Monthly Archives: August 2009

Last year v this year

When supporting the impending apocalypse theory of our 2009/10 start, people are saying that it’s not the result, but the performances that worry them.

To this I have countered that we rarely look good losing (think about it; we’re ugly losers).   But they do have a point.  We haven’t seemed to play particularly well.

One way to guage performance is to look at shots/shots on target stats.    This is something the mathematical modellers at the Fink Tank do, as it gives a good overview of how teams are playing.     Here’s this year v last year for us then:

Last year:

Portsmouth away:  12 shots, 6 on target.  Allowed 24 shots, 7 on target
Villa away: 6 shots, 2 on target.  Allowed 16 shots, 2 on target
Chelsea home:  5 shots, 2 on target.  Allowed 24 shots, 8 on target
Total:  23 shots, 10 on target.  Allowed 64 shots, 17 on target

This year:

Portsmouth away:  13 shots, 2 on target.  Allowed 17 shots, 2 on target
Villa away:  8 shots, 0 on target.  Allowed 10 shots, 2 on target
Chelsea home:  6 shots, 1 on target.  Allowed 16 shots, 4 on target
Total:  27 shots, 3 on target.  Allowed 43 shots, 8 on target.

So we’ve shot about as much but not hit the target.  We’ve conceded far fewer shots, and have allowed fewer of those to hit the target.  I don’t know that this tells us too much, but I don’t think there’s enough of a difference to suggest ‘crisis’ by any stretch of the imagination.    We’ve had some tough games (latterly without our best players) and struggled.   I really think that’s all there is to it.

Do our eyes deceive us?

Everyone thinks Jonathan Greening had a tough debut.  But both the Guardian and the Telegraph show him as having seen more of the ball than any Fulham player in recent memory.    He didn’t do much with it, but was he as bad as people are making out?

greening

By the Telegraph’s numbers (it looks like the Guardian were asleep on the job again, given the picture on the right) he gave the ball away 13 times, which seems like a hell of a lot in the modern game, but given the amount of the ball he did see, this is probably quite reasonable.   In all the time we’ve been seeing these things I can’t remember a Fulham player passing the ball 91 times.    His ‘success’ rate is right in line with what Murphy does.

Villa 2-0 Fulham

While waiting for the game to start I was having a nose around the Observer’s Review section, and more specifically around an interview with art collector Charles Saatchi.  He was asked about (artist) Mark Rothko and the nature of infinity, and replied as follows:

“My understanding of infinity goes something like this: every 100 years a sparrow flies to the top of a large mountain, and cleans its beak by scraping it on the highest rock. By the time the mountain has been scraped away to a small pile of dust, that would be the equivalent of the first second of infinity.”

Of course this is pretentious drivel, but I kept thinking about this sparrow on a mountain-top throughout the game.  We really didn’t look like we would score, ever.

The first thing you need to know about today is that we were missing Danny Murphy.  “As Murphy goes, so go Fulham” and all that, and today Murphy wasn’t there and Fulham were dreadful.

The second thing is that Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson were also missing, and without them we might as well have been playing with an ice cream and a custard cream up front.  This is slightly unfair to Diomansy Kamara, who at least had a go at being useful, but it was so easy to imagine Zamora in there making things hard; it was so easy to imagine Johnson running the channels, pulling defenders around, winning free-kicks.   We’re a different team with these two aboard.

Villa scored early.  Fulham’s defenders played the ball around carelessly on the edge of the area, conceded a thoroughly avoidable corner, and Ashley Young’s fizzing cross was nicked over Dickson Etuhu and onto John Paintsil head, from where it flew into the net.  Paintsil was thoroughly blameless here – he had no time to react – but it was a ridiculously soft goal.

This drew Fulham out somewhat, but Villa pressed extremely well, not just the player in possession but seemingly all available passing options too.  Our players always seemed hurried, always put under pressure, and rarely made anything happen.  We had isolated spells of pressure, but couldn’t make Villa’s makeshift defence give way, couldn’t create any chances worthy of the name.  Dempsey and Duff swapped flanks time and again, but ended up trying too hard to make something happen, and both had 5/10 games.  Jonathan Greening, on his Fulham debut, was probably a touch below that.

While it was 1-0 Fulham always had a theoretical chance of making something happen – a free-kick perhaps, or a random bounce going our way – but Gabby Agbonlahor made it 2-0 with a ripper of a drive from 25 yards, and that was that.   He had space and time, but his shot came from nowhere, blasted a foot off the ground and through Schwarzer all too easily, beaten by the extraordinary power of the shot.   Modern balls…

So there we are.  We’re about where we should be given the fixture list, so no need to panic yet.  Fulham don’t look good when they lose away from home – it’s just the way things are – so the idea of today’s performance being some kind of indicator of the season ahead strikes me as being somewhat off.  We must wait for the easier games to come around and, assuming we can field our better players, should expect them to be more enjoyable than today’s non-event.

Fulham in for goal machine Marc Janko: all that glistens?

In other more detached news, the Daily Mail say that we have beaten Celtic, Blackburn and and Man City to sign Marc Janko.  Note the word “beaten”.  Not “beating”, “beaten”.   If so, this is quite exciting.   Janko, you see, scored 39 goals in 34 games for Salzburg last season, and while Austria is Austria, not many people score goals like that.

Still, you know me:  let’s try and get some context.

First hypothesis:  he’s not the second coming of (Brazil’s) Ronaldo or he wouldn’t be at Salzburg at 26.    So, we may assume that a) lots of goals are scored in Austria, and b) Salzburg attack a lot.    These two pretty much have to be true, or there’s no way he’s getting 39 goals.   And:

table1

Sure enough, nobody in the entire league seems too concerned about defence.   Salzburg conceded 50 in 36, while scoring 86.   That’s not even the best in the league:   RapidVienna scored 89 and conceded 43.    So hypotheses a and b confirmed.   He’s in a very favourable situation to score goals.

You can see his game-by-game here.    To his credit, he did score against other big teams, but on the negative side, he appears to have ‘only’ scored 3 goals in 12 European games.    That’s not bad, but it’s not superhuman either.

So we’re still working with the ‘good but not great’ theory.     What else?   His deputy appears to be one Robin Nelisse, who scored 12 in 34 appearances (many as sub).   Nelisse was second top scorer, and at least he wasn’t banging them in every week (that would’ve been a warning sign that Janko really isn’t all that).

Back to football lineups:

janko3

Aha!

So, we have:

  • A (relatively) very good team
  • Playing very attacking football
  • In a very attacking league (where defences are either poor or undermanned)
  • Using one man up front (so he gets to profit from the above alone rather than ‘sharing’ with a strike partner – I may have made this phenomenon up)
  • Who is good enough (in the Austian league) to make hay under these very favourable conditions
  • But who, so far, has not dominated in European competition.

What we have here is a fairly talented player who might be worth a punt.   And we’ve (apparently) got him on loan, so can take that punt.

(Possibly) Wilkommen, MarcJanko!

mj

Loads of happenings today

First and foremost, Kagisho Dikgacoi has been granted a work permit and is now a Fulham player.  I can’t wait to see him in action.    As you’ll recall, he had a trial with us earlier in the year but wasn’t match fit.  Roy saw something in him and invited him back, and the rest we know.   Frankly he could be anything, but as a regular player in a much improved South Africa side he’s earned his work permit.   Let’s see what happens now.

“I am so happy that my transfer to Fulham has been finalised. I have spent most of the summer training with the players and getting to know them and all of the coaching staff. I have been given a wonderful chance to be part of a fantastic team playing in one of the best leagues in the world, this is something very special to me and an opportunity that I am going to grab with both hands.”

Tremendous.

Eddie Johnson is profiled on the official site.

Talking of which, you seem to be enjoying yourself on the training pitch. We watched you celebrate a goal like you had just single-handedly won the World Cup…
[Laughs] Whether it’s in a stadium or on the training pitch I just love scoring goals. I love getting up and coming to training, it’s a good environment to be in. I’m a goalscorer, and if I’m honest, the last 18 months haven’t been great in that sense – I’ve missed that feeling of sticking the ball in the back of the net. In the past I’ve possibly lacked a bit of confidence, but I have that again now and I have a feeling that it’s going to be a good year for me.

