I thought that I would freshen things up, and start a new blog focused on Fulham and football in general.
Insight, Polemics and Open Mindedness in Equal Measure
I thought that I would freshen things up, and start a new blog focused on Fulham and football in general.
From Opta on twitter:
“11 of the 12 goals that Clint Dempsey scored in the EPL this season were one touch finishes, the other was two touches”
I have thought that since Clint was moved back into midfield after half a season of leading the line, he has looked less effective in front of goal. He has definitely contributed in other ways but the goals dried up to a certain extent. Could this be to do with the fact he is such an excellent finisher rather than a dribbler/creator?
Dempsey’s position has always been a funny one, he is definitely a forward rather than a winger, but he is not a striker as such. With Zamora back, it will be interesting to see if Hughes tries to move Dempsey back up top alongside him, or possibly just behind him. What we do know is that with the right service, he is deadly with both feet and his head.
In an attempt to make sense of how Fulham are actually performing this season I thought that having a look back at the Fulham performances over the first third of the season, with the benefit of hindsight, might bring some answers.
Bolton 0-0 Fulham: A good draw against a team that have been doing very well this season under Coyle. Both sides had good chances and a draw was a fair result. Going away to Bolton is always tough so a draw is always a welcome result.
Fulham 2-2 Manchester United: A game we deserved to win. Two stonewall penalties denied before an unlucky own goal and a harsh penalty nearly put us out the game. Thank god for Brede Hangeland. Great performance all round.
Blackpool 2-2 Fulham: The first glimpse of the defensive frailties of the Mark Hughes system coupled with the first glimpse of Etuhu as a serious attacking threat. Blackpool played without fear at their first home game and could have won it. We were the part-poopers but a draw was a decent result all things concerned.
Fulham 2-1 Wolves: A good result but one that could shape our season for other reasons. The loss of Zamora has had a huge effect on our team. The blossoming partnership of Bobby and Moussa was cut short and we showed character to get the win.
Blackburn 1-1 Fulham: Another draw, but a solid point from a tough away fixture. Decent performance against a physical side although the lack of Zamora was very noticeable in terms of our attacking potency.
Fulham 0-0 Everton: A game we were lucky to draw. Everton had been on a poor run to start the season but thoroughly outplayed us. The first time we were outplayed this season.
West Ham 1-1 Fulham: This should have been our first away win in however many games. Fulham showed that they are a better side than west ham, but a draw was decent nonetheless.
Fulham 1-2 Tottenham: The first loss, and an unjust one at that. The descision to award the Tottenham goal when Gallas was clearly offside and interfering with play floored Fulham, and without Zamora there was no way back. We may not have deserved to win but a draw would have been fair.
West Brom 2-1 Fulham: A deserved win for West Brom who played Fulham off the park. Mitigating circumstances were that Fulham were without almost all of the first choice midfield.
Fulham 2-0 Wigan: A fine performance and should really have been more than 2-0. Wigan gave up with 20 mins to go but Fulham were excellent, controlling the midfield and running the game from start to finish.
Fulham 1-1 Aston Villa: A lucky draw at home courtesy of that man Brede Hangeland. Villa dominated with a young midfield full of energy then defended reseloutely. Hangeland saved us but the lack of pace and invention in midfield was worrying.
Chelsea 1-0 Fulham: A poor match that Fulham deserved to lose, but Chelsea were hardly setting the world alight. Again, the lack of options up front was very obvious.
Newcastle 0-0 Fulham: By all accounts a good result against a team full of confidence after a good start to the season.
