Contribution by Brian Gower
Hindsight is a wonderful thing! Had Fulham’s loyal fans known what replacing Jokanovic with Ranieri was going to bring, would it have been better to stick with the former, and given him the chance to turn things around?
Jokanovic brought a style of football to the Cottage last season that was admired by many football fans and the media throughout the UK, and the rest of Europe it seems.
Constant media publications suggesting the top clubs at home and in Europe were watching a young rising star in Ryan Sessegnon pushing his potential value to over £50m. His efforts and skills were on show week in and week out in the Championship, more so when he was allowed to vacate his full back role and push further upfield. He excelled when attacking and was scoring and assisting the goal tally frequently.
Tom Cairney the captain, was another massive part of Fulham’s second half remarkable climb up the table, and the scorer of the only goal when defeating Aston Villa at Wembley in the Play-Off Final. His value rocketed and was reportedly being watched by several Premier League teams.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, last season’s brilliant purchase from Newcastle spearheaded the attack and was finding the back of the net regularly, and with his commitment to the Cottagers soon became the fan’s favourite.
Alongside these wonderful players were Marcus Bettinelli, a young goalkeeper deemed good enough to be selected for an England squad. Kevin McDonald, a trusted central midfielder who was a rock, just in front of the back line of defence who seemed to be a calming influence on the players around him. Stefan Johansen, a talented midfielder that combined so well with the captain Cairney, and was often involved in the team’s goal-scoring. Tim Ream, a centre half that was calm at the back and Fulham’s Player of the Year and Denis Odoi who played alongside Ream in a good partnership.
After gaining promotion Fulham tried to persuade Southampton to part with on-loan full-back Matt Targett, who was not playing regularly under then manager Mark Hughes. This was a fatal error not to offer enough to keep his much-needed services. Ryan Fredericks another player that Fulham just let go as they could not agree to his wage demands. Tomas Kalas is another central defender that had many excellent games for Fulham who was overlooked when his loan period expired. Finally Aboubakar Kamara, a big and strong, fiery striker that often made defenders shudder when he was running at them.
A very good team, in the Championship, which we all knew needed strengthening to maintain a place in the world’s toughest footballing division, the EPL. This was handled terribly. 12 players in, with an outlay of over £100m, mainly spent on untested Premier League stock, and more loanees, who are hardly ever up to a fight. Nice skills and good reports from their respective countries are not enough in today’s top league. With the money rolling in through TV rights, every club can now afford a share of these type of players, and there are plenty to choose from due to the ridiculously high wages they demand and get.
Had Fulham kept the two full-backs, purchased a back-up for these and another centre-half, together with a ball winning midfielder and a striker to feed Mitrovic, would they be in the position they are now. Jokanovic was unhappy with not having a say in the purchasing of new players. He was right to be annoyed. A manager is assessed by his results, how can he guarantee success when he has no say in the players at his disposal? I must admit, I was one of those who thought he must be replaced due to the constant changing of his defence, no two games sticking with the same side, and no chance for a team to familiarise themselves with each other. In hindsight though, he must have been wondering how does he get this set of players to adapt to life in this League?
Sergio Rico was soon given the number one spot in goal, although I would have stuck with Bettinelli, a young goalkeeper that could at least catch a ball. He lost his place under Jokanovic it seems due to the fact his passing out to a defender, a tactic the boss insisted on at all times, was not good enough. Denis Odoi is and never was a full-back. He is a neat and tidy player in a central defensive partnership. Joe Bryan was an outstanding defender at Bristol City but in the Championship. He has been left looking a bit overwhelmed in the Premier League, and his crossing leaves a lot to be desired. The same can be said for Cyrus Christie and Timothy Fosu-Mensah who are not ready for this tough division. Christie would be better utilised in midfield.
As for the new players, goalkeeper Fabri looked out of his depth in the first two games of the season and has not played since. Maxime Le Marchand is surprisingly being selected in the defence on a regular basis. Maybe he would look better playing in the Championship, but just not up to the demands of the EPL.
Anguissa, who was injured form the start and has not had a real chance to prove why Fulham paid £30m for him. Seri, another highly rated midfielder who is good on the ball, but does not fit into the Fulham team with his style of play, and does not work hard enough in his defensive duties. Schurrle and Vietto are both competent enough players, but not in a team that is struggling and fighting against relegation. Not enough defensive work by either when they play, but look good going forward. Ryan Babel looked the part in his first couple of games, but as the team take defeat after defeat, he looks as if he wishes he had not come to this club.
The two bright sparks for Fulham of recent times has been the achievement of Calum Chambers. Moved from a defensive position to a midfield one seems to suit him well. He has shown a lot of courage and passion, not usually found in a player on loan to a smaller club. Alfie Mawson, who arrived injured, took a while to show why he was so highly regarded at Swansea. He had just began to prove his worth in the heart of the Fulham defence before injuring his knee while tying up his boots, and has been missed since.
Kamara’s temper became evident when he snatched the ball off Mitrovic to take a penalty and missed, sending Ranieri frantic. He then allegedly had a fight at the training ground and was banned by the club. Was this just a player showing his fight for the cause and maybe rebelling against Ranieri? Fulham need more players with a fighting spirit which has clearly been lacking this season, but it must be done on the field of play, not at the training ground.
Ranieri lost the home fans patience with his team choice. He has stated that players had been unwell or unfit. There seemed to be neither of those things with Tom Cairney who was once again left out of the team against Manchester United. Ryan Sessegnon looked fit enough too but only given a few minutes at the end. The real cause of Fulham’s problems laid in the game Le Marchand played, being mainly to blame for all of United’s goals and almost a fourth. He should have gone at half-time with Odoi moved back to central defence and Christie at right back. Sessegnon and Cairney should also have been brought on at the start of the second half in place of Schurrle and Vietto.
It looks inevitable that Fulham will be relegated this season. Time should be up for Ranieri the Tinkerman, who has tinkered too much with our team leading to such poor results.
Scott Parker who has been an inspiration in the dressing room according to reports that captain Tom Cairney has stated should be given the role to the end of the season. Let’s see what difference that would make. It surely could not get any worse!
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