Author Archives: rich

Selling the farm

More news about a young player we’ll never really see.

A source close to the situation divulged on Tuesday afternoon that the 19-year-old will be allowed to leave Craven Cottage for training-only stints with prospective buyers as the Championship season unfolds. It is in this manner that he can choose his next employer.

The 19 year old is Emerson Hyndman, who actually looked pretty capable in the team’s engine room under Magath, has shown composure beyond his years, and is now certain to go somewhere else.

It’s probably too soon to mark this down as ‘an alarming trend’, but equally, we had high hopes for this generation of Fulham youngsters and one by one they’re all disappearing.

The article above notes that Fulham have offered a new deal to the player, but, just as happened with Patrick Roberts, have little power in the situation with the contract on the verge of expiring.  I appreciate that it’s easy to sit here and criticise things that are presumably much harder to control than we might ever imagine, BUT it’s dismaying to see another talented player about to leave.  Dan Burn can go in the summer, so too can Moussa Dembele, and Lasse Vigen Christensen can be off a year later.

Part of me wishes the club had done what Magath actually tried to do, namely commit to youth. We all saw how dangerous a tactic that could have been, but in many ways it’s hard to disentangle the general idea from the executioner of this idea: could someone like Dario Gradi have made this approach work?

You can build a team any way you like, but if you’re somehow able to grow one from within then there’s a suspicion that somehow this is a better thing, that this leads to better outcomes.  In a parallel universe out there is a team that’s competing for the 2019-20 Premier League title, with grizzly veteran David Stockdale in goal, twin pillars Burn and Burgess (together as a pairing for 5 seasons) at the heart of the defence, and Hyndman and LVC running games from the middle of the park.  Patrick Roberts is unstoppable on the wing, and Woodrow and Dembele are almost telepathic by now.

No, I know.  This couldn’t and wouldn’t have happened, but it’s a future that’s within the realms of the dreamable, a path the club might have taken, a path that could scarcely have been worse than the one the club *did* take, and one that would have united the fan base for some time.  Everyone likes to see the kids getting a chance, and a home-grown team would have felt special.

Naive, nonsensical, I know, I know.  But every time one of these gifted young players leaves the club for not much we’re reminded of the extent to which the whole organisation has made an absolute dog’s dinner of the last few seasons.  It’s been beyond shambolic.

Fetch Dan Burn

The race against time is a plot device beloved of many film makers.

Who can forget Crocodile Dundee, in which Mick is on his way out of town, only for Sue to realise what she’s about to lose. She gets to the station in double quick time but has to relay her message to Mick via other passengers, so crowded is the concourse. Memorably, she shouts “I’m not going to marry Richard!” and this message is bounced along the platform and Mick gets it and changes his mind.

In fact I even saw an example of this yesterday, in Hotel Transylvania, when Count Dracula had to chase down an aeroplane containing the man his daughter had fallen for, a man driven away by the Count’s attempts to do exactly this: make him leave! Of course the Count realised he had made a mistake, but it was very nearly too late to rectify the situation. In the end he had to catch up an aeroplane then trasmit a message over the flight’s intercom by effectively ‘possessing’ the pilot. But it worked, so.

(Note: I can’t convey this easily here as photos aren’t backing me up, but Dracula looked a lot like Rene Meulensteen).

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And so on. There are millions of examples, most requiring the retrieval of a person of a person ‘on his way’ following the realisation that a mistake has been made.

Here’s another: Dan Burn is, as we speak, being talked about as a potential signing for Sheffield United. If this is true – if there’s any truth to it – Tony Khan needs to get on the phone, get on an aeroplane, just do something, to stop it. Burn is young, has played quite well, and statistically looks reasonable (whoscored had him as our best player last year, and we found in deeper analysis that only LCV and Ruiz were more important to Fulham).  He won’t peak for a while.  And we shouldn’t just keep giving away our youngsters.

Building from within

The Swiss Ramble is always a good read, but this profile of Ipswich Town contained an interesting nugget:

To that end, Evans initially provided his managers with enough funding to be competitive in the transfer market, but this did not achieve the desired objective, as the owner explained: “You would have hoped that money had resulted in better things, but look at Nottingham Forest – they lost £25 million last year and got nowhere. Look at Leicester, they spent 25 to 30 million for a couple of years running, I think, and didn’t manage to get promoted. So there are a lot of clubs out there that spent a lot more than Ipswich did and who ended up in exactly the same situation.”

This led to a change in Evans’ strategy, “I wanted to work with a manager who was going to try to and coach and make our players better, rather than give the manager the opportunity (to simply buy players).” The drive to more sensible cost management was also influenced by the introduction of the Financial Fair Play rules, which essentially force clubs to live within their means.