I’ve been treating every training session as if it’s a proper game, and I’m more focused than ever because I know it’s on the training ground where I’m going to make the Manager take notice. Dave Jones at Cardiff said to me, “if you can’t score in training, how do you expect to score on a Saturday?” And he’s right… It was a good goal though!

I’d like to see Roy find spots to use the likes of Eddie.   Of course the same must be said for Nevland and Kamara, both (rightly) afore him in the pecking order, but still.   There must be occasions when burning pace is needed.   He seems like a likeable fella and I hope we see him in a few more games this season.

As you’ll know, we’ve beaten Amkar Perm 3-2 on aggregate, losing 1-0 today in Russia.   I was watching the BBC text updates and it seemed to be a steady procession of [Perm player] shoots… blocked by [Fulham player] but hey, it’s an away European game, played without some key players and on a strange pitch.   No sense complaining about anything.  WE’RE THROUGH TO THE GROUP STAGE!

Roy is gracious in victory.

“I have great sympathy for my colleague [Amkar Manager Dimitar Dimitrov] and for all of the Amkar team because in the last part of the match at Craven Cottage and in the 90 minutes today, they’ve shown that they are a good quality team and they have stretched us to the limit in order to get our qualification.”

In other news, I have a new piece up at The Times.   It’s not about anything in particular but a couple of people say they liked it, so that’s kind of them.

Diamonds

Jonathan Wilson’s latest on Chelsea’s diamond formation. (thanks to bq)

So, how can the diamond be countered? The lack of width remains the flaw, and the key is to try to shift the battle from the centre to the flanks. Hull rode their luck to an extent on the opening day, but it is no coincidence that it was their 4-5-1 rather than the 4-4-2 of Sunderland and Fulham that came closest to stopping Chelsea.

Midfielders played wide and high stop the advances of the full-backs, while a hard-tackling trio in the centre will at least make Chelsea fight for possession, while shielding the back four when Chelsea have possession. In addition, a team’s wide midfielders block Chelsea’s full-backs, their own full-backs should be free to either become an extra man in midfield or provide additional defensive cover.

I think this is a more important reason for our display than “not wanting it” or any of the other attitudinal complaints we’ve seen.  Wilson, in his “inverting the pyramid” book, notes that in England people tend to regard formations as (largely irrelevant and) simply where the players stand, but as he discusses here, these configurations can have a very real impact on how games progress.  In short, we never did work out where the Chelsea players were, and so couldn’t stop them passing to one another in spaces where our players weren’t.

Notts County doing a Fulham

Sol Campbell ready to sign for Sven’s boys

In the same piece, Fulham are going to sign Kalu Uche after all:

Fulham expect to complete the signing of Kalu Uche, the Nigeria forward, for about £2.5 million from Almería subject to a wrok permit, international clearance and other paperwork.

I wonder what the ‘other paperwork’ is.   Also, here is The Times saying “wrok permit”.    Tsk.

Le Mans have offered us centre-back Gregory Cerdan.

Murphy signs again, Greening in, Zoltan had a bad’un after all

The long and dangerous saga of Jonathan Greening has ended, and now he is a Fulham player.  (“Greening signs!” says an excited email from the club.)  Annoyingly, he wasn’t registered for Saturday’s game because his agent refused to sign off on the deal until 90 minutes beyond the deadline, following six hours of haggling over his cut in the deal.   Triffic.    Greening would have made no difference to the game, but it would’ve been useful for him to get some pitch time ahead of Thursday.

Thursday….  we’re without Johnson and I expect Danny Murphy to stay behind as well.  Murphy, who has signed another new contract with the club (till 2011 now), hobbled off against Chelsea after having his calf trodden on by Ricardo Carvalho.   I won’t bother with the chalkboard this time, but the old “as Murphy goes, so go Fulham” maxim was in evidence again:  he didn’t get much of the ball at all.   If we think teams are wising up to us this year it’ll be interesting to see if they make an effort to shut him out of matches.   We’ll need other players to step up, either way.

It’s going to be a tricky time for Fulham, what with all these double game weeks and tricky opponents, but we’ll get a good run together before long.   Europe needs to be celebrated while we’re still in it.   We’ve already been spoiled with what was, in retrospect, a really good game against Perm (weirdly it didn’t seem like it at the time), and I’m hopeful of plenty more of these as the season wears on.

Right, some more bits and bobs, this time from The Telegraph’s fine football page.

This morning I rather daftly proclaimed to the world that Zoltan Gera only gave the ball away three times on Sunday.   That’s what the Guardian chalkboards said, and those numbers come from Press Association specialised counter people.   So why would they be wrong.   People noted that this was not correct, and yes, it did seem low given the torrid time our Hungarian hero was having.   Well the Telegraph have information on all this too, and now Zoltan’s passing was 15 of 25 to teammates, which would go with what people saw.  Here’s a picture:

geraduff

So there we are.  Duff did better and was much more adventurous when he did have the ball.  I don’t know how they work these things out because Gera did cross the ball to Dempsey, which surely counts as an ‘attack’ pass, but there we are.    Mumbo jumbo, as people are never slow to tell me.   Still, if we learn something once in a while it’s all worth it.

As an interesting aside, this:

attacking

We had a lot more of the ball on the right.  Which, all considered, wasn’t playing to our strengths.

Fulham 0-2 Chelsea

A frustrating afternoon spent chasing shadows.   Chelsea controlled the game from start to finish, and Fulham really didn’t threaten Petr Cech’s goal.

Part of this was because of the injury to Andy Johnson on Thursday.  His absence was felt all over the pitch:  we missed his sharp running, constant harrying and intelligent runs.  Clint Dempsey filled in up front, but looked lost and isolated, and to make matters worse, we missed his presence in the midfield.  Damien Duff, in his first Fulham start, was unable to repeat Thursday’s pyrotechnics, and had a disappointing afternoon on the left wing.  Over on the other side it may be fair to say that Zoltan Gera needs a break.  He’s a determined and decent footballer, but all players lose form at some point and Gera’s been down so long he looks like up. Next week – assuming Roy doesn’t decide to punt the UEFA cup in anger – we should see a different midfield configuration.

The middle of the pitch is another concern.  Greening and Dikgacoi are expected soon, and frankly we need them.  Today’s injury to Danny Murphy reminded us that we are thin in that area. Trying to battle back from 2-0 down to one of the league’s best sides is hard enough at the best of times:  with Dickson Etuhu and Chris Baird pulling the strings it really is a big ask.  (I’m a fan of both, but they’re not an ideal engine room are they?)

And so it goes.  The game was painful to see, with Chelsea passing, passing, passing, Fulham failing to keep the ball at all, and so on and so forth, interrupted twice by Chelsea breakthroughs.  First Didier Drogba slipped through an offside trap (John Paintsil may have been late out) and made it 1-0, then in the second half Nicolas Anelka’s turbo boost took him well clear of anyone in white, past Mark Schwarzer and from there a goal was easy.

After that it was a question of watching the clock tick by and checking the cricket score.

Sunday morning

It’s a lovely morning here in South London, a fine day for the serious business ahead.

Fulham are without Johnson (A), but also perhaps Dickson Etuhu, whose groin may have been behind his early withdrawal on Thursday.    This could see all kinds of things happen:  Chris Baird, Jonathan Greening, or something else.   All adds to the intrigue.

Chelsea are a fine side and we’ll have to be at our best today.   As Roy pointed out in the week, the defence, despite not conceding many so far, is not yet where it was last season, although our attacking play has been quite good.  The trick, as ever, will to take our chances when they come, something that’s harder to do without your centre-forward.

We shall see.

In other news, Jozy Altidore appears to have had a minor stormer for Hull City yesterday.   I’m a huge Altidore fan and was delighted to see him get going, first with a clever acrobatic through ball that set up the winning goal, then with a couple of nice turns and shots.   It was an impressive start to his English football career, and if he can build on this Phil Brown’s done well.

