“Danny Murphy is a fantastic player and he was great for me last year but he is not getting any younger and his influence on the team is huge.
“He knows and everyone knows that at some time in the near future he will have to be replaced and to replace his input, that will have to be a quality player.
“That costs money and they haven’t got that. If you haven’t got that within the building, you are going to have to spend money.
“My worry was that maybe the team would go off the side of a cliff, which wasn’t something I wanted to be involved in.”
“I felt Fulham were probably a little bit too honest with me. In conversations, they were saying, ‘We know exactly what you’re about Mark, but, really, we are just quite happy to stay in the Premier League.’
“There were players that I wanted to sign for the club and those negotiations weren’t going well. I had given them a couple of names and I saw a slowing down of the process.
“They were saying, ‘We will do it’ and ‘We’re speaking’ and I read that as the fact that maybe they didn’t want to do these deals.
“I read that as maybe they didn’t want to take the club and keep them in the top half of the Premier League – which was my ambition.”
This actually confirms what has been suspected (and indeed suggested by a couple of people): that Martin Jol’s job is to keep Fulham in the division while getting younger and saving money.
The scope of the task can be seen by looking at the squad we have now:
Past peak (we know what the player was, we know what he is, and there’s a difference)
At peak (what we’re seeing now is the best the player is going to be)
Not yet peaked (we don’t yet know what the player might become)
There is a growing realisation in the game that you have to bring through your players if you’re to get value, if you’re to keep costs down. I don’t know what Matthew Briggs earns but you can bet your life it’s less than John-Arne Riise, and the performance gap isn’t huge; a club that can bring more Briggs’ through rather than paying for more Riise’s will be in a better position than one that must consistently pay big transfer fees, signing bonuses and wages.
The other element, one which Fulham have been awful at for a while now, is resale value. The marketable players are in the bottom two groups, but these are the players we want to keep hold of. If the club wants to raise any money from transfer sales, there isn’t a great deal of time left to do so. In fact you could argue that there is no time left: the only players who might command a half-decent fee after this season are in the bottom group (with Dempsey and Zamora thrown in, although the former’s contract doesn’t have forever to run, and Zamora’s form means his value will never be higher. If the club can get money for Johnson they probably should).
Further to this, beyond the need to balance the books and bring in money while it’s still possible, is Jol’s own preference for a different type of player. I sense that he’s frustrated with his options and longs for a team that can play a different way. It has been noted that the team is one of the few that doesn’t operate an aggressive pressing defence, and while I don’t know what other teams do, it’s true that we tend to sit back in our positions and let teams play in front of us. This can lead to us being pushed back, but without pace to transition, can lead to frustrating matches as we attempt to putt-putt our way up the field and through an already massed defence. I suspect Jol would much prefer to play further up the pitch but our midfield isn’t built for pressing all game (Sidwell could do it, but not sure about the others) and the back line isn’t quick enough to play higher up the pitch anyway (pressing is almost always accompanied by a high defensive line). So we’re stuck in this neither fish nor fowl situation where the team is trying to attack from deepish positions but lacks the pace to do this really effectively.
Ambition? Well we’d all love to ‘kick on’ and it perhaps seems as if this is within grasp, but there’s real pressure to sort things out financially and now is not the time for a death or glory spending spree. Hughes was right to suggest that Murphy is important and needs replacing with quality, but I suspect Jol’s realised that another Murphy isn’t within reach and therefore will strengthen in other ways. He wants a genuinely creative player, he wants pace; whether he gets them might depend on what he can raise in sales, which could lead to even more raised eyebrows amongst fans as relatively established players are moved on.
Or not, we’ll have to see how things shake out, but this is a team in transition and it could make for an uncomfortable season. The rewards of getting this right could be exciting though.