Last word on Magath, for now

[by timmy]

A few pieces come to mind when thinking of Magath. The fact they’re about American football and their titles and the specifics don’t really matter as much as their essence.

Piece #1, from a former football player who spent one week at a certain team with a hated coach:

The psychology goes like this: Players used to love the game. They enjoyed their talent and had high self-esteem. If a coach comes along who makes them feel insecure and paranoid, they begin to hate the game. Then they begin to hate the man who made them hate the game. When they hate the man, they hate his agenda. His agenda, in this case, is an impersonal obsession with winning a football game, with (the perception is) little respect for the players who are doing the winning. The result: a player who doesn’t care whether his team wins or loses. And it happens constantly.

The good coaches are malleable, open-minded, humble. The good coaches make it feel like it’s our team, not his team. The good coaches understand that there is a fine line between being prepared and being confounded. The good coaches adjust their approach when they see 53 grown men ready to cry on a daily basis. These are the best athletes in the world. You don’t have to run them into the ground and call them pussies. You simply have to turn them loose. Sure, you must do so intelligently, with the opposing team’s strengths and weaknesses in mind. But you can’t project your own pedantic, inactive analysis of the game onto the athletes who actually have todo it.

Piece #2:

In the 21st century, NFL players are smart enough to distinguish between actual discipline (having a well-structured operation) and the bullshit old-school disciplinarian discipline. They know that a guy like Schiano is being a hardass because a) he gets off on it and b) he doesn’t really know what the fuck he’s doing. If you know what you’re doing, you usually don’t have to be a cock. If you haven’t, read former NFL tight end Nate Jackson’s account of Eric Mangini’s reign of terror in Cleveland for a good idea of just how far these nutjobs can take it.

Study after study has proven there are many good substitutes for Schiano’s redassed brand of leadership, and that it should be phased out of all aspects of American society entirely—in coaching, parenting, teaching, business management, etc. And now most NFL teams are doing just that. You can’t separate head coaches into “player’s coaches” and “disciplinarians” the way you used to. A good NFL head coach wins his players’ confidence by being detailed and having an answer for everything, not by being some stern daddy figure who demands you fight for his grudging approval. He doesn’t demand discipline. He inspires it.

Why a Symons/Murphy combination might be what we need

Peterkay

The other day Hade and I were watching Peter Kay. I always think I don’t really like Peter Kay, then I see him and can’t stop laughing.  This time he was on some regional news programme and interrupted the weather by crawling along then appearing in front of the map from the bottom of the screen.  In itself this wasn’t that funny, but in Kay’s hands we chuckled away.  Now, if David Cameron or Adrian Chiles or even Jimmy Carr had done this very same thing we’d have thought “no.”  But Kay made us laugh.  I don’t know why.

It feels like ties to a club should make no difference.  Whenever I see another team hire a former player to an important role I do think “hmm”.  Is that really the best qualified person for the job?  Sometimes it might be though.  It does feel though that the fans are quite fed up with the stinking sinking ship we’ve seen, and let’s face it, the ‘pick the best manager you can find’ approach isn’t exactly working for Fulham’s crack team of head-hunters.

Point is, we’re in a bit of a mess. Yes, the team will surely improve and at some point give the Championship a good hiding, but that might not be for a while.  We might lose a few games. We might take a while to integrate the kids.  There might not be a goalkeeper on sale in January!

So having some ‘untouchables’ at the helm for a rebuild might not be the worst idea. Take this season.  If Danny Murphy had presided over this start fans would be disappointed but not furious. It would be acknowledged that things take time, that Murphy was working out his best team, etc.  Any anger would be aimed at the, er, suits, which increasingly feels about right.  A Murphy/Symons combination would have enough goodwill in the bank to withstand much that fans would otherwise get angry about.

I think you have to assume that this isn’t going to be some jetpack/trampoline promotion situation just yet, and while I’m convinced the team will get better, maybe the time is right to go into a holding mode.  Stop buying in randoms and think about the next good Fulham team and who’s going to be in it. And while we move from A to B, have Symons and Murphy steering.

The end of Felix Magath

Well there we go, it happened.

It’s pointless trying to defend the undefendable – clearly Magath was not fit for purpose – but as with most recent Fulham decisions, the timing is iffy.

Honestly, you decide after an away defeat to the top of the table team that enough is enough?

Never mind. It’s a long season and there’s plenty of petrol left in the tank.

Whatever the manager’s merits, at some point you have to take supporter sentiment into account. Tension, anger and frustration have a way of finding their way onto the pitch. The players needed room to breathe. Magath had to go, for every reason.

In some ways the next manager walks into a reasonable position. Magath has done a lot of the dirty work in overhauling the relegation squad. Now, we might not like what he did after he’d overhauled it, but it was a big job and he ploughed through it with some (too much?) gusto.

