Defending Slaviša Jokanović

Yesterday’s post earned me some interesting feedback, and I thank those who took the trouble to read.

As most could see I was not in any way attempting to suggest that we replace the manager behind our legendary/extraordinary start to the season with an American baseball robot, and to that, I remain aware of the myriad differences between football and baseball. But I stand behind the view that there are decent principles behind what the Khans are attempting. Whether they get it right remains to be seen, and of course sceptical supporters have some reason to question things, but my opinion is that they’re at least facing in the right direction.  Whether their next step is forwards or backwards is anybody’s guess, but we can forgive fans for fearing the worst.

There’s a big elephant in the room here though.

Slaviša Jokanović has been very frank about his views on the subject of Craig Kline’s involvement. Shockingly so in many ways.

“I had an opinion from one of the best managers in the world [Jose Mourinho] on one of the players and he believes it is a good signing for us and I believe that too. Craig doesn’t believe it is a good signing for us and this guy is not with us.

“It generally depends on this guy [Kline] who is going to sign for us or not. The last decision is in the hands of this man. It is not my business.

“I’m a little bit disappointed because no one knows who this guy is. Instead he’s sitting in the directors box. I want to take responsibility for how I work with my team and how they perform but I am not part of the recruitment business. It is in the hands of people who believe they’re more prepared.”


If we go back to yesterday’s thinking, we can look at this a couple of ways:

1) it’s all true. Fulham have given Craig Kline veto power over transfers
2) it’s partly true. Craig Kline has a say in transfers and has scuppered this in some capacity
3) it’s partly true, in that Kline has a say, but here the deal wasn’t killed by him, but by other factors we don’t know about
4) it’s not true and an agenda of sorts is being played out in public

I’d imagine we’re looking at guess number two. If the Khans have given Kline full veto power then I’d be stunned.

So if it is #2 (or even #1), what reasons are there for the deal not going ahead?

Transfermarkt has Pereira as a 20 year old attacking midfielder of Brazilian descent. United bought him from PSV for £128k and he’s now valued at over a million pounds. Pereira scored a goal in one of his first team appearances, of which there seem to have been around half a dozen.

So why might we not want Pereira?

It could be that Kline simply doesn’t think he’s good enough. That would be a surprising conclusion given that United signed him and Jose Mourinho recommended him to us. In this situation it’s hard to envisage a situation where Kline’s perspective is given sufficient weight that his judgement would be backed over that of both our manager and Manchester United’s. Even if Pereira hasn’t developed a solid statistical base to Kline’s liking yet, Kline would surely appreciate that the player is developing, is 20 years old, and has his best years ahead of him.

It could be that Kline doesn’t think we need him. We have other attacking midfielders after all. Again, it seems curious that Kline could make that call. The manager would have a better sense of what he needs to make his squad functional, after all.

Maybe there’s a cost involved. If we look through United’s recent history we can see that they often do charge a loan fee to clubs taking their players. They often don’t do this – or if they do, the fee isn’t listed – but it’s a possibility. Perhaps Kline figures that Pereira’s not worth this fee. But this seems unlikely, too. Significant loan fees seem to apply to established stars like Chicarito, not up and coming players like Pereira.

None of these answers is satisfactory, really.

Unless Kline isn’t blocking the transfers at all.

In any case, this looks like a mess. Any organisation needs clear accountabilities, particularly when attempting to ‘innovate’. If your manager is mouthing off to the press about another member of staff then you have an issue. Whatever the rights and wrongs your manager does have an important role within the club (duh!) and if he is undermined then this will, in the end, impact how his players respond to him. He needs power, and to be seen to have power, too. If he’s emasculated by some shadowy outsider than this is clearly a very bad thing.

If I can return to the dangerous ground of baseball, this happened in that sport, too. There were many stories about how the very best analysts were able to work in ways that gained the trust of those they were attempting to influence. This would be a softer approach, not ramming numbers down the throats of those less inclined towards this kind of information.

Which is why I’m so puzzled here. The Khans must know all of this. They must know that they can’t just give someone with no football credentials more power over transfers than their most important non-playing member of staff. They must.  You can’t force these things.

Two conclusions then. First, I’m almost certain that the situation can’t be exactly as it’s being portrayed. But second, I’m equally certain that something isn’t right (duh!) and that the manager shouldn’t be in a position where he’s talking to newspapers as he is. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and family Khan need to take a long view here, build up the credentials of any new approaches they’re developing and find ways to blend them into the running of the club, even if this takes them longer than they’d like.

I get that they’ve probably lost trust in the old school way of doing things quite quickly, having been spectacularly burned by other supposedly well-credentialed managers in the very recent past. But if only for their own PR they need to find a better way of running the club, because at the moment it’s far too easy for fans to project their worst fears onto the ownership and senior management group. All this when the team’s winning, too. Just wait until results turn.

16 thoughts on “Defending Slaviša Jokanović”

  1. Also let’s not forget that SJ’s results last season were mediocre to say the least. Of course, most blame the squad he inherited, but on the other hand, a good coach should get better results out of a given squad than a supposedly inferior predecessor. This season is only 4 games old (league that is). A good start, but not a long enough run to be definitive proof that SJ is the real deal. So the Khans still have some grounds to be a bit careful I think. Especially if the new signings, who have looked good, are a result of some combination of stats and traditional scouting. The messageboards are in meltdown about “bloody Americans who know nothing about football vetoing our great manager’s wishes”. Like you, I think there’s more to it and I wouldn’t be surprised to see 2 or 3 significant, decent signings before the end of the month. SJ is playing a dangerous game, going public like that. It may work, or it may end up with him either eating humble pie or resigning. What odds Steve Bruce?

