Midnight

Midnight.

Just back from a wedding, off to Devon/Cornwall for a few days in the morning.

Here is Jim Hall (with Chet Baker and Paul Desmond!) and Concierto De Aranjuez (part 1):

Here is part 2:

Yup.

Here’s to an interesting week and some good signings.   Feel free to discuss below, as/when.

Cheers

Rich

Mark Hughes is the new manager

This was my first Mark Hughes memory, and to my nine year old mind it was just about the best goal imaginable.   A bouncing ball, several feet off the ground, suddenly thrashed into the top corner from Hughes’ wonderfully judged volley.  For him it was probably just one of those moments, see the ball, kick the ball, but it registered in my mind and I always rated him after that.

Only later in his career did I understand what a complete centre-forward he was.   It’s hard to think of an obvious comparison, but Alan Shearer’s physicality springs to mind (Hughes didn’t get Shearer’s goals, of course, but scored more than you’d think when at his peak).   One of those players defenders hated to play against.

As a manager he’s done pretty well.   He was a surprising success with Wales, and that got him the Blackburn job where he went on to win 44% of his games, which is around that level of competence that suggests he knows what he’s doing.    In many ways he was the wrong man at the wrong time at City, and while he was unfortunate to lose his job after not doing much wrong, it seems to me that Mancini was an upgrade and that Hughes, ultimately, probably shouldn’t have been surprised at how things ended.

What can we expect, then?   Craig Bellamy for one thing, although quite how Hughes would fit him into the squad is hard to know.   This is the rub, in a way.  Sven would have been the continuity choice, but Hughes… we have no idea how he rates our players, do we?   I think he’ll appreciate the squad’s character, like the hard workers he finds here, but will he know how to get the best out of our journeymen players?

The other knock on Hughes is this:

Those are the Premier League’s disciplinary tables during Hughes’ time at Blackburn.   I mean, fine, no problem with toughening us up, but that’s essentially the polar opposite of where we are now, isn’t it?   I get that he took an average group and made them hard to beat, used wingers, attacked, and so on, but the above, coupled with his frankly miserable, excuse filled post match interviews, well, that’s change isn’t it?

Which is fine.    The fact that I’m even having doubts about a manager of Hughes’ apparent level says everything for the lofty position the club has found itself in, but I must admit that this isn’t an appointment I like.    No matter.   It’s another new dawn, and for one thing Hughes isn’t the sort of manager who seems likely to preside over a meltdown, which might have been the case with some of the more leftfield options we’ve seen.    No, I can envisage a couple of decent seasons now, morphing towards a Sunderland type side I guess, picking up enough points, maybe doing alright in the cups, and, for the most part, keeping on keeping on.   And that’s all we can ask for.   As Roy would often say, Fulham’s first job is always to stay in the Premier League, and while everyone’s making the right noises about progress, for me the bottom line is (to repeat myself) that Hughes should be more than savvy enough to ensure that we stay up.

And if we can sometimes win away that will be brilliant.

Changes

This morning’s Times says that Mark Schwarzer is probably going to Arsenal as soon as we get a manager, and that West Ham’s Robert Green may be the man to replace him.  No issues with this, but what it did make me realise is that there are probably other dominoes waiting to fall, we just don’t know it yet.

Paul Konchesky may, for all we know, be making that move to Birmingham.  He has only one year left on his contract, so may be able to turn that into a big final payday.  It made me wonder who else is due to expire, as it were, and in fact there are a few players in this situation.

As best I can tell, the squad breaks down as:

One more season:

Chris Baird, Dickson Etuhu, Simon Davies (?), Eddie Johnson, Diomansy Kamara, Konchesky, Danny Murphy, Schwarzer, John Paintsil.

More than that:

Everyone else.

This is a bummer for the likes of Baird, Etuhu and Paintsil, whose stock under Hodgson has risen to previously unimaginable heights, but who might be good bets to regress if their roles/instructions/etc change.   Eddie Johnson clearly needs to show some progress (Premier League football doesn’t reward potential indefinitely), Kamara’s bridges always seem to be damaged, if not yet burned (a new, ambitious kind of mixed metaphor, that), Danny Murphy is in decline but still important, and as noted above Schwarzer’s likely to be elsewhere anyway.  I can’t find anything about Simon Davies’ contract, which I had thought to be up but which clearly is not.  

