Send the cavalry somewhere else

Just to counter something written on ESPN about Fulham.  I like most of what Phil Mison writes and have nothing against him, but sometimes I feel there’s a need to counter this kind of negativity.   I’ll take the easy way out and go through his article with comments of my own, largely in the spirit of debate!

Here we go then, blow by blow, his text, then mine in green for peace and the environment:

Fulham fans have patiently endured a low-key summer, unsurprisingly perhaps with the disruption dictated by ownership of the club moving into new hands. Preparation for the new season saw the club take on three sides of some stature in European football — top sides from the Bundesliga, La Liga and Serie A.

– Okay, there’s your first thing. We’re playing three top sides in pre-season friendlies.

2009-10 may have been Fulham’s greatest season. It ended with a defeat in the Europa League final.

The pre-season results?

Gold Coast United L 1-2
Melbourne Victory W 3-0 (YES!!!!!)
Perth Glory W 5-0 (IN THE FACE, SUCKERS!)
AFC Bournemouth D 0-0 (oh)
Peterborough United D 3-3 (ah)

So we had a mixed pre-season then, against bad teams. And we’re having an iffy one now against really good teams…

Next question.

Fulham failed to beat any of them, and Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Parma at a sun-kissed Cottage gave a stark reminder that last season’s deficiencies have not been addressed. Fulham are yet to pay a fee for anyone under new owner Shahid Khan, but that fat wallet of his needs to come out soon or Fulham are in trouble.

– This is probably true, and I’m sure Fulham will spend a bit more money once they’ve finished negotiating with targets, players, agents, etc.  I’m just reading Michael Calvin’s “Nowhere Men” and it really does a good job of showing how hard it can be to actually sign players.   Rest assured there will be several dozen people on our radar. 

If you wanted a litmus test as to where Fulham are currently falling short, the friendly with Parma laid out precisely how bare is the cupboard. This was a re-run of Martin Jol’s team that worryingly nose-dived last season after a bright opening and came dangerously close to the drop zone following an awful run-in from March. Even before then, we had witnessed plenty of games where the gaffer’s preferred 4-4-1-1 too often ended up with the Whites looking as if they were playing a 4-6-0, with the opposing keeper hardly being tested.

The opening phase of Saturday’s friendly provided a re-run of last season’s broken system. Fulham started brightly enough, easy-on-the-eye passing with fluidity on the deck, looking organised at the back. Steve Sidwell pulls out a plum with a stunning early shot from range to put Fulham ahead.

Midway through the half, Parma begin to take control as all Fulham’s home possession fails to really open up the away side. And so it goes with this current style, with no incision or inspiration, and no Plan B — Fulham’s game just falls away.

– Alright, this is fair enough. We talked about not worrying that much about friendly results against bad teams. It would be better if we’d done a bit better but you can’t always get what you want. Look, we’ll probably lose away at Sunderland, too, but it’s a long season and while I am a bit worried, you can’t just go off proclaiming the imminent falling of the sky just because you haven’t won some pre-season friendlies or because the team isn’t firing yet. I didn’t watch the match, having two small children on the books now, but, well, there’s a time and a place for disgust at Fulham performances and pre-season probably isn’t it. Or shouldn’t be. Now, the obvious counter is that we were bad at the end of last year as well, but over the course of the season there were good times as well, and I don’t know that it’s necessary to take the last few games (the bad run) as proof that things are awful when we had some goodish games before that.  Some fans (not necessarily Phil Mison) seem to take misery as a default, knowing very well that 10-15 times a season they’ll be proved right.  

While we must cut Jol some slack from the way the club have failed to provide him with lavish funds for new blood, the Dutchman’s inflexibility, reluctance to abandon a failing system, and unimaginative football must surely call into question his suitability for the job going forward, while his record in the market is chequered.

