With the disappointing news that David Stockdale’s off it becomes clear that this just isn’t about dead wood.
Here are the positives around Stockdale:
– we got him when he was nobody. It’s nice to see young players come through.
– he’s a good player. England squad, remember?
– he seems like a good egg.
– he seems to ‘get’ Fulham, to the extent that such a thing really exists.
– if he was going to go he’s had several better times to do so, notably when he was being messed about in the latter stages of the Schwarzer era.
– we need a goalkeeper.
– Stekelenberg is presumably aiming higher.
– he ‘knows’ the Championship. I don’t know how that helps either, but everyone talks about knowing the Championship so who am I to disagree?
And so on. There are probably more. Stockdale’s a nice lad who’s good in goal. It feels like a shame to let him go. At this rate – and I’m barely joking – Fulham’s fans will barely recognise anyone when the team takes the field at Portman Road.
So what’s going on? Does Stockdale want a new start? Does the club want to rid itself of all remnants of the 2013-14 disaster? I don’t know. Probably someone else does.
But something else is occurring to me, regardless of the final diagnosis here.
Fulham are going American.
What? Well in baseball you have no relegation and something called a draft, by which teams are continually refurbished with young talent. The worse the team the better access to young talent.
And American sports being heavily unionised as they are, player salaries are quite well controlled. What this led to, probably 10 years ago now, was a fairly widespread realisation that older players were dramatically overpaid relative to younger players. Oh, sure, the coaches and older players would continually big up the need for ‘experience’, but when it came down to it an experienced home run looked a lot like an inexperienced one.
Thing is, a young player would be on a maximum contract of $350,000. It’s more now but bear with me. After a certain period of time the player could renegotiate this, but it meant that teams who were prepared to take a risk on young talent were at an advantage, provided they had identified the right young talent. Generally, once they’d been in the game 7-8 years, experienced players, even mediocre ones, would take home $2,000,000 a year. Again, it’s more now, but you can see the point.
I have long wondered to what extent you could take this over here. My argument, which may be wrong, would be that if you’re paying Darren Bent £50,000 a week and he is useless every single game, you could just as well have played Mousa Dembele, who presumably earns a tenth of that.
You could. I appreciate that “it’s not that simple”, but when it comes to awful performances it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a 28 year old making them or an 18 year old. Except financially: the 18 year olds cost a tenth as much.
Mr Khan and his sons will be all too aware of this, as are we having seen the cheap and cheerful Cauley Woodrow perform just as well as £70,000 Hugo Rodallega in the run-in. Chris David will earn a bit more but presumably much less than the experienced heads who had disappointed before he got the chance. Dan Burn and Brede Hangeland probably played at equivalent levels, but Burn would have earned a massive amount less than Hangeland. And so on.
Now, there’s a limit to all this. That’s why I was saying if you’re going to be awful you might as well be cheap and awful. But where’s the fine line.
My sense is that the powers that be have had a good think here and worked out what they think a player is worth. Say Stockdale’s bringing in £30,000 a week. This is a C+ goalkeeper in the big scheme of things, good but not irreplaceable. Fulham figure they’ve identified someone just as good and he’ll cost them £15,000 a week in wages. So they make the move.
It might be that simple. What if Fulham are ruthlessly moving on all players whose value can be replaced at a lower cost? Players who earned Premiership wages which, even if they’re now discounted, still represent poor investments. Ordinary players making extraordinary money.
My guess is that Mr Khan and his sons have sat down with the Fulham top brass and said “right, we have young kids, they’re good. We have old players, who aren’t that good. We don’t need both” and gone from there. There would have been some variation on the “you win nothing with kids talk” which is probably how we ended up with Ross McCormack (“get rid of all the players who earn too much and I’ll buy you a centre-forward”) but this squad absolutely screams “rational thinking” to me. And if Scott Parker’s still here it’s either because you can take these things too far and he’s a good egg, or we haven’t found anyone who will pay him that much for that long. Probably both.
An argument could and will be made that we’ve turned over too much too quickly, and there may be something too that, but in football an awful lot of money is chucked away. Agents fees are the obvious ones, but when you or I get an inflation indexed pay rise if our employer feels generous, footballers famously get doubled salaries, or extra bonuses, or all sorts of other things like that. Fine, it’s a jungle out there and you get what you can, but we’re in the Championship now. Yeah we’ve got money but so too did a lot of teams who have botched their bounce-back. Fulham are finally going about doing things properly.
We’ll lose games but we’ll do it with a young team that we can get behind. We’ll struggle to recognise the players we see but ideally they’ll have been recruited with a certain profile in mind. (Remember Roy Hodgson moving for players from Scandinavia and other English speaking nations? Well look here: Australians, Swiss, Germans. These nationalities, if we dare generalise, are good ‘character’ nationalities.) These new players won’t be on silly wages, they’ll be on appropriate wages. And of course we have the youngsters, these super talented youngsters, who might not get all that much exposure, who might not do as well as we’re hoping, but whose time is coming.
You know how much better England felt when John Terry was exiled? This is Fulham now. I’m not equating last year’s team with John Terry because that wouldn’t be fair, but in a way I am. Last season WAS John Terry like. The club are trying to remove all traces of our John Terry season, and appropriately enough for such an exercise, they’re doing it intelligently and apparently well. Next season feels like a good season to me. If losing David Stockdale is a bummer, I’m hoping that we did it for the right reasons. And even if we did it for the wrong reasons, it feels like the club is again moving in the right direction.