99 problems but a pitch ain’t one

I forgot to add this, a guide to Perm from the Football Supporters Federation.

On the ground:

The Zvezda Stadium was formerly known as the Lenin Komsomol stadium until the fall of the Soviet Union. Opened in 1969, like many other Russian stadia it is covered with artificial turf to help keep conditions playable during the Russian winter.

On the city:

The city is dominated by the enormous Kama River, Europe’s fourth largest. The river is at its narrowest as it flows through the city to the north, but is still over 1km wide at this point.

Nice.  For river fans, here are some good pics.

Here’s how it all fits together:

Kamarivermap

So technically, people worried about transfers from Moscow ought to be able to find a way by boat.

Anyway, it promises to be a tremendous second leg, and I’m gutted that there’ll be no way to see it.  It’s a trip I’d love to make.

A new garage door

When I was growing up Dad would periodically repaint our garage door.   Sometimes green, sometimes brown, but every so often he’d give things a new lick of paint and somehow this was really exciting in my small boy’s mind.

The funny thing was that every time Dad did this, Bill next door would also paint his garage door.  It was a kind of unspoken garage door arms race, on Bill’s part at least.   Dad was just giving ours a fresh lick of paint; Bill seemed to take it as a challenge.

Bill was a funny bloke.  Very serious man, the sort who would be lovely much of the time but sometimes not let you have your ball back when it crossed garden boundaries.   Occasionally, when nobody was around, I used to climb into Bill’s back garden to retrieve balls previously given up as lost.  This involved shinning up onto the garage roof, crawling over a few yards, then dropping down next door.  Then you just repeated the trick in reverse.   To a small boy it was as good as breaking and entering, the thrill of the forbidden, the thrill of climbing, the thrill of height.   Ball retrieval had it all.

Anyway, you never know what goes on in folks’ lives.   To me Bill was a strange but good natured man who sometimes wasn’t especially warm to kids (a kind of Mr McGregor in Beatrix Potter type man perhaps).   But he took great pride in his gardens (front and back, lawns too) and so having kids rampaging back and forth retrieving various balls probably wasn’t part of his master plan.   And even if he didn’t really mind us fetching these balls, he was right to establish it as a minor problem so that we were conscious of not making trouble.  If he’d smiled accommodatingly every time we’d have thought nothing of running all over his garden; this way we tried to be careful and lived in some fear of upsetting him, which was probably just how he wanted things (and rightly so, in retrospect).

Where is this going?  Nowhere.   Only that I’ve fiddled with the look of the site again, and it’s because Dan and Nick did too, and well, I thought I might have a change again too.   Make it look smart.   I am Bill in the garage door arms race.    But what to do about that pen?

Fulham 3-1 FC Amkar Perm

A strange game, with long periods of quiet nothingness punctuated by moments of brilliance.  All the goals were spectacular in their own way, and the fact that there could have been several more (at either end) suggests a quite unFulham-like evening.   In the end we settled for 3-1, which is good but not that good.  The game is not yet dead, the Russians look quite handy, and with their away goal will fancy their chances in what should be an exciting second leg.

Andrew Johnson struck early.  Clint Dempsey arrived in the middle of the park, flipped a nice first time ball out to Bobby Zamora, and the rejuvenating forward flashed another first time pass across the area, behind the defence, and into Johnson’s stride deep in the area (he didn’t miss).  A whirlwind of a goal, devastatingly orchestrated and finished.  Terrific start.

But that was about that for a while.  Johnson nearly added another very similar goal but was denied by a fine save, then Dempsey almost scored too, only to be denied by a man on the line who came from nowhere to save the day.  At the other end Perm had moments but struggled to find a shot they liked, and only tested Schwarzer late on with a dipping 20 yarder that he saved well.

The feeling seemed to be that another two goals were needed after the break.  The first came soon enough, as that man Dempsey turned in midfield and whacked a thunderbolt past the helpless keeper from what his countrymen might call ‘downtown’.  It was a blur of a shot, a stunning strike, and the crowd sang Clint’s song with joy.

But amazingly, that might not have been the high-point on the night’s euphoria scale.  Damien Duff, our exciting new signing, was introduced with 15 minutes left.  Within seconds of coming on he had flown past his marker (thanks to a big dummy, a searing turn of pace and some determination to keep going when the ball jammed between the two of them) and put in a wicked cross that ended up at the lethal feet of Zamora, who duly buried the thing with power and precision.  3-0, and what a moment for Duff.  He looked chuffed as nuts, turning round to the ecstatic crowd as if to say “Hello, Fulham!  I am Damien Duff and this is what I can do.”   If he plays like this in the league we’ve made a hell of a signing.   That moment aside he moved with a purpose, and agression, and a quality that we rarely see.  It’s players like this who, if initial impressions aren’t deceiving me, are seriously adding to the squad.   I remember when we signed Simon Davies and he came in and passed the ball to teammates, something Fulham players weren’t big on at the time.  That felt like a watershed moment of sorts, and so does this, with Duff doing things nobody else in the team can.  Wow.  Hopefully.

Perm ruined the fun by blasting a well deserved consolation as time marched on, and proceeded to lob the kitchen sink at us for a while after that.  We held on and probably should go through, but it’s by no means a foregone conclusion and the players will need these shooting boots in the return leg.

evning

Or will he?

where

Yesterday we speculated that, if Duff is Duff, he’ll get some crosses in.

However, it’s not necessarily that simple.   Generally speaking, if you consult any of the various heatmap/chalkboard type devices after a Fulham game you’ll see something like the above (less the world class graphics).  The red bits are the forward runs (heat!), the blue bits are the under-used flanks (cold!).

The general idea has been for the full-backs to provide width, Johnson and Zamora to work in the channels, and Dempsey and (to a lesser extent) Davies/Gera to cut inside and attack space where the forwards have vacated.    There were several good examples of this last season, and it’s all part of Roy’s compact four without real width.

As I’ve stressed before, all my coaching books say that in defence you try to make the pitch small (lots of bodies close together, watertight organisation, play compressed, etc), but in attack you want to make the pitch big, which you do either vertically (over the top) or horizontally (stretch it across the field).   We did the defensive bit really well last year, but not the attacking bit.

So the question is:  did Roy run things as he did because we didn’t have a proper left winger like Duff to make stretching the game worthwhile?  In which case we’ll see more proper wing play.   Or is that how Roy likes things and Duff will have to operate quite narrow still?

Of course, the answer is not black and white, and Duff, being Duff, will probably have more ‘wide’ moments than any of our current midfielders, simply on the grounds that this is what he does.    But equally, that’s not really how we play.

Put another way, I’m really interested in how he fits into the team and how he’s used.    My optimistic heart says that we’ve picked up another Murphy style gem.   I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

Damien Duff will cross the ball

duff

Damien Duff has signed, and, as suggested at various points earlier in the week, we here at CCN like this.   He brings a left foot, big club/match know-how, and various other attributes not currently found in the Fulham side.

I had a look through some of his chalkboards last year (one trick pony, me), and while you really need to know how the team’s playing to interpet these (probably), it does look like Duff likes to stick the ball into the box.  As we know, Fulham can quickly knock this out of him by making him defend/not giving him any targets in the box, but if we interpret last year’s defensiveness as, in part, an attempt to walk before we could run, then the arrival of better players may well herald a new approach to playing.

Manchester United last year got all those clean sheets because they had a wonderful combination of a perfectly drilled team, a defensive setup, but game-breakers at the other end who could make something happen when the odds were against them.   Fulham had that same defensive stiffness, but it all too frequently meant that our sub-Ronaldo forwards were often starved of service/help, and not able to make anything happen.   All being well, if you upgrade those attacking players slightly, while maintaining the defensive solidity, you score more goals and concede few again.   It all sounds so good on paper.

So the question is where to play our new man.   Pay cut or not, he’ll still be one of our top earners, so the expectation will be that he starts games.   This could be tricky.  Clint Dempsey, in the dark, pre-Portsmouth “I’M BACK!” goal days, bemoaned the fact that he’s had to re-establish himself every season he’s been at the club.   Here we are again:  Dempsey has made the wide left position his own, and look, we’ve signed a left-winger.

