This is not necessarily a currency point and more a multi-layered question as to a player’s style, experience and perceived compatibility to a particular league. Does a £1,000,000 fee in England for one player equate to a €1,000,000 fee or a €1,260,000 fee for an identical player in Europe? Is it a question of currency or relativity? With the in-built wealth present in the English game, it is inherently a question of relativity.
The highest transfer fee paid domestically in England this summer was the £30m paid by Manchester United for teenage left back Luke Shaw from Southampton. The biggest domestic fee in Germany on the other hand was the €14m paid by Bayer Leverkusen for Hamburg attacking midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu. The highest fee in Italy was €22m, paid by Roma for Argentinean winger Juan Iturrbe from Hellas Verona, however, Hellas themselves had simultaneously exorcised a €15m purchase option in Iturrbe’s loan from Porto in order to cash in on a player who had taken immediately to Serie A. The Iturrbe deal aside, the next highest domestic fees in Italy were the equal €5.5m deals Lazio completed for Dusan Basta and Marco Parolo respectively, while the highest in Spain was the €20m Barcelona paid Valencia for experienced French centre half Jeremy Mathieu.
Would any of those transfer fees have been as high if there were only foreign clubs in for the players? Maybe as each players value comes as a result of supply and demand, but as long as there’s a player who’s a proven commodity in any particular league, demand for signature will always be higher. This explains the Ross McCormack price as he is worth more to a team in the Championship, where he is proven, than a team in the Premiership where he’d present a risk.
The magnitude of those domestic European deals serves to reinforce the assertion that the intrinsic value held within the English game places it at a premium above its European rivals. For a smaller club like Fulham looking to the European markets to sell, this premium can make it incredibly difficult to sell unless our expectations of fees received come down.
When you put all these together, perhaps it’s little wonder that Fulham haven’t been able to cash in this summer.
This is a bit out of place but Phil on Twitter was asking people about their favourite books so I wrote all this. There are thousands of very good books in the world and these are just some that sprang to mind. I’m terrible at describing why I like the books I like but I’ll do my best.
Disclosure: the links are affiliate links. On the off chance anyone clicks and buys I get a tiny percentage in commission.
King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero by David Remnick
Remnick is the editor of the New Yorker and has written a biography of Barack Obama which I’m reading now. His Ali book, which focuses a good deal on Sonny Liston and the boxing world in which they worked, is a masterpiece. This is about as good as sports books get, I think.
Game Time: A Baseball Companion Roger Angell, funnily enough also affiliated with the New Yorker on several levels, is one of the great sports writers. His descriptions of the game are so vivid and original, without overdoing it. (“Bernie Carbo, pinch hitting, looked wholly overmatched against Eastwick, flailing at one inside fastball like someone fighting off a wasp with a croquet mallet.”) He has a leisurely approach, an eye for the interesting, and his prose style is what you’d expect from a man whose mother was the driving force behind the aforementioned New Yorker, whose stepfather (E.B. White) wrote the style bible (the Elements of Style – writing style, that is) as well as Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and lots of non-fiction for grown-ups besides. Angell himself edited fiction for the New Yorker for years. He also wrote baseball essays for the magazine, many of which have been collected into books. I’d never get anywhere near him but Angell’s style is what I was going for when I started this website.
The Story of the World Cup: 2014: The Essential Companion to Brazil 2014 – the latest in Brian Glanville’s World Cup series. It’s a simple approach: every four years there’s a new version with a long essay about every World Cup held to date. FIFA can do all they want to spoil things, but ultimately it’s a rich competition with a vivid history. Glanville’s been there and seen it all (not quite it all but not far off) and this is pretty definitive. Put it this way: the World Cup is the greatest sporting event on earth, and this is the book about it I like most.
Stone Junction – this is Jim Dodge’s…. third?… book. It’s imperfect, but so many of the best things in life are. (I’d rather listen to a bad Juliana Hatfield album than anything anyone else has done.)
Like many of the best fiction writers, Dodge is primarily a poet, and it shows in his language, which is exact, deliberate, but exciting. This is subtitled “an alchemical potboiler” and it’s a big old canvas he’s working on here, but it covers some importantish ground. I don’t know if anyone else will like this – I don’t always like it myself – but Dodge’s world view and writing pull the right strings for me. Here’s a really good interview he did once. (e.g. ” Because my initial practice was poetry, in which there’s no money, I learned early on that there’s two ways to affluence: work to make enough money to buy everything you want, or to not want much.”)
Overall, I love it.
The Savage Detectives Roberto Bolano is more or less god in my world. His books are so far beyond what anyone else has done it’s pretty ridiculous. The Savage Detectives is probably the most enjoyable but the trick here is to read everything he’s done, as it all fits together. 2666 is a more impressive accomplishment in some ways (it’s a monster, unsurpassable really, but not the best entry to Bolano) but you can’t beat this one for entertainment. It starts with a group of young poets in Mexico City who end up on the run from some murderous drug dealers. We spend the majority of the book hearing brief accounts by people who met two of these poets in the years they were missing, which gives a very uneven (talk about unreliable narrators…) but fascinating portrait of the individuals in question. Ah, I can’t describe this. It’s just brilliant.
Jujitsu for Christ (Banner Books) by Jack Butler. One you won’t have heard of probably. I got this on the recommendation (not a personal recommendation though) of the great singer-songwriter Jim White. Here’s a blurb:
Jack Butler’s Jujitsu for Christ, originally published in 1986, follows the adventures of Roger Wing, a white born-again Christian and karate instructor who opens a martial arts studio in downtown Jackson, Mississippi, during the tensest years of the civil rights era.
I found it to be a really well written, funny, moving book, but not in a soft Metro-reader way. Dunno. Some books really affect you. I could very easily have put Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” here, incidentally. Perhaps I should have. That’s an incredible book.
Pulphead: Notes from the Other Side of America by John Jeremiah Sullivan. If Bolano is the god of fiction then Sullivan is the god of essays. This is just amazing.