Wins: Wolves (H), Wigan (H)
Draws: Bolton (A), Man United (H), Blackpool (A), Blackburn (A),Everton (H), Villa (H), Newcastle (A)
Losses: Tottenham (H), West Brom (A), Chelsea (A)
So what conclusions can we draw from this. Well, firstly, it is too early to start panicking. We have beaten two teams we would expect to beat at home and drawn away against some tough opponents. One of our losses was unjust and the others away from home so acceptable. Secondly, our defence seems to be as resolute as ever. We are yet to concede more than 2 goals in a game and we know that teams with good defences are very rarely the ones that get relegated. Thirdly, we desperately miss Zamora. With AJ back, things may change before january but we need at least one good striker in the january window. It is not that our midfielders turned forwards have not tried their best, just that we lack a genuine goal threat up front now that Zamora is not there. With a full compliment of strikers I would guess that we could have turned several of those draws into wins, and would probably have our much sought after first away win of the season.
Things may get worse before they get better, but we can hope for an improvement in the new year with further additions and the return of the mercurial Zamora. I am fully confident that Hughes can turn Fulham’s fortunes around, it may take time and this may not be a vintage season, but I am confident in the ability of Hughes to move us onwards and upwards.
I have always loved Italian football. I loved the fact that Inter won the Champions League this year (effectively) with one of the best defensive displays of the last decade against one of the best teams of all time. I also enjoy supporting the team that everyone loves to hate at the world cup: the Azzurri. Why do I enjoy this? Furbizia.
I have never been a particularly good footballer in skill nor athleticism, but I have always had a good footballing ability to read the game and a decent level of intelligence that allows me to be more canny with how I deploy my (rather limited) resources. This is where Furbizia comes in. Simply put, it is the ‘art of guile and cunning’, a way to help get the mental upper hand in football. Over on footballitaliano.co.uk there is an excellent article detailing exactly what Furbizia is and how it influences the game:
Furbizia is something very different. Firstly, it is something which takes place only and exclusively on the football pitch. The word ‘furbizia’ itself means guile, cunning or astuteness. It refers to a method which is often (and admittedly) rather sly, a not particularly by-the-book approach to the performative, tactical and psychological part of the game. Core to furbizia is that it is executed by means of stratagems which are available to all players on the pitch, not only to one team. What are these stratagems? Here are a few: tactical fouls, taking free kicks before the goalkeeper has finished positioning himself, time-wasting, physical or verbal provocation and all related psychological games, arguably even diving.
An interesting concept that is very evident in Italian football. Many call it cheating but I believe it is an art and style that helps to define Italian footballing philosophy and adds flavour to the game.
How is this relevant to Fulham? On Saturday, Fulham were subject to some of the most cynical football known to man sending the messageboards into meltdown and myself into a frenzy of irritation at the match. Over at Craven Cottage Newsround, Rich offers both sides of the argument as to whether what Wolves were doing was wrong or not, and whether as fans we have the right to get upset. Timmy at The Offside also threw some light on the situation by arguing that Wolves are not a dirty team. Were Wolves employing the tactics of furbizia or is that far too kind?
If we look at the footballitaliano article it discusses the use of tactical fouls as part of furbizia and as part of a larger tactical game plan. There can be no doubt that Mick McCarthy purposely instructed Wolves to play this kind of game but the problem with wolves approach was simply that they were not very good, nor very subtle at it. footballitaliano describes their failure perfectly:
As with all matters in sports, there are variations to how well all this can be performed. Anyone can provoke an adversary, but it takes real guile (real furbizia) to find the weakest links in the other team’s psychology, then wear them out and bite them until something or someone gives in – all without ever breaking a single rule in the book of football.
Wolves simply provoked rather than really found the real weak links in the Fulham team. They also did not have the technical skill to back up the tactics they were employing, rather using their cynical style of play to launch a series of (admittedly dangerous) counter-attacks during the game. The real problem on the day was not Wolves rather basic furbizia tactics but the totally inept performance of Phil Down, the man in the middle of the park. If he had nipped Wolves’ obvious fouling in the bud early on then Fulham would have run out comfortable winners. As it was, he failed miserably and created a hostile environment for himself and the Wolves team (albeit one that I found surprisingly enjoyable!).