– Really? He has a really good track record in football. Abandon a failing sytstem? I dunno. I mean, I do sympathise a bit – under Jol we seem to struggle to find a middle ground between excellent and rudderless, but if we think the answer to everything is to chuck out our manager and try again with Someone Else Just Because, well I don’t think that makes us look very bright.  It’s about quality, it really is. We need more good players.

The 4-4-1-1 must be abandoned. Fulham are slow enough as it is in moving the ball forward. They need less touches on the ball, not more. By no means am I suggesting we go long ball, but look to Everton’s energetic style as a prime example of how to mix it up and get the ball into dangerous areas. Fulham simply do not carry enough goal threat — pure and simple. Trotting out trite remarks to the press amplifying what we can all see only makes Jol look foolish.

– This was one reason I almost gave up CCN. We armchair pundits generally don’t know as much about these things as we think we do, and I felt that in trying to play the armchair pundit I was being a bit hypocritical. I mean, I’ve read as much about the game as anyone I’m sure, but I don’t really know because I’ve never been there. I tried to highlight things I thought I’d noticed but at no point did I know what I was talking about. At the end of the day it’s just opinions, and these are dangerous things in the hands of amateurs.  All of which is to say, that saying things like “The 4-4-1-1 must be abandoned” feels a bit over the top, a bit like me saying “Hady, you must never make lasagna again!”. We need fewer touches of the ball? Yeah, sometimes, but I think we can slip through the gears quite well, particularly down the right. And maybe we need more dynamism, but the modern trend is for teams to keep the ball and to build that way. 4-4-1-1 isn’t the problem, not least because it doesn’t really mean anything when the two wide midfielders are wingers and the two full-backs attack. What’s that then? 4-2-3-1? 4-2-1-3? Must these be abandoned as well?

Mix it up and get the ball into dangerous areas? You know who’s best at that in the team? Bryan Ruiz. Wait…

The over-reliance on Dimitar Berbatov for goals was risky enough last season. Once he went off Saturday, Hugo Rodallega’s second-half contribution was frighteningly inept in every department, underlining how urgent is the need to secure a quality striker within the next week.

– It’s always nice to get a new forward in but we need to be careful here. Forwards are very expensive relative to their actual contribution and it’s not like we’re short of attackers. It really would be nice to wake up tomorrow and be able to buy a Fulham shirt with BENT on the back of it but centre-forward isn’t the biggest problem we have, at least not as long as Berbatov remains fit. There’s a need for a new Petric but as we saw with some of his games last year, a lot of this is around service.  Petric was nullified by its absence.  So would someone else be.

Next to the current vacuum in midfield. Fulham have never recovered from the loss in rapid succession in the past 12 months of game-changing midfielders — Danny Murphy, Clint Dempsey, Mousa Dembele and Mahamadou Diarra.

– This is true as well but those are four very good players. We weren’t exactly lucky to get them all but to suggest that they grow on trees is a bit ambitious isn’t it?  We’ll do well to get a single player this good, let alone four of them.

Bryan Ruiz needs to come out of the team with immediate effect.

– No.

Major reinforcements to midfield are desperately needed NOW. Fulham also need a strong leader on the pitch to captain and galvanise the side. They are mentally not tough enough.

– It was only a matter of time wasn’t it? GET STUCK IN!!!!!!! Alright, that’s not what he said. GET GALVANISED!  Being galvanised is always important to a football team and Fulham are no exception. You know what Hodgson used to say about these things. That the work was done in training and then come the weekend it was all about putting these things into practice. At this level there is room for leaders and team character, but to suggest we’re missing something here suggests what exactly?  Put another way, Duncan Fletcher the England cricket coach thought that a team needed at least a 7-4 balance between “good” characters and others, the others maybe being newcomers who didn’t feel they could impose themselves, or quiet people, or people like Flintoff and Harmison who might end up being problems.  This might be reasonable at Fulham as well.  Trouble is I’m not sure that we have a problem and I can’t imagine how we’d know by watching. QPR had problems last year.  Are Fulham too nice?  Maybe.  But Sidwell and Karagounis are both quite galvanised footballers; again, the problem is quality, not galvanisation.  

