Minor crisis special: get me Sam Allardyce on the bat-phone

To the extent that I know anything about football, I think I learned it when Roy was here, so I view everything through that prism. I haven’t actually been to a match since about 2011 (kids, etc) and don’t always stay awake for Match of the Day, so my views may be less relevant than anyone’s.  That said, some thoughts:

One feature of defensive play is what you do when you have the ball. This was highlighted the other day – probably after the Bournemouth match – but when Fulham lose the ball the team is not remotely set up to deal with the situation.

This is a huge issue: the best teams set up to either win back immediately or to at least have a basic shape through which to absorb counter attacks.

They also offer the back four a shield. I wrote about this in 2013, and while in retrospect this piece is quite hard to follow (I was defending Philippe Senderos, too!), the points still hold I think.  Whenever I see Fulham highlights I see defenders everywhere, generally running back towards their own goal, and in no position to stop anything.  The Arsenal game was awful for this.   It isn’t all of the goals that get conceded – there have been many different kinds of those – but illustrates a fundamental issue with how the club is approaching the game.

This openness is weird. Usually teams that do this compensate to some degree when they attack, but Fulham currrently fall into the old “can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field” trope. There’s almost nothing going well.

This is double weird because the coach is capable and has a track record of winning football matches. But perhaps defensive organisation is simply not part of his skillset or something he’s ever needed in the past. A quick visit to Wikipedia shows a dazzling season at Watford (entirely reminiscent of what happened to Fulham last year) and a lot of work in smaller countries. There is no evidence of performance at a high level where defending has happened.  Yikes. Maybe Slav simply doesn’t know how to do this, in which case he isn’t the man for the job and my thoughts about loyalty (all the screeching muppets wanting their club back deserve not to be heard) don’t matter. Core competence is missing and that’s reason enough to change things.

To that end, probably on field personnel isn’t the issue. While the defenders may not be of A1 quality, we see everyday how ‘journeymen’ defenders can be perfectly capable in a half decent system. It’s my contention that almost nobody would look good at centre-half in this team.

Just as Hodgson’s teams made our defensive players look better than they ‘really’ were (remember: Paintsil, Hughes, Hangeland and Konchesky formed a watertight unit, but three of those players were decidedly average through most of their careers, at least in public perceptions), the current system (or lack of) is making the present players look worse than they are.

Which is not to say that the individuals in question haven’t been individually culpable because of course that happens too, but we make mistakes when we’re at our limits and a good system offers safety nets and balances so these things matter less. In a good system you can slot players in and out as necessary, you can adapt personnel (e.g. Fabian Delph and Ashley Young have played top level games at full-back, young does it permanently now, and he was an out and out winger. You see this all the time…).

Put another way, constantly changing personnel isn’t necessarily the answer. A great, commanding centre-back wouldn’t be a terrible thing to happen (look at liverpool after Virgil Van Dijk signed) but equally, I suspect people will be disappointed if this is held out as a magic solution.  It’s not a question of ‘if only we find the right combination’… it’s much deeper than that.

There is also a general criticism around lack of fight, bite, heart, and other such combative terms. It’s a very English reaction to blame lack of results on lack of desire, and I think this is miles off, at least in terms of what to address. These players almost certainly are not cowards lacking in moral fibre, but probably the apparent apathy is a symptom of the lack of direction they’re experiencing.

Any office staff survey measures motivation levels, and more often than not things like salary don’t have any impact at all on satisfaction or well-being. Rather, people want to feel part of something, have autonomy (but not too much!) and generally it’s crucial that they know what their role is. Without this things float, drift, and other passive words that don’t evoke biting or eating things.

This is what I’m seeing here, I think. Players are losing belief because they’re not being instructed, they’re not sure what’s going on around them. And while the crowd would respond to a bit more charging around, it’s bigger than that.

As Roy used to say, there’s no magic wand, you can’t just shout at people or feed them red meat before games or anything like that: you have to work at it and give the players a chance to shine, to deliver on their skills. This team is way, way less than the sum of its parts, which is a shame. It might change: a lot of new players coming together will take time to adjust. But the signs aren’t very good at the moment.