But crying…My God, there have been more tears shed on reality TV than by all the war widows of the world. Are we so raw? It must be so. There are simply too many of them-too many shows and too many people on the shows-for them not to be revealing something endemic. This is us, a people of savage sentimentality, weeping and lifting weights
That weeping and lifting weights line cracks me up every time. There are also essays on Axl Rose and early American music, a serious piece that preceded this masterpiece of journalism. Sullivan’s the Lionel Messi of writing at the moment.
The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction by Nate Silver – this is just a really good read about the way the world is today. Silver, whose name you might know, is a very bright man, and talks about predictions and projections of all kinds, the weather, political polling, expert analysis, and so on. Fascinating.
Sew Your Own: Man finds happiness and meaning of life – making clothes by John-Paul Flintoff. “The true story of one man’s attempt to survive economic meltdown, tackle climate change and find the meaning of life – by making his clothes” An enjoyable read. John-Paul’s all about doing things yourself. Finding how things work, then taking them on. There’s a terrific story in here about him trying to apply this thinking to rat catching. I’m listing it here as I think it’s a book more people should read.
Rogue Male – Geoffrey Household
I must be careful about spoilers. But I betray no vital loyalty if I say that the opening pages are a tumult: fast and disorienting in their incidents. Armed with a “Bond Street rifle” our narrator enters a European country (resembling Germany), and over several days stalks a dictator (resembling Hitler) to his country residence. He gets within sniping distance of his quarry, but at the vital moment is overpowered by a sentry. He is interrogated, tortured, then thrown over a cliff. But he falls into a marsh whose softness saves his life. He takes refuge in a larch tree, and then begins, desperately wounded, to make his way towards the coast. His torturers follow: the hunter is the hunted.
It’s very good. Old school thriller. Well worth a read.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre B Traven. You might have seen the film of this which stars Humphrey Bogart. Treasure, trust, greed, gold, guns, bandits, Mexico, all the ingredients you might need.
Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler. I could have put anything by him really. The master. I really do want to be Philip Marlowe.
“I was as hollow and empty as the spaces between stars.”
“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”
“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.”
The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract completely changed how I looked at baseball, and at other sports. James is a brilliant writer, a terrific historian and an able statistician. He’s curious, looks at things in ways others don’t, and his ideas took hold about 20 years after they ought to have done. Without James there would be no Moneyball. Everything he wrote prior to about 1988 is gold. His work probably lead to me doing what I do for a living now, and his early self-published abstract books were absolutely the inspiration for the Fulham Reviews.
Rabbit, Run (Penguin Modern Classics) by John Updike, which, in my late 20s, taught me that I wasn’t the only selfish idiot in the world. There are four books in the series and I almost daren’t go back to them now, but they absolutely changed my world in ways I’m not going to go into.
The Monkey Wrench Gang (Penguin Modern Classics) by Edward Abbey.
‘My job is to save the fucking wilderness. I don’t know anything else worth saving.” Thus the career plan of George Washington Hayduke, hard-nut hero of Edward Abbey’s 1975 novel The Monkey Wrench Gang. Pro-conservation, pro-guns and extremely pro-booze, anti-mining, anti-tourism and extremely anti-dams, Hayduke appoints himself protector of the remaining desert regions of the American southwest, and becomes a pioneer in the art of “eco-tage”, also known as “monkey wrenching” – using the tools of industry to demolish the infrastructure of industry in the name of the biosphere.
Hayduke is joined by three other activists – an anarchist doctor, a revolutionary feminist and a polygamist river guide – and this quartet of Quixotes heads out into red-rock country to wage war on techno-industry. They pour sand into the fuel tanks of bulldozers. They drive quarry lorries over canyon rims. They blast power lines and disrupt strip mines. Their weapons are audacity, wit and gelignite. Their grail is the destruction of the Glen Canyon Dam that blocks the Colorado river (and, it should be noted, still does).
Crunch! Kapow! Crash! Bang! The Monkey Wrench Gang is the wish-fulfilment dream of eco-Luddites everywhere. Civilisation violates the land, so Hayduke (“a good, healthy psychopath”) and his pals violate civilisation. Crucially, people go unharmed in Abbey’s novel. Machinery is smashed and split, exploded and eviscerated; but drivers and technicians escape. The only vital fluids that get spilt are oil, coolant and petrol. In this way, activism remains ethically distinct from terrorism. The beef of the Monkey Wrench Gang is not with the personnel of the “megalomaniacal megamachine”, but with its material and ideological manifestations. The battle they fight is against developments and double-lane highways, and against the economic principle of maximised shareholder profit and the economic delusion of unlimited growth.
The Monkey Wrench Gang is a magnificent snarl of genres: spaghetti westerns tangled up with the Keystone Cops, the Cervantean romance tradition and Acme cartoon capers (in an ending that comes straight from the Wile E Coyote school of resurrection, Hayduke plummets over a canyon edge and falls thousands of feet – only to reappear a few pages later, wounded but well).
Filed under: General
You’ve probably all read this by now: MAF says Felix is absurd to blame him.
There’s a lot of cackling and agreement on the internet.
But hang on…
What did Magath say again?
The problem we had was that the owner before had not spent money,” says Magath. “The club sold the best players and brought in average players. You cannot go on doing that for a long time. That is why we are struggling.”
What part of that is not correct?
Even if you take the view that Fulham were still spending a fair amount on wages – which they were – this still wasn’t good spending. The team got older and older and nobody did a thing. This Fulham team shouldn’t have gone down, and maybe it’s harsh to say that MAF stopped spending, but again, the money that was spent was spent badly. Older, established players, tend to cost more than their younger equivalent, but over the years we had completely neglected the integration of any players, to the point where the youngsters in the team were in their mid to late 20s. It costs money to turn over an ageing team and we absolutely didn’t do this. Nobody can say that Fayed was anything but amazing for the club, but post Europa there was a real sense that that was that. It’s borderline ridiculous to sit here speculating on how much was spent vs how much needed to be spent, but it seems to be a widely held view that Fulham probably didn’t do enough to make sure the 2013-14 season didn’t happen. And like it or not, that season was much more on Fayed than it was on Magath, regardless of what’s happened since.
It was a terrific note from Fayed – you’d expect nothing else from him – but Magath’s view is perfectly defensible, too, so I’m surprised (I shouldn’t be though, should I?) at the reaction to it. Especially as we’ve just won a game and appear to be moving towards a more settled team (Magath’s words).