Fulham have some enterprising wingers at the club. The board need to focus on who they will put faith in and who can be off-loaded.

I would like to see Fulham try 4-5-1 with Ashkan Dejagah and Alex Kacaniklic perhaps coming off the bench to spark something. I am mystified as to why Damien Duff has been given another contract, or why John Arne Riise and Pajtim Kasami should even feature when both are about to be shipped out.

Sidwell is not of the standard to last 38 matches as your main man in midfield even though I cannot fault his attitude and he will chip in with the odd goal. Of course, as we have all known for an age, and Jol has finally conceded, Fulham need to find a decent left-back — and quickly. More inept transfer dealing.

Considering professionals have all been playing the game in an organised capacity since schooldays, it’s the least to expect they can stroke passes around the pitch over 20-30 metres. Ruiz can do that all day long. But to what effect? In the days of Johnny Haynes, in what was a fairly modest side, you heard this purr of appreciation and ripple of applause swell from the stands routinely as precision passes arrowed up to their targets. At least 10 times in each half. Saturday? Hard to recall a single moment of inspiration drawing gasps from the throat apart from Sidwell’s rocket and one luscious dummy from Dimi.

– Ruiz creates chances at a very good rate, and tangibly as well (assists). He’s emphatically not the problem.  He’s also the new Zamora.  He’s like arguing politics.  

The rest was mundane, laboured, uninspiring. Parma should have had more. Over to you Mr. Chairman. Time to call in the cavalry. No more loan deals (Giorgos Karagounis is a clown) or short-termism.

– Karagounis is a clown? What?

Serious investment in the side is long overdue. Opinions expressed at the ground and on all message boards since suggest supporters all recognise the glaring deficiencies — even Ruiz acolytes are melting away. Please tell us what do the board intend to do to stop the rot?

– Oh whatever…

It’s all too easy to sit here snidely taking someone’s writing apart, which is why I don’t think I’ve done it before, but sometimes for every (over)reaction there needs to be a counterpoint.   I’m not trying to be a dick here, just to try to bring a bit of balance to things.  For the record I do think we’re in a bit of bother at present, and haven’t managed the post Hodgson transition as well as we might have, but I think we’re good enough to improve and have enough quality in place to achieve a respectable position, which is always our goal (or should be).  There is a need to spend money and every season we don’t puts more pressure on us – but the window is still open and I’m sure all relevant parties are working round the clock to bring in the kind of players they and we want.   

A while ago I had to write a brief analysis of Fulham’s transfer activity for a book about football transfers and concluded that, generally, Fulham have managed to come up with the right player at the right time throughout their stay in the top division.  There has yet to be a ‘generation’ where we’ve entirely messed up our recruitment, with enough really good players mixed into the squads to ensure that we’ve been able to do what’s required.  That SHOULD be the case again this season.  

17 thoughts on “Send the cavalry somewhere else

  1. i cannot stand phil mison. an overabundance of wrist-splitting negativity in each and every one of his columns while providing naive solutions and no incisive commentary, insight or observation.

  2. Great to see you back writing again Rich. Thank god for your response to the above, I do wonder if Fulham mean too much to Phil, nothing is EVER good enough. His posts over the last year have bee overtly negative and Ruiz is (as you say) the new Zamora. If he has players in front in good positions, he will find them. They just need to find the right pockets of space in advanced positions.

    I think we’re all worried to some extent about the shortfalls in our squad, CM being the major one. I’m sure the club are working around the clock but the fans have a right to be concerned as we’ve been lacking there for over a year now.

    Less than 3 weeks now to the end of the transfer window (sorry Sky, it SLAMS SHUT) and I was hoping we would be going into the new season with the majority of transfers on board and starting to bed in. They’re not yet but I hope that’s because we’re working on the right transfers, not the obvious ones.

    1. “I was hoping we would be going into the new season with the majority of transfers on board and starting to bed in. They’re not yet but I hope that’s because we’re working on the right transfers, not the obvious ones.”