The new manager also inherits a team that is, if not in a false position, then at least in a position from which we might reasonably expect a significant rebound. It’s the sort of role Harry Redknapp would have loved, jumping into a superficially sinking ship and saving it through the power of regression to the mean.

The players are okay, too. If not all of them are to the new man’s liking, at least there aren’t that many of them and they are mainly quite young. The only glaring personnel problem Magath has left behind is the absence of a goalkeeper, with two kids and Gabor Kiraly fighting for the no.1 jersey. It’s a battle in which nobody wins really, and the folly of letting David Stockdale go seems even worse with hindsight. We don’t know the details but it feels like an idiotic thing to have done, a transaction that might have been vetoed in a less dysfunctional organisation.

Those players that remain are hard to judge, looking fairly bewildered at their predicament. If the new manager picks the first team on merit then he has some dazzling attacking talent to draw on. If he can organise the defence, too, Fulham should be a reasonably good team quite quickly.

Magath feels like the closing of a particularly ridiculous phase in Fulham’s history. The ineptness of the Jol era, the Meulensteen/Curbishley/Wilkins fiasco, then Felix Magath… a long-running comedy of cock-ups. We could say that the next appointment is crucial, but it’s not just that. Looking back, the club’s approach to recruitment has veered all over the place in recent years, with each manager emphasising different types from different regions. Where is the overall direction here? Have the board ceded too much control to too many people?

It feels that way. And for an industry where so much money is flying around, the decision making has often been bewildering. We’ve mentioned Stockdale, but seeing Kasami and Mitroglou having some Champions League success more or less sums up what an absolute shambles Fulham have become. Good enough for the highest level of football, but not for Fulham? And our friend Bryan Ruiz, who had such a fine World Cup, can’t get a game in the Championship. Riiight. These are not the decisions of a club working effectively.

The other stuff – the bewildering team selections, the harsh substitutions, the dropping of players, these might not be optimal management but they’re all things that a manager can reasonably do. The big decisions though, there should be some sort of high level control here. You can’t just walk into a club and act with a free hand; it shouldn’t work that way. Everyone here has a lot of questions to answer. If this were English cricket there’d be an enquiry into prolonged poor performance. I’m sure Mr Khan’s businesses would do the same if one went badly wrong over a sustained period of time, made a series of bad decisions. It’s time for Fulham FC to have a good look in the mirror and decide what it wants to be. Are we blitzing the Championship on the back of mega-spending? Are we coaxing the youth team into a machine for the future? Whatever is decided the fans need to understand the message and need to be on-board with it. The latter is easier said than done, but fans will respond to things being done in what might be called “the right way.” This was always Magath’s problem: he did things badly and unconventionally, and fans never did quite work him out. Fulham can’t afford a repeat of this, so while a track record of some sort is obviously important, the intangibles are not to be overlooked either. Danny Murphy joining the existing temporary setup might make more sense than we think.

We won’t go down. We probably won’t go up. But at least now we can look forward to some kind of coherence about the club. This ought to have been a terrific season, where the kids got their chances and where we didn’t just turn up against the super-rich teams for a hiding. It’s not too late, though. Fulham have done the right thing for the first time in a long time. Let’s see what happens next.

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).

Why Khan Hired Felix and Why He’s Still our Manager

[RA - This fine piece is by Timmy, incidentally]
khanfelixbuck

John Arne Riise mentioned the other day how, after that horrible defeat at Derby, Magath called a late night meeting and announced practice first thing in the morning. Usually days after matches are for recovery. Que the horror.

The practice allegedly consisted of “tactics training” and lots of running.

When I played varsity sports in high school, heavy defeats were often followed by impromptu practices that contained lots of running. Same for those I helped managed in both high school and college. It didn’t matter if the coach horribly prepared us for the game, or if it was just a ‘bad day at the office’. Our actions on the game field had repercussions on the practice field.

I have no record (and done little research) that Khan played sports in his teen years. I can say that he has a lot of business acumen, and probably learned a bit about coaching methodologies I mentioned above while pursuing an NFL team before eventually owning the Jacksonville Jaguars.

And the fact he owns an NFL team, and not say an MLB team (more on that later), in relation to Magath is key.

American Football coaches, by and large, are insane (http://deadspin.com/5958802/coaches-are-freaks). Outside of baseball, no sport has sees much over coaching by managers. They routinely pull 100-hour work weeks. Everything is planned out. Game film is pored over again and again. It’s so intense that last season, one NFL coach had a heart attack while leisurely playing golf. Another had a stroke in the middle of a game.

The response from his colleagues were a shrug.

(Just read this from the now-fired Jim Schwartz: “That’s probably the same way you would talk in the locker room about a player that saw another player get an ACL or have another injury — if you let that affect the way you work, you’re in the wrong boat … Coaches don’t work 100 hours a week because they’re doing it because that’s healthy. They do it because the job requires it. It just is what it is.” Let that seep in.)