Key players like Zamora, Dempsey, Hughes, Duff and Hangeland have at least two years left; Zoltan Gera has one more plus a (club?) option for two.  

The point here, I suppose, is that all of these things would be resolved, or in the process of being resolved, if we had a manager.   The ‘one more year’ crew aren’t players we cannot do without, but all would probably want some reassurance at this point, as the final year is typically ‘extension or move’ for players with something left to offer (the club gets a fee rather than allowing the player to leave for nothing, the player gets security). 

I don’t know that there’s necessarily a point to all this, besides the obvious fact that, as is the way of these things, change is again upon us.  It makes me realise how lucky Manchester United have been to see the likes of Ryan Giggs play for them for a long time, to have the same man in charge for this period.  Look back at the last few years at Fulham, the troughs, peaks, troughs, troughs, peaks, and then now, when anything might reasonably happen.  

The common thread has been Mr Al Fayed and his commitment to splurging, with varying returns on these splurges.  Now a new man will come in, will use the Chairman’s money, and once more we’ll have a new team.  There is much to be said for continuity, and some managers would bring more of this than others (although it’s got to be evolution rather than revolution this near to the start of the season), so we must hope that whoever does come in can build on what we have, rather than try to turn the whole setup on its head.  As others have mentioned, if the new man is wise enough to restrict tinkering to any great extent, while perhaps opening things up a bit away from home, then we ought to be happy enough.   This is a likeable and effective group of players, and for the most part they still have much to give.  I’m looking forward to watching them again next season, whoever’s in charge.

Malmo 0-0 Fulham

Murphy missed pen 5, no goals.

Team:  Stockdale; Stoor (Kamara 76, Smith 79), Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky; Duff (Davies 45), Etuhu (Baird 45), Murphy (Kelly 63), Riise (Elm 45); Gera (Greening 63), Zamora (E.Johnson 76).

Would have loved to be there.   I was going to go to Sweden to do some more research early in the summer, but the Europa League final took the spare money so I didn’t (then Roy left anyway), but Malmo have an interesting history and there appear to be some fantastically nice people working there.    Also, the kit looks really good.

Anyway, nothing much else to go on is there?  Still no manager, the speculation continues, but I’d be stunned if the press know a thing about who we’re in talks with.   It really could be anyone.

No rush

“The chairman is obviously confident that we will have someone in place but we won’t be rushed into making a decision.

“There is no deadline. The chairman wants to make sure that he has the right man for the job and will make that decision as and when he sees necessary.

“We have our second friendly of the pre-season tour of Sweden tomorrow and the chairman is very happy with the way that preparations are going under Ray Lewington so we are not panicking here.

“It’s business as usual. Ray Lewington is doing a great job with the pre-season campaign and the managerial situation will be resolved as and when we have the right man for the job.”

So say Sky and others.

So we wait.  It’s weird all this, isn’t it?   Absolute limbo.    We are like cows in a field.

Fulham Review sold out!

Hurray!   We’re sold out!   I was hugely proud of this year’s book, easily the biggest and best yet, so it’s great that it has found its way into as many hands as possible.

We’ve about eight 2007/08 Great Escape reprints left, and a few more of the other two (2006/07 and 2008/09).   So if you haven’t got these, please fire away while stocks last.  (www.godsfoot.com)

Cheers to everyone who has bought one of these at any point – much appreciated!

And so it goes, and so it goes…

In today’s Times Literary Supplement, in an unlikely article about a book about small African gold weights, David Attenborough notes an old Ghanaian proverb:  “It is unwise to rub bottoms with a porcupine”.

I think we can all see the wisdom in that, never moreso than today.

But on reflection, I’m increasingly inclined to put this down to “one of those things”.

Ajax have done nothing wrong here, merely protecting their right to retain a contracted employee.  Were I an Ajax fan, I’d be delighted with the board for their work here.