As a result Ipswich have spent virtually nothing on player purchases in the last three seasons, but paradoxically this approach has delivered better results on the pitch, thus defying the conventional wisdom that high spending equates to success. Whether the reliance on free transfers and bringing through young players will continue to work is debatable, but the recent improvement is there for all to see.

Ross McCormack scoring goals

One for the “no sht, Sherlock” file.

“It’s similar to last year in that it took a little while to get going, but I had a good chat with the Manager on Sunday and just said that when I came to the Club I was a striker and I think it’s best if I can get back to that, being in and around the box.

“So I’m pleased that I was up front in the cup and I got two goals to repay that faith. When I’ve been playing in the hole in behind strikers then it’s my job to come deep and link the play, but I feel a lot better when I’m further up the pitch and I’m around the box, as the second goal showed. When you’ve got the chance to come inside and get shots away and stuff, I feel a lot more comfortable.”

As a reminder, in the past McCormack has had seasons where he’s scored 21, 18, 28 and 17 goals in the league.

Think about it this way: by taking him out of the position where he’s doing this, are you confident that his “link up play” will be sufficiently productive cover this goals shortfall? If your option is McCormack behind Smith or someone else behind McCormack, you don’t just go with the former to fit Smith into the side.  You put your star player where he’ll do most good for the team. The game is about scoring goals and not conceding goals. Everything stems from these two things. You don’t deliberately inhibit your options for doing this without good reason.

Manager personalities

While I catch up on video (currently watching Hull game), a brief note I’ve been meaning to post for a while about how Kit Symons got a bit of a boost post-Magath.

The below is taken directly from the Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers. I believe this to be absolutely true.  The team probably had the right idea in hiring Magath, but got the wrong version of high pressure. Kit was in some ways exactly what the club needed after Magath, but the board/committee/whoever may have (probably did) err in misjudging the improved results that followed.

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T:Ream – Things can only get better

Sorry.  It was that obvious.  I couldn’t not.

Tim Ream joins, and re-establishes Fulham’s link with American players, and let’s face it, it’s been a fruitful link.

Hurray.  He’s been supporters’ player of the year twice and plays for America.  He looks like a CB, and is 6’1′, but people understandably want him to be a left-back.  But I think really he isn’t.

Meanwhile, in the manager’s press conference, Kit Symons says that he can’t quite work out how we haven’t earned more points.  That would be a function of being outplayed in three games, relying on flukes and worldies for our own goals, and generally not being able to defend for opponents’.  Yes, we could very easily have shambled our way to at least 7 points by now, but that would be papering over cracks that probably need to remain exposed lest some kind of Crystal Palace/Kasami effect happen for a second time.

What’s happened to Ben Pringle?

It’s been a rough start for everybody, but Ben Pringle has been particularly underwhelming.  It’s not that he’s been bad – he just hasn’t seemed to be anything.  Just there.  And really, not particularly there.  I even wondered if he’s playing through an injury or something, so uninvolved has he been.

For Rotherham last season Pringle averaged a shot a game, 2.5 key passes (which set up a teammate for a shot) per game, 31 passes per game overall, 3 crosses, and 1.7 long balls.

For Fulham he has had one shot in three games, 1 key pass per game, 22 passes per game, 1 cross per game, and no long balls.

Alright, it’s three games, but decisions are made on much less evidence than this.  He’s been invisible.  The stats bear out what our eyes have told us.

One thing I wondered when we twigged that Fulham were raiding the Championship’s “chances created” leaderboard from last season was whether there would now be some cannibalisation.  It’s not like if I have a mars bar and buy three more mars bars.   I’ll have four then.  (Actually, a good example is Lucozade, which is being given away by promotional people at Waterloo Station this week.  I have seven bottles now.  Wrong?  No, not at all.  They keep handing them to me.)

Anyway, no, it’s not like that.   At Rotherham Ben Pringle was, presumably, the creative hub.  I wonder if, perhaps, somehow by being in a team with so many other creative types, he’s somehow lost his way and fallen down his team’s pecking order.

Maybe.  This is quite interesting:

Passes per game by Fulham midfielderspringle

The interesting thing here is that Cairney and Christensen seem to be playing as they always have.  Pringle’s not been that involved this year, to the point where he’s passing half as much as these two, but looking at his Rotherham numbers, he’s clearly not a player who sees a lot of the ball.  Alright, fine, but look at Jamie O’Hara!