Filed under: General
Emerson Hyndamn’s emergence into the Fulham first-team picture has been rewarded with a first call-up to the American national squad from Jurgen Klinsmann.
The Texan midfielder has been given the opportunity to make his international debut against the Czech Republic in Prague in the United States’ first friendly following their World Cup exploits. The 18 year-old, who started Fulham’s first two Championship games of the new campaign, has previously represented the American Under-17 squad and his promotion represents further recognition for his meteoric rise since signing his first professional contract with Fulham last year.
Hyndman scored three goals as Fulham’s Under 18 side reached the FA Youth Cup final last season and was picked out by Magath as one of the promising youth products he could include in his radical reshaping of an ageing side that was relegated from the Premier League in May. Hyndman impressed Magath during Fulham’s pre-season tour of Scotland and, although he was a surprise selection on the opening day of the season at Ipswich, his assured display proved he was more than ready for his debut.
Hyndman is the youngest member of Klinsmann’s new look squad and the American national team coach was effusive about a number of the new faces he has selected for the September 3rd friendly:
It’s an especially good opportunity for us to look at the younger players based in Europe, which we don’t get to do very often because of their schedules. We can’t bring them into the January camp where we get to work with a lot of the up and coming talent, so for players like Joe Gyau, Emerson Hyndman, Rubio Rubin and Bobby Wood, it’s a great chance for them to experience our environment, and for us we get to know these guys better and see what they can do.
Fulham have confirmed the signing of veteran goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly from German side 1860 Munich for an undisclosed fee.
The Hungarian international, who has enjoyed in England spells with Crystal Palace and Burnley, has signed a one-year deal with Championship Fulham and will offer the experience in goal that Felix Magath has been seeking as he has alternated between Jesse Joronen and Marcus Bettinelli, who made his senior debut in Tuesday’s League Cup win at Brentford. The 38 year-old, who made 188 appearances in five years with 1860 Munich, says he discussed his potential move with former Fulham cult heroes Moritz Volz and Zoltan Gera before agreeing terms with the London club.
Kiraly’s wealth of experience, which also includes 90 caps for his country, was one of the major reasons why Magath was keen to conclude the deal. The Fulham manager said in the club’s official statement:
I’m pleased that Gabor joins us today. He is a goalkeeper with vast experience of playing at the top level in England and Germany. He will be an important addition to our squad for this current season and he will also be able to assist our two young goalkeepers with their continued development and progression in our first team.
Kiraly, who was widely recognised as one of the best goalkeepers in the German second during his time in Munich having initially signed as a number two, was delighted to return to England:
I’m very happy to be here. Fulham is a great club and I’ll always give my best.
Fulham striker Cauley Woodrow has been named in a reshaped England Under-21 squad for their final two European Championship qualifiers against Lithuania and Moldova in September.
The 19 year-old forward made his Under-21 debut against Qatar in May after breaking into the Fulham first team towards the tail end of last season. He scored twice in four further appearances at the Toulon Tournament over the summer and has done enough to keep his place in Gareth Southgate’s latest squad, despite some serious competition for places up front.
Woodrow has made four appearances for Fulham so far this season, his latest being the full ninety minutes in the Capital One Cup win at Brentford on Tuesday night, but has yet to score.
John Arne Riise mentioned the other day how, after that horrible defeat at Derby, Magath called a late night meeting and announced practice first thing in the morning. Usually days after matches are for recovery. Que the horror.
The practice allegedly consisted of “tactics training” and lots of running.
When I played varsity sports in high school, heavy defeats were often followed by impromptu practices that contained lots of running. Same for those I helped managed in both high school and college. It didn’t matter if the coach horribly prepared us for the game, or if it was just a ‘bad day at the office’. Our actions on the game field had repercussions on the practice field.
I have no record (and done little research) that Khan played sports in his teen years. I can say that he has a lot of business acumen, and probably learned a bit about coaching methodologies I mentioned above while pursuing an NFL team before eventually owning the Jacksonville Jaguars.
And the fact he owns an NFL team, and not say an MLB team (more on that later), in relation to Magath is key.
American Football coaches, by and large, are insane (http://deadspin.com/5958802/coaches-are-freaks). Outside of baseball, no sport has sees much over coaching by managers. They routinely pull 100-hour work weeks. Everything is planned out. Game film is pored over again and again. It’s so intense that last season, one NFL coach had a heart attack while leisurely playing golf. Another had a stroke in the middle of a game.
The response from his colleagues were a shrug.
(Just read this from the now-fired Jim Schwartz: “That’s probably the same way you would talk in the locker room about a player that saw another player get an ACL or have another injury — if you let that affect the way you work, you’re in the wrong boat … Coaches don’t work 100 hours a week because they’re doing it because that’s healthy. They do it because the job requires it. It just is what it is.” Let that seep in.)
Compare that to the methods allegedly reported when Jol was in charge. If the rumors were true, the man rarely showed up to practice. The team was clearly out of shape and horribly ill prepared to do, well, anything. The defense, the bedrock of coaching, was on track to set historic lows.
Khan arrives and sees the mess. No, he’s not a football man; but he knows (or, thinks he does) enough about how teams are supposed to function that the current setup is a recipe for disaster.
But, he’s new. He doesn’t want to pull a Tony Fernandes and make an ass of himself in the first few months on the job. Nor does have the ego (or naiveté) to throw money at the problems like Abromovich or Sheikh Mansour did when they first arrived.
So he waits. Things don’t improve. He has Ali Mac hire esteemed assistant Rene Muelensteen to whip the team into some semblance of shape. Things continue to go sour. Jol gets fired, Rene takes over.
Things change slightly, but not enough. Rene’s reign was too short to make any sort of inferences, but I sense he found him to be too “salesman-y” (anyone who watched his videos on the team’s website will know what I mean; i.e., only speaking in cliches and platitudes) but mostly the results continue to remain poor.
Eventually Khan has enough. He played the modern English/European game to no avail, so now it’s the Puritanical American game. Cajoling is replaced by commanding. Obliging replaced with ordering.
