Inconsistent Fulham plagued by old problems - Interview
Thursday, 21st Nov 2019 10:30 by Clive Whittingham
Fulham have been able to blow away the likes of Millwall and Reading, but lose to Barnsley and Stoke in an inconsistent start hampered by poor defending and a staid style of play, according to our regular Craven Cottage contributor Konk.
You went up to the Prem with such a lovely team and highly sought after manager – more a Premier League team than a Championship team so the commentary cliché went – and then completely ballsed it up. How and why?
A lot of our success had come from Ryan Fredericks and Matt Targett getting forward quickly from the full-back positions, with Fredericks in particular a great outlet with his pace. Lots of balls cut back into the box or the edge of the box, with Mitrovic, Cairney and Johansen getting on the end of them. Fredericks went to West Ham on a free, and Targett returned to Southampton, as we weren’t prepared to spend the £16m+ they wanted.
McDonald, Johansen and Ream had all been excellent during the promotion season, but many thought they’d struggle to adapt to the Premier League. We then signed an injured Alfie Mawson, who even now looks pretty pedestrian and ponderous, and big money signings like Schurle, Seri and Anguissa, none of whom came anywhere close to justifying their fees or wages. Neither keeper we signed was an improvement on Bettinelli either.
The defence would have been ropey anyway, but injuries and poor form meant we never had a settled back line at the start of the season, results were terrible and the whole squad was bereft of confidence. Jokanovic was unable to tighten things up at the back, Schurle and Seri began to look like they didn’t care, and whilst many including myself would have kept Jokanovic on to see what happened this year, it wasn’t a shock when he left. Ranieri was an unmitigated disaster.
You’ve spoken before about the club’s recruitment, and role of the chairman’s son in this, and that really seemed to come home to roost last year – you took a decent enough side up and then went on a QPR-style trolley dash. What did you make of all that? Has the situation improved?
No, it hasn’t improved. Tony Khan is probably a lovely, talented bloke, but he shouldn’t be the director of football at Fulham. He has no background in the game – not even a lifetime of watching. He’s also based in the US and working on setting-up and establishing a wrestling business. So, he’s a part-time DOF too. This summer we did great business offensively, with Mitrovic and Cairney signing new deals, and bringing in Knockaert and Cavaleiro on loan with the option to buy. However, we once again failed to address our defensive problems. I think most Fulham fans recognised a need to bring in a RB and a CB with pace, and ideally an upgrade on Bettinelli in goal. We failed to do any of that by deadline day, although Michael Hector has been signed and will be available from January.
Ins: >>> Michael Hector, 27, CB, Chelsea, £8m >>> Josh Onomah, 22, CM, Spurs, Part Exchange >>> Harry Arter, 29, CM, Bournemouth, Loan >>> Bobby Reid, 26, AM, Cardiff, Loan >>> Anthony Knockaert, 27, RW, Brighton, Loan >>> Ivan Cavaleiro, 25, CF, Wolves, Loan >>> Harrison Reed, 25, CM, Southampton, Loan
Outs: >>> Ryan Sessegnon, 19, LB/LM, Spurs, £24.3m plus Josh Onomah >>> Jean Michael Seri, 27, CM, Galatasaray, Loan >>> Ryan Babel, 32, RW, Galatasaray, Free >>> Rui Fonte, 29, CF, Braga, Free >>> Marcelo Djalo, 25, CB, CD Lugo (Spain), Free >>> Lazar Markovic, 25, RW, Released >>> Berti Schotterl, 24 GK, Lok Leipzig, Free >>> Andre Anguissa, 23, CM, Villarreal, Loan >>> Fabri, 31, GK, Mallorca, Loan
How’s the fan relationship with the owner, given everything that’s gone on?
Complex. Shad Khan is paying for a new Riverside stand and has made money available to managers, so no complaint in terms of the owner’s financial commitment, but it’s difficult not to think that he’d have seen a far better return on his investment if he hadn’t had his son running the show. Would Tony Khan be offered a similar role by any other club in English football? Probably not.
Scott Parker, did well picking up the pieces in the dog days of last season, but permanent? What did you make of the appointment and how’s he doing?
I think the broad consensus was that he did okay last season, but there wouldn’t have been an outcry if the job had gone elsewhere. Last year’s squad was so unbalanced and the season so grim, that it would be difficult to get a proper idea of anyone’s potential in those circumstances. I was pretty neutral on the appointment and remain so, but in the absence of any obvious, available, standout alternatives, I would give him the season to see how he gets on. This season, some who questioned his appointment argue that their reservations have been borne out by some turgid, pedestrian performances, with the same defensive frailties, whilst most would like to see more dynamic displays, and share the same concerns, but would point to the DOF’s role in our recruitment/non-recruitment, and Parker having to work within those constraints.
Fulham league results so far…
How do you assess Fulham’s start to the season?
A bit underwhelming - 26 points from a possible 48 and losses against Barnsley and Stoke. Fortunately, there don’t seem to be any outstanding sides in the division this season, so we’re only seven points off the lead, five points off second and two points of a play-off spot. We’ve played some good stuff at times, but whilst we’re recording insane amounts of possession, a lot of that is our two CBs endlessly passing the ball back and forth on the edge of our box. With the exception of the odd game, it’s often been a bit dull.
Stand out players and weak links in the side?
At this level, Mitrovic and Cairney stand out, although Cairney seems to increasingly frustrate a section of our support due to a perceived lack of heart/effort when things aren’t going well. Cavaleiro and Knockaert have scored some great goals, but maybe not played to their full potential yet. With weaknesses, there’s probably room for improvement with most of the squad at the moment, but the defence as a whole, are a bit of a cause for concern.
Is the plan to spend again in January and try and force you over the promotion line back into the Premier League riches? Any names being rumoured and linked for Jan? What’s needed to get you there?
Hector is eligible from January and should be an improvement at CB, but then again, we thought that with Mawson, so you never know. I would like to see us sign a keeper and a RB if things haven’t improved with either position by then. Not sure we’ve been linked with anyone yet, but if we don’t address the defence then we’re going nowhere.
Do you think you’ll get promoted? What are the consequences if you don’t?
I was quietly confident at the start of the season, but we just don’t seem to have found our rhythm yet. If Mitrovic stays fit, we’re almost guaranteed goals, but we really need to start getting at teams and putting them under pressure rather than fannying about for the sake of it. If Hector makes an immediate positive impact, then I’ll go for third or fourth. Consequences wise, we’d probably lose our better players, but I don’t think we’d be facing a meltdown. Pretty sure Khan would like us back in the Premier League by the time our expensive new stand opens, though.
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