Afterthought: people are moaning about the Sam Allardyce suggestion but honestly he’d be perfect for this team. He’d absolutely love Mitrovic as a focal point who can score and bring others into the game, he’d get Seri firing, and he’d sort out the defence. People forget that it was Allardyce who brought JayJay Okocha to England, who featured all kinds of exciting talents in his over-achieving Bolton teams. He’d be excellent for Fulham.

No, football is not like baseball…

Alright! The problem with being a football outsider is that often you find yourself having to speculate about things you can’t really know about.

Well that’s fine in a way. This uncertainty has given us the scope to have a good think about what might possibly be happening behind the scenes at Fulham.

To recap, it seems to me that the Khans realise that football clubs, and their operations in the transfer market in particular, can be financial disasters, and have decided to stop wasting their money.  I also think that this is something that reasonable people would more or less agree with, even if the approach being taken – as best we understand it – is not for everyone.

Now Sam Wallace of the Daily Telegraph has thrown us a bone.

Kline is the architect at Fulham of what he calls the “Both Boxes Checked” system which is intended to give equal weight to traditional scouting methods and Kline’s own brand of statistical analysis. Without a positive score in both categories, a player will not be signed and that means, at the very least, that he has equal authority on signings with Jokanovic and the club’s chief football officer, Mike Rigg.

The thinking behind the scheme is that there should be consensus between the analytics department and the manager. Neither side should lay claim to the final say but instead, by a process of elimination, they alight upon a player who checks both boxes.

The plan at Fulham, in spite of Kline’s difficult relationships with former manager Kit Symons, and now Jokanoic, has been unwavering. The club are no longer prepared to sign players who are not “Both Boxes Checked”.

The American contingent is understood to have been unhappy with the signing of Richard Stearman from Wolverhampton Wanderers last summer for around £2 million on a three-year deal. They felt that he was overpriced, did not score highly on data and has not subsequently justified the investment. After that the introduction of Kline and his statistics-based approach was insisted upon as a key feature of the club’s recruitment.


That makes sense doesn’t it?  You use analytics and scouting!  Eureka.

Again, to those who are angry now, go to this page and tell me that the ‘traditional’ way was working. Look at all the ‘players in’ columns, the fees paid, the wages that we can’t see, and tell me with a straight face that this is how things should be done.

As an aside, it’s not as if Jokanovic has a cast-iron track record that demands he have ultimate transfer power. To the extent that he has made his name in England, we’d probably give him most credit for the 2014/15 Watford team which came second in the Championship. But someone being cynical could say that he achieved this on the back of some very canny moves in the transfer market:

Heurelho Gomes played 44 games in goal and arrived on a free from Spurs and had a fine season (so it appears). But he joined in May 2014. Jokanovic didn’t sign on until October 2014.

Matěj Vydra bagged 16 goals in 31 starts. Odion Ighalo got 20 in 22 starts. These two were on loan to Watford from Italian talent factory Udinese (and they weren’t alone here, either: Udinese pumped the Hornets full of emerging talent). Troy Deeney, who signed in 2010, got 21 in 37. That’s the mother of all forward lines, and Jokanovic didn’t sign any of them.

So back to the task at hand. What is wrong here, exactly? Fulham are attempting to put tighter controls around expenditure. Manager doesn’t like it. He’s not expected to like it, as best we can tell.

As we’ve said, the process can hardly be any worse than the one the Khans walked into, so in my opinion the sensible thing is to give them credit for trying to build a better mousetrap.

Again: it can’t be any worse than what we had before. Someone could do a hit/miss rate on those transfers, and work out what we’ve wasted. Someone at Fulham undoubtedly has done this, which is why we are where we are.