      Is this really true? Last season, despite what cranks like Mison write about the aesthetics of Jol’s approach when in possession, our problem was that we conceded too many goals (60, tied with Southampton and QPR for fifth most in the Premier League), not that we scored too few (50, ninth most and more than three teams that finished above us). To remedy this we signed a world-class keeper to replace the aging Schwarzer, a huge young(er) center back to supplement our existing options (who are underwhelming other than Hangeland and on the wrong side of 30 other than Senderos, not counting Burn who is not ready yet), and a holding midfielder who has been well reviewed in the early going, and we got all that done way at the start of the summer. (This is not to mention Riether, who was with us last year, and Plumain, who probably won’t be part of the first team picture for a while yet.)

      On top of this, Taarabt could also remedy the creativity gap that people think has been lacking. I agree that another striker would be useful, what with Petric gone and Trotta unproven, and left back is another area that needs to be addressed especially if Riise goes, but I think overall most of the business has already been done, and it’s only the stigma with which free transfers seem to be viewed (which I’ve never understood; if you can get a good player without paying a transfer fee then why wouldn’t you?) that’s led people to feel unsatisfied with it.

  3. Rich’s points are all well made and boil down to one thing that we need to do – improve the average quality of the squad by a few key signings and not by tinkering with the tactics .
    None of us understand the challenges of signing a player even after the fee has been agreed between the two clubs . In many ways that’s the easy bit and what causes the deals to fall apart is the seemingly endless ” interference ” by the players’ agents making a series of unreasonable demands on pay , bonuses, image rights , sell on profit shares and escape clauses – there truly is no honour or integrity in the football transfer market and chief executives / directors of football must find this process exasperating .

    There is no getting away from the fact that we pose little threat up front and that without a proven striker , none of the trickery of Ruiz or Tarrabt will come to any good .

    I too agree that Rodiellega is not of Premiership quality and in reality we need two strikers and a left back as a matter of urgency . I suspect we will all feel a lot more relaxed when at least one of these has been signed and I’m sure the club (and the owner ) will move heaven and earth to make sure we achieve this .

  4. The only part of Mison’s article that I would myself have written is the two paragraphs beginning “The opening phase of Saturday’s friendly.” This is accurate reportage largely applicable to the previous Monday too. Only pre-season friendlies, but a surprise given the performances over the last quarter of last season? Not really, so that’s why it’s apt to worry.

    On the diagnosis and remedy front, I stick to my line on TIFF. That the missing ingredient offensively is someone who is “a real handful” for defences. Someone who, by application sufficient times in the match of pace and/or applied physique and/or energetic running of the channels, will disrupt and unsettle the defence and allow others to reap the benefit.

    Dejegah was like this for the games prior to injury (and our subsequent falloff) so we can hope he will be again, but he showed no signs last week and there needs an alternative. We need to bring someone else to the party, at least on the bench, who can provide one of these qualities (Saha gave us all three, but let’s not be greedy) in a prem-standard package. That may well suffice for the rest to fall into place going forward, since there is surely sufficient quality to call on; quality really isn’t the missing element.

    Defensively it looks all right on paper, but was scarey in real life on Saturday, with a goalie who acted like a rabbit in headlights. So long as that doesn’t recur, then OK. If it does, it’ll disease the defensive body. Midfield could do with better versions of what’s there, we all know that, but offer the existing midfielders some defence stretching and disruption in front of them, and not too much panic behind them, and they’ll get by. Whether to top-half prem standard, I’m doubtful, but they’ll get by. Otherwise they may not.

    1. I think this is why absolute quality is important. The incremental improvements that might be brought by most possible signings wouldn’t be all that great. On the other hand, if the club can come up with a really good central midfielder that’ll make everyone else look better. This is where we seem to be lacking, this notion of being greater than the sum of our parts. Whether that’s coaching or just quality I don’t know – I’ve long felt that Jol needs better players than he has here to be at his best as a coach – but it’s something we really could do with sorting. I think that comes with a really good central midfielder, which is of course the hardest thing to find. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we landed Scott Parker, who seems to be increasingly without a role at Spurs given their recent recruitment. He would of course be another stop gap, but a good one.

