Author Archives: rich

Great signing: Fulham purchase Matt Smith from Leeds Utd

I like the Matt Smith signing. I remember watching him a couple of times when he was at Oldham. They played Liverpool and Everton in the cup and for some reason I had access to the TV.

What struck me about Smith was that he had this transcendental power. Power that – if harnessed – any team will struggle to defend.

High balls into the area are a great leveller. Sam Allardyce understands this and so does Tony Pulis. I don’t care if you’re Ferdinand and Vidic or Puyols and Pique, if the ball’s crossed with some accuracy, technical ability goes out of the window. If you want to defend it you have to compete physically. This is partly how Graham Taylor was able to get Watford promoted from division four to division one in short order in the 80s.

While researching my book on Roy Hodgson I talked to Richard Latham, a reporter in Bristol, who remembered briefings with Roy and Bob Houghton:

“He and Bob both spoke the language football wise, both very technical, very committed, and Bob had the press in with a blackboard explaining how Bristol City were supposed to be playing. I do remember something had just emerged, the POMO zone. Bob reasoned that every time the ball went into the POMO zone it was a chance, somebody should really have got on the end of it. He’d come out of games saying how many chances they’d had, but the goalkeeper hadn’t had to make a save. His reasoning was that the ball was in an area where they should’ve got to it, but nobody did. So I’ll always remember the POMO zone and I imagine Roy was into that sort of thing too. They were very technical coaches and sang from the same hymn sheet, but very different personalities.”

The point of all this was, simply, to get the ball into the danger area, to cause chaos, and to take advantage when the ball fell to the right man. (the background to all this was some dodgy but detailed analysis by Wing Commander Charles Reep, which Charles Hughes took on and made a central part of the FA coaching programme at the time. The analysis might have been suspect, but the long ball game it encouraged did work to a degree).

Now, this may not be what the puritans of SW6 want for their club, but it’s a legitimate approach and one that, dare we say it, has its uses in the Championship where as best we can tell, pretty football doesn’t seem to prevail as we might hope.

And Matt Smith seems to be the real deal if this is an option you want to take. He’s huge, but that alone doesn’t help if you can’t use this size, if you can’t compete, if you can’t put the fear of god into defenders every time the ball’s in the area. As best I can tell, Smith has all this in his locker. It’s too easy to write him off as a big lump: that won’t do in today’s game. The Championship is still a remarkably strong league. If Smith was just a big man up front he wouldn’t have stuck at Leeds, wouldn’t have scored the goals he has.

It raises other questions, not least how we’re going to provide the kind of wing play he’ll need, but on the surface this feels like a smashing signing to me.

(And dare we say it: if Magath was the embodiment of evil, wouldn’t Ross McCormack have warned Smith off?)

I am not an apologist

Or maybe I am: Apologist: “a person who offers an argument in defence of something controversial.”

Whatever. 

1

Suppose someone said: “we’re going to start again with this team. Bring in the youth team. Sign a few experienced players. Work to build a blend.”

How long would you expect it to take to get this right?

2

Here’s a run of four games that promoted QPR had late last season:

10 Feb 2014 Derby County 1 – 0 Queens Park Rangers
16 Feb 2014 Queens Park Rangers 1 – 3 Reading
22 Feb 2014 Charlton Athletic 1 – 0 Queens Park Rangers
1 Mar 2014 Queens Park Rangers 1 – 1 Leeds United

Derby made the playoffs, too, and many considered them the best team in the league. They had a run early on including four defeats in seven games. Late in the season they had a run of four games without a win.

Wigan were even more iffy: they had a run of one win in five early on. They lost four in a row halfway through the season, and closed out with a sequence of LWLLWL.

The difference here is that Fulham’s problems haven’t been a bad run in an otherwise good season, but a bad run with nothing else. 

But still.  Bad runs are part of football in the Championship.  