In some ways this is fine:  Clint’s looked knackered for a while now; in other ways it isn’t:  either you bring Duff in for Dempsey, or you move Dempsey to the right flank, either way he loses his position.

What of player of the year turned playing through pain all season hero Simon Davies?  He needs to play when he’s fit.  Zoltan Gera’s second run as a starter may end the same way as the first did, and so be it, but what to do with Duff/Dempsey/Davies?  For a while it won’t be an issue.  Davies is still injured, so presumably Clint slides over and Duff joins in as soon as Roy thinks he’s ready.   And all managers like to have selection battles.   It’ll be interesting to see how this one resolves itself.

Either way, another good player.  Nice one, Roy, and welcome Duffer.

Mexico!

More top stuff from Adam Spangler in Mexico.  That’s our friend Bruce in the header, incidentally.

Adam gets brownie points for this:

Azteca was a let down. It’s a big dirty stadium without charm. Walking around the seats is like rock climbing–it is so steep; there is so little room I wanted a harness. Whereas older stadiums in Europe have charm, Azteca just has poor design, poor construction and mass disorganization. The crowd was loud when they screamed or blew their horns, but nothing special. Nothing more than a NFL or MLB playoff game. Seriously, was it just this game? I don’t get it. The field–the actual grass–was beautiful, but I cried at Craven Cottage. There were no tears at Azteca.

(Adam hopped over for the end of the Great Escape, and saw us beat Birmingham and Portsmouth to stay up)

Daily chalk

Back to the bread and butter:  chalkboards!

Nothing really stands out about Saturday’s game.   Perhaps the most notable point is what might be considered a complete absence of confidence in Zoltan Gera’s play.   Here:

gera

Have a look at those passes.   Very many (almost all) are backwards. This is fine for forwards with their backs to goal, or maybe for central midfielders keeping things simple, but your wide men are surely the players who (in this system) have the most license to try to make something happen.   These passes could be integral parts of tidy build up patterns, or a player being too careful.   I think the latter more likely.

For context, here is weary Clint’s board:

cd

That’s not a lot different, and there aren’t any killer passes there either, but Clint’s playing a lot of balls into good areas.  Not into really good areas – that would require more penalty box play – but they’re passes into the middle of the pitch outside the area, into the channels, etc.   It just looks more attacking.

Finally, while we’re on the subject, a word of commiseration for Frederic Piquonne:

fp2

The man had a good game, and one wonders what he might have accomplished had one of Defoe or Crouch still been around to enjoy his hard work.

Murphy and Duff

mduff

Roy’s interviews made it sound like Damien Duff is all but ours.   Some aren’t sure about the signing, but I am quite optimistic.   One reason is that Duff is perhaps at a similar point in his career to where Danny Murphy was when he joined us.  True, they are different types of players, but both are of a similar outright quality (at their peak both could play Champions League football and not look out of place).   Murphy had perhaps lost his way a little more than Duff, although the latter has just been playing left-back in a relegated side, so things haven’t been rosy for him either.

The counter argument might be that Duff’s game was more about pace than Murphy’s, so he has perhaps declined further from his peak, but people worried about Murphy’s ability to keep afloat in a crowded midfield and he’s been fine, so with a carefully chosen role I see no reason why Duff can’t do a similarly telling job for us.     Roy seems very good at seeing what a player can do and matching that to a well-defined role in the team.     Duff could be an excellent signing.

Portsmouth 0-1 Fulham

In the dark days of 2008-09, sage observers were often heard to mutter “he’ll be alright. He just needs one to go in off his arse or something.”

They were muttering about Bobby Zamora, of course.   He never did find a way to make that happen, painstakingly compiling 3 goals in 36 games, but this is a new season and everyone gets a clean slate, and today, thrillingly, Bobby Zamora *did* score with his arse.

It was the deciding moment in a fairly turgid encounter.  Clint Dempsey struck a shot from distance, Zamora redirected it, and David James had no chance.  13 minutes were on the clock, but that was effectively game over.

In the second half Fulham should have scored again, as a Zamora cross devilishly avoided several toppling Portsmouth defenders and dropped to Andy Johnson in front of goal and eight yards out.  Johnson controlled the ball and shovelled it across the face of the goal and wide, a bread and butter chance that he should have buried.

But it didn’t matter.  Portsmouth looked a fair side, but shorn of their best players they lacked that vital extra 10% to cause real bother.  They might have scored once or twice, but Mark Schwarzer’s afternoon was not a tricky one and the defence was its usual reliable self.

So a good result.  We have a difficult looking start to the season and will have games in hand on our rivals soon enough, so points on the board are important.  To go away from home and get three of them is ideal, a perfect beginning to what we hope will be another fine season.

A CCN season preview of sorts

In goal: Schwarzer, Stockdale, Zuberbuhler
Right back:  Paintsil, Kelly, Baird
In the middle:  Hangeland, Hughes, Baird, Smalling, Kallio
On the left:  Konchesky, Baird, Kallio
Right midfield:  Gera, Riise, Davies, Dempsey
Centre-midfield:  Murphy, Etuhu, Baird, Dikgacoi, Andranik
Left midfield:  Dempsey, Gera, Seol
Up front:  A.Johnson, Zamora, Nevland, Kamara, E.Johnson

Tomorrow we start again.  With UEFA games acting as a nice pre-season lead-in, the team should be well tuned for their visit to Portsmouth.   There are injury and fatigue issues, but the chances are we’ll be going out there with the team that finished last season, which is not exciting but a nice reminder of how far we’ve come.

The team has a season of ‘togetherness’ under its belt now.  We haven’t had a chance to evaluate the benefits of having a settled team for some time, but there must be value in going into the season and not having to have players learn their roles and teammates on the fly.   So if Roy wants to go back to project 0-0 away from home, the players can carry out those orders, knowing that they’ve done it, successfully, in the past.

So it will be interesting to see how we play.  I would hope we have a few approaches:

Home games: the ‘standard’ approach, with emphasis on defence but with full-backs pushing on and some commitment to attack from the central midfielders

Away to a big team: the ‘shutdown’ approach, with full-backs and central midfielders sitting deep, wide midfielders playing very carefully, and one forward helping back a lot too.  This got us several big points away from home last year, and relies on concentration and not making mistakes (if you concede playing this way the game’s up)

Away to a smaller team:  this is where I hope we’re a bit more adventurous.  Last year we seemed to go for ‘shutdown’ even against the likes of Stoke, WBA and others.  It’s tempting to say that this is the Italian coach in Roy, treating away games with enormous respect and happy to kill them off and get what’s there, without trying too hard to force the issue.  What would be good is to see things moved on a notch, giving players a little bit more freedom and perhaps making more use of Kamara and Nevland, who are very adept counter-attackers and could make a difference if brought on after an hour or so (by which time, the theory goes, Zamora and Johson will have softened the defence up). 

I suppose the latter is my main wish for the season ahead.

Others:

Set pieces

We’re good at defending set pieces, but don’t make a lot of use of them when attacking.  I happen to think that Hangeland’s due a few goals, but beyond him only Dempsey carries much of an aerial threat (accepting Dickson’s header in UEFA the other day).   So many tight games can be decided by set pieces, and we play a lot of tight games, so it really follows that this should be an area to focus on.   And I’m sure the team is doing exactly this, but this strikes me as the single biggest thing we can improve.

Subs

I didn’t get on the substitute bandwagon last season because I thought that those screaming for substitutes were over-egging it.  The thinking seemed to be that Roy’s reluctance to use subs was costing us dear, causing us to miss golden opportunities to change games.  Roy wasn’t sold on this, and preferred to not panic and stick to the plan.  We have to be grateful for this – it allowed us to beat Portsmouth and stay in the division – but there are surely times when a game might be changed with a switch.  In fairness, as the season wore on, so more subs were included, and I hope this continues.   Colin has found some evidence that forwards are much more prolific when coming on as substitutes, so it follows that fresh legs up front at the end of games can have a disproportionately important impact on the game.  It helps, of course, that Roy has more players now, better players, and players he feels he can trust.  So if Bjorn Helge Riise isn’t starting at the weekend, it’s good to know that someone who looks so sharp and direct is available for late emergencies.  Similarly, Kamara, Nevland, and perhaps Fast Eddie, are all well capable of doing something constructive if given the opportunity.

