Just to counter something written on ESPN about Fulham. I like most of what Phil Mison writes and have nothing against him, but sometimes I feel there’s a need to counter this kind of negativity. I’ll take the easy way out and go through his article with comments of my own, largely in the spirit of debate!
Here we go then, blow by blow, his text, then mine in green for peace and the environment:
Fulham fans have patiently endured a low-key summer, unsurprisingly perhaps with the disruption dictated by ownership of the club moving into new hands. Preparation for the new season saw the club take on three sides of some stature in European football — top sides from the Bundesliga, La Liga and Serie A.
- Okay, there’s your first thing. We’re playing three top sides in pre-season friendlies.
2009-10 may have been Fulham’s greatest season. It ended with a defeat in the Europa League final.
The pre-season results?
Gold Coast United L 1-2
Melbourne Victory W 3-0 (YES!!!!!)
Perth Glory W 5-0 (IN THE FACE, SUCKERS!)
AFC Bournemouth D 0-0 (oh)
Peterborough United D 3-3 (ah)
So we had a mixed pre-season then, against bad teams. And we’re having an iffy one now against really good teams…
Fulham failed to beat any of them, and Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Parma at a sun-kissed Cottage gave a stark reminder that last season’s deficiencies have not been addressed. Fulham are yet to pay a fee for anyone under new owner Shahid Khan, but that fat wallet of his needs to come out soon or Fulham are in trouble.
- This is probably true, and I’m sure Fulham will spend a bit more money once they’ve finished negotiating with targets, players, agents, etc. I’m just reading Michael Calvin’s “Nowhere Men” and it really does a good job of showing how hard it can be to actually sign players. Rest assured there will be several dozen people on our radar.
If you wanted a litmus test as to where Fulham are currently falling short, the friendly with Parma laid out precisely how bare is the cupboard. This was a re-run of Martin Jol’s team that worryingly nose-dived last season after a bright opening and came dangerously close to the drop zone following an awful run-in from March. Even before then, we had witnessed plenty of games where the gaffer’s preferred 4-4-1-1 too often ended up with the Whites looking as if they were playing a 4-6-0, with the opposing keeper hardly being tested.
The opening phase of Saturday’s friendly provided a re-run of last season’s broken system. Fulham started brightly enough, easy-on-the-eye passing with fluidity on the deck, looking organised at the back. Steve Sidwell pulls out a plum with a stunning early shot from range to put Fulham ahead.
Midway through the half, Parma begin to take control as all Fulham’s home possession fails to really open up the away side. And so it goes with this current style, with no incision or inspiration, and no Plan B — Fulham’s game just falls away.
- Alright, this is fair enough. We talked about not worrying that much about friendly results against bad teams. It would be better if we’d done a bit better but you can’t always get what you want. Look, we’ll probably lose away at Sunderland, too, but it’s a long season and while I am a bit worried, you can’t just go off proclaiming the imminent falling of the sky just because you haven’t won some pre-season friendlies or because the team isn’t firing yet. I didn’t watch the match, having two small children on the books now, but, well, there’s a time and a place for disgust at Fulham performances and pre-season probably isn’t it. Or shouldn’t be. Now, the obvious counter is that we were bad at the end of last year as well, but over the course of the season there were good times as well, and I don’t know that it’s necessary to take the last few games (the bad run) as proof that things are awful when we had some goodish games before that. Some fans (not necessarily Phil Mison) seem to take misery as a default, knowing very well that 10-15 times a season they’ll be proved right.
While we must cut Jol some slack from the way the club have failed to provide him with lavish funds for new blood, the Dutchman’s inflexibility, reluctance to abandon a failing system, and unimaginative football must surely call into question his suitability for the job going forward, while his record in the market is chequered.
- Really? He has a really good track record in football. Abandon a failing sytstem? I dunno. I mean, I do sympathise a bit – under Jol we seem to struggle to find a middle ground between excellent and rudderless, but if we think the answer to everything is to chuck out our manager and try again with Someone Else Just Because, well I don’t think that makes us look very bright. It’s about quality, it really is. We need more good players.
The 4-4-1-1 must be abandoned. Fulham are slow enough as it is in moving the ball forward. They need less touches on the ball, not more. By no means am I suggesting we go long ball, but look to Everton’s energetic style as a prime example of how to mix it up and get the ball into dangerous areas. Fulham simply do not carry enough goal threat — pure and simple. Trotting out trite remarks to the press amplifying what we can all see only makes Jol look foolish.
- This was one reason I almost gave up CCN. We armchair pundits generally don’t know as much about these things as we think we do, and I felt that in trying to play the armchair pundit I was being a bit hypocritical. I mean, I’ve read as much about the game as anyone I’m sure, but I don’t really know because I’ve never been there. I tried to highlight things I thought I’d noticed but at no point did I know what I was talking about. At the end of the day it’s just opinions, and these are dangerous things in the hands of amateurs. All of which is to say, that saying things like “The 4-4-1-1 must be abandoned” feels a bit over the top, a bit like me saying “Hady, you must never make lasagna again!”. We need fewer touches of the ball? Yeah, sometimes, but I think we can slip through the gears quite well, particularly down the right. And maybe we need more dynamism, but the modern trend is for teams to keep the ball and to build that way. 4-4-1-1 isn’t the problem, not least because it doesn’t really mean anything when the two wide midfielders are wingers and the two full-backs attack. What’s that then? 4-2-3-1? 4-2-1-3? Must these be abandoned as well?