Craig Kline’s methods may not be perfect. No: they won’t be perfect. They’ll make mistakes, false positives, false negatives, everything. But the interesting thing about building data models is that they learn. You can feed in results and improve performance. I realise that this invites the usual MY FOOTBALL CLUB IS NOT SOME LABORATORY IN WHICH TONY KHAN’S FRIEND CAN EXPERIMENT  observations, but that’s how these things work, isn’t it? In life any senior businessman will make decisions based on imperfect information. You take what you can, realise its limitations, and all the time try to make it better. Are we seriously saying we’re happy to keep backing hunches, or are we going to try to get better in the transfer market?

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.

Defending the Khans and analytics as they apply to Fulham FC.

“The League Managers’ Association has revealed that in the Championship, where there were 20 dismissals in the recently-completed season, the average spell in charge is just 0.86 years.”

Presumably each of these managers knows exactly what his team needs to do to win when they’re first brought in.

First he’ll use his superior abilities as a coach to make the existing players better. That will be the start.  But then he will note that he now needs to spend a bit of money. A lot if possible. While he is a fine coach and will use his good attitude to do what he can with the players he has inherited from the lesser coach from before, he does need better players if ambitions are to be achieved, they need to be *his* players, players to fit his system.  Five or six of them.  Maybe more.

He’ll do his thing, achieve what he achieves, and when he’s replaced, the next manager will come in with similar ideas.

It’s a culture that results in football clubs wasting a fortune, with money flying all over the place. Here’s Fulham’s recent history of shopping.

We’ve bought 18 players for at least £1m since 2012/13. That’s not a lot, but this is at a time when the club has been lambasted for not spending deeply or wisely enough. It’s inefficient. To see what this looks like at another level, try Liverpool. Or Manchester United.

Coach-loads of players, vault-loads of money, and are these teams any nearer to being where they wanted to be five years ago?  No!

So I don’t think you can blame people running football clubs for wanting to find “a better way of doing things.”

One idea has always been to take spending out of the hands of managers. This is how baseball works: you have the ‘front office’ people making personnel decisions and managers taking what they’re given. Many chairmen – seeing this huge turnover of managers – want to change the dynamic in football via the dreaded Director of Football job, which theoretically ends this silly ‘my players’ cycle of dramatic squad turnover every year, but the cult of the manager is such that few are prepared to risk their reputations without ‘control’. This is fair enough – who wouldn’t take control vs no control? – but it does leave clubs at the mercy of their managers, most of whom will be gone sooner rather than later. But if you want the best managers you have to accept that the best managers will want to choose their players. So the alternative would be to find a manager who’s happy with this, and that probably means someone unproven, so what do you do about that?

Another ‘better way’ is to try to apply some objectivity to transfer dealings. We know very well that not all transfers are ideal: many/most rely on agents, and on relationships between several people, and it’s not a case of seeing player A and offering a fair price for him. As we see above, lots of transfers – most transfers? – are failures, and expensive ones at that.  There has to be a better way.  This can’t be all there is.

The trick would be then to try to improve your decision making, which is what most largish organisations that use money do.  For that you can either find people who are better at making decisions, or you can improve the quality of the decisions that current employees make.  Both, ideally!

This is where we are now, with Fulham (and many/most others) trying to apply a bit of rigour to their recruitment. This happened in baseball a few years ago, made famous by the book/film called “Moneyball” but beginning a long time beforehand.  I could give you a history but you don’t need that.  Suffice it to say that until a few years ago some teams had a tendency to value the wrong things in baseball players and to spend money accordingly.   That left inefficiencies that cleverer teams could exploit, although of course they had to do the other things like scouting well, too.  It was never one or the other.

Baseball is a different sport – people will point that out once in a while – and you can’t compare baseball and football. But this isn’t about taking baseball approaches into football, it’s – if I can be so bold here – it’s about science, about trying to understand more than is known now.  Mankind has a good track record of making surprising discoveries, e.g. harmful effects of smoking, the earth being round, the industrial revolution and where that’s taken us in 100 years, an understanding of the human genome… and so on. Point is, things look complicated until someone makes them less complicated.  Football really isn’t that complicated, although some have a vested interest in making it seem so.

At the moment football clubs throw money all over the place. In transfer fees and wages the cost of business as usual squad building is staggering. An analyst costs about what you’d pay in a week to a good player. Why wouldn’t you try to find efficiency by making use of data, information, etc?  Is the current approach working, really?