I suppose this all comes back to what we want:  if 0-0 is fine then you’re not going to open up the game to achieve this.  If you want three points then these are important considerations.

Depth

We’re better than we were, but looking at the above, it still seems as though we’re thin in the middle of the park.  The new recruits may be fine central midfielders, in which case we’re golden, but if they’re not able to step in and do a job in the most difficult part of the pitch, we’re possibly in bother.  The main thing remains Murphy’s fitness.  Last year he helped Dickson Etuhu find his way back to match sharpness (with fantastic results) and I’m sure he could do the same again with Dikgacoi or whoever else fills in.   But lose Murphy and we’ve a big void.  It was telling how often Murphy coming on as a sub changed a couple of cup matches last year.  Simply put, he is the fulcrum of the team, everything seems to revolve around him, his vision, nous and experience.  How do we replace that?

Barn doors

It must be possible to work with forward players, make them relax, concentrate on getting good contact, etc.  I have no idea how these things work, but if certain people can get a couple of early league goals it could make all the difference.  

The final analysis

We’re going to struggle early, I think.   We should beat Portsmout, but some tricky games after that and the dreaded ‘games in hand’ could see us at the wrong end of the table for a couple of months.   After this, I would expect things to pick up, and a reasonably comfortable finish of 11th to 14th seems probable.   I also expect us to challenge in a cup competition.  We are hard to beat when we want to be, and this should mean that we ought to back ourselves to get through a knockout game against all but a few teams (draw away, win at home).   Clearly you can get bad draws, bad bounces, all sorts, and then your cup dreams are over, but with three bites of the cherry this season and a (slightly) bigger squad, this should, surely, be the year where we can make a move towards winning something.  It might not happen, of course, but it feels like things are stacked up nicely.  The team is arguably at a peak (Schwarzer and Murphy won’t get any younger, Hangeland may go somewhere eventually, and while we may bring in a star player at some point, we can’t rely on this happening) now, and we should capitalise on this while we can.

Draft time

Here’s where Fulham players were selected in the Paintsil League at The Times:

ROUND      PICK      PLAYER      POS      TEAM
1     9     Dickson Etuhu     CM     Flatter to Decieve FC
1     10     Mark Schwarzer     GK     Ball Blacks
1     13     Clint Dempsey     LM     New York Whites
2     27     Brede Paulsen Hangeland     CB     Ball Blacks
2     28     John Paintsil     RB     Flatter to Decieve FC
3     43     Danny Murphy     CM     Lamb Chops
4     71     Aaron Hughes     CB     Jimmy Hill Is The Messiah
5     76     Andrew Johnson     FOR     HammyEnd.com XI
5     82     Paul Konchesky     LB     Ball Blacks
6     98     Bobby Zamora     FOR     PurplenGreens
7     117     Simon Davies     RM     Flatter to Decieve FC
7     118     Erik Nevland     FOR     Ball Blacks
7     119     Diomansy Kamara     FOR     PurplenGreens
10     170     Stephen Kelly     RB     PurplenGreens
10     180     Eddie Johnson     FOR     Ajax Bleach
14     245     Zoltan Gera     CM     Kagiso Mays Hayes
15     263     Bjorn Helge Riise     FOR     PurplenGreens
18     314     Seol Ki Hyeon     RM     PurplenGreens

It was a snake draft and automatic, so some of this is random, but interesting to see where people saw value (!).   I think my taking of Eddie Johnson in round ten could be a steal.

All possibilities

The news is good, and soon we may see some changes.

First, Mark Viduka.

I’d see this as a kind of Gera signing, a freebie with good odds of paying off.  If the wages aren’t silly then it’s a great low risk, high reward signing.   People worry about Viduka’s attitude, but if he doesn’t do what he’s meant to Roy won’t play him.

And he’s a really good player.  Every time he lines up against us I worry, and every time he does damage.   When he’s fit (and we can help with this) and going well there are few better forwards in the league.    That sounds a bit outlandish, perhaps, but I really rate him that highly.  Okay, so he may have tuned out at Newcastle in the end, but that’s sort of understandable.

It might not work out, but what a move if it does.

Damien Duff.  “Duffer”, as the used to call him in Dublin when I lived there, is a fine footballer who’s not what he once was but has ability, a good left foot, and as best I recall, a good attitude (he was famous for being able to fall asleep anywhere).   The pace and acceleration is gone, but as a genuine wide midfielder who knows how to play the game he sounds like an astute signing.    If nothing else he would offer us something we haven’t got, without sacrificing the team ethic.  I like.   We are, incidentally, supposedly the ‘mystery team’.

Finally, Clint Dempsey re-upped until 2013.   Obviously I’m thrilled about this.  I got into more arguments about Dempsey than anything else on TiFF, and while it’s true that I’ll defend any Fulham player, it’s also true that I’ve been a big Clint fan from the off.   He’s turned potential into ability and could keep getting better.  With almost 100 games to his name already, a fair smattering of goals, he’s got an opportunity to build up a pretty good career for himself at the club.  I mused about this in the Fulham Review, but of all the current squad, Dempsey is perhaps best placed to become a ‘future Fulham great’:  age on his side, plenty of appearances, hard-working attitude, fans like him, important goals; keep this up for another four years and everyone will be well pleased.    There’s no such thing as ‘first name on the teamsheet’ in this side, but Clint’s as important as anyone not named Schwarzer, Hangeland or Murphy, and isn’t far behind those three either.   Tremendous news, and nice work, Clint.   Let’s just hope he’s in a fit state to play for us:  flying off to Mexico just before the season is ridiculous, and FIFA want shooting for organising an international date at this point.   Idiots.

Aztec Gold

azteca

Adam Spangler’s in Mexico covering the US-Mexico game… here’s a pic he just uploaded on Twitter.  Doesn’t it bring memories of 1986 flooding back?   Something about the colours, the contrast even… you can see Maradona slotting that through ball down the middle, and Burrachaga racing clear to decide the game once and for all.    What a tournament that was.  Check TIAS and DuNord in the coming days for what’s sure to be more excellent coverage of the lads’ journey.

Bottles and flowers

blue water415ml_Brown_Glass_Bottle

Right.  If I were to launch a new range of mineral water (called Tooting Springs) and Waitrose agreed that it was so lovely they had to have it, I would have some hard thinking to do over packaging.

If - and to do this I would have to have really impressed Waitrose – I was allowed to place blue bottles of Tooting Springs in half of their stores, and brown bottles of Tooting Springs in the other store, do you think they would sell equally?   Even if they had exactly the same (delicious) water in them? 

No, the blue bottle looks refreshing, good, right for water.

The brown bottle… ginger beer?  Not water.  Water is pure, brown is not about pure.

But it’s the same water.

Doesn’t matter.  It has to look blue.

tackles

Last year I took advantage of the cheap midweek tickets scheme and brought a couple of friends to Craven Cottage.  I think it was the Wigan game.   Some way through, one of them, a very knowledgeable sports fan from Canada, sent me a text:  “Zoltan Gera runs like a marionette!”  I had a look, and sure enough, he did!   It looked like he had strings on his wrists and on his knees, and the whole thing looked quite funny.

Zoltan Gera doesn’t look like he gets involved with the tough stuff.   But I watched him quite closely last year, and in my mind I had him marked down as a good tackler.  He times his tackles well, he makes a lot of tackles.  His forward play was disappointing, but I thought he put in a terrific shift as a defensive player, hard working, discplined, a good player.   So when I nicked the stats above from ChampionshipatBest.com I was delighted to see that they supported my observations.   Zoltan Gera really is a pretty sound defensive player.