I don’t know what that even means.  O’Hara’s basically becoming the team’s quarterback – everything’s going through him.  In many ways this makes sense, given his touch on the ball and ability to be available at all times.  That’s great.   I’m not going to suggest that Fulham need to share the ball around more because I have no idea if that’s true.   But it is interesting that at the same time O’Hara’s basically stepped up and demanded to see everything going on, Pringle has been struggling to get into matches.

Fulham: wasted talent

If you have a runny nose you wipe it. But the runny nose is the symptom, not the real issue. By wiping it you’re doing some good but not getting at the major problem.

I say this because Fulham have conceded three goals late in matches. In three games, in fact. In the only three games they’ve played, for that matter. But these late goals aren’t, I don’t think, about fitness, because these days most teams are fit enough to run for a whole game, if not more. No, the late goals are the snot on the team’s face. And the snot is there because we have a cold, or, to try to break out of this dreadful metaphor once and for all, the late goals are there because we’re awful defensively.

(Lots of goals are scored right at the end of halves)

So it’s not really that outlandish that a team that can’t defend might concede at this time.

The last time Fulham were afflicted by this particular bug was under Lawrie Sanchez, when, for various reasons, imprecise defensive work led to opponents gradually finding their way through late on in matches.

This isn’t chance, I don’t think. The last manager we’ve had who really didn’t do very well was probably Sanchez. I mean, I know about Magath, but you can almost discount him from discussions can’t you? Before him we had some halfway competent managers and after him came the master of defensive organisation himself.

I do keep on about Hodgson, and you might expect that, but I think a bit of the problem here, if we may be so arrogant, is that having watched Hodgson’s teams for a few seasons Fulham fans grew to understand that defending is something that’s taught, not just something that some people who cost £5m can do and some people we already have can’t. We saw how Hodgson took some supposedly lesser players and made them into a formidable unit. We know about this, so we know it can be done.

What’s galling at the moment is that this Fulham team, and let’s be honest, this Fulham manager, doesn’t seem to have a plan, or any evidence of having been coached. It feels like what would happen if you just bought a group of players and told them to run around to keep fit in the week, then to do their best on Saturday. This, I am aware, does the hard work of the coaching staff an enormous disservice, but what other conclusion can you draw when, by now, almost all of the division can say that they’ve outplayed Fulham at least once in the last year?

The fact remains, even Lawrie Sanchez had a plan. It didn’t work, but he had a plan. Martin Jol had a plan. Felix… certainly had ideas. But what’s Kit Symons trying to do? Does anyone know?

I, like all of you, like to think of myself as a reasonably good judge of a player. I look at the current lineup and I don’t have to do too much wishful thinking. I want a midfielder who knows how to defend, because we still haven’t got one of those, and I want a left back. We might even have the latter if Garbutt can play (and people say he can). So it’s really all there.

That’s partly why we’re all so fed up I think. Last year’s team was a cobbled together farce. This time we have a young, British core, and they are very capable. But we’re wasting it because we have a manager who, as best we can tell, doesn’t know how to make the most of the talent he has available to him. It’s really disappointing.

Dunk: another perspective

dunk

It occurred to me the other day that I’ve been a football fan for 30 years now. That’s a long time. I know some of you can top it easily, but still. I can place this because I remember a very specific game.

1985, England v Republic of Ireland, at Wembley. Back then there wasn’t much football on TV, and so you had to do the whole radio thing. And of course in many ways that’s better anyway.

So here I was with my little weetabix radio, listening to the game in bed.1984-Weetabix-Club-Radio--2-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gary Lineker scored.  Trevor Steven got another.  I was so excited!

People will tell you that football wasn’t what it is today, that it wasn’t a mass participation thing, that it wasn’t trendy or wasn’t for everyone, but that’s not what I remember.  All the kids I knew played, listened, discussed.  I remember at infant school, the dinner lady, Mrs Wakefield, telling me at lunchtime how Kenny Dalglish had been sent off the night before.  “Retaliation”, she said. I didn’t know what that was, but when she explained I couldn’t quite believe it.  The violence!  The conflict of emotions… so it wasn’t Dalglish who started it, but he fought back.  That’s good is it?  No, clearly not.  Man.

I can date this to 7th November 1984 I believe.  A game against Benfica.  I think we remember lots of things when we’re 8 or 9.  Me, like all the kids in the village back then, I had a Liverpool shirt and I stuck a big 7 on the back in tribute to Kenny Dalglish, “the creator supreme” as he was christened on one particular piece of commentary on my “history of Liverpool FC” video tape, which had a montage of Dalglish to Rush clips, many of which I would then hold in my mind and replay on long journeys in the car.  They’d also find their way into my exercise books at school, in the form of stick man diagrams.

