Fulham faltering at worst possible time - Interview
Monday, 29th Jun 2020 20:02 by Clive Whittingham
Fulham were hoping to chase down the top two in the summer fixtures but have returned to action with two defeats without scoring, and have lost star striker Aleksander Mitrovic to a three game ban. We spoke to our old mate Konk, and Dan Smith from the Fulham Focus website.
How would you assess Fulham's season so far?
Konk: Underwhelming. Might sound a bit spoilt as we're fifth at the moment, but we've not been great to watch most of the time. We tend to play a very pedestrian game with inverted wingers, which doesn't seem to get the best out of the available players. It's all very one-paced and predictable - a big contrast to us at our best under Jokanovic, when Fredericks, Sessegnon and Targett provided so many opportunities after breaking at pace down the flanks, with Cairney and Johansen racing through the centre to support attacks. We scored 85 and 79 goals in the Championship under Jokanovic - at the moment we have 52 with seven games to go. We're still in with a shout of promotion, but I don't think many of us fancy our chances in the play-offs.
FF: Meh... It’s been a very strange season as a Fulham fan. It may come across arrogant or very demanding to be sat fifth and still feel very disappointed. We have plodded along, playing the most dire football. A complete contrast to the swagger we had under Jokanovic two years ago.
Tactically Parker’s inept, he doesn’t play to any of our key players strengths and quite frankly he is the most boring appointment we could have made. On paper, I would say that our squad looks better than it is, we have loads of big names who’ve been there and done it but they don’t fit into the same system. So as a unit they aren’t cohesive. It’s a group of individuals as opposed to a good team.
Never the less, I blame Scott Parker’s incompetence and feel that the only difference between us and the top three is that they have much better, more experienced managers. I still wouldn’t rule us out for promotion via the playoffs but even if we do go up, the fact a playoff final will be behind closed doors, it will be the most underwhelming promotion imaginable and I’d still want Parker to be replaced.
Fulham league results so far…
Given the big names that stuck around after relegation, is promotion the minimum expectation for Parker? How's he done and will he keep the job if he fails?
Konk: We're fourth, so he's not been a disaster, but we appear to be less than the sum of our parts. On paper, we have one of the best squads in the division - certainly offensively - but we're just flat. A few players have regressed, none look to have improved and whilst most fans were prepared to give Parker a chance, there aren't many indications that he's learning as he goes. The Khans have been prepared to sack managers in the past, so I guess it depends how we get on in the play-offs - assuming we finish top six. If we have a mare in the play-offs then I would expect him to go. Win promotion and I think they'll obviously stick with him, but I really don't like to think about how we'd get on in the Premier League.
FF: I feel like I answered this above. How’s he done? Enough. It’s one of those irritating scenarios where the writing is on the wall, but he we always seem to just do enough for him to appear like he’s doing well. But in my opinion, the reality is that with the likes of Mitro up top, we have players that can win games despite his management and keep us ticking over. Apparently we were the in-form team going into the break, which I found staggering. It just shows you how shit the division is, that we were doing the best from December to March. Which in a way adds to why I resent him as our manager. It’s not his fault that he was appointed but I feel this is the best possible opportunity we will ever get to go back up and with FFP it could be a long road back if we fail. So we’ve gambled on someone who had no experience and didn’t deserve the job when the likes of Chris Hughton were available. People moan that Hughton would bring boring football, well, nothing can be more boring that what we’ve seen this season.
Michael Hector a big boost in January, was enough done in that window? I know the recruitment has been dodgy for a while...
Konk: Defensively, Hector has been a big improvement at the back, but I think most Fulham fans would say we needed a specialist right back at the very least in January. Our owners are happy to spend money, but everything is done at the last minute and key requirements often go unaddressed. We sign everyone two minutes before the summer deadline and wonder why we always get off to a slow start. We don't seem to learn.
FF: The shame with this signing was that he’s been our player since deadline day in August but because we missed the cut off point by about five minutes, the signing wasn’t allowed to be completed until January. His impact since he was eligible to play has completely changed our season. He is the best centre back we’ve had since the days of Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes. If we’d had him from the start, I think it would have changed everything and we’d be sitting in the top two. Ironically the issue was keeping clean sheets, now Hector has rectified that (before lockdown anyway), the issue now is a lack of goals. It’s either Mitro or nothing which must be music to your ears since he’s suspended. I think the next most likely to score for us is the keeper from a goal kick. It was a really poor decision to not sign a backup striker. I have no idea who will play up front tomorrow but if it’s not a youth striker, it’ll be an unorthodox temporary striker playing out of position. So that’s the most glaringly obvious mistake recruitment have made, especially in January.
Summer Ins: >>> 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
Summer 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
Winter Ins: >>> Michael Hector, 27, CB, Chelsea, £5.31m >>> Ivan Cavaleiro, 25, CF, Wolves, £10.62m >>> Jordan Archer, 27, GK, Oxford, Free >>> Bobby Reid, 26, AM, Cardiff, £8.1m
Winter Outs: >>> Tayo Edun, 22, CM, Lincoln, Undisclosed
What have you made of the two lockdown games so far? Any other indications as to the state Fulham are coming back in?