This is why I like numbers.  Our eyes trick us.  We are programmed to see things and compartmentalise them, and we usually judge things based on what we expect to see.   So when I watch Eddie Johnson I, because of the way I am, want him to look good.  So I see an incredible first step/acceleration, an unselfish approach, a willingness to bring others in, and a seering pace that is sure to lead to goals.   Others have no time for Eddie Johnson, probably because they’re better judges of a player than I am, and they don’t see this, they see the negative things that have held him back so far.

I think we make bad judgements all the time.    Years ago, Baseball Prospectus, at the cutting edge of analysis in that sport, recommended readers take a look at a book called “How we know what isn’t so“, and I lapped that up, and another book about bias in human reasoning (this was in my early 20s, and I was interested to know why I was so messed up in the head too, so figured it’d be useful to learn more – no luck!).    Here’s a really good summary of the book by a man called Nathaniel Bluedorn (I’m grabbing the lot because it’s good.  Try to get to the end, as some of the later points are better than some of the earlier ones):

1. Seeing Order in Randomness – We have a natural tendency to see order in data, even when the data is totally random and irregular. We do this even when we have no personal reason to see order. When we remember events from the past, our memory plays tricks with us by emphasizing any possible patterns, and forgetting irregularities that might refute the patterns. For instance, basketball players often think that if they make one successful basket, they are more likely to make the next – baskets come in streaks – when you’re “hot.” However, objective statistical studies show that, if anything, the opposite is true.

This natural tendency to misconstrue random events is called the “clustering illusion.” Chance events often seem to have some order to them, but when the law of averages is applied objectively, this order disappears. This error is compounded when our imagination tries to create theories for why there should be order. Because of this, we need to be careful when we make conclusions based on a sequence we see in some data.

2. Tendency to Look for Confirmation – We have a natural tendency to look for “yes” instead of “no.” If we have an idea, we tend to look for evidence that confirms our idea, not evidence that will disprove it. This is true even if we have no personal attachment to the idea.

Some researchers believe this tendency results from our need to take an extra neurological step when we try to understand negative or disconfirming evidence, as contrasted with positive or confirming evidence. Every negative proposition may need to be translated into a positive one for us to understand it. Therefore, we subconsciously look for easy positives and not difficult negatives. This tendency makes for bad objectivity and bad science. If we want to do good science, we need to train ourselves to look for negative evidence that contradicts our ideas.

3. Hidden Data – When we search for evidence, often there is data that we unintentionally overlook. For instance, if we get a bad first impression about a person, we may avoid them, and by avoiding them, they never have a chance to show us a better side of their personality. But if we get a good impression, we may decide get to know a person better, and thereby gather more positive data, and falsely confirm in our mind that first impressions are meaningful. Often the way we collect data filters out important types of data, and this causes us to confirm our wrong ideas. We need to pay attention to how we may see only a distorted side of an issue.

4. Mental Corner-Cutting – We all cut corners with our mind. We often use mental strategies – inductive generalizations – to understand the world around us more quickly and easily. These strategies are very useful. But they come at a cost. These corner-cutting strategies can cause systematic errors in our thinking.

5. Objectivity is Not Always Useful – We shouldn’t expect everyone to reevaluate their beliefs every time a new piece of evidence comes along. “Well-supported beliefs and theories have earned a bit of inertia. . .” However, we should draw a distinction between a belief that is well supported by evidence over time, and a belief that only has traditional or popular support. Some scientists believe the complex mental processes that give us biases and preconceived notions are some of the same processes that make us intelligent beings – superior to computers or animals. Our biases are useful, but dangerous.

6. Reinterpreting Evidence – When people are presented with ambiguous information, they interpret it to support their established beliefs. When people are presented with unambiguous information that contradicts their beliefs, they tend to pay close attention to it, scrutinize it, and either invent a way of discounting it as unreliable, or redefine it to be less damaging than it really is.

For instance, gamblers tend to remember their losses very well – remember them better than their winnings – but they remember their losses as “near” wins that provide clues on how to win next time. Gamblers aren’t the only ones to do this. Christians do too, as do scientists, presidential candidates and insurance agents.

7. Science is basically the systematic attempt to remove biases as we search for truth. Nobel laurite Linus Pauling said that to be a good scientist, “. . . you need to have a lot of ideas, and then you have to throw away the bad ones.”

8. Remembering Selective Evidence – Charles Darwin once said that he “. . . followed a golden rule, namely that whenever a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favorable ones.”

In fact, this does not always occur. People do not necessarily remember only evidence that supports their beliefs. Rather, they remember events that cause them pain or difficulty, events that they predicted, or events that otherwise drew their attention. They forget events that follow the normal course of events.

For example, some people think that they always end up needing things that they threw away. But this is only because they remember the things that they threw away, but later needed; while they forget about the many more times that they threw something away, and never needed it again. Another example is how people often say they wake up and their digital clock reads something like 1:23 or 12:12. This seems to be more than a coincidence. However, they are simply forgetting the many more times that they’ve woke up and the clock read 3:54 or 10:17. Certain types of events stick in our memory. We need to be careful that our selective memories do not bias our thinking.

9. The Wish to Believe and the Lake Wobegon Effect – The vast majority of people think of themselves as above average in qualities that they think are important. This is called the “Lake Wobegon Effect” after the fictitious community where “all the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

For instance, a survey of high-school seniors found that 70% of them thought that they were above average in leadership ability, and 60% thought they were in the top 10% of likeable people. 94% of college professors think they were better than their colleagues.

One way that people try to confirm their beliefs is to search for evidence until they find something that supports them. They may do a very detailed, in-depth study of something, but they do not stop when they uncover evidence against their beliefs, they continue on and only stop when they’ve found enough evidence on their side to relieve their conscience.

When looking at evidence that supports what we believe, we only ask that it leave the door open for our beliefs. But when we find evidence that contradicts what we believe, we hold it to a higher standard and ask that it prove its findings beyond a reasonable doubt.

For example, people who believe in a particular stringent health diet may look around for evidence that their diet is working, while people who eat more permissively find solace in studies that say it doesn’t matter what we eat. Conservatives tend to read conservative periodicals and not liberal ones, and therefore they are only exposed to evidence that bolsters their convictions. Liberals do the same. What we need here is to search in an even-handed way for supporting evidence and contradicting evidence, and weigh the two objectively.

Beliefs are like cloths, sometimes we go for what’s on sale.

10. Telling Stories – Much of what we know about our world we heard from others. But second-hand information is often simplified and “cleaned up” as it is told. As we relate stories, we often exaggerate them, or make them happen to a friend instead of an unknown person, or try to make the story more understandable. We do this subconsciously because we want our audience to be entertained or impressed.

As a result of this, we need to evaluate stories we hear by: (1) considering the source of the message, (2) putting more credence in actual statements of fact and not predictions, (3) scale estimates down by accepting the less drastic if two numbers offered to us, (4) not allowing our personal feelings towards someone deceive us into thinking that they are an example of a widespread phenomenon.

11. Correction from Others – Our friends and acquaintances can bring an objective perspective to our habits and beliefs. For instance, young children are good at correcting silly behaviors in each other, such as a funny way of walking, or eating with your mouth open, or the belief that calk is made from dried bird droppings. But, as we get older, we tend to associate with people who agree with us or share our habits, and therefore we no longer receive these useful corrections. As a result, if we adopt a defective belief, we may never receive the correction we need.

12. Strategies – If we humans have some innate natural tendencies to reason wrongly, how can we try to combat this? We can help by training our mind to compensate for our shortcomings. (1) We should be aware of how our mind tries to see order even when there is no order. (2) We should be aware of how our mind forgets things and remembers things in a very biased way. (3) We should actively search for data that we may have missed, and especially search for data that contradicts our theories or beliefs. (4) Ask ourselves, how would someone who disagrees with me look at this data? (5) Remember that stories that we hear may come from an unreliable source, or may be exaggerated by the storyteller to make a point.

 Now a lot of that is perhaps besides the point, hard going, or whatever.  But equally, it’s worth considering, don’t you think?