Back to Fulham. There is a concern that the manager is in some capacity being overruled by a mysterious American statistician in matters of player recruitment. Now, clearly this is a curious thing. What are we to make of the assertion?

a) that Fulham are blindly entrusting everything to an idiot with a spreadsheet
b) that the statistician has a role but it’s not that black and white.

Okay. What about this ‘overruled’ part?

a) that it didn’t happen
b) that it did happen: Slaviša Jokanović wanted a player but the analysis department said “no way”, Slaviša and walked off just like that.
c) that something happened but we don’t quite know what. Perhaps Jokanović wanted a player but the analytics team found a serious red flag (e.g. this kind of player has historically never done well in the Championship, perhaps he’s even something so banal as an injury risk, perhaps he just doesn’t look like good value). Perhaps there were other reasons.

We can’t really know though can we? Some seem quite quick to assume the worst, but is this really likely?

I don’t think so.  I suspect the Khans can see that English football is a wonderful thing, but realise that it is ripe for inefficiency finding.    Cost control is not an interesting matter but the days of buying players willy nilly on a manager’s say so then hoping for the best ought to be over.  No, you can’t quantify everything a player does on the pitch and make a value judgement, but you can try, eh?   And if you succeed there’s gold to be had.  If your competition continues to waste money, continues to make bad decisions, well, even if you only find a five point edge a season, that edge could be the difference couldn’t it?  Let’s not forget that the equivalent gains in player purchasing cost BIG money.  Ross McCormack cost 8 figures and might only be worth 5-6 points over an average player each season, after all.  So if you can find good players that others can’t see the rewards outstrip the costs by some way.   It’s worth a try.

We’ve been here before of course.  You don’t overrule your manager unless you have a really good reason.  You don’t not watch players.  You do use all available information intelligently to try to get better at what you’re doing.   That’s a laudable thing and should be encouraged, because it’s not an easy thing to do.  For that reason it won’t always go right but the alternative has been bad for a long time.  Everyone deserves better.  And again: why wouldn’t you try to understand more about how these inefficient processes are going wrong?  Why wouldn’t you try to get better?



Fulham go moneyballing for gold

Football and analytics fight!

This has been going on forever in baseball, so no shock to see it happening here, now, either.  Worse, much of what the likes of Bill James discovered in the 70s and 80s was more or less indisputable, but it still took until relatively recently for his ideas to take hold.  Now all baseball teams (it really is all now, I think) embrace analytics, looking for an edge anywhere they can find it.

Football is harder.  Anyone unconvinced with the whole notion will tell you that: instead of discrete batter v pitcher matchups, football is a fluid game with indefinite happenings.  Chain reactions abound. There’s more noise than… not noise.  It’s a minefield, it really is.  But still, you look for edges where you can find them, right? Better to spend £250k on a middle of the road midfielder from Slovakia than £2m for a middle of the road midfielder from Leeds.  If you can pull it off.

Anyway, much excitement on twitter over this recent piece.  I won’t go into the details, but what fascinates me is what the powers that be can have seen in Madl and Mattila in the first place.

Now, we can’t retro-fit these two at all.  The data that must be in use is not in the public domain as best I can tell, so we must go top-down (e.g. look at a team level).  I don’t think this is the worst idea, anyway: after all, a top down approach means you’re looking at what happened to the team the player played in.  It takes a brave man to see a poor defensive side and decide that there’s a centre-back in there who’s doing a fabulous job.


I can’t see anything.  Have a look at these numbers, which are the games Mattila played in before we signed him.


This is what I’m getting at.  Here we have a team that, in 2015, was beaten by five goals twice and four goals twice.  Now that could be a systematic failure from any number of perspectives, but from an analytics POV, what can you see in there that makes you think a defensive midfielder is worth a punt?  He’s making lots of tackles?  I bet he is! His team’s being attacked relentlessly.  He passes well?  Maybe, but if so he must be a lone beacon of positivity in what seems to be a very poor side.  We know, we think, that even the best players are only worth a few points over an average player a season, so it’s possible he has been playing brilliantly, but using a top-down viewpoint at least, it’s a mess, to the point where I’d be nervous about unpicking an individual’s contributions.