He hires Felix Magath, a man hated in the game for his “methods”. He’s cold. He yells. He demands peak physical fitness. He’s ruthless. In Felix, Khan must have seen a familiar face. And what Felix has been implementing isn’t new to any American athlete or anyone involved heavily in sports. Khan sees him as someone who can whip this horrible, and horribly prepared, team into cohesion before it’s too late.
Well, it was too late. Although we may think otherwise, and have hindsight to prove (somewhat), Khan was a bit off in his belief. But, he still believes in Felix. The work is not done, the time to relax the control has not arrived. So he currently remains manager.
Sure, there’s been ultimatums given but that is to be expected in this hyper-competitive environment.
I mentioned baseball earlier as a comparison to the NFL. Although I can’t speak to say NHL or NBA coaches, baseball managers are a different breed. They have to be considering the long, daily season. Yes, some are “players mangers” and others are “disciplinarians” but it’s all quite relative.
Except for Buck Showalter, current manager of the Baltimore Orioles. And it’s with Buck that I think Felix Magath can learn from, and hopefully follow.
Buck is described as a control freak by many fans. Others would call him an asshole. According to Pat Jordan in a Sports on Earth (RIP) article, “Showalter hates to be called a control freak. He hates it because he doesn’t consider himself a control freak, but mostly, he hates it because he can’t control people calling him a control freak. To assuage his hurt feelings, I offered to call him one of the many other names people associate with him: passive-aggressive, taciturn, sarcastic, caustic, suspicious, paranoid, Machiavellian. He did not laugh.”
(Before I proceed, we could probably apply any of those adjectives to Magath. I highly recommend reading this piece and think about Magath.)
But Buck wins.
The rap on Buck is (or was) his an uncanny ability of taking underperforming or new teams (New York Yankees in early 90s, when they sucked; Arizona Diamonbacks in late 90s; Texas Rangers in early aughts) and turning them into a contender. But before they could clear that hurdle and become great teams, Buck got fired (each would go on to win a World Series, or many in the Yankees case, or at least appear in them shortly thereafter).
Usually it was a mutual departure.
Essentially, teams got tired of his attention to detail (the man reportedly picked out the Diamondbacks color palette upon his hiring) and players grew weary of his methods and tuned him out.
So it was no surprise to see him hired by the Baltimore Orioles in late 2010, a team that was suffering their 15th (was it more?) straight losing season.
It took a little while to turn the teams fortunes around, but the O’s magically made the playoffs in 2012. They’re currently on par (KNOCK ON WOOD) to win their first division title (not a pennant, just a freaking division title!) in nearly 20 years.
Four years into his current job, Buck has already lasted longer than he did at any of his prior MLB managerial positions. Part of it is probably the team has sucked for so long that everyone will take the warts with the wins. But a bigger part of that is he (reportedly) mellowed out a bit before his Orioles gig. He (again, reportedly as it’s late and I don’t feel like searching for articles to back this up; just going on what I hear) pays close attention to the appropriate things instead of all the things.
Which is what I think plays into the ‘Felix as manager story’ I’m attempting to spin here. As Rich said Felix is still experimenting, the team is still evolving.
I don’t know if it’ll work and whether Felix can survive. I hope he himself can evolve himself and lighten up; and this team and season provides that perfect opportunity. Like Buck who after third time of of being fired only for his team make the World Series just a few years later; perhaps finally being relegated and managing a bunch of 18 year olds in AAA will be that humbling experience.
Results to date haven’t been helpful, but it’s really up to him. I don’t see Khan changing just yet; we need to see Felix do so.
Filed under: General
Fulham have been drawn at home to Doncaster Rovers in the third round of the Capital One Cup.
The Whites’ reward for last night’s 1-0 win at Brentford is a home tie against the League One side during the week commencing 22 September. Rovers, who upset Championship opposition in Watford at Vicarage Road last night, currently sit ninth in the table with seven points from four games having been relegated from the Championship last season.
Ross McCormack scored his first goal for Fulham as Felix Magath’s side put their name in the hat for the third round with a narrow victory at Griffin Park.
Dan Burn’s had longer than most of us to reflect on the enormity of the May thumping at Stoke that cost Fulham their Premier League status. Played out of position at right back, the 6ft 7 in left-footed centre back had a torrid afternoon up against the rampaging Oussama Aissaidi and became one of the main exhibits in the case against Felix Magath. Despite a couple of first-team run outs in early season, the tall and eminently capable centre back watched Fulham’s first four Championship fixtures from the sidelines, before making his return against Brentford at Griffin Park.
A lack of match sharpness can often show in terms of physicality, pace and positioning, particularly at centre back, where one poor decision is often quickly punished. But, remarkably, it looked like Burn had never been away. He was predictability dominant in the air, repelling Brentford’s regular aerial assaults with effortless ease, but what caught the eye was his alertness to danger on the floor, making a couple of timely interventions as well as saving tackles, and the manner with which he commanded a new-look defence.
His vocal nature and decisiveness befitted a man who has had experience of this league. Lee Clark took Burn, previously a promotion winner from League One with Yeovil Town, to Birmingham City last season and his Championship experience was one of the reasons why many expected the youngster, who had a few promising showings towards the tail end of last term in the Premier League, to become a key part of a Fulham side that looked light on know-how at this level. If this was Burn’s opportunity to remind Magath of his qualities, he couldn’t have scripted a better audition for a place in the side against Cardiff City on Saturday.
At a time when Fulham’s frailty at the back has been cruelly exposed, Burn looked assured and confident. He made swift decisions – only making one error when diving into a tackle on the half-way line late in the contest – and kept Nick Proschwitz so quiet that Mark Warburton was forced into an earlier than expected tactical change. There was nothing too fancy about his football, even if he looked a little more composed in possession than we’d seen on previous occasions, and he certainly wasn’t shy about reminding those stationed in front of him about their screening responsibilities. Where Cameron Burgess has looked a little green and nervy, Burn looked like a battle-hardened veteran.