      Stekelenberg at least had a better game than his predecessor did for Chelsea!

      1. I’m all for a really good central midfielder, of course, and one appreciates also that it’s the hardest thing to find. But I make a different diagnosis of the top priority offensively, and it’s one where quality is less the issue than style and mix. As for goalies, they can all have nightmare days and best to get our chap’s out the way now. But he was scarey — long before they got their winner. Anyway, nice to have you back.

  5. This comment:

    “Some fans (not necessarily Phil Mison) seem to take misery as a default, knowing very well that 10-15 times a season they’ll be proved right”

    hits the nail squarely on the head. I think this is what I’ve found so difficult over the last year – the grinding negativity of a large section of fans online. The funny thing is that at the actual game (the important part, of course) there is relatively little moaning unless Fulham are really playing badly, which I guess puts it all into perspective.

    And I agree with almost all of the above, perhaps differing only on the recruitment side of things. I understand it is difficult to bring the right players in and we know only a fraction of what is really going on, but, the key area that needed to be addressed still hasn’t and we’ve known about it for coming on to a year. I’m still pretty confident that this has to do with the takeover more than anything else, but it is frustrating, especially with the constant whirl of transfer rumours and other clubs signing players (although it’s more my fault for bothering to take notice!).

    Anyway, top article as usual, and lets hope Ruiz puts his critics to bed by continuing where he left off last season but adding a few more goals to his repertoire to quiet the whinges.

  6. “- Ruiz creates chances at a very good rate, and tangibly as well (assists). He’s emphatically not the problem. He’s also the new Zamora. He’s like arguing politics. ”

    Exactly how I feel about Bryan, I just can’t wait too see if we can get Taarabt, Berb, and Ruiz all out there at the same time. Sounds like a good show to me…

  7. Excellent post . I’m not aware of stats on the correlation between preseason and the actual season in football but as a keen observer of US sports from afar, I know that there is ABSOLUTELY NO LINK between the two so don’t get too woked up people.

    The old chestnuts of CM, LB and CF are obviously valid points. I wrote a post today about what I think the starting eleven will be on Saturday
    ( read it don’t read it, I don’t mind ) and the team could definitely use reinforcements as a little too much responsibility is being given to Steve Sidwell.

    1. Nice counter-analysis Rich. There’s a lot to agree with in what you say.

      Reading over your piece Conor … I tend to think you are probably correct with your picks for the starting 11. I was surprised to read that you hate the Taarabt signing. I loved it but will admit that my exposure to watching QPR was limited last season–probably saw them no more than a few times. But when I did I thought Taarabt impressed and was probably their best player. In fact I thought he bossed Fulham around during one of their meetings. Very skillful player who is dangerous moving forward. I’m vaguely aware of his reputation as an unruly presence but don’t know any details whatsoever so that didn’t factor into my reaction about him joining. Anyway, curious about what others think.

  8. Rich – great counter to a “sky is falling” article from Phil. I agree 100% on all of your comments. The “clown” comment on Karagounis was uncalled for and just desperate writing. Phil is also a huge Bryan Ruiz enemy, I don’t know why as he’s clearly a great player valued by the market and football analysts that dissect his work and contributions and has had a great pre-season. Just today Phil continued his relentless attack on Ruiz on his column, which was actually more positive than usual:

    …”Year three of your project and this is your last chance. The same goes for your underwhelming £10 million man Bryan Ruiz”
    …”On a more positive note, Boateng may turn out to be an unsung hero, a willing dray horse who gets the job done rather than some of the more expensive show ponies around him”

    My only guess for this nonsense is that Phil was forced to go to many circus acts when he was younger and he hated it – nightmares of clowns and show ponies hunt him every night…

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