Status Quo: Part 1

Slavisa Jokanovic and Fulham head into a season-defining final week of the transfer market…

So lately, I’ve kept my mouth shut with regards to the current “crisis” that is ongoing at Fulham (unless you follow me on Twitter) between Slavisa Jokanovic and Craig Kline, Fulham’s… data analyst? Statistician? Transfer man? Who knows.

An excellent article emerged in the Telegraph by Sam Wallace, explaining Fulham’s new transfer system, implemented in January. No doubt you’ve read it, but I’ll summarise. Frustrations came out from Slav after last Saturday’s draw to Cardiff because Andreas Pereira wasn’t “not good enough” but because Kline didn’t have enough data. Fulham’s system is known as “both boxes checked”, where the player signed must fit both traditional scouting methods as well as the statistical methods that Kline employs. Richard Stearman is a signing that didn’t tick the stats box, prompting unhappiness from the American contingent. Nonetheless, this is the system employed at Fulham now, regardless if it is liked or not by Slav.

It’s easy to understand Slav’s frustrations on that Saturday. He’s not getting the players who he feels would benefit the team in Almen Abdi and Pereira (although I do suspect Jozabed was one of Slav’s recommendations given his scouting in Spain during the summer break) and just watched Fulham have a dreadful opening 30 minutes in the second half. The squad is still thin and needs reinforcements (which are being brought in).

But here’s my point. Fulham’s approach is sensible and right. Ted Knutson, formerly of Brentford fame and a notable football “statshead”, states that while Fulham’s approach is going to make them miss out on burgeoning youth players like Pereira and Tammy Abraham, they’re ultimately limiting their chances of players they sign being a “miss”, like the Telegraph article states on Stearman. And this is fine simply because we (and the Khans) can’t afford to keep screwing up big time in the market, as we have done for the past 2–3 years. Giving Magath complete control on everything was stupid, yes yes. Mike Rigg’s basic tactic of signing other championship club’s POTY’s didn’t pan out very well (apart from Tom Cairney) and signing average championship players like Andy Lonergan and Jazz Richards isn’t a pathway back to the Prem (unsurprisingly). The club has needed players of good quality badly since our relegation who are up for a promotion dogfight and the Khans can’t do an “Aston Villa” and throw cash around due to FFP, especially on players who aren’t up to the standard. Hence, an approach that is varying and balanced (although communications really do need to be improved between Kline and Slav). I do feel a bit sorry for Richard Stearman for what’s written in that Telegraph article. He’s clearly a good guy and did a great job captaining the team against Boro. But he had a dreadful last season and his purchase and then performance probably justifies Kline’s system. The American contingent foresaw something like this occurring with Stearman and, as stated before, we can’t afford to make mistakes like him and have poor performance again for a third season running.

Does this approach have its flaws? Probably. But look at the table. The team is unbeaten in 6 and looks confident in defence for once in it’s life, while also being a threat up front (still waiting for that striker or 2, Fulham). The recruitment this summer has coherence and structure to it for once, something we haven’t seen since, what, the Hodgson days? All of our signings actually look like they could be contributors to the team’s success this year, rather than 1 or 2 like years past.

So look. Let’s get behind the team and Slav. Slav obviously has frustrations, he’s a competitive guy and wants to win. The clubs bringing in players for him and we should be set to compete for at least a top 10 finish for this year if we are as good as we have played in the first 4 games. We’ve got Blackburn away on Saturday (some might say an easy game) and a real chance to go unbeaten in August, which would be phenomenal, given what’s transpired in the past. So, let’s get behind the club, because things are changing and for the better.

Some Quickfire Thoughts (And a Question)

  • Credit where credit is due. Fulham played superbly in the second half to come back and win against Middlesbrough in the EFL Cup, deservedly so. One play stood out for me however: Boro were passing amongst themselves in a late period of the game (I forget), searching for an opening while switching play repeatedly before ultimately getting frustrated and attempting a wayward through ball, resulting in a goal kick to Fulham. After seeing a defensive nightmare for the past 4 years, that felt very satisfying to watch.
  • Neeskens Kebano and Ragnar Sigurdsson are Fulham’s two latest purchases. I’m not going to lie and say I know something about Kebano but by all accounts, tricky winger types are exactly the type of player Fulham need. Ragnar Sigurdsson looks to be an excellent acquisition judging by his Euros performance and a real coup for the club. Truly exciting times at Fulham if we can attract this calibre of player to the Championship. Stefan Johansen of Celtic also seems to be in the running for the next one across the line.
  • Soooooo… What does Nikolay Bodurov do now?