Martin Jol, supposedly the villain of the piece, may have done nothing that a hundred football people don’t do every off-season, namely look to negotiate a better (or different) job.   He wanted to come back to England, found a job that worked for him, and went about getting it.  In the end he was thwarted by the contract he himself had signed, so swings and roundabouts but no real blame.

Fulham have been unfortunate in this, keeping quiet until the last possible moment and only contributing snippets to the press when the cat of Martin Jol was well and truly out of the bag.   There is criticism of Alastair Mackintosh for not landing this particular big fish (cat, fish, what next?), but is this fair?  He had been led to believe that Jol’s contract allowed for such an approach, and if he then found this not to be the case, well, what can you do?   He aimed high in going for Jol and fell short:  this is the risk when you stretch yourself, isn’t it?   Again, though, in this he could hardly win:  aim low and incur the wrath of ‘ambitious’ supporters; aim high and things can get difficult.  (Which is why Fulham have tried to keep things quiet, of course.)

The person who comes out of this badly is perhaps Roy Hodgson, who I’ve defended throughout, but whose decision to leave so late (again, the question of whether he could have done anything differently remains unresolved) has now exposed us to a very difficult timeline.  To put myself in work shoes, for a moment:

  • w/c Sat July 17th – Jol deal falls through
  • w/c Sat July 24th – no manager in place
  • w/c Sat July 31st
  • w/c Sat August 7th
  • w/c Sat August 14th – first game of season

It’s Friday 22nd now.  That leaves three weeks until the start of the season.   Pre-season training is more or less okay, in that Ray Lewington can run all this, but here’s the thing:  suppose New Manager wants to impose a new style of play?   Now, we accept that often managers have to start their work mid-season (as did Roy), but equally, it takes more than three weeks to get a team in tune with your ways (as it did with Roy).   Throw in the need to buy new players (which we do need to do), and there’s maybe a problem brewing.

This could have been a difficult season even if Roy had stayed, and while things may yet take a turn for the better, time is marching on and the delays certainly aren’t helping.

On a brighter note, today on the way home I was reading a short story in “Love and Obstacles” by Aleksandar Hemon:

He was rewinding the tape, pressing the Stop and Play buttons alternately, trying to find the beginning.  The tape squeeled and yelped until he pinpointed the moment of silence before “Stairway to Heaven.
“There’s so much you don’t know, son.  Do you know what you don’t know?”
“No I don’t.”
“You have no idea what you don’t know.  Before you know anything, you have to know what you don’t know.”
“I know.”
“The fuck you do.”

And so much for that.  But the wonder of modern music players is that you can conjure up these songs in a jiffy, and soon indeed I was reading away with this splendid song chiming on in my ears, the first time I’d played it in ages.   What a joy.

There’s a lady who’s sure
All that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven
When she gets there she knows
If the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven
There’s a sign on the wall
But she wants to be sure
‘Cause you know sometimes words have
Two meanings
In a tree by the brook
There’s a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are
Misgiven
Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it makes me wonder

Amsterdam

It feels like something out of a film.  Our hero, a brown suited underslept journalist played by Jake Gyllenhaal, sits in the office, shooting screwn up paper into waste bins, getting ribbed by Robert Downey Jr and under pressure from his domineering boss (played by an older man with white hair).  

“Get me the story!” – “There is no story.  This one’s tighter than a Koufax curveball.  Nobody’s saying shit.” – “Someone must be saying something!” – “Sven’s agent said something that was really nothing.  Stuart Baxter is bewildered.  Alan Curbishley thinks he’s out.  Bilic we don’t know.  I tell you, nothing!” – “All right, but nothing can’t stay nothing forever.  Make something in 48 hours!”

Gylenhaal shrugs, dejected.  His next paper ball hits the rim of the bin and drops to the floor, where it settles, accusingly. 

That night he confides in his beautiful and caring wife, a trainee teacher from the midwest not yet ground down by the city’s irrepressable dark side.  They live in a small apartment full of large boxes.  A subway train passes, the apartment shakes.  Rain hammers against the window.  Sirens howl from the streets below, a hundred incidents, a dozen resolutions.  “It’ll happen, baby.  Tomorrow you’ll get a clue.  Just write another 48 hours story for now.  It’ll come soon.”