  2. Good summary. It does look like implementation. We are generally agreeing on there that, as you put it, the club is now facing in the right direction in this regard. But in the end key figures have either to have a working relationship (as Cole and Sheringham did at ManU despite personal dislike) or their boss has to remove one of them from the firing line. And it’s hardly in doubt which is the larger pool of available labour, stats guys or effective Head Coaches. The banality of evil, the banality most likely of this current spat, since — as you say — it’s hardly likely to derive from owner policy.

  3. I think that nobody can argue that analytics and sports sciences can make a real positive difference but they are decision support tools. It also assumes the people analysing the data are competent and knowledgable about the subject. The same tools and principles have been applied by the Jaguars without success. I think it is more down to an over reliance on the statistics with out in depth knowledge of football. There is no real hard evidence that we have turned the corner. It is still early days. I hope that I am proved wrong and we go on to win promotion with SJ on board.

    1. It’s like playing fantasy sports. The most admired players, from my perspective, are guys who have tools that statistics, unless so maddeningly detailed, can never measure. They simply can’t quantify heart, influence on the team, the ability to make the one play when the one play is most necessary. I lose at fantasy because I’m “old-school” and yet, with millions and billions at stake, it’s difficult to blame ANY ownership group for trying to do all it can to be accurate.

  4. Trying to play devils advocate here, personally I feel Slav is defiantly the right man though I have thought this before, however trying to take things in context there is currently a brilliant parallel at Liverpool where at the weekend they had 80% possession actual stats but lost ! Where does that leave the disciples of Khanism, however Herr Klopp has as a retort said he is ok with his squad, and why does he need to buy more players and what is it with the British and there fixation with constant need for transfers at all costs !
    Goodness knows having followed Ffc for over fifty years I have seen the sublime and definitely the rediculous, however many a club has rued the decision to change manager at the behest of the fans protests, I hope we sort this alleged problem quickly given the promising start, but trying to be positive I don’t suppose Slav wants anything but the best for his goal to succeed and one thing business men do is protect their investment, so I am assuming both aims are the same however the trajectories are slightly different.

    Well here’s hoping anyway.

    Cliff Peters

  5. Implementing the good advice given to the Khans at the end of Rich’s piece may simply involve licensing Kline’s methodology — with or without ongoing involvement by the man himself back in the U.S. — and having someone with better inter-personal skills as the Motspur Park face to it. Lacking the baggage of being buddy of the owner’s son’s may in itself make the needful difference. The world of work is full of silly nonsense that can undermine the best-laid plans and flowcharts and if Rich’s article today tends towards that kind of diagnosis I concur,

  6. I feel like some version of this debate has existed for a couple seasons now. According to many reports Kline has been a crucial part of the transfer process for most of our time in the Championship, if not all of it. I’m a patient person but if that’s true it doesn’t speak well of his metrics. As someone else points out, Khan’s Jaguars aren’t an encouraging example either, finishing with a terrible record year after year. They are terrible. I’m far more receptive to the integration of advanced metrics into the scouting and transfer process but if we have indeed been seeing results of Kline’s methods over the last two seasons them I’m truly skeptical of how it’s being implemented at the Cottage. But hey, really enjoying the nice start to this season!

  7. Mike Rigg’s name is conspicuous by its absence here. Surely the Director of Football and Manager should be in agreement, or at least able to work productively together, with the stats man as their servant, not master. Rigg should be the one resolving this conflict.

    Kline has no knowledge of football, and I mean the sport itself, not just the people and teams involved in the English game. This is an unforgivable weakness for someone with his clout in that job. If he or SJ have to go, I know who I want to stay.

    Sure, managers should not get everything they ask for, but as someone else said, Jokanovic is our best manager since Mark Hughes. I would be sorry to see him go.

    At the moment it’s as though the tail is wagging the dog.

  8. Someone who knows stuff has just confirmed to me: “Issue at club is Kline with regards his people skills, he doesn’t have any so rubs people up the wrong way. Frustration got the better of Jokanovic other day, but the two of them just do not get on at all.”

    Therefore as suspected, decouple the analysis part from the presentational and at least the case for stats will stand a better chance of buy-in.

    1. I’d like to think that Khan has more experience and sense than to allow personal dislike between senior personnel to not be properly addressed. It’s in the open now so can’t be allowed to continue.

      We have no clue as to how involved Kline has been with recent signings.If the answer is “significantly” then the same word applies to credit for the teams improvement so we shouldn’t automatically dismiss Kline’s value to the club.

      Periera though is a mystery but maybe it is a case of Kline having a view that we have enough attacking midfielders especially if others are on their way as today’s rumours suggest.

      I’d venture the suggestion though that he was a personal favour from Morinho to Jokanovic who rightly became outraged and embarrased when Kline scuppered the deal or maybe just gave negative fedback to…..? Who? Rigg? If he’s still employed he surely has a role in this.

  9. I agree the Khans know that. Kline has a challenging personality but we’ve needed a striker since Ross was sold so they should get behind the Manager and to hell with Kline and his numbers.

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