The sensible retort might be that the team has used several years of data, which I hope is the case.  The comeback might be that he’s bounced around from team-to-team for a while, only settling in his recent stint at Aalesund, which itself is confusing.  There must have been pedigree there or Udinese wouldn’t have bought him in the first place (they are scouting masters), but after that, nobody seems to have been convinced.  A true diamond in the rough if he works out.  From here, it’s hard to see.

Michael Madl is half-similar: he’s come from a team (Sturm Graz) that appears to have been comfortably top half for the last couple of seasons.  They’ve scored and conceded goals at a perfectly normal rate in the last couple of seasons.  So what do we take from that?


This uses standard deviations to unpick where a team’s strength lies.  I can see here that Sturm Graz have been a better defensive side than might initially have been guessed: they were a pretty good side in 2014-15, and much of that was because they had the second best defensive team in the league.  Now, sometimes there’s an alarm bell around this, because the attacking play isn’t all that.  What it could mean is that this is just a team that sets itself up defensively (e.g. keep men behind the ball even in possession): goals dry up and so any top-down measure will make defenders look good and attackers less so.   This could be what we see here, as the Sturm Graz games have been among the lowest scoring in the league for the last couple of seasons, implying more closed, cagey games.

All of which is a long way to say that I really don’t know.   Madl, I can see, maybe there’s a sniff of something, and if Fulham got Opta numbers to probe further maybe they did see that Madl’s leading a defence that is perhaps a bit better than average in Austria.  It’s a reach though.   As noted from the outset, it’s very hard to unpick an individual contribution from his team’s performance, and there’s nothing I can see (which doesn’t mean much, of course!) that suggests we might be on to some kind of dynamite.

The key here is scouting.  If the club have enough analytically to peer deeper, watch the player a few times, then that’s fabulous, and hopefully what’s happened.  Otherwise, well, your guess is as good as mine.

We do know that previous signings have had an analytical ‘calling card’, e.g. the key passing acquisitions of the summer, and to an extent Ream and Stearman doing their thing (what was it, blocks?  I can’t remember), so perhaps it’s as simple as that: they’ve found players who, in ways I can’t see, are statistical outliers, and, at lowish cost, have taken a punt.  Time will tell.

Roy Hodgson book now on Amazon


Still here.  I will write more soon.

I just wanted to give a heads up: my Roy Hodgson book is now available as a paperback on Amazon.  It’s a proper paperback format, and I’m pleased with how it’s come out.

The link’s here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Roy-Hodgson-Football-biography-Englands/dp/1499640773/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1454240532&sr=8-2&keywords=roy+hodgson

The initial self-published paperbacks sold out, so this is your chance.  I’ve re-read it, and I think it still stands up quite well.


Thoughts on the QPR thrashing

A win that raises all sorts of questions.

What is the modern Fulham? The team that crushed QPR 4-0? Or the team that has been beyond ordinary for as long as we can remember?

Realistically you have to err on the side of caution, but just as there were reasons to be negative before, there were plenty of reasons to be cheerful on Friday too.

I think this was a crucial win in this respect. Few of us, I suspect, felt that the team had this kind of performance in them. That being so, where did it come from?

1) Ryan Tunnicliffe is not as good a footballer as some of the recent centre-midfield candidates, but he has a role and he sticks to it. Without overplaying this, a few of us have been moaning about this for ever. Football is a team game and sometimes you need less talented players to make the overall unit function. Tunnicliffe showed glimpses of this in a couple of very disciplined and restrained performances under Renee Meulensteen, and it’s been pleasing to see him used now. So merely accepting the need for a player like Tunnicliffe feels like a big thing.

