Thank you to those of you who took yesterday’s post in the spirit it was intended. The idea is not to literally claim that we need players of a certain absolute quality, more to point out that there’s a long way to go between here and there. The comments section was suitably thought provoking, which leads me nicely onto why we may be better able to bounce back than I think.
First, this notion of a +5/-5 player relates to what that player accomplishes on the pitch. So a -2 player might be a +2 player in other contexts. That other context here cuts two ways:
one, if we have a new manager, or if Kit gets a full head of steam, can this player contribute to a good Fulham team? Put another way, is the player better than he’s shown this season?
two, if the answer to the above is no, is there reason to believe that the player can mature into the player we need him to be?
And here’s where things get more encouraging.
Having watched a lot less of Fulham than most of you this season, here are a few thoughts to start things off:
Good enough to make Fulham effective again: Christensen, McCormack. I think these two speak for themselves. McCormack lacks for nothing at this level, Christensen emerged as a potential star.
Good enough to be part of Fulham’s next effective team: Bettinelli, Burn, Kacaniklic, Smith, Rodallega. I might be overreacting to Bettinelli, who seems to have had one of those superficially spectacular seasons whilst conceding bucketloads of goals. Hunch is that he’s done about as well as anyone could have been expected to this season and that the issues are largely in front of him. Burn gets a pass having demostrated some ability at this level before and indeed, to a lesser degree, in the Premiership. He’s not the finished article but I feel the materials are there. Kacaniklic – and I appreciate I’m in a minority here – is a Premiership player so ought to be more successful than has been the case here. He’s been messed about no end and needs a defined role and some patience. Smith I like, and have been gratified by his performance this year. No, he might not be your first choice striker in a promotion chasing team, but he’s good enough to be in the conversation. As is Rodallega, who can happily function at a higher level and therefore presumably just needs better teammates/managers/attitude?
Not in either of the above groups but shows potential/some evidence that might be improvable: Joronen, Hutchinson, Bodurov, Kavanagh, Grimmer, Tunnicliffe, Hyndman, Williams R, Roberts, Woodrow, Taggart, Dembele, Burgess, Eisfeld, David, Mitroglou, Williams G. More on this group in a minute. Some real talent in here, which is encouraging for our purposes.
Not in any of these groups: Kiraly, Hoogland, Stafylidis, Voser, Parker, Amorebieta. I’m being harsh here because Fulham aren’t going to progress by not being harsh.
The missing link in all this is the manager. We’ve talked about needing a 40 goal swing next season and as people pointed out in the comments below, that absolutely can happen. A bit of positive momentum and the squad we’ve just itemised above can look rejuvenated in no time. So while we have castigated the team all season, there’s some talent in the group. It just needs unlocking.
Can a new manager do this? Absolutely. The current manager *might* be able to. Momentum’s everything: with a good start and some new ideas, anything might be possible. The season’s a bit too long to fluke anything (unless you’re Derby, for whom the fluke worked backwards) but for sure things can get better.
What does it take then?
First, we need to address the whole “diabolical defence” thing. I think that means a commitment to 4-4-2 until we’re good enough to grow out of it. No, it’s not sexy in this day and age, but for as long as I can remember we’ve wondered whether Scott Parker can protect a back four (no); whatever happened to the midfield protecting the back four as a group? Two banks of four, hard to beat, then let the McCormack and Smith combination do its bit as and when it can.
I do think this means we need to buy the best centre-half we can lay our hands on. We need two very good full-backs whose first job is to defend, and from there we might be able to muddle through with a midfield built around LVC, Tunnicliffe, Kacaniklic and an up and comer on the right learning his trade. If Kacaniklic doesn’t work back enough he can’t play; from now on it’s about teamwork. The team is incentivised on clean-sheets, the team becomes about clean-sheets. Nobody wants to play Fulham. That kind of thing. This Fulham side is far, far too easy to play against: those Norwich goals were just the latest in a constant stream of dreadfully defended concessions, whereby opponents entering our area were neither closed down, tracked, or any of those things that might make it harder to score. You don’t concede nearly 90 times in a season with any idea what you’re doing back there.
So yes, maybe I can see grounds for optimism, and maybe it doesn’t need millions of pounds either. But it’s about time Fulham stopped just throwing muck at the wall and hoping some of it sticks. It’s time to address the very obvious weaknesses, not by constantly trying new players and hoping they’re the answer, but by making a real commitment to doing things better.