Burn’s display also had a hefty dose of desire about it. Perhaps fired up by his exclusion to this point or by the opportunity to stake a claim in a local derby, he looked motivated from the first whistle. There was defiance in those powerful headed clearances, an almost thou-shalt-not-pass belligerence about the couple of crucial blocks in the early stages and whole-hearted challenges. His will to win couldn’t be challenged. About the only thing he got wrong was the exuberant slide on his knees in front of the away fans after he sprinted the length of the pitch to celebrate Ross McCormack’s winner. Even then, his excitement – like the glee of a small child – was endearing.
The success of his partnership with his fellow centre back from the north east, Shaun Hutchinson, might have made Magath think. The pair were rarely separated, holding a higher line than in previous games, and compliment each other well, playing on their natural sides. Nikolay Bodurov, who incidentally appeared as a makeshift holding midfielder as the clock ticked down, hasn’t done too much wrong at this early point in his exposure to English football but they’d be a strong argument for retaining this combination at the heart of the defence for the visit of Cardiff to Craven Cottage. At the very least, such an accomplished return was timely and reassuring given the gravity of Fulham’s defensive collapse at Derby.
Fulham winger George Williams has retained his place in the Welsh squad for September’s European Championship qualifier in Andorra.
The 18 year-old made his international debut as a 70th minute substitute during Wales’ friendly defeat by Holland in Amsterdam on June 4th. Former Fulham manager Chris Coleman had spoken of how impressed he was with Williams having called him into the squad as cover for the injured Gareth Bale and the teenager will be looking to gain some more international experience in the September tie, which will be played on an artificial 3G pitch.
Williams, who joined Fulham as a first-year scholar in 2009 from the MK Dons, made his Fulham debut in the 1-0 home defeat by Millwall on August 16th.
Patrick Roberts has won his first call-up to the England Under 19 squad for next month’s friendly against Germany.
The Fulham midfielder, who helped the England Under 17s win the European Championships earlier this year, has been included by Under 19s manager John Peacock in his squad for the trip to east German city of Oberhausen for this testing fixture on September 8th. Roberts, who has been watched by a number of leading English and European sides, made his Fulham first-team debut as a substitute at Manchester City last season and has appeared in all four Championship fixtures this season.
The 17 year-old was an unused substitute in Fulham’s 1-0 win at Brentford in the Capital One Cup second round last night.
… or the art of writing a match report for a game you haven’t seen.
Rewind back to last March. The squad is running laps of Motspur Park.
Ashkan Dejagah – who is slightly injured – sits in a director’s chair by the car park, ticking off each player’s name each time that player goes by.
Brede Hangeland is causing Dejagah problems, having now been lapped – twice – by the entire field. John-Arne Riise appears to be missing.
Confused by this, Dejagah’s accounting is awry, his paperwork a mess. He puts his head in his hands. But his paperwork is still a mess when he looks up again. He has lost count of who has run what. And now he checks, he realises hasn’t ticked off Scott Parker at all, but there is Parker chugging slowly around the corner. And who the fck are these young players anyway? They all look the same. He sighs. Why him?
Felix Magath, the new manager. Arms folded, he wanders silently behind Dejagah’s chair. Taps him on the right shoulder. SHOUTS in his left ear. “GET OUT!” Magath points not at the changing rooms, but at the entrance to the car park. Dejagah gets in his car and leaves, stopping at the Tesco Superstore in Raynes Park for a ploughman’s sandwich and a six pack of (two bar) kitkats on the way.
Dejagah would start only one more game for Fulham.
Stories like these are becoming increasingly common, but what if Magath’s attention to detail is a good thing? What if all our criticisms are unfounded? What if he has simply been chopping things around, trying to get a handle on what will work and what won’t? What if his eye for these things is much better than ours, and that he has now made some big decisions? What if we start winning now?
Against Brentford last night Fulham were victorious in what sounds like a good win. We’ve said that in the previous games, early goals have made all the difference, and this time we didn’t concede. I think that was crucial.
The other angle that resonates is that Magath generally stayed away from teenagers, save for Cauley Woodrow, far the most experienced of the young’ins anyway. It might be nothing but a few people have been murmuring about the missed generation, how Fulham seemed to have skipped a perfectly reasonable U21 group and plucked players straight from the U18s.
So the central defensive pairing of Hutchinson and Burn, both in their early 20s, is perhaps a better balance than a defence that contains the 18 year old Burgess. A midfield with Hoogland and Parker at its base probably has a bit going for it as some kind of organising engine room (a mainframe?).
All of this feels more like it. Magath’s crime has not just been to lose games, but to lose games while doing things the fans don’t agree with or particularly understand. It’s a dangerous combination and honestly probably something he could only do if he felt very safe in his job.
Beating Brentford away from home is not nothing. A clean sheet is not nothing. The performances of Burn – proven at this level, remember – and David, and probably of Woodrow and McCormack, too, leave plenty of scope for optimism. It will take a bit of time for the fans to trust Magath again, but it’s amazing what a few good results can do, and let’s face it, the team needed a boost. That win gave it to them (and what a nice goal it was, too. McCormack looked like Ian Rush slotting that one away).
The Cardiff game might go horribly wrong but it feels as if perhaps a team is evolving. As some fans have pointed out, it is a long season, and if heads aren’t lost early on then pretty much anything can happen between now and the end of the season.
Filed under: General
Ross McCormack was pleased to get off the mark with his first goal for Fulham last night – but insists a first win of the new season was much more important.
Felix Magath’s side had lost all four of their Championship fixtures before the west London derby at Brentford in the Capital One Cup and McCormack believes that the 1-0 win at Griffin Park will give a young squad a real confidence boost ahead of the return to league action against Cardiff on Saturday. The Scotland international’s clinical finish from a fine Chris David pass settled the tie and eased some of the pressure on Magath.
It’s good to get a goal but the most important thing for the squad, for the manager, for the fans especially, was to get the first win of the season because it’s not been good enough really. In every game I think we’ve played okay without creating any chances. On Tuesday we created a few and could have had a few more [goals] in the second half.
I had one ruled offside which I’m not so sure about, Cauley [Woodrow] had a chance or two, so it was good to be playing with that freedom and creating chances and winning the game. It’s a good bit of belief now because, like I said, we’d played well without creating any chances in games so that’s why we were getting beat.