2) I recently read the latest Secret Footballer book, and there were a couple of interesting parts in particular. In one, the player – Dave Kitson we believe – talked about how fans are overly impressed by players who throw themselves around, but not by players who show real bravery, trying the difficult pass that has high rewards but which, when it’s not successful, leads to groans from the crowd. For whatever reason – and it might be just how QPR defended – the players seemed somehow bolder. I think it helps having a genuine playmaker like Jamie O’Hara in the side. O’Hara – and I was quite wrong about this – isn’t just about the spectacular for the sake of it. There’s an intelligence to his play that opens up opportunities. I think perhaps that confidence spreads to his teammates.

3) alright, let’s be honest, the back four is new and improved and this makes everyone else better too. Whatever the merits of those no longer playing, it must be said that Ream and Stearman have a steadying influence on the middle of the pitch, and the full-backs are on another planet altogether. James Husband looked good last year and has continued this. He just gets it. He seems – for this level – to have just the right kind of mentality for a full-back, good instincts, good decision making. The covering across in the second half, where he ended up sweeping up on the other side of the field, was a good example here. I don’t know how the Garbutt situation will play itself out but Fulham have the player they need, and while full-backs aren’t typically very exciting to those making transfer offers, we’ve all seen how hard it is to get good ones. Just make a deal, Fulham.

4) I don’t know if Ryan Fredericks can defend but if he can he’s too good for this level.

5) I confess to having had my doubts about Dembele. I thought I was seeing an age group bully, someone whose physical attributes made him a destroyer down the teams but unlikely to figure out the professional game. Of all our young players I was least impressed with him. Like all of us, I like to think I can spot a player, but clearly missed big here. He was immense on Friday and played an intelligent game in partnership with McCormack. And you can see plenty of room for improvement, too.

QPR were pretty awful but Fulham were excellent. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but just showing that we have this kind of performance in us is enough to bring about some optimism.

Reasons to be cheerful

I am miles behind on watching the games, but here are some reasons to be happy:

  1. I’m about halfway through Hull but it seemed immediately obvious to me that Hull are a Premier League team playing in the Championship.  Not literally a Premier League team, they’ve lost some players I imagine, but they had something about them that isn’t always evident at this level.  In that sense, losing there was rather like the old losing away in top division used to be: mildly disappointing but overwhelmingly the thing most likely to have happened.  Seen in that light, our start to the season isn’t maybe as bad as it felt at the time.  This said, I haven’t watched Huddersfield yet so there’s that.
  2. Being unbeaten in three games is a fine thing to happen.  Whatever the shortcomings of Kit Symons, teams playing with confidence can achieve a good deal.  I’ve long felt that the current squad is better than popularly realised; if they play without fear then there’s a chance to do something in this division.
  3. Particularly with Alan Curbishley sitting in his Motspur Park Volcano plotting devious things.  Look, I’m not saying he’s any kind of messiah, but he’s been around the game long enough to know what’s what.  He’s a bright man.  I think part of the frustration early in the season was a general feeling (I’m sorry for what I’m about to say) that Kit Symons might not have had the wherewithal to organise the team, to iron out failings etc.  But with Curbishley around we can feel more confident that the right things are being addressed in the right way.
  4. And we have new players.  I am perplexed that we still don’t seem to have the destroying midfielder we so badly need, but against that our midfield is full up and talented, so maybe we don’t need one.  We have decided that part of the issue with the defence is personnel and brought in some personnel who have a track record of performing.  As Ben Weeks noted on twitter, Ream and Stearman were both good statistically in the past, the latter I think particularly strong in blocking shots. And if there’s any single thing this team needs it’s someone to make opposing shots a little less straightforward.   It also adds to a bewildering collection of recent fans’ player of the year award winners, which suggests that the players we have are the kinds that supporters can get behind, but also who won’t shirk responsibility, this being a big part of fans’ evaluations, I suspect.  Which can only be a good thing.
  5. We’re probably okay then.  People want pace up front but I don’t think any team is ever ‘one player away’ from anything.  Dwight Gayle would have been lovely but his absence doesn’t change much, not really.  If the defence gets better, if O’Hara maintains what even I have to admit has been a scintillating start, and if Ross really does get to play centre-forward, I still think this team can contend.  I really do.

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.