More of the same

The Times’ Gary Jacob did a chat today and got a few questions on Arsenal/Hangeland:

Arsenal are pushing for Brede Hangeland   but Fulham claim that there is insufficient time to find a replacement, so they would only sell for an excessive fee of £15m

Fulham want to have a replacement in place first and want £15m. Not sure he is worth that, but Arsenal watched him play twice recently

Arsenal think that they could get Brede cheaper at the end of the window – I don’t see why since he has two years left on his contract

This story was in the Window Watch, which is their space for ‘confirmed’ rumours.

We have also had a £2.5 million bid accepted for Kalu Uche.

Here is the Times text:

Fulham agreed a £2.5million deal to sign Kalu Uche from Almería last night and are fighting off Arsenal’s interest in Brede Hangeland.

Uche, a powerful Nigeria striker who scored eight goals last season, could be joined by a second new forward after Fulham were unable to sign Peter Crouch, who joined Tottenham Hotspur. The West London club are unwilling to sell Hangeland, the centre back who has two years left on his contract, unless Arsenal pay an excessive fee because of the limited time available to find a replacement.

Roy Hodgson, the Fulham manager, has given a trial to Magnus Troest, 22, the Genoa centre back, and made Fredrik Stoor, 25, available for transfer, one year after the defender joined from Rosenborg for £1.5million.

It is probably not worth speculating on what Uche might be like as a player.  The stereotype of West African players is fast, strong, but perhaps not so tactically refined.  I suspect this view is now largely out of date, but we could do with some pace.  Also, Hodgson would not be signing Uche if he hadn’t seen something in the man’s play that made him think he could fit in to the Fulham side.  So welcome, Kalu!

Moving up North, Everton have rejected Joleon Lescott’s transfer request.     For one thing I think they’re foolish to do so – Lescott’s a good player but hasn’t been consistently ‘up there’, so you might as well sell while the value’s highest and use the money on Michael Turner and some nice things for the canteen.

Lescott may be better than Matthew Upson, but equally, I don’t know what he has that Hangeland doesn’t.  So while the Times may suggest that we’re asking silly money for Hangeland, a) why not? and b) I don’t think it is anyway.    Lescott may have burned some bridges here, City need defenders (and to find a system that won’t ruin said defenders) – it’s all a bit of a mess isn’t it?

The Hangeland saga

Top video of Roy on the Hangeland situation.

Arsene Wenger admits interest.

Hangeland himself responds.

The situation seems to be:

Hangeland hasn’t signed the contract.

Wenger is mulling over a bid.

Hodgson isn’t sure what the state of play is.

Neither is Hangeland, possibly, but he’s keeping his options open regardless.

We shall see.

In the meantime, Fredrik Stoor’s on his way.

But we have a Danish defender, Magnus Troest, training with us.

Odds n ends

Couple of things you might have missed, buried in the Guardian ‘work’ section.  I only read this because I used the section as a mat to catch my hair while giving myself a haircut yesterday morning.

Haves v have nots in football (while everyone at the top has never been better, those down the leagues are feeling the pinch) – some interesting nuggets on average salaries, etc (not as high as you’d imagine, given short careers, etc)

Working life  -  footbal scout

It was around this time that he spotted a bargain buy while compiling one of his dossiers on Peterborough United. The scout takes up the story: “He had good energy, got around the park, occasionally tried to thread a ball through the eye of a needle and, if it didn’t come off, he’d be the first to win it back.”

After Hamilton had made a few discreet phone calls to trusted contacts, Jewell eventually signed Jimmy Bullard for £250,000 on his scout’s recommendation. “He helped to get us up to the Premier League and gave us another season there,” he points out, “before we sold him to Fulham for £3m. He’s since gone to Hull for £5m.”

Otherwise little to declare.   The season starts next week…

Fantasy Football

Does anyone fancy playing fantasy football again?   I’m terrible for this and rarely seem to stick with it, but it always seems like a good idea at the time.   Anyway, I have created the Paintsil League at The Times.   I chose The Times because The Guardian’s league last year was rubbish and because, uniquely I think, The Times doesn’t let more than one team own a player.   In these things the usual story is to load up on Ronaldo/Gerrard/Lampard and watch them go.    With this setup only one team can have each player, so theoretically it ought to be more interesting.   Dunno.  But you get to rank your team in advance (if you want) then the system runs a draft and you see who you get.  It’s probably easiest to let the league run through the thing automatically and then run some trades/transfers from there.   I’ve set the player allocation for this Wednesday to give people time to play around with the thing before the season begins.

Anyway, I’m optimistic.   Either email me for an invite (sent some already as the system required me to do so) or have a look for the league in the system itself (password is ‘fulham’, league name ‘Paintsil league’.   Page is here.

cheers

Rich

Can’t get there from here

oh

More exciting European fun for our boys.

This means Blackburn’s postponed.   Fearless prediction:  European games will mean we’ll have games in hand.  Playing fewer games means we’ll win fewer points.  Having a tough start means we’ll win fewer points.    We’ll be low in the league for a while, perhaps worryingly low.   People get upset by this.    But we’ll be okay in the end.

Fulham 3-0 FK Vetra

The rain poured down and Roy Hodgson’s black and white army marched on deeper into Europe.    Goals from the impressive Dickson Etuhu and two from Andrew Johnson saw Fulham home, 3-0, 6-0 on aggregate.  How good does that sound?

The first ten minutes was a crowded affair with little control and several tempers lost.  Then we eventually got into the stadium and saw both teams playing the ball around quite nicely, Schwarzer making a handy save from an optimistic Vetra long ranger, Fulham kind of attacking but not really making much count.   We did hit the post at one point, but at half time it was so far so comfortable.

The second half was better, with Dempsey and Konchesky down the left stepping up a level and causing serious problems.   Both were driving down the line, making things happen, showing their class.    Dickson Etuhu scored our first, rising high to meet a left wing corner and heading neatly home inside the far post.   Etuhu – who recently became a father – had a fantastic game in the middle of the pitch, always having time, always finding a teammate.   He and Murphy were in command, just like at the end of last season.

The second goal came from some clever sleight of foot from Dempsey on the left, a devastating shimmy leading to a perfect whipped cross, and Andrew Johnson was in the right place at the right time and made it two.    He scored again soon after, Dempsey bringing down a high ball, feeding Eddie Johnson, who took his time and rolled the ball across the goal for Andrew to make it three from close range.    Two easy goals for our bald hero, but you’ve got to make the right runs to get those sort of chances, so credit to the man for some top poaching.

A nice start to the season.    Bjorne Helge Riise looked very sharp in a late cameo, and it will be interesting to see how he does against better opponents.   Eddie Johnson brought a smile to my face, looked devastatingly quick and maybe, just maybe is going to have a role to play in the first team this year.  He linked up well for the third goal and showed some nice touches besides.  Fingers crossed for him.    Stephen Kelly also featured at right back, but wasn’t tested. Those three aside it was very much as you were from the end of last season, which in some ways is encouraging given how that worked out.   There’s much to admire in our team, and nights like this should encourage us to see the glass as half full.

Pictures:

10mins
10 minutes into the game and we’re still outside… UEFA regulations…

clint1
Clint in the process of being on fire

corner
A corner.  Dickson wasn’t even up for this one by the looks of things.  Perhaps the element of surprise did for Vetra when he scored.

howwet
How frickin’ wet?    Look at those bstards!

Wednesday stuff

This from the Times:

Money to burn or spent force?
Hodgson’s aim is to keep hold of his squad rather than spend money. If Brede Hangeland, left, resists overtures from bigger clubs, that in itself will probably represent Fulham’s biggest “signing” of the summer. Sounds depressing, but Hodgson has never pleaded for more cash; a big-money signing would rock the boat.

Intriguing.  The Times don’t tend to throw words around lightly, and the above is believable and reasonable.   Half-worrying that Hangeland hasn’t signed the contract put before him, but what can you do?

Meanwhile, Jozy Altidore is going to Hull, which annoys me as I really believe he’s going to be a star.    Bobby Zamora’s decision not to go to Hull may have worked out well for that team; I think they’ve ended up with the better player (medium-term at least).  The good news is that it seems extremely unlikely that he’ll be able to make an impact *yet*, so he shouldn’t help Hull to any great extent this season.