3

This is interesting: http://theonlystat.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/championship-week-4-fledgling-fall-of.html

The key part in Fulham’s predicament at the moment is that they simply can’t buy a goal for love nor £11m of Ross McCormack – although the League Cup winner in midweek against fellow Championship side Brentford may get him going.

Does anyone really expect Fulham to still be scoring just 13% of the shots on target at the end of the season? That’s less than half the league average of around 30%.

Defensively the west London team have also been burned – somehow conceding goals at double the league average – almost 60%.

Of course both these could be down to the quality of chances that Fulham are creating and conceding – but to have this wide a disparity must surely be very unlucky. (Consider it the reverse of when a West Brom or Sunderland or Swansea or other Premier League “minnow” is up near the top of the table a couple of months in – eventually every shot they take stops hitting the back of the net, opposition shots curl just inside rather than outside the post, and the team slides back down to its more natural (playing talent-based position somewhere in the middle of the table).

You know what that is? That’s just the bounce of the ball not going our way yet. If, across the league, 30% of shots on target are going in, and it’s half that when we shoot and double that when our opponents shoot, well that’s just the break of the ball. Last season every single team ended up clustered around the 30% figure, with 6 points either way.

So that’s just bad luck.

In conclusion:

1) we knew rebuilding would take time
2) most teams have bad strings of results. Even teams that aren’t starting from scratch.
3) we’ve probably been really unlucky so far. I know people won’t like this but it’s how things work.  If you toss a coin once anything could happen.  If you toss a coin 100 times you’re more likely to see a 50/50 split between heads and tails.  In short sequences of games things don’t even out.  They just don’t.  People will rightly say that we haven’t played well, but a lot of that is a function of the bad luck: when that starts to stabilise the players will appear more confident, the fans will overlook things that will get picked out after defeats, and the world is generally a happier place.

There. I did all that without talking about anyone in particular.  

Okay, now I will. Look, I don’t agree with most of what Magath’s doing either, but I’m not convinced that the sky’s falling down just yet.

Books

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.

Sports

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.

Fiction

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.

General non-fiction

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.

Crime

Rogue Male – Geoffrey Household

Here’s Robert MacFarlane’s description:

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.”

Life changers

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.

MacFarlane again, funnily enough:

‘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).

 

 

Fayed’s comments are funny, but I have sympathy for Magath here

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).

Brentford 0-1 Fulham…

… 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.

chart

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.

Derby 5-1 Fulham – time to change

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.

The dog house problem

doghouse

In baseball players are sometimes known to have extremely good seasons just before their contracts expire. The thinking here is that they’re about to enter the free market and know that their value will be judged on their most recent performances.  So they give absolutely everything.

In football we seem to take another approach.  Players near the end of their contracts are dangerous.  Every moment they are either not signed to an extension or not sold to someone else is another moment they’re losing transfer value.

Transfer value is interesting.  If a player is in demand he will cost a lot.  If a team doesn’t want to sell someone they cost more.  It’s called leverage.  If a player is part of things the selling team can reasonably expect a premium price.  If the player isn’t being used it’s a lot harder for the selling team to say “nah, we’re not selling him.””why not? you’re not playing him!” “Oh yeah. We are selling him.” “How much?” “10m” “how about 5m?” “No” “Okay, bye” “Wait! 4m!” “No, we’ll pay 2.5m.” 

And so on.  The leverage is always with the buyer.

Bryan Ruiz

Konstantinos Mitroglou

Fernando Amorebieta

Dan Burn

Alexander Kačaniklić

All of these players have track records, to varying degrees.  If Fulham go down by a point, or miss the playoffs by a point, will they regret not fielding the above players?   We can talk about going in a new direction but if you look at it rationally, how stupid is it to have international quality players not being selected in the Championship?

If you then sell them, you play someone else in their place.  

Have we really gelled so much as a team in the games they’ve been omitted to justify their absence?  Has not having them around accelerated the new Fulham?   Yeah, maybe the youngsters have enjoyed their role in the team, but is this the optimal approach to achieve the club’s stated goal of promotion?  

