Should we have seen this coming?

One thing that caught us all by surprise last year is just how badly things collapsed. I think we’ve all been nice and wise after the event, but at the time really nobody saw this coming.

I speak having just been reading the Viva El Fulham writers’ predictions.

(I highlight this not to criticise, by the way – these are some of the people I agree with most on footballing matters!)

They did well to spot Kieran Richardson but everything else is miles off. Will noted the need for a passing midfielder and worried what the lack of one might mean, but really passing wasn’t the problem. Fulham 2013/14 turned into a boat full of holes, with water coming in faster than it can be bailed out. You could fix one issue and another would present itself. You might say that the problem with Fulham wasn’t the midfield, the defence, or the attack. The problem was “the footballing side of things”. And the off-pitch stuff, too. So: everything.

If everything was wrong, why didn’t we notice? It’s not just us, of course. I remember Louise Taylor of the Guardian predicting relegation, but then she had Spurs to win the league too. No, everyone missed it. There was clearly much happening behind the scenes that we weren’t privy to, but were there signs we could see? How could we have spotted this?

The end of the season before: after beating QPR 3-2 on April fool’s day (we went 3-0 up, played awfully, but hung on), Fulham lost 6, drew 1, then beat Swansea on the last day of the season. We all noticed the bad form but many of us took the view that the form over the course of the season had been decent enough and that bad runs happen, don’t they? In retrospect this collapse was a real red flag.

We then sold Etuhu, Murphy, Dembele and Dempsey. Now, this was perhaps unavailable but it did represent a lot of talent disappearing in one go. Dembele was playing at an elite level. Dempsey’s 20 goal season was as impressive as anything anyone’s done in a Fulham shirt in recent years. Murphy was a great player and a leader. Etuhu was just the kind of player teams need but sometimes forget they need. Now, we had Sidwell and Parker as it turned out but this proved to be a calimitous drop-off.

Jol’s incoming transfers showed no underlining ethos. Riise, Grygera, Ruiz, Sa, Pogrebnyak, Diarra, Petric, Rodallega, Berbatov, Richardson, Dejagah, Karagounis, Riether, Frimpong, Emanuelson, Manolev, Enoh, Amorebieta, Boateng, Stekelenburg, Parker, Zverotic… it’s just completely haphazard isn’t it? Players not being bought to fill a role at all, just a giant splurge, like he was buying books he might not get to read for a while. If things were to get better we might have expected to see some Jol signings integrated into the team, as important players, but no: there’s not a single player that Jol bought who became indispensible. We should have been more suspicious of this than we were.

Despite all of this I still think a mid-table finish was a reasonable expectation. We’ll have to wait for the autobiographies to find out what exactly happened.

13 thoughts on “Should we have seen this coming?

  1. Selling Etuhu, Dempsey and Dembele and letting Murphy go was, of course, the summer before (or 2 games into the season, to be exact). Diarra then got injured at home to Spurs in November 2012, and by the end of 2012/13 we were messing about with Enoh, Frimpong, Baird, Sidwell (before his multiple bannings) etc. in central midfield.

    From that POV, I suppose you could say that Parker and Sidwell looked like an upgrade, particularly when you consider Boateng was supposed to be good. Despite the concerns re: his distribution and mobility, I agree with what some have said previously – a team in which he had started 3/4 of the games, rather than 3 or 4 of the games, would have had a much better chance at staying up.

    1. I feel like the lesson here is that you can get away with not having a proper working midfield for one season, but if you don’t sort out the crucial part of the team for the following season then you will be in trouble. Especially if your answer is to bring in a load of flair players up top who need to get hold of the ball to be productive.

  2. It’s all very well people saying this should been done or that should have been done the fact is it’s done we are now in the champion ship,what I would like to see is the new faces start coming into the club now don’t wait until the best as gone get moving Fulham let’s see where our hard earned season ticket cash is going so come pre-season train on the 25th we have a team to go to town with. COYW

  3. I think it would be interesting if you could do a comparative on managers viewpoints (I know you can’t!). I remember right at the start of the season, Harry Redknapp was on MOTD and stated that he couldn’t see the balance of the team, and wasn’t sure who was going to play where and do what. Rather prescient as it turned out!

    I would’ve thought that most experienced, decent managers who’ve managed at a premier league level would’ve 100% fancied their chances at keeping Fulham in the Division had they inherited the squad and players on August 18 last season. Even as late as November, I would have thought that Tony Pulis would probably have preferred to inherit the Fulham squad rather than the Palace squad. So what went on behind the scenes?! It feels like it was the compound of many, many poor decisions across the board – managers – coaches – players that left us in this awful position.

    Even then, Sunderland’s 7 points from games at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge & City of Manchester stadium were somewhat ridiculous for a team bottom of the league and finally doomed us. You can only imagine that if 10 teams have the same run that Sunderland had at the end of 10 seasons, only 1 would ever make it. Sunderland did, fair play to them & deserve their place in the division next season. However, it made me understand how you really can be utterly crap for many seasons of the week and still be in with a shout of staying in the top flight.