Compare that to the methods allegedly reported when Jol was in charge. If the rumors were true, the man rarely showed up to practice. The team was clearly out of shape and horribly ill prepared to do, well, anything. The defense, the bedrock of coaching, was on track to set historic lows.

Khan arrives and sees the mess. No, he’s not a football man; but he knows (or, thinks he does) enough about how teams are supposed to function that the current setup is a recipe for disaster.

But, he’s new. He doesn’t want to pull a Tony Fernandes and make an ass of himself in the first few months on the job. Nor does have the ego (or naiveté) to throw money at the problems like Abromovich or Sheikh Mansour did when they first arrived.

So he waits. Things don’t improve. He has Ali Mac hire esteemed assistant Rene Muelensteen to whip the team into some semblance of shape. Things continue to go sour. Jol gets fired, Rene takes over.

Things change slightly, but not enough. Rene’s reign was too short to make any sort of inferences, but I sense he found him to be too “salesman-y” (anyone who watched his videos on the team’s website will know what I mean; i.e., only speaking in cliches and platitudes) but mostly the results continue to remain poor.

Eventually Khan has enough. He played the modern English/European game to no avail, so now it’s the Puritanical American game. Cajoling is replaced by commanding. Obliging replaced with ordering.

He hires Felix Magath, a man hated in the game for his “methods”. He’s cold. He yells. He demands peak physical fitness. He’s ruthless. In Felix, Khan must have seen a familiar face. And what Felix has been implementing isn’t new to any American athlete or anyone involved heavily in sports. Khan sees him as someone who can whip this horrible, and horribly prepared, team into cohesion before it’s too late.

Well, it was too late. Although we may think otherwise, and have hindsight to prove (somewhat), Khan was a bit off in his belief. But, he still believes in Felix. The work is not done, the time to relax the control has not arrived. So he currently remains manager.

Sure, there’s been ultimatums given but that is to be expected in this hyper-competitive environment.

I mentioned baseball earlier as a comparison to the NFL. Although I can’t speak to say NHL or NBA coaches, baseball managers are a different breed. They have to be considering the long, daily season. Yes, some are “players mangers” and others are “disciplinarians” but it’s all quite relative.

Except for Buck Showalter, current manager of the Baltimore Orioles. And it’s with Buck that I think Felix Magath can learn from, and hopefully follow.

Buck is described as a control freak by many fans. Others would call him an asshole. According to Pat Jordan in a Sports on Earth (RIP) article, “Showalter hates to be called a control freak. He hates it because he doesn’t consider himself a control freak, but mostly, he hates it because he can’t control people calling him a control freak. To assuage his hurt feelings, I offered to call him one of the many other names people associate with him: passive-aggressive, taciturn, sarcastic, caustic, suspicious, paranoid, Machiavellian. He did not laugh.”

(Before I proceed, we could probably apply any of those adjectives to Magath. I highly recommend reading this piece and think about Magath.)

But Buck wins.

…Sort of.

The rap on Buck is (or was) his an uncanny ability of taking underperforming or new teams (New York Yankees in early 90s, when they sucked; Arizona Diamonbacks in late 90s; Texas Rangers in early aughts) and turning them into a contender. But before they could clear that hurdle and become great teams, Buck got fired (each would go on to win a World Series, or many in the Yankees case, or at least appear in them shortly thereafter).

Usually it was a mutual departure.

Essentially, teams got tired of his attention to detail (the man reportedly picked out the Diamondbacks color palette upon his hiring) and players grew weary of his methods and tuned him out.

So it was no surprise to see him hired by the Baltimore Orioles in late 2010, a team that was suffering their 15th (was it more?) straight losing season.

It took a little while to turn the teams fortunes around, but the O’s magically made the playoffs in 2012. They’re currently on par (KNOCK ON WOOD) to win their first division title (not a pennant, just a freaking division title!) in nearly 20 years.

Four years into his current job, Buck has already lasted longer than he did at any of his prior MLB managerial positions. Part of it is probably the team has sucked for so long that everyone will take the warts with the wins. But a bigger part of that is he (reportedly) mellowed out a bit before his Orioles gig. He (again, reportedly as it’s late and I don’t feel like searching for articles to back this up; just going on what I hear) pays close attention to the appropriate things instead of all the things.

Which is what I think plays into the ‘Felix as manager story’ I’m attempting to spin here. As Rich said Felix is still experimenting, the team is still evolving.

I don’t know if it’ll work and whether Felix can survive. I hope he himself can evolve himself and lighten up; and this team and season provides that perfect opportunity. Like Buck who after third time of of being fired only for his team make the World Series just a few years later; perhaps finally being relegated and managing a bunch of 18 year olds in AAA will be that humbling experience.

Results to date haven’t been helpful, but it’s really up to him. I don’t see Khan changing just yet; we need to see Felix do so.

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.