But we did okay on Tuesday. We probably didn’t play as well as we have done in some of the other games in terms of possession of the ball, but we created more chances, so that’s nice. It’s just a good feeling and I’m pleased for the Manager and the fans.
McCormack has been impressed with the quality of Fulham’s young starlets since arriving at the club in the summer and has no qualms about the inclusion of a number of the club’s recent academy graduates.
Regardless of their age I think it’s important they get across to people that they’re good enough. They’re not here because there’s no-one else here – they’ve been promoted to the first team squad based on their talent. It’s just about getting experience into these boys and getting them streetwise on the pitch.
Attentions now turn to the visit of one of McCormack’s old clubs, Cardiff City, to Craven Cottage on Saturday afternoon.
That’s the big one. Cup wins are nice but your bread and butter is the league. We’ve had a bad start so it’s important we put it right, starting Saturday. We’re four games in, we’ve got a completely new squad, we’re trying to gel, we’re trying every day in training to gel. Maybe a result away from home in a local derby will give us the belief we’ve been needing to go on.
For many years, Fulham have been crying out for a creative midfielder. Danny Murphy was the last man in a white shirt able to run a game with sensible passing and unlock tightly packed defences and, whilst the powers that be should have been searching for his replacement whilst the former captain was still at the club, those qualities have been sorely missed since his departure. The hunt, however, should now be over. A confident Chris David oozes class and should be allowed the opportunity to make that position his own.
The young Dutchman was brought in amid great fanfare by Martin Jol, looked promising during last summer’s pre-season tour of Costa Rica and promptly disappeared. His re-emergence as a substitute against Crystal Palace in the last game of a truly forgettable campaign was encouraging – not just for the stunning goal that earned a point at the death – but for the purposeful nature of his play. Forward passes, adventurous running and a desire to get on the ball and make things happen. Having been in the team for the opening game at Ipswich and done little wrong – bar being on the wrong end of a few abrasive challenges – he had to wait until last night’s trip to Brentford in the League Cup for another opportunity.
Although he looked much more at home at the point of a fluid midfield diamond, David’s influence wasn’t restricted by starting out the right in a more traditional midfield four. Most of Fulham’s best moments came with him at the heart of them in the first half, whether it was a check in to bend a shot at goal on his stronger left foot or the intelligent, quick passing that opened up the Brentford defence before Cauley Woodrow’s spooned Kay Voser’s low cross high into the Ealing Road. Once switched into a more advanced central position, David found more time on the ball and utilised it effectively: linking the play cleverly with Ross McCormack and dropping into dangerous positions behind the strikers.
Felix Magath has tried many permutations already as he seeks a successful formula for the Championship but his best midfield must have David in it. He’s ambitious even from a wider position, although there’s a compelling argument for deploying David centrally, either as the advanced midfielder or as a deep-lying player next to Scott Parker, to allow Fulham to dictate play and be smarter in possession. His influence only increased the longer the game went on, sliding passes down the side of a tiring Brentford defence, and the quality of those through balls would prove decisive.
Mark Warburton had selected Spanish midfielder Marcos Tébar as a shield for the back four, but David easily escaped his attentions to settle the contest. Moving into space thirty yards from goal he cleverly worked a couple of quick one-twos with Ross McCormack – the second pass a thing of simple beauty – and the Scottish striker made his accomplished finish from an acute angle appear ridiculously easy. Another effortless pass sent Woodrow clear and the striker dragged his shot across goal and fractionally wide of the far post.
David’s early experience of the Championship – he was roughed up against Millwall too, collecting a nasty clout in the mouth in injury team – might just work in Fulham’s favour. It will toughen him up, making him a stronger presence on the field, hopefully without curbing any of his ambition on the ball. Fulham have sorely missed the quality of forward passes he provided at Griffin Park last night; it’s the sort of service an intelligent striker like McCormack will thrive upon. Ironically, with Nikolay Bodurov finishing the contest as a makeshift holding midfielder after Parker and Mark Fotheringham had gone off injury, perhaps it is a long-term answer as a defensive midfielder that should be occupying Magath’s mind now.
Ross McCormack was delighted to get off the mark by scoring Fulham’s winner at Brentford tonight – and credits Felix Magath’s intensive training regime for getting him fitter than he has ever been.
The Scottish international’s first goal for his new club was enough to put the Whites in the hat for the third round of the Capital One Cup and secure Fulham’s first win of a tough season so far. McCormack, who moved to Fulham from Leeds in the summer for a fee that could rise to £11m, feels he is in the best shape of his life.
His fitness is different to any fitness work I have done in the past. Since I have come here, I have lost a stone since the end of the last season. That has been good, maybe I am seeing the benefits of that now I am getting a few games under my belt my sharpness is coming back. Hopefully it is good enough now.
McCormack said the flack Magath has taken during Fulham’s poor start to the season was to be expected – but believes the team can build on tonight’s result at Griffin Park.
He has been getting a lot of criticism but he will take that on the chin because he is the manager of a big football club, that is part and parcel of it. We have got a lot of young players in the team but that is no excuse for getting beaten 5-1 at Derby. He will enjoy tonight but it is the league that counts.
The forward was delighted to get off the mark – belting an advertising hoarding for good measure before celebrating his excellent finish wildly in front of the travelling supporters.
Last season I scored a lot of goals and it has been frustrating the first few games because I have not even had a chance, let alone a goal. It was nice to get a goal and hopefully we can use the first win of the season as a springboard.
Fulham were left counting the cost of their 1-0 win over Brentford tonight in the Capital Cup after two midfielders were taken off with injuries.
Captain Scott Parker didn’t return to the fray after the half-time interval having taken knock to his ankle after a late challenge. Parker’s injury isn’t though to serious enough to keep him out of Saturday’s Championship clash with Cardiff at Craven Cottage, but there is greater concern over the man who replaced him. Mark Fotheringham, the former Norwich and Notts County midfielder, lasted little more than twenty minutes before hurting his hip in a challenge and he will be sent for a scan, according to Fulham manager Felix Magath.
Scott Parker twisted his ankle but Fotheringham might be worse. He has to have a scan on his hip and he’s very unhappy.