I would suggest that the job of the manager is to maximise the points his team earns.  If he doesn’t like all his players, fine, but find a way to get the best out of them.   The players want to leave?  Are they under contract?   Well then.  I’m not stupid, I appreciate that contracts in football aren’t all that.  But if we want a season of Ruiz as a #10 behind Ross McCormack it’s in our power for that to happen.   If we want Fernando Amorebieta as a centre-back while the younguns acclimatise, well we can do that.  Or Dan Burn, who has played well in the Championship before, could play.  Mitroglou might be something other than what Felix appreciates in a footballer but at some point he was bloody good.  I can’t believe that he’s still not fit.  He would be one of the best strikers in the Championship.  But Fulham willingly ignore him.

Are we that good that we can do this?  Are we so good that we can throw out some good footballers in the name of ‘going forward?’.  

It just seems absolutely stupid to me.  Ridiculous.  This kind of self-sabotage sums up Fulham at the moment.  Promotion and progress will come when we make efficient, optimal decisions.  Make the most of the assets we control, not rubbish them, devalue them, give them away for much less than they’re worth, all on a whim.  

Ridiculous.

What on earth is Felix Magath doing?

I’ll have to watch the highlights later, but for now, here’s a quote from our manager before the game:

“It depends how we play and how the result goes. If we have a good game and good result, we will not change so much. If we have no result, like on Saturday, we have to change something.”

Hmm.

Does he mean that he’s looking for something in his team and sees every match as an opportunity to find out whether he’s found it?  (like a lottery ticket, where you buy it on Wednesday and see if it worked out on Saturday). Will he, after we do win a match, think: “yes! that was the configuration we’ve been looking for!”

We have talked about partnerships around the pitch, and Steve Claridge on the radio did the same last night. When I was researching the Roy book (have you got yours yet?!) David Elm told me how during the week forwards would practice in pairs (he was with Eddie Johnson) to help build up an understanding.

Fast forward to 2014 and it’s not clear that anyone in the team has played next to someone else more than once, except for the back four, which was remarkably stable until being hacked up last night.

If we think we need 10 games for luck to even out then does that not become about 30 if we field a different team every week? When you want to test something you generally try to stabilise the test as much as possible. So if I want to see what impacts on students’ abilities to pass exams I look for two groups with as much in common as possible except for the variable I’m interested in. By looking at their results I can deduce that the variable they didn’t share may be responsible for any variation.

(say you make two sandwiches: one has jam in the middle, the other has mashed snails; when you get people to rate the sandwiches sandwich A might get 8/10 and sandwich B 1/10. If you want to know why, you can deduce that since they both had bread, they both had butter, and they were both freshly made today, the difference is in the filling).

Put another way, if Fulham play a different team every week, one with 5 or 6 changes, it’s very hard to learn anything. Suppose he makes 6 changes for Saturday and we sneak a 1-0 away win. What do we deduce?

That football is very random and we can’t read too much into it
That these six changes were collectively responsible for the turnaround
That one of the six changes was crucial. Which one? 

I don’t know. What you would hope is that Magath has a vision for his team and wants to identify the team that best fits this. Anyway, here are our stabs this season (formations as per the Fulham website):

Back fours:

Hoogland Bodurov Hutchinson Stafylidis
Hoogland Bodurov Burgess Stafylidis
Hoogland Bodurov Burggess Kavanagh

Midfield

David Parker Hyndman Burgess (Diamond)
Parker Christensen Hyndman (4-3-3)
Roberts Parker Fotheringham Stafylidis (4-4-2)

Forwards

McCormack Dembele
Williams Rodallega Eisfeld
McCormack Woodrow

There are a few scenarios here:

He knows the opposition well and has designed a master plan for each team
He is ‘trying things’ to see what works
He is rotating the squad like Sir Alex Ferguson
He is wary of young players having a long season and trying to guard against burnout
He’s trying to make Fulham impossible to scout
He’s trying to keep his players on their toes and create a “battle for places”
He doesn’t know what to do

Whatever, my guess is that the players are as confused as we are.