In other news, there is no other news.

Dempsey profile

Thanks to Steven for the link -  nice Dempsey profile piece from FIFA:

Really good stuff.  Good kid and good player.   There are some fine goals in that mix too – they might not look spectacular, but there’s a lot of skill there.   He’s cemented his place in the team now, I think, and it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here.

Speaking of the team, where are we?

Schwarzer-Paintsil-Hughes-Hangeland-Konchesky-Gera-Murphy-Etuhu-Dempsey-Johnson-Zamora

Simon Davies will feature in there too, probably pushing Gera to the bench.   It’s in the reserves where we see improvements, perhaps:

Stockdale (seems to have moved ahead of Zuberbuhler if pre-season anecdotal feedback is anything to go on)
Kelly (good player, upgrade on Stoor, perhaps)
Baird (as you were)
Smalling (exciting prospect)
Kallio (ayw)
Riise (we don’t know, but an upgrade on Gray/Dacourt probably)
Nevland (ayw)
Kamara (ayw)
EJ (enigma I)
Seol (enigma II)
With Andranik and Bouazza still about but not necessarily first team options, and Stoor (who I quite like the look of despite everything) likely to depart (or so we thought).

You can see the thinking can’t you?  We have a decent first team so unless you can pick up real class it’s going to be hard to upgrade.   And it’s going to be hard to pick up players of the right level who aren’t going to want to be regulars.   So in a way you’re snookered, reliant on players like Riise who have something to prove and would be hungry for the Premiership challenge.   I’m surprised we haven’t added a couple more Riise type players, and Jonathan Greening would have fit the bill in some ways too, but clearly the issue we have (if we throw out ‘quality’ on price grounds) is midfield depth.   And the rumblings we occasionally hear suggest that this is where we are trying to reinforce.   It’s not a glamourous approach, but the first team squad is demonstrably quite good, so really you’re moving towards consolidation, anti-catastrophe planning if you will.  And this means depth to insure against random injury plagues.

The obvious question is what this means for the club overall, and people talk as if this lack of ambition is somehow part of our DNA.  I don’t think this is the case.     The only way to instantly advance the club is to secure proven quality players, and we couldn’t (so far) land any of those.  So the fallback option is to make what we have a bit better and see where that gets us.  Assuming, very reasonably, that it’s enough for another competitive season, perhaps next year we will find a centre-forward land on our doorstep.    Again, it’s not an exciting approach, but if you judge your team to be quite strong as it is, it’s a fairly sensible one.   You make reasonable assessments about who you might land and try to get them.   If you can’t get them then don’t panic and stick with what you have.  There will be other windows, and at the moment there’s no reason to assume that patience will kill us.

And furthermore, despite having a good season, we have held onto our key players.   All of Schwarzer, Hangeland, Hughes and Dempsey would (when you look at their squads) make sound additions to the likes of Spurs, Everton and Villa, our immediate peer group/superiors (we’re aiming for 9th this year aren’t we?), and so far we’ve held onto all of them.    In a way these players, with Danny Murphy and Andy Johnson, are the core around which the club’s current strength is built, and they’re still with us.   So good news there.

We’re in good hands and doing quite well, and in the process of building a team that won’t require rebuilding every summer.   The fact that we can get away with just signing a couple of promising squad players speaks volumes for how far we’ve come.

PS:  Smith, Briggs, Moscatiello and Hoesen are now in the ‘other squad players‘ section.  This is, I believe, fairly recent.   It’ll be interesting to see if they get a chance in the first team.

Some pics

mes

On the Barcelona (un)guided tour.   This was a great little wander, the stadium reminding me much of the old Wembley in its concrete vastness.   Here we see some groundspeople relaying the pitch.   Mes que un club:  yes, a giant money-making machine.  There were large queues for the tours, and we all paid €17 a pop.   This represented decent value – we were there for a good morning – but you can soon see how these teams get wealthy.   The club shop, where I had half-intended to pick up a souvenir (I am a sucker for advanced polyester technology) was rammed with punters, all spending serious money on home shirts with names and patches (€90 all in) or on all kinds of other crazy things.  But mainly home shirts, which were displayed everywhere.   Seriously, they must make a killing on all this.

trophies

In the paper today Fernando Torres of Liverpool was talking about trophies being what it’s all about.   Nou Camp is full of trophies.  Here are three won last year.

pressbox

Here is the press box.   Hade and I sat here for a while to rest our weary legs.    Good views though.

archives

The archives.  I can’t read Spanish and wouldn’t have been allowed in anyway, but it’s an appealing sounding room.

dog

It always makes me laugh when dogs lie down like this.  Here a bulldog relaxes on Paral-lel.

We have about 300 photos but nothing of any great interest to the neutral observer.  No real football to see – BarcelonaTV was on in our hotel but this was mainly old games from the 90s, U14 matches and Ibrahimovic propaganda (they paid how much?).

It’s hard to know what to think of Barca.   Jimmy Burns’ excellent book on the club does stress how important it has been to the region, and why in many ways it really is “more than a club”, but at this point in football’s history it’s all about money, and Barcelona have heaps of that.   I felt at once thrilled to be at such a fine club, but was wary of how strange this was – after all, I wouldn’t take a tour of Old Trafford would I?    Barcelona stands for much that is good, so it’s hard to be scornful, but the club shop and the was generally soul destroying.  The club has first class seats on football’s gravy train and is unlikely to relinquish them any time soon.   What to think?   Probably best not to think too much about it and enjoy the high-speed attacking wizardry they put on a football pitch for what it is – thrilling.

BACK!

We’re back.  I’ll post some pictures in due course.  While I was gone:

Sir Bobby Robson

Sad news indeed.  When I was growing up it seemed like everyone associated with football was called Bobby, but Robson was the best of them, the England manager.  If the England football team was the pinnacle of all things good, then to be in charge of it… well, that there’s a god-like figure when you’re nine years old.

David Lacey wrote a good piece on the great man.

And Brian Glanville did a fine job of covering what had in some ways been an up and down career.

Glanville is right to point out the many downs as well as the many ups:  this is for me how Robson will be remembered.  A wise man who (like our own manager, I think) understood that football is indeed a funny old game, and who took the many punches life threw him on the chin without complaining.  As I recall, Robson’s early career was split between football and an electrician’s apprenticeship, which wore him out at the time but perhaps gave him useful perspective for later in life.

Lacey’s comment about Newcastle is good too:

“Under Robson Newcastle finished fourth, third and fifth in the Premier League, so naturally they sacked him”

Which sums up so much about Newcastle, and in many ways the world we live in now.

Winning in Lithuania

A 3-0 win in Europe is not to be sniffed at, so well done, team.  Nice for Zamora and Seol to score too, as both have been the target of some serious criticism.  Fulham scapegoats do often win the fans over in the end, so fingers crossed here.

In Zamora’s case, whatever the rights and wrongs, he just needs a few goals.   Seol?  Well where to start on that?  There’s an interesting piece on South Korean airline pilots in Malcolm Gladwell’s recent “Outliers” book.  It’s all to do with national characteristics, and made me think.  I’ve always felt that fans’ characterisation of Seol as lazy was, well, lazy (and unfair), and Gladwell’s piece makes me wonder.  Essentially he says that South Korean aeroplanes were, for a time, more likely to crash because their (Korean) pilots were far less likely to pipe up and be assertive when in trouble, often shouted down by louder and more aggressive US air traffic controllers.  In the end the pilots had to learn to be more American in their approach at these critical times, and, that done, accident rates fell.  But the point is that the South Korean national temperament is (shock horror) very different to ours, and Seol is less likely to be lazy than just… well, different.

Against that, Park at Manchester United has adapted (although is a very quiet character too) so who knows?  As ever, these things are compelcated.

No new signings

Well I allowed myself to get carried away by the Crouch rumours, but in the cold light of day we are where we are, and in some ways that’s quite nice.  The squad turnover in recent years has been downright frightening:  to settle down, with a couple of additions to bring depth, is not the end of the world (or very exciting for us fans, but hey, for Roy and the management team this is a results business).