Felix Magath says Fulham will draw great confidence from their first win of the season after Ross McCormack’s goal knocked Brentford out of the Capital One Cup this evening.
The Scottish international’s first goal sice his summer move from Leeds United was enough to win an open west London derby at Griffin Park tonight and record Fulham’s first win of a difficult season. Magath, who had come under increased pressure followig Saturday’s dismal 5-1 defeat at Derby, praised McCormack’s composed finishing.
For every striker it’s important to score. When you don’t score you’re not so confident, so we’re very happy he managed it today and scored the winner.
Besides the goal he looked dangerous. He has no problem going the 90 minutes, he’s in good shape, has lost some weight in the last few weeks and is very happy. At the beginning of July he was a bit heavy.
Every striker has periods when it doesn’t work. I know he is a very good striker and he will score goals. For us and for him, the fact he scored today I think helps everybody to get more confidence and play better than before.
It helps the team and the club that he is now in a good situation and in good shape.
Ross McCormack’s first goal for Fulham edged the Whites past Brentford and into the third round of the Capital One Cup to ease some of the pressure on beleaguered boss Felix Magath.
The Scottish striker settled a tight west London derby at Griffin Park with a sumptuous finish into the far corner from close range after being released by a splendid defence-splitting pass by the impressive Chris David. He celebrated his goal gleefully in front of the 1,600 travelling supporters after, nine minutes earlier, been unjustly denied an opener, after wrongly being flagged offside when he strode onto a floated pass from a deep-lying David, but his first goal since he completed an £11m move from Leeds United was enough to give Fulham a first win of the season.
Magath made five changes from the side that had crumbled so calamitously at Derby on Sunday, bringing in goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli for his senior debut for the club. Bettinelli, who has been at Fulham since he was 14, showed just why he was so far highly regarded during his loan spell at Accrington Stanley with a commanding performance, which included a couple of superb saves from Brentford’s Spanish midfielder Jota, which was immaculately timed given Gibor Kiraly’s impending arrival from 1860 Munich.
In front of Bettinelli, the recalled Dan Burn was imperious at the heart of a new-look Fulham back four, repelling wave after wave of Brentford arrival attacks and formed an impressive partnership with summer signing Shaun Hutchinson. The visitors’ defence dropped deeper in the closing stages as they clung to their slender advantage but Burn’s assured display was a stark contrast from some of the defensive disarray that has characterised Fulham’s chaotic start to life back in the Championship.
Brentford began brightly with their early intensity forcing a succession of corners, which the away side defended nervously. The Bees’ clearest opening came from a cleverly worked free-kick, which saw Jota sprint into space on the left angle of the penalty area, but Bettinelli did superbly to claw away the Spaniard’s powerful shot. Bettinelli’s next save was a lot less conventional and owed a fair bit to luck, as he smothered Jota’s low drive against his near post after it had threatened to squeeze under his body.
Fulham enjoyed plenty of possession, but it took a while for purpose to enter their play. Things functioned far smoother once David was switched to the top of a midfield diamond from wide on the right. A flowing move which saw the Dutch playmaker find Voser fashioned Fulham’s best chance, but Cauley Woodrow skied over from ten yards out. Tim Hoogland, deployed as a defensive midfielder rather than a right back, sent an early header over and fired a couple of sighters from long-range, whilst McCormack headed straight at Button after climbing well at the back post.
The second half was a scrappier affair, but there were still plenty of inviting chances. Stuart Dallas spurned the best of them for Brentford, heading narrowly wide, whilst Woodrow saw his scuffed shot scrambled to safety by Jake Bidwell under his own crossbar. McCormack’s smartly taken goal, the culmination of a couple of inventive one-twos with David, settled Fulham and they might have settled it when Woodrow latched onto another excellent David pass, but the England Under-20 international striker sent his shot just wide of the far post.
That made for a nervy finale as Mark Warburton’s side pushed forward and applied plenty of pressure, but struggled to create a clear-cut chance. Tommy Smith’s rising drive in injury time was the closest they came, but the shot never seriously worried Bettinelli, clearing the bar comfortably.
BRENTFORD (4-1-4-1): Button; Odubajo, Bidwell, Dean, Tarkowski; Tebar; Dallas, Toral (Diagouraga 63), Jota (Gray 73), Smith; Proschwitz (Hogan 73). Subs (not used): Bonham, O’Shaugnessy, Reeves, Moore.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Bettinelli; Voser, Stafylidis, Hutchinson, Burn; Hoogland, Parker (Fotheringham 45, Eisfeld 69), David (Bodurov 87), R. Williams; Woodrow, McCormack. Subs (not used): Joronen, Roberts, Chichi, Dembele.
GOAL: McCormack (67).
REFEREE: Scott Duncan (Northumberland).
Given the grim nature of yesterday’s capitulation at Derby, you don’t need me to tell you that Fulham’s gameplan isn’t working. Felix Magath has chopped and changed his players and systems, but the brave new world doesn’t appear very promising. Magath’s bold relaunch might itself but rebooted before too long, with the club rooted to the bottom of the Championship table, pointless, after four games.
Much mirth has already been had about the shambolic nature of that fifth Derby goal, coming as it did directly from the kick-off. But, that to me, seemed like the response of an utterly shell-shocked side, whose belief was broken by the two Derby goals that came so soon after Scott Parker’s equaliser. There’s a much broader problem, for me, and it comes from the deployment of the full-backs in Magath’s system, regardless of whether he opts for a diamond or a more traditional 4-42, like the one that lined up yesterday.
Width is at a premium in the side, even when Magath starts with Patrick Roberts, who naturally looks to drift inside onto his left foot. The return of Alex Kacaniklic – who made his first appearance of the season from the substitutes’ bench at Derby – might address this but, for the moment, the onus is on forward-thinking full-backs to provide an attacking threat down the flanks. This is all well and good when it is done sensibly, but too often already in this brief campaign the desire to add options in the final third has left the likes of Cameron Burgess, Shaun Hutchinson and Nikolay Bodurov horribly over-exposed at the back.