Ultimately the ‘dark arts’ in football can add a value to the game but the rather cheap and lazy ‘imitation furbizia’ that Wolves attempted turned what could have been an interesting game into one that has been brought into disrepute.
A crazy game that Blackpool were unlucky to draw, but a result that should please the Fulham faithful. After the highs of Wednesday night it was tough to see Fulham a goal down but pleasing to see that the resilience that was shown against Manchester United was still evident. For me, this game really gave us some clues of how Mark Hughes wants his side to play and what we can expect to see in the future.
The game was played at a frantic pace, Blackpool pressurising Fulham all over the pitch and really playing up to the crowd, feeding off their energy. Blackpool had the majority of the ball and were passing about nicely, although not creating many clear cut chances. After having goal correctly disallowed, Blackpool went behind. Dembele was put through on the right wing and beat his man with an excellent cross, nodded in by the mercurial Bobby Zamora. Blackpool were not disheartened and finished the half well, out passing Fulham, but again failing to look particularly dangerous up front.
The second half continued at the same frantic pace with Blackpool really pushing Fulham. When Zamora came off Fulham lost some of their tactical identity and it was not long before the breakthrough came. Luke Varney caused problems up front, before getting a shot off that was smashed into the top corner by the hapless John Paintsil (who had the worst game I have seen from an RB at Fulham in a good few seasons). With Fulham rocking, Blackpool capitalised with an excellent goal. A poor pass from John Paintsil was intercepted and Luke Varney was put through; he made no mistake with an assured finish. At this point it looked as though Blackpool would put Fulham to the sword but they sat back slightly and allowed Fulham back into the game. It didn’t look like Fulham could create anything without Zamora but after Blackpool gave the ball away, Moussa Dembele (who was the best player on the pitch) hit a slide-rule through ball for Dickson Etuhu to latch on to. Etuhu finished with a deft chip over the keeper and looked comfortable doing so, which surprised me to say the least. Looks like we might have a player on our hands.
After that the game fizzled out as both sides settled for a draw. Fulham relieved not to have thrown away too many points but disappointed at not capitalising on their early lead, Blackpool happy for the point but disappointed not to have had all three. Looks like we may have to wait a while for our first away win…
So Mark Hughes has wasted little time bringing in some new faces and start to mould the squad in his image. Lets go through the signings:
Moussa Dembele (£5m, AZ Alkmaar) – Hughes’s first signing in the transfer window and one that has already got people excited. Dembele made his debut against Man Utd and looked completely comfortable, especially since he had played less than 90mins is pre season. We got a second look at him on his full debut against Port Vale and he looked excellent. Powerful runs were matched with excellent awareness and some great distribution. Dembele notched up his first goal too, a cracking drive for the edge of the area which snuck inside the left hand post. It is early days but Dembele is already looking like a bargain at £5m.
Rafik Halliche (£1.6m, Benfica) – A slightly left field signing but one that had been on the back-burner for a while with Halliche training with the Fulham squad. Halliche spent last season on loan at Portuguese side Nacional and finding his opportunities limited at Benfica decided to try his luck at Fulham. He had an excellent world cup and Hughes has seemed impressed with his performances in training. I am sure he is a backup for Hughes and Hangeland, but it is always good to have cover.
Carlos Salcido (£2m, PSV) – Signed today, Salcido is a left back by trade and comes in either as deputy to Paul Konchesky or as a replacement, depending on who you believe. Like Halliche, Salcido had an excellent world cup. He had fallen down the pecking order at PSV and had been looking to move on. Salcido appears to be a quality player and it will be good to have some cover at left back (finally!).
With the potential for new signings over the next few days, these really are exciting times for Fulham under Mark Hughes!
The Mark Hughes press conference on Tuesday brought a degree of closure to the last few months for Fulham. Finally a new man was officially in place, ready to help everyone look forward to the next season. Of course, the press conference also helped to drag up what some would consider ‘unfinished business’. I am of course referring to the comments of Mohamed Al-Fayed on the subject of Roy Hodgson.
