The problem with football is that issues that would ordinarily go away of their own accord tend to get magnified and therefore linger. Martin Jol’s Fulham side have attracted more off-field press than any other in memory, but on the pitch there are signs that things aren’t all bad. Results have not been from the top drawer, but nor have they been terrible: we’re well within the bounds of reasonableness. But fans are getting concerned.
I remember in the last days of Sanchez there was a lot of anger on Stevenage Road before and after games. I’m a laid back sort and found it all a bit depressing, but in the end the negativity became almost tangible, and when we went down to Newcastle in December there seemed almost no choice but to make a managerial change. Anything else would have been unfathomable given the atmosphere around the ground.
We’re not there with Jol yet and nor should we be, but the natives are growing restless. Suppose, for example, we don’t beat Bolton. This will be taken as evidence for the collapse of Fulham Football Club, when really it would just be ‘one of those things that happens in football’. Last year, for instance, saw the following sequence of results:
Sun Jan 30 FAC 4 Tottenham Hotspur Home Won 4-0
Wed Feb 2 Premier Newcastle United Home Won 1-0
Sat Feb 5 Premier Aston Villa Away Drew 2-2
Mon Feb 14 Premier Chelsea Home Drew 0-0
Sun Feb 20 FAC 5 Bolton Wanderers Home Lost 0-1
Sun Feb 27 Premier Manchester City Away Drew 1-1
Sat Mar 5 Premier Blackburn Rovers Home Won 3-2
If you can lose at home to Bolton in the middle of a fairly good run, you can certainly do the same when you’re struggling a bit. Dechtech, who study these things, put us down as fairly clear favourites, but even that means a 60% chance of winning, with the remainder divided by a draw and a defeat. That feels about right: if we played Bolton 10 times on Saturday I’d expect us to end up winning about six of them.
The problem is that on any given day you don’t know which way the ball will bounce (particularly given midweek commitments!), and there’s a 40% chance (conservatively) that we won’t beat Bolton. Then we have to play Manchester United, and Chelsea, and so on.
So it’s not going to get any easier and we might be at the wrong end of the table for some time yet.
Fulham are established as a Premier Division side, and as such it’s not unreasonable to expect us to have a manager of a similar or better standing. So you have to make up your mind: is Martin Jol a good enough manager for a club of Fulham’s stature? The answer to that is ‘yes’, I believe. I don’t know that you could reasonably argue otherwise (I’d like to see a well thought out argument of why Jol is not good enough for Fulham Football Club). And this being so, you have to back him through the ups and downs and accept that in football sometimes you don’t always do well, play well, or pass smoothly through a season without the odd problem.
The only ‘but’ I can think of is if there’s an extra level to consider: yes, Jol is obviously a good enough manager for Fulham, but for some reason is not the *right* manager for Fulham. This is possible, too. What grounds for this supposition we might have I don’t know, but the stories about player unrest indicate something, although we don’t know what. Probably a strong manager doing a difficult job and trying to overhaul a too-old team, thereby bruising a few egos, but this is conjecture in the same way that accusations of poor man-management are conjecture. Jol got Tottenham playing at a high level and his work with Ajax looks borderline implausible (have you seen the goal difference!). He hasn’t always been a huge success but nor has he failed as a manager.
We can’t afford to think short-term here. Instead we must watch the transformation of Dembele into a top player, the emergence of Bryan Ruiz’s splendid talents, the fizzing directness of Kerim Frei, the encouraging Senderos/Hangeland partnership, and the interesting fringe players like Kasami and Gecov, both of whom look to have something to offer Fulham for years ahead.
It might not always look good – I’ve been underwhelmed myself – but Fulham can’t keep changing, can’t keep starting again. Jol knows what he’s doing and needs to be given the chance to prove it. Football teams, and especially mid-table football teams, go through spells like we’re going through all the time. To expect any different is unreasonable.