I sometimes think of football managers as being a bit like doctors. “Do no harm”. Fulham seem to have stumbled into the opposite. I am the most patient person around but this just looks like chaos. We might well improve – conceding early goals in all three games has been unfortunate – but I haven’t seen anything in our play to suggest that we’re better than this.

The reasons to be optimistic are:

The defence has been quite settled so might come good
Parker and Hyndman seems like a reasonable basis for a midfield
We have Patrick Roberts
Ross McCormack does score goals.

And perhaps much else besides.  But sooner or later we need points.  

The kids are alright

One thing we all do when talking about sport is look for narratives. Presently the narrative is:

“Fulham are playing with kids and it’s possibly not working”

Now I don’t know. That feels a bit too easy to me. I’ve seen some really ordinary grown ups over the years. It seems too obvious to say that we’ve played kids and lost as a result because “this is different”. I’m not saying it’s not different but in terms of absolute ability I don’t know that anyone we’ve had on the pitch is showing inexperience. I don’t really know what that means anyway, other than it’s largely intangible. Again, I’m not saying it’s not important, but I don’t really understand it.

The big thing for me is that we’ve conceded earlyish in both games. Here’s something: there have been 19 victories in the Championship this season – all 19 were earned by the team that scored first.

Simply put: if you go a goal down it’s really hard to come back. Yes we’ve had 60% of the ball and quite a few shots, but that’s what happens when you’re behind. I don’t think it’s evidence of a good performance particularly, nor do I think it’s necessarily encouraging.

As we’ve discussed a lot over time, football hinges on small moments, and at this point in the young season the two big moments were Ipswich’s Murphy burning Shaun Hutchinson and the collective lapse that led to Millwall scoring so early on Saturday. The other moments were the Dembele save at Ipswich and Rodallega’s chances on Saturday.

So far the big moments have gone against us. I don’t necessarily know that this is because we’re using kids, rather that this is just what happens in football.

A final thought on Patrick Roberts. It’s true that he can come on and run through tired legs. It’s also true that both times he’s come on we’ve been behind. If you play your best players from the start, are you more likely to swing the match and control of same in your favour?  Then you don’t have to chase the game in the first place.

Fulham 0-1 Millwall

wpid-2014-08-16-22.02.01.jpg.jpeg

The giant flag saying “Still Believe” still hangs from Craven Cottage, but with the air of an “EVERYTHING MUST GO” sign in the window of a shop that closed 18 months ago.  

Still believe? In what?  In the youngsters? Sure. In the manager? Well maybe. In the club overall? Well there’s nothing to not believe in really, is there, unless we’re talking about the club’s ability to win football matches, which is a different question and not so easily answered.

In any case, they’d be better taking it down. 

Today Fulham lost to a spirited Millwall side that had the gumption to get ahead and then stay there.  The opener looked soft, with Ricardo Fuller putting in a cross that floated across the box and was volleyed home at the back post. Scoring goals should be harder than that.

Going a goal down at home means that you’ll probably have most of the ball and most of the attack, which Fulham did. That’s how the game goes and we should be wary of getting too excited about what followed. 62% possession? Fine, but that’s normal under the circumstances.   The trick is to hurt the opposition and again it didn’t necessarily feel that we were.  Part of this is fitting a story to an outcome: if Eisfeld’s early drive had crept in early on then that’s a different game. Hugo Rodallega, willing and present amid most of our good moments, looked to have a clear chance in the second half, but shot straight at Forde in the Millwall net.  He had a better chance soon after, but wanted a bit more time than seemed absolutely necessary and his eventual dig at goal was cleared off the line.

The chances were kind of there and I’d say we weren’t that far off, but goals decide games and we didn’t deliver on that front. My friend Lewis, a Millwall fan, mentioned that it was probably a good thing for them to get Fulham now rather than in a few weeks time, and I can see that.  There still looks like half a useful team brewing here, but I think we all know that it’ll take time.