Several of the goals Fulham have conceded have come down our right flank. The decisive goal at Ipswich saw Hutchinson lose a tussle with Daryl Murphy after being dragged into the right back position with devastating consequences. Both centre backs were drawn out to try and deal with Ricardo Fuller’s run against Millwall – and both full-backs were noticeably absent as Martyn Woolford tucked away a simple finish from close range.
Derby’s crucial second also exposed our weakness in that position. Johnnie Russell, who had already created the opening goal with a tantalising cross, was afforded the freedom of the penalty to send a first-time cross in the direction of Craig Bryson as the Fulham defenders stood off, statuesque. There were plenty of other culprits – but Hoogland’s average position as per the official website shows that he was unfathomably advanced for a full-back.
Hoogland was hauled off for Kay Voser, who had a remarkably composed debut in the circumstances, and it’s probably a bit harsh to lay the blame at his door. The benefits of being adventurous from full-back are obvious – as shown by his late goal at Portman Road – and he didn’t get a lot of defensive support from young Roberts. But, with the team teetering at the wrong end of the table, it might be time for a more conservative approach as we tackle the likes of Brentford, Cardiff, Reading and then league leaders Nottigham Forest in the coming weeks.
Hoogland’s not the first Fulham full-back to struggle – we saw Sascha Riether caught upfield several times last season and John Pantsil’s outstanding displays under Roy Hodgson were followed by some horribly error-strewn performances that eventually led to him being dropped and released. The problem isn’t the personnel, it’s that these tactics seem terribly gung-ho for a league that a young side is struggling to get used to.
The more this goes on the harder it is to assume Felix is the right man for Fulham.
The first three results were all sort of reasonable. Losing away to Ipswich was likely: fine. Millwall have been on a great run, and got the crucial early goal, so alright, that happens. Wolves aren’t a bad side and that one went against in what was by all accounts a fairly awful Fulham performance. But these things happen: you can lose by a single goal and three defeats in a row with a young team is not necessarily unexpected.
And I suppose by the same reasoning, yesterday’s catastrophe is explainable. Derby are well coached, deserved to go up last year (they were at least the third best side in the league) and by that token ought to have had us quaking in our boots.
But two things: one, we just came down from the Premier League, where for years we did well enough. We shouldn’t be petrified of a good Championship side. Two, except there is nothing left of that team. A lot of us felt this was a good thing, but with every game there is a sense that Fulham dismantled in too much of a hurry.
The game, anyway. I’m going off highlights and what trusted observers told me, but it sounds like we were okay in parts of the first half, but conceded again from a cross and a runner hitting the box hard. If you look back on the season:
Ipswich we conceded to one dribble and someone running quickly to meet a loose ball
Millwall was a cross and someone meeting it at the far post
Wolves saw someone charging in and meeting a loose ball first time
Then the first goal at Derby
In all four games we’ve conceded to someone arriving in the area and hitting the ball first time. I don’t know what this means but it suggests we’re not picking up players and we’re not doing a good job of making our area tough to negotiate.
Derby’s second was like something off the beach, their third saw Burgess turned inside out and another first time finish. The fourth was a tap in off the post. The fifth was an embarrassment to everyone involved with piecing this shambles together.
Fulham, then, consistently undone by first-time shots. It suggests a side not coping, a team not able to impose itself at all. A team that is to the Championship what last year’s team was to the Premiership.
The thing is, people will say that we can’t expect kids to come in and play, but I still think this is the only way this club can right itself over time. We need to grow through the academy, to develop a group of players who are familiar with each other and play “the Fulham way”. It’s not the plan to go to youth that’s the problem, it’s the implementation of this plan. As Mike Gregg has pointed out on twitter, we have bypassed a generation of young players who could be a bridge between the first team and the lads we’re seeing torn apart now. Maybe Mesca, Trotta, Burn, Tankovic, even Hoesen, would have been worth working with here. But the main point surely is not that we’re using kids, but how we’re using them.
If Roy Hodgson can make Dickson Etuhu into a valuable player on the European stage then this lot can be made into a team, too. Young players are presumably not that different to older players: tell them what to do. Make them comfortable in their roles. Take the pressure off them.
We have used 20+ players in four games and in various formations along the way. How can a young player learn a role if the role, and his place in this role, is changed every week? How?
It sickens me to say it but if we want promotion now we badly need a dour, organiser. Chris Hughton was the organisation between Jol’s good teams at Spurs. Alec McLeish used to make Birmingham a dour 4-4-2 Roy-lite side. It wasn’t fun but at least it worked, to a degree. A 0-0 draw or two would work wonders. When did we last draw 0-0 for that matter? We haven’t been able to control games enough for that.
And yet we still have World Cup players we won’t use. We have Dan Burn, who has towered above Championship forwards in the past. We have Marcello Trotta, who has flickered and occasionally succeeded in an upwardly mobile Brenford side (being run with intelligence and purpose).
At this point I don’t really think things could be much worse. Having committed to the youth approach we desperately need to stick with it – the next good Fulham team is going to be built this way – but increasingly it feels as if Felix Magath is not getting through to this group, is the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fulham need to get their next appointment right, a manager with a track record of developing young players *and* of organising a team. It really needs to be someone who can connect with the players, which may be Magath’s failing here.
I don’t think this is about getting promoted now, though. That would be too quick. I’d like to see Danny Murphy and Kit Symons take things on for this reason. Murphy talks more sense than half of “the football community” put together, Symons for his understanding of the youngsters. Give them five years and acknowledge that the transformation may take a few years, but that when it’s complete we might have one of the most vibrant and exciting young teams in Britain. This group of players, if they are used well, will get the first team experience so few of their contemporaries see, and get it together. Keep at it. Keep going to the kids. But for god’s sake give them a chance, a positive environment where people aren’t simply discarded because their face doesn’t fit, or because they arrived before the manager, or because they earn a bit more than we’re comfortable with (stripping the wage bill at the moment is fine, but hang on: we spent a lot of money on Mitroglou that we’re writing off as a sunk cost?), or because of whatever.
Just get this club back in the hands of grown ups, running things sensibly and efficiently. The waste we’ve seen has been awful. I’m happy that we’re starting to take the right approach, which is the only encouraging thing here, but we’re doing it badly. Stick to the plan, but change the way we’re aproaching it, and fast.
Filed under: General