Konk: I thought we were worth a point. We had lots of possession but generally passed the ball about slowly without creating many chances. Reid should have scored when he hit the bar, but otherwise Mitrovic was usually isolated up front. We had plenty of possession without doing much with it, which is pretty much how we've looked whenever I've seen us this season. Harrison Reed was probably our best player in his first game for about six months - Brentford found life easier once he'd gone off. Good to have him back from injury as he provides our defence with some much needed cover. Fitness wise, we've looked a bit sluggish in both games, but then we often looked that way before the shutdown. We had plenty of possession in the first 45 minutes against Leeds, but we're not a team that work keepers and Mitrovic aside, we're nowhere near clinical enough when we create openings or have a spell of pressure.
FF: We look lethargic, lacking in confidence, afraid to lose as opposed to trying to win. But up until half time in both games against Brentford and Leeds, we were the better team. It was deja vu to be honest. In both games, the opposing manager made tactical changes/ subs, it changed the game and Parker had no answer to it. Both teams also looked fitter than us, we tired towards the last 20 minutes in both matches.
Quite a difficult run in, particularly your away fixtures, do you think you'll make automatic and if not how much do you fancy Fulham in the play offs?
Konk: No chance of an automatic spot. Play-offs for us at best and I just don't see us going up. Most of the sides around the play-offs are pretty ordinary and I would fancy Brentford over anyone. They have a good record against us and have a bit of pace and precision up front. They're a well-run club who don't have the owner's son moonlighting as DOF whilst also running a wrestling company/show full-time in America.
FF: I don’t think the away factor is relevant anymore because they are all behind closed doors. So that’s helped our chances because those away games are tough going. The fact that we still have WBA to play gives me the tiniest glimmer of hope that second place is still just about possible. I can’t accept that Brentford are going to go up despite their impressive start to this mini season. I just refuse to believe they can do it. We also have to play Forest but if we are talking about chasing second, I don’t worry about them and I don’t think WBA are going to pull away like Leeds will. So I’d say we have to beat both yourselves and Birmingham on Saturday to keep this alive but if we do, you never know. It was never realistic to catch Leeds, they are the best team but I don’t think WBA are any better than us or Brentford.
On the other hand, if we don’t win either of our next two it could go the other way and we drop out of the top six altogether which would be a big failure. Ultimately, as long as we make the top six I don’t think it matters about the position for the playoffs. There’s little home advantage for third/fourth so that in itself has bought Parker more time to get this right. It’s similar to the WBA/ Darren Moore situation last season. They were fourth and sacked him with a few games to play once they knew automatics was out of the question. Maybe it baffled neutral fans but now that we are experiencing it with Parker, I can see why they did it.
Fulham’s remaining league games…
Player of the season candidates?
Konk: Probably Mitrovic: hard-working and as good as guaranteed 20+ goals at this level. Rodak and Reed have also been consistently good.
FF: Michael Hector for me, we’d be nowhere near the top 6 if he didn’t arrive in January. Mitro has 23 goals so he’s an obvious choice for most people. The keeper (Marek Rodak) has done well considering he’s quite young and managed to establish himself as our number one. He’s been worth a few points with crucial contributions this season. Nobody else has either played enough games or been good enough to get a mention.
Weak links in the side?
Konk: Hector aside, the defence isn't great. Joe Bryan is good with the ball, but can often be caught out of position or not tracking a run, Ream is increasingly wobbly, and Odoi isn't the answer at RB. Cairney isn't a weak link, but hasn't had a great season by his high standards, and I haven't warmed to Arter. Having seen what Knockaert was capable of when Brighton went up, and seen the same of Cavaleiro at Wolves, both have been a big disappointment. The system doesn't help them, but a lot more was expected in terms of goals, assists and excitement - Knockaert seems to nearly always choose the wrong option. Bobby Reid - not entirely sure what role he's playing a lot of the time and his finishing has been poor.
FF: Most of the goals we concede come down the left hand side. Joe Bryan is a decent left back going forward but he’s useless as a defender. Ream is the left sided CB and he is a big drop off in quality from Michael Hector alongside him. So the left half of our back four is very average defensively. After that, it’s the lack of goals. Other than Mitro and Abou Kamara (who are both unavailable tomorrow) nobody else in the team seems capable of scoring. We also don’t have any leaders or characters in the team. If we go a goal down, the whole teams’ heads drop. For a squad with so much experience of this division, their mentality has been very weak collectively. People blame Tom Cairney who isn’t a good captain but I don’t see any leaders in the team and that includes the management.
What are the consequences financial and otherwise if you don't make it?
Konk: Difficult to see Mitrovic staying, but we ought to get some big money for him. Can't see anyone else being too in demand and we have big wages, so could be a struggle on the FFP front. Last season of parachute payments, so things will be very tight. The Riverside development is well underway, our owner is worth a few billion, so no immediate worries in terms of ownership finances, but we really, really need to start operating like a serious football club, and get a DOF who knows the game rather than having the owner's son filling the role in a part-time capacity.
FF: Thanks to Mitrović’ goal return this season, he is still a very sought after striker and a Premier League team will take a punt on him. We will still be paying the price for the poor recruitment and money wasted from the £100 million we spent in the Premier League last season. So it’s likely that we will have to sell Mitrović in order to: cover next year’s chunk of that £100 million when it comes off the books; and make funds available to rebuild the squad because he’s the only asset we have.
The scary part is that it might work out cheaper to keep Parker in charge because he will be less demanding over a budget than a bigger name manager would. Realistically, we have one last chance next season by selling Mitrović and getting it right with the players we bring in. If we fail to invest the Mitro money wisely, I think we will become another Derby County and be trying to fight our way out of this division for the next decade.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords, @dannyboi_ffc, @Fulham_Focus
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