“This other guy let us down and just walked away. But we have a nice guy now. Don’t mention Roy Hodgson any more.
“He (Hughes) is the man in charge. He’s much better than the previous one. I am sure he’s going to do a great job. He knows what he’s doing. Fulham’s a wonderful club.
“There are no complications, no bureaucracy here. I am sure he will deliver. I’ve given him £50 to buy a new striker.
“This guy (Hodgson), after we put him where he is now, he took advantage. But I’m sure he’s (Hughes) going to win us the championship.
“We gave him all the support, we believed in him and he just let us down. It’s no problem because Mark is much better. He has a great team and we had some fantastic results, but this guy (Hodgson) after we put him where he is now, took advantage.”
Not the most flattering stuff from Al-Fayed there. Many fans were quick to jump to his defence, saying that he has done more for Fulham than Hodgson ever could of. Whilst this is undoubtedly true, I cannot back MAF with these comments. Hodgson was a faithful servant to Fulham. He should be considered as one of the most successful and popular managers who have had the delight of managing Fulham.
The sad thing for me is not the loss of Hodgson but the response to his departure by some fans. There is a section of Fulham support who are acting like children saying that Roy has gone back on his word etc etc. Hodgson left for a bigger club, a club in a position of relative distress. Another challenge for Hodgson, similar to the one he took on at Fulham. I can’t bring myself to blame him in any shape or form. He did not ‘string Fulham along’ nor stab us fans in the back/heart. He took a great job offer and a shot at footballing immortality at Liverpool. After his nomadic managerial career who would begrudge him that? I hope that he is a sucess at Liverpool (as long as we do the double over them) and gets the plaudits that he deserves.
As for the rest of us it is time to move on. We should all take a step back like Jake Gittes in Chinatown and remember what we are dealing with here. This is the business of football. Loyalty is a nostalgic premise which simply no longer exists (if it ever really did, as people wish to believe it did). If Hughes is successful at Fulham over the next few years he will surely move on to a bigger club. When this happens, I will thank him for his success at Fulham and move on. Because after all, It’s Chinatown.
So after weeks of speculation regarding the vacant managers position at Fulham, Mark Hughes has been unveiled as the new gaffer on a two year contract.
My instant reaction is one of relief combined with the excitement that a new managerial appointment brings.
What can we expect? Well to a certain extent it is a case of wait and see. New managers bring new players and new ideas to a club. I cannot pretend to be an expert on Hughes tactics/playing style but his managerial record is certainly impressive. With Wales, Hughes was on the verge of qualification to Euro 2004, beating Italy twice in qualification (much to my chagrin). At Blackburn, Hughes turned around a side destined for relegation and got them into Europe (sound familiar?). Success at Blackburn meant that when Sven Goran Eriksson was fired from Man City, Thaksin Sinawatra came calling. His tenure at Man City ultimately ended in disappointment in rather harsh terms having not lost a game all season.
As a personality I won’t pretend that I am a massive fan. To put it plainly he is a moaner and a rather sore loser, which is something that is a major difference from the previous regime. I was always a huge fan of the Hodgson approach to the media and not the biggest fan of Hughes’. However, if Hughes starts to deliver results one can hardly criticise how he handles the media. To put a positive spin on Hughes’s attitude, it is the attitude of a winner. He has a fire in his belly and in all probability a chip on his shoulder since his exit from Man City. A manager who shows real ambition is always a bonus and I am sure that he will be working his hardest to achieve what I believe to be his ultimate goal, replacing Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
Overall I am pretty pleased with how the Fulham managerial search has turned out. Hitzfeld would have been the standout appointment but that was always unlikely to happen. I think that Jol and Hughes are very much on a par so or new manager is not in any way a step down after the public chase of Jol. Sparky has a lot to live up to following in the footsteps of Roy Hodgson but I am sure he is up to the test. Whatever happens, I am sure the coming season will be interesting.