The question I have is whether Magath has the patience and know how to develop this young squad.  It’s dangerous to read too much into these things but Shaun Hutchinson, warming up, had the air of a man with the wind taken out of his sails.  I have a real issue with his being dropped after a single game. If you think that one game is sufficient to discard players then that says a couple of things: you misjudged them in picking them last week, or you think that pulling young players in and out of the team on one game’s evidence is the way to do things.  I associate the latter with knee-jerk reactions among supporters, not with managers whom you’d hope might select a player then back them.  By way of an analogy, it is generally accepted that the England cricket team is better off now that it gives its chosen players a run of games rather than switching them around after every match.  I feel that the same applies here. That’s not to say that rotation isn’t a good thing either, but that’s more controlled, that’s more ‘horses for courses’.  

Speaking of fans, and this really is low hanging fruit, some of this lot were pretty ordinary today.  Stan and I were sitting right at the front and couldn’t see much at the other end, but the people behind us were effing and blinding about everything.  They were particularly pulling people up on not shooting from distance when they could have. Never mind that you can’t see how far out players are from where we were sitting, it’s stupid to take hopeful pot-shots unless things really open up.  Finally, Scott Parker punted one into row Z of the Putney End, rather making a point.  It never ceases to amaze me how angry people can get about things that they either can’t see or don’t understand or both.  It’s funny how the message boards talk about ‘johnny come latelys’ not ‘getting’ football, and Fulham’s place in same, but most of the bile comes from grizzled old gits who you’d assume have been going (and moaning) for years.  Yeah, football is for letting off steam, if that’s your bag, but lots of people just seem to want to shout and swear for the sake of shouting and swearing. Now that’s fine, too, but it can add up to an atmosphere that isn’t as positive as it might be.

Anyway. I was too close to the pitch to have any sense of space and movement and could only judge what I saw on an incident by incident basis (Hoogland slides, wins tackle, yay Hoogland; Parker tackle, yay Parker; etc, etc) which makes judging a game basically impossible (but perhaps explains why everyone loved Steve Sidwell, who was pretty good in the incident by incident stuff but perhaps not in the bigger picture).  So I have no idea who played well and who didn’t.  Rodallega seems to have attracted criticism but I’d be more inclined to praise him for being in good positions and being involved with what appeared to be most of our opportunities.  The two full-backs continue to impress me, but we’ll have to see the goal again on TV to see what happened on the goal.  All three midfielders looked like they did alright to me.  Maybe Williams on the wing struggled to get into the game but I might be miles off on that. 

Let’s not go overboard. This one could easily have gone either way and I’m not sure that our start proves much beyond the fact that a team with mid-table inclinations can very easily lose two close games in a row.  Three in a row, four in a row even.  This season is 46 games long and we know it’ll take time.  How can it not, when you’ve essentially built the team from scratch?  So if we know it’ll take time we need to find it in ourselves to give the players and the manager time.  

wpid-20140816_161319.jpg

 

Fulham

41 Joronen
2 Hoogland Yellow Card 47′
6 Bodurov Yellow Card 63′
38 Burgess
3 Stafylidis Yellow Card 77′
21 Christensen Subbed Off 45′
8 Parker
28 Hyndman
27 Williams
20 Rodallega
7 Eisfeld Subbed Off 61′
SUBS
4 Hutchinson
14 Roberts
16 Woodrow
30 David Subbed On 77′
32 Kavanagh
40 Bettinelli

Millwall

1 Forde
44 Edwards
2 Dunne
16 Beevers
28 Malone
7 Martin
6 Williams
26 Abdou Subbed Off 78′
11 Woolford Goal 12′ Subbed Off 62′
27 McDonald
19 Fuller Subbed Off 73′
SUBS
4 Wright
8 Easter Subbed On 73′
9 Gregory
10 Bailey Subbed On 62′
13 Gerrar
17 Webster
18 Gueye

Weather 20o. Wind 10mph Westerly. Partly cloudy.