In fact, who am I kidding?  I still do this.  The below is from my work notebook and were drawn, ahem, last Wednesday. So yeah, Dunk, eh? Good stuff.

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Fulham 1-2 Brighton (bit late, not that late though)

Right. Here we go again.

Having read the internet I had expected to see an even game in which Brighton started well and Fulham finished well. People – and the manager, if I haven’t imagined it – seemed to think that Fulham deserved at least a point, but that feels iffy from here. Brighton dominated the first half and half of the second. True, Fulham came at them for the last 20, but that’s not enough, is it?  No point in feeling hard done by here.

As the mirror said to the mirror, let’s reflect:

Item one: Bettinelli rolling the ball out to a colleague!  Passing it to a colleague!  It’s a small thing but, as noted, Lonergan spent the Cardiff game hoofing the ball to the Cardiff defence.  Absolutely pointless surrender of possession and inexcusable in the modern game. Here either someone said something or Bettinelli just had a bit of common sense. Either way, hurray.

If someone had said to me beforehand that Brighton would score from our left flank I wouldn’t have been surprised. Sure enough, a nothing ball in behind and boom, 1-0.  The trick here was that Voser was neither closing down the player nor playing as part of a back four, and Bodurov was in the middle, so that left a channel the size of the Suez Canal through which Brighton could operate without concern.  FFS, etc.  What kind of defending is that?

Otherwise everything’s generally better, with the caveat that Brighton have the ball all the time. Fulham generally seem geared up for some imaginary samurai counter-terror, except that we don’t have the players for that. Brighton on the ball, Fulham kind of compact behind it. All very odd.

The goal is excellent though.  O’Hara torpedoes a ball towards the Brighton fans, but Matt Smith keeps it in and the ball comes back to Cairney, who swipes it home.  A lovely goal.

The second half picked up somewhat but again, at home, you need more than 20 minutes of going for it.  Still, some signs of positivity, for which we must be grateful.

The Ratings:

Bettinelli – 6. Thought he did quite well. No chance with either goal.  People say this all the time but here it’s legitimately true.

Richards – 5.5. Did okayish again. One hairy spell where Lua Lua seemed to have the beating of him and he might have done something in the buildup to the winning penalty, but more or less okay.

Hutchinson – 5.5. I thought he was playing quite well but that foul at the end can’t go unpunished here. Kit probably didn’t need to publicly criticise the tackle – it felt a bit “not my fault, media – blame the players” to me – but imagine how Roy would have felt about his centre-half doing that on the very edge of the box!  I am growing to suspect that Hutchinson is a much better player than our trigger happy fans gave him credit for last year, but that he needs to restrain himself a bit. This isn’t the first time he’s made a tackle unbecoming of a centre-back at this level.

Bodurov – 5. Not a huge fan and not convinced he has a real claim on the shirt over the promising Burn.  As a full international perhaps he might have been expected to organise things at the back a little, too.

Voser – 5. I’m not one to be negative – this site’s nearly 10 years old and I have tried to be positive for most of this time – but Voser just doesn’t look like he knows how to play left-back.  I think he’s a reasonable footballer, but in this position with these colleagues he feels like an accident waiting to happen.  Fair play to him for filling in, etc, but there might need to be a plan B before long.

O’Hara – 7. Instrumental in the exciting finish, which will live on in the minds of us all, and a far better showing than his Cardiff display.  I like his attitude, I like how he wants the ball, and I like how he wants to make things happen. He isn’t perfect but he’s not meant to be.  If anyone can rise Fulham above the Symons malaise it’s someone like this.

Christensen – 5.5.  In and out. I thought he looked more dangerous against Cardiff.

Pringle – 4. I wonder if he was very much “the man” at his old club, and now he’s just one of many and struggling to find a role. Did basically nothing before being subbed for Kacaniklic (who fared no better).  We were led to believe that he had a bit about him, but it’s devilishly difficult to see it at this point.  I have no issue with giving him time (big of me!) as he looks capable, but he also looks more than a little lost.

Cairney – 6.5. Terrific goal and more signs of competence in possession. I think he’ll be a terrific player in time.

McCormack – 5. Not there yet is he?

Smith – 7. Could have had 5 on another day. Goals I mean, not marks out of 10. Gets good marks because we’re looking for ways to win football matches, and if you have a player capable of getting a handful of good chances a game then more often than not that’ll see you through.  Smith does what he does, and of course there are limitations, but clearly he has something about him in the penalty box and must be a nightmare to mark.