Mix it up and get the ball into dangerous areas? You know who’s best at that in the team? Bryan Ruiz. Wait…
The over-reliance on Dimitar Berbatov for goals was risky enough last season. Once he went off Saturday, Hugo Rodallega’s second-half contribution was frighteningly inept in every department, underlining how urgent is the need to secure a quality striker within the next week.
- It’s always nice to get a new forward in but we need to be careful here. Forwards are very expensive relative to their actual contribution and it’s not like we’re short of attackers. It really would be nice to wake up tomorrow and be able to buy a Fulham shirt with BENT on the back of it but centre-forward isn’t the biggest problem we have, at least not as long as Berbatov remains fit. There’s a need for a new Petric but as we saw with some of his games last year, a lot of this is around service. Petric was nullified by its absence. So would someone else be.
Next to the current vacuum in midfield. Fulham have never recovered from the loss in rapid succession in the past 12 months of game-changing midfielders — Danny Murphy, Clint Dempsey, Mousa Dembele and Mahamadou Diarra.
- This is true as well but those are four very good players. We weren’t exactly lucky to get them all but to suggest that they grow on trees is a bit ambitious isn’t it? We’ll do well to get a single player this good, let alone four of them.
Bryan Ruiz needs to come out of the team with immediate effect.
Major reinforcements to midfield are desperately needed NOW. Fulham also need a strong leader on the pitch to captain and galvanise the side. They are mentally not tough enough.
- It was only a matter of time wasn’t it? GET STUCK IN!!!!!!! Alright, that’s not what he said. GET GALVANISED! Being galvanised is always important to a football team and Fulham are no exception. You know what Hodgson used to say about these things. That the work was done in training and then come the weekend it was all about putting these things into practice. At this level there is room for leaders and team character, but to suggest we’re missing something here suggests what exactly? Put another way, Duncan Fletcher the England cricket coach thought that a team needed at least a 7-4 balance between “good” characters and others, the others maybe being newcomers who didn’t feel they could impose themselves, or quiet people, or people like Flintoff and Harmison who might end up being problems. This might be reasonable at Fulham as well. Trouble is I’m not sure that we have a problem and I can’t imagine how we’d know by watching. QPR had problems last year. Are Fulham too nice? Maybe. But Sidwell and Karagounis are both quite galvanised footballers; again, the problem is quality, not galvanisation.
Fulham have some enterprising wingers at the club. The board need to focus on who they will put faith in and who can be off-loaded.
I would like to see Fulham try 4-5-1 with Ashkan Dejagah and Alex Kacaniklic perhaps coming off the bench to spark something. I am mystified as to why Damien Duff has been given another contract, or why John Arne Riise and Pajtim Kasami should even feature when both are about to be shipped out.
Sidwell is not of the standard to last 38 matches as your main man in midfield even though I cannot fault his attitude and he will chip in with the odd goal. Of course, as we have all known for an age, and Jol has finally conceded, Fulham need to find a decent left-back — and quickly. More inept transfer dealing.
Considering professionals have all been playing the game in an organised capacity since schooldays, it’s the least to expect they can stroke passes around the pitch over 20-30 metres. Ruiz can do that all day long. But to what effect? In the days of Johnny Haynes, in what was a fairly modest side, you heard this purr of appreciation and ripple of applause swell from the stands routinely as precision passes arrowed up to their targets. At least 10 times in each half. Saturday? Hard to recall a single moment of inspiration drawing gasps from the throat apart from Sidwell’s rocket and one luscious dummy from Dimi.
- Ruiz creates chances at a very good rate, and tangibly as well (assists). He’s emphatically not the problem. He’s also the new Zamora. He’s like arguing politics.
The rest was mundane, laboured, uninspiring. Parma should have had more. Over to you Mr. Chairman. Time to call in the cavalry. No more loan deals (Giorgos Karagounis is a clown) or short-termism.
- Karagounis is a clown? What?
Serious investment in the side is long overdue. Opinions expressed at the ground and on all message boards since suggest supporters all recognise the glaring deficiencies — even Ruiz acolytes are melting away. Please tell us what do the board intend to do to stop the rot?
- Oh whatever…
It’s all too easy to sit here snidely taking someone’s writing apart, which is why I don’t think I’ve done it before, but sometimes for every (over)reaction there needs to be a counterpoint. I’m not trying to be a dick here, just to try to bring a bit of balance to things. For the record I do think we’re in a bit of bother at present, and haven’t managed the post Hodgson transition as well as we might have, but I think we’re good enough to improve and have enough quality in place to achieve a respectable position, which is always our goal (or should be). There is a need to spend money and every season we don’t puts more pressure on us – but the window is still open and I’m sure all relevant parties are working round the clock to bring in the kind of players they and we want.
A while ago I had to write a brief analysis of Fulham’s transfer activity for a book about football transfers and concluded that, generally, Fulham have managed to come up with the right player at the right time throughout their stay in the top division. There has yet to be a ‘generation’ where we’ve entirely messed up our recruitment, with enough really good players mixed into the squads to ensure that we’ve been able to do what’s required. That SHOULD be the case again this season.