Next day in the office.  Gylenhaal sips coffee from a plastic cup.  The phone rings.   He leaps out of his chair, spilling his coffee on his trousers.  “Yes?  Yes.  Yes.  I’m on it.”

He hangs up and runs, knocking files off one desk, dancing edgily past colleagues carrying coffee, like Barry Sanders in a broken backfield.  “Sorry, bad rush.” He sprints down the corridor, passing his boss on the way: “Amsterdam!  They’ve gone to Amsterdam!”

He hails a taxi at the foot of the steps outside.  “Airport!”   Traffic is bad, and on the way he calls his wife, who is upset but understanding.  This is his big break, they both agree.   He finds a flight and is on his way.  He’s going to Amsterdam.  The cat is out of the bag:  it’s Jol. 

PS Anyway, here’s the latest.

The future’s orange

I was digging around the internet looking for Martin Jol’s transfer dealings when Ken V on TIFF posted the following, which lists them all.

Some of the dealings, then:

2004/05 in:  Paul Stalteri (free), Andy Reid (£4m), Michael Dawson (£4m), Michael Carrick (£2.75m), Pedro Mendes (£2m)
2004/05 out: Simon Davies (£3m), Kasey Keller (£.5m)

2005/06 in: Dimitar Berbatov (£10.9m), Benoit Assou-Ekotto (£3.5m), Danny Murphy (£2m), Jermaine Jenas (£7m), Edgar Davids (Free), Aaron Lennon (£1m), Tom Huddelstone (£2.5m), Wayne Routledge (£2.5m)
2005/06 out:  Stephen Kelly (£.75m), Michael Brown (£2m), Frederic Kanoute (£4.4m)

2006/07 in:  Younes Kaboul (?), Darren Bent (£16.5m), Gareth Bale (£6m), Pascal Chimbonda (£4.5m), Steeeeeeeeeeed (£2m), Mido (£4.5m), Didier Zokora (£8.2m)
2006/07 out: Edgar Davids (free), Michael Carrick (£18.6m), Andy Reid (£3m) (Danny Murphy left after this season, as did Wayne Routledge).

First thing to say is that we don’t know how much of the above was Jol and how much was the Director of Football.  My memory is that the latter was doing more than Jol wanted, and that signings like Darren Bent were not exactly what the team needed at the time (what with having Berbatov, Keane and Defoe already).     Otherwise you can see some really strong evidence of trying to pick up young, talented British players, which augers well for the like of Matthew Briggs and Keanu Marsh-Brown who might never have got a real look under Hodgson.

It’s a pretty good list, not just in terms of quality (which is good), but also in the type of player you see there.  There is a lovely blend of technical players and grafters, of established players and hot prospects.

Encouraging.

And there’s more:

In 2003/04 (before Jol) Spurs finished 14th with 45 points and a goal difference of -10 (4 away wins)
In 2004/05 Spurs finished 9th with 52 points and a goal difference of +6 (5 away wins!)
In 2005/06 Spurs finished 5th with 65 points and a goal difference of +15 (6 away wins!)
In 2006/07 Spurs finished 5th with 60 points and a goal difference of +3 (5 away wins!)

They got rid of him and finished 11th with 46 points, +5 (3 away wins) (this was part Ramos, part Redknapp, the latter, as I will always point out, feasting on an underperforming side and taking it back to exactly where it should have been, thus cementing his reputation as some kind of guru).

So Martin Jol took an underperforming mid-table team to the limit of what it might reasonably have achieved, then got axed.  He did this while bringing in some pleasing footballers, and while doing so, managed to win at least five away games a season.

Without wanting to get too carried away, this all sounds wonderful.  The strength of the teams above us means that we’re not going to waltz into 5th place or anything, but this appointment (if it happens) does suggest good times ahead. Roy Hodgson may very well have taken Fulham as far as he could, but that doesn’t mean Martin Jol can’t take us further.