The more this goes on the harder it is to assume Felix is the right man for Fulham.
The first three results were all sort of reasonable. Losing away to Ipswich was likely: fine. Millwall have been on a great run, and got the crucial early goal, so alright, that happens. Wolves aren’t a bad side and that one went against in what was by all accounts a fairly awful Fulham performance. But these things happen: you can lose by a single goal and three defeats in a row with a young team is not necessarily unexpected.
And I suppose by the same reasoning, yesterday’s catastrophe is explainable. Derby are well coached, deserved to go up last year (they were at least the third best side in the league) and by that token ought to have had us quaking in our boots.
But two things: one, we just came down from the Premier League, where for years we did well enough. We shouldn’t be petrified of a good Championship side. Two, except there is nothing left of that team. A lot of us felt this was a good thing, but with every game there is a sense that Fulham dismantled in too much of a hurry.
The game, anyway. I’m going off highlights and what trusted observers told me, but it sounds like we were okay in parts of the first half, but conceded again from a cross and a runner hitting the box hard. If you look back on the season:
Ipswich we conceded to one dribble and someone running quickly to meet a loose ball
Millwall was a cross and someone meeting it at the far post
Wolves saw someone charging in and meeting a loose ball first time
Then the first goal at Derby
In all four games we’ve conceded to someone arriving in the area and hitting the ball first time. I don’t know what this means but it suggests we’re not picking up players and we’re not doing a good job of making our area tough to negotiate.
Derby’s second was like something off the beach, their third saw Burgess turned inside out and another first time finish. The fourth was a tap in off the post. The fifth was an embarrassment to everyone involved with piecing this shambles together.
Fulham, then, consistently undone by first-time shots. It suggests a side not coping, a team not able to impose itself at all. A team that is to the Championship what last year’s team was to the Premiership.
The thing is, people will say that we can’t expect kids to come in and play, but I still think this is the only way this club can right itself over time. We need to grow through the academy, to develop a group of players who are familiar with each other and play “the Fulham way”. It’s not the plan to go to youth that’s the problem, it’s the implementation of this plan. As Mike Gregg has pointed out on twitter, we have bypassed a generation of young players who could be a bridge between the first team and the lads we’re seeing torn apart now. Maybe Mesca, Trotta, Burn, Tankovic, even Hoesen, would have been worth working with here. But the main point surely is not that we’re using kids, but how we’re using them.
If Roy Hodgson can make Dickson Etuhu into a valuable player on the European stage then this lot can be made into a team, too. Young players are presumably not that different to older players: tell them what to do. Make them comfortable in their roles. Take the pressure off them.
We have used 20+ players in four games and in various formations along the way. How can a young player learn a role if the role, and his place in this role, is changed every week? How?
It sickens me to say it but if we want promotion now we badly need a dour, organiser. Chris Hughton was the organisation between Jol’s good teams at Spurs. Alec McLeish used to make Birmingham a dour 4-4-2 Roy-lite side. It wasn’t fun but at least it worked, to a degree. A 0-0 draw or two would work wonders. When did we last draw 0-0 for that matter? We haven’t been able to control games enough for that.
And yet we still have World Cup players we won’t use. We have Dan Burn, who has towered above Championship forwards in the past. We have Marcello Trotta, who has flickered and occasionally succeeded in an upwardly mobile Brenford side (being run with intelligence and purpose).
At this point I don’t really think things could be much worse. Having committed to the youth approach we desperately need to stick with it – the next good Fulham team is going to be built this way – but increasingly it feels as if Felix Magath is not getting through to this group, is the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fulham need to get their next appointment right, a manager with a track record of developing young players *and* of organising a team. It really needs to be someone who can connect with the players, which may be Magath’s failing here.
I don’t think this is about getting promoted now, though. That would be too quick. I’d like to see Danny Murphy and Kit Symons take things on for this reason. Murphy talks more sense than half of “the football community” put together, Symons for his understanding of the youngsters. Give them five years and acknowledge that the transformation may take a few years, but that when it’s complete we might have one of the most vibrant and exciting young teams in Britain. This group of players, if they are used well, will get the first team experience so few of their contemporaries see, and get it together. Keep at it. Keep going to the kids. But for god’s sake give them a chance, a positive environment where people aren’t simply discarded because their face doesn’t fit, or because they arrived before the manager, or because they earn a bit more than we’re comfortable with (stripping the wage bill at the moment is fine, but hang on: we spent a lot of money on Mitroglou that we’re writing off as a sunk cost?), or because of whatever.
Just get this club back in the hands of grown ups, running things sensibly and efficiently. The waste we’ve seen has been awful. I’m happy that we’re starting to take the right approach, which is the only encouraging thing here, but we’re doing it badly. Stick to the plan, but change the way we’re aproaching it, and fast.