    Sadly, to get promoted out of the Championship they need to perform really well for most weeks of the season – that’s quite an attitude shift for the team & club. Winning home games is nothing if you don’t win the away games in that division. The biggest fear for me at the moment is that Felix is attracted by another job – yes he’s untried in the Championship, but many of the decisions being made now feel like he has a plan for what’s needed. Let’s hope they already have some positive leads in refreshing the personnel & galvanising the club for next season.

    Finally, best wishes for Steve Sidwell – he comes across as a good sort, and just a shame he’s not around to help the club navigate the championship. I can’t help but think he’d have been a real asset in that division.


  5. “Jol’s incoming transfers showed no underlining ethos”

    I disagree. Other than Ruiz way at the beginning of Jol’s tenure, the underlining ethos was trying to scrape by on the cheap. Look:

    Players signed for a significant fee: Ruiz, Stekelenburg
    Actual clever signing: Dejagah
    Free transfers: Grygera, Sa, Diarra, Petric, Rodallega, Karagounis, Amorebieta, Boateng
    Players signed at a cut rate because they’re at the tail end of their career: Riise, Berbatov, Parker
    Players signed at a cut rate because their previous clubs wanted to dump them: Pogrebnyak (two goals in 23 matches before we signed him), Richardson (was terrible the previous season at Sunderland)
    Loans: Riether, Frimpong, Emanuelson, Manolev, Enoh
    Just not very good: Zverotic

    Very few of these signings were ever going to stand a chance of appreciating in value or making an impact for more than a year or two into the future.

    1. But, with a fair few of the people listed above as ‘free transfers’ or ‘cut rate’, you’re looking at serious wages, and probably a hefty signing on fee, paid for players who are either coming from elsewhere in England, where wages are notoriously high (Berbatov, Parker, Richardson, Rodallega), or who are established senior players elsewhere and will almost certainly command a reasonably high salary (Petric, Boateng, Amorebieta, Stekelenburg, maybe Ruiz too). So it’s not as simple as not a big fee = scraping by on the cheap.

      Granted our chances of signing better players would be better with a bigger transfer budget, but it’s not sensible, when assessing the total cost of a player, to disregard the cost of wages and a sign-on fee. For example, both Dembele (mk. 1) and Stekelenburg signed for, I think, around the same money (about £4.5m, no?). For that matter, Parker was £3.5m, I think. But of the three, Dembele’s wages will almost certainly have been significantly lower, because he was coming from AZ, and was 23, whereas Stekelenburg and Parker were both in their 30s, and were coming from Roma and Tottenham, respectively. Likewise, ‘cut-rate’ Berbatov is surely the highest-paid player Fulham have ever had. The fact that United were, reportedly, paying a significant part of his wages is surely more likely to indicate that his wages stayed comparable to what they were in Manchester, just split across two clubs, rather than that he a) took a massive pay cut and b) United paid it anyway, out of the kindness of the Glazers’ hearts.

  6. I’ve been thinking this as well.

    Eliminate the hindsight and I think the key decisions look reasonable. Jol had a good January to March 2013. Once we got to 40 points we had a bad run but they were mostly tough games and Sidwell got sent off twice. Not sacking Jol was defendable IMO.

    The players we signed seemed like good deals at the time. Who predicted that they’d all fail badly?

    Jol was presumably asked what was needed and he wanted Muelensteen. That took a while during which time the supporters patience snapped and Jol had to go.

    Rene started well and was given the coaching support he wanted. Sticking with him seemed right but we deteriorated badly in January. Stick or twist?

    There may well be all sorts of training ground stuff we don’t know but I can’t see any off field decision or non decision that was clearly, apparently, wrong once hindsight is factored out,

    Everything that could go wrong did so in spades.

  7. OK, it’s true that there are wage issues that I’ve glossed over, but the fact remains that, for these players, most of the players who we attracted (other than Ruiz and a couple others) are players other clubs were getting rid of for reasons of aging (Berbatov, Parker, Karagounis), injury issues (Stekelenburg, Richardson), or middling performance (Amorebieta, Pogrebnyak, Emanuelson). And while obviously we’re not Chelsea or Real Madrid or Bayern, buying other clubs’ best players just to sit on our bench, I think there’s a short-sightedness to these signings that there wasn’t in previous years.

  8. Relegation was coming for a team of our size soon or later. The fact we survived as long as we did is incredible, and not surprising our number came up.

    Was it avoidable? Sure. But as I’ve written this elsewhere and will repeat myself now; the season of a confluence of management backing the wrong horses while not adequately sustaining the existing herd, managers unable to reinvent their tactics and dynamics in face of irreversible figures (or in Magath’s case, throwing the kitchen sink when stability was needed), and the players performing far below their capacities due to/adding to all the above.

    We didn’t notice everything was wrong because we never know anything, but the signs of our doom became quite clear around October or so when our advanced stats (especially TSR) were atrocious; and that the blip seen at the end of 2012/13 was not a statistical blip but an actual irreversible trend.

  9. What a year west brom at home Cardiff Sunderland hull these four alone not to mention the daft ones away !!! But I personally. Never dreamed it would all come back to bite us !!!! For me the final straw was not beating hull at home giving away a two goal lead in last ten minutes when we should have beaten them comfortably . Next year will be hard nearly every side in that league are useful not going to be many easy. Games. We will know ffc intentions soon We will need at very least 5 new faces maybey more!!!!

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