Well that ended rather abruptly! After a week of careful negotiation, Ajax have finally put a stop to the deal.
Or at least that is what Fulham are telling the media. Ajax claim that Jol wants to stay. Who knows what happened, but there is little point discussing it now. However frustrated we as fans feel, I am sure Alistair Mackintosh and the rest of the board are even more so.
Who is next? To be frank, nobody knows. I am sure that Fulham have a shortlist and I am also sure that there will not be a rushed appointment of someone unsuited to the club. I am still championing Vahid Halihodzic but he doesn’t even appear to be in the frame.
Whatever happens in the next few weeks I am sure the Fulham board will make a sensible appointment. MAF appears to want a high profile manager and he is a man who usually gets what he wants.
Although I have as much of an idea as the papers as to who will be managing Fulham next season (read: none at all) lets have a look at the candidates, or at least the ones that I consider serious candidates.
The Early Favourite – Sven Goran Eriksson. Has been touted by almost all papers as the successor to Roy Hodgson. As has been mentioned on other blogs Sven would represent continuity going forward. He learnt from Hodgson and plays a very similar style, albeit a slightly more attacking one. Opinion amongst the fans seems to be split here, some fans worried that he is a mercenary who will try to suck Fulham dry whilst others see his outstanding track record at club level and his potential appointment as a massive step forward for the club. I am very much in the latter group. For me, Sven would represent a coup for the club. I am not expecting to be challenging for Europe, but Sven would consolidate Fulham further, maybe bringing in more flair and I would expect Fulham to comfortably steer clear of relegation. Will he come? Is he actually even in the running? Who knows, but I would be delighted if he was appointed.
The Safe Pick – Alan Curbishley. Greeted with derision by the vast majority of Fulham fans, Curbishley would be the safe pick. He has an excellent record in the premier league with both Charlton and West Ham and would steady the ship. Again, I would expect Curbishley to help steer Fulham clear of relegation next season. Whilst not the most inspiring pick, he would undoubtably be good for Fulham and my Charlton supporting friends cannot say enough good things about him. The biggest obstacle to Curbishley coming to Fulham however, is his relationship with several key players. He has a rocky relationship with both Konchesky and Murphy so this move seems unlikely to me.
The Young Manager – Mark Hughes. Not exactly inexperienced but one of the youngest potential candidates. An excellent manager at Blackburn, Hughes was unlucky at Man City. Whilst there is no doubting his credentials as a manager, he is probably my least favourite manager personality wise, too often moaning in post game interviews and ungracious in both victory and defeat. I am sure that he could take the club forward but I just can’t see this coming off. Not only does Hughes come with a large entourage but I can see his demands being fairly stringent in terms of his wage and guarantees over the transfer budget.
The International Manager – Slaven Bilic. This would be the adventurous pick. Has a good record with Croatia but has very little managerial experience at club level. He would certainly be an exciting pick and Fulham would play more expansive football. It was rumored that he was poised to take over before Coleman took over, but that never materialised. Brave pick, but fortune often favours the brave.
The Wildcards – Ottmar Hitzfeld and Vahid Halilhodzic. These are the guys that I would love to see. Hitzfeld is one of the most successful club managers of all time. For me he would be a class appointment and show a real statement of intent by the club. He is currently with Switzerland but with a few years until the next tournament he may be looking for a new challenge. Halilhodzic is my preference. He has not even been mentioned as of yet, but he would be a very Hodgsonesque appointment. He has had lots of success with clubs a similar size to Fulham (Lilles and Rennes) but has struggled over the last few years in the wilderness. He made a comeback as the Ivory Coast manager but political rangling got him fired 4 months before the World Cup. Halilhodzic is experienced and out of contract, two things that Al-Fayed seems to prize above other things.
Now that I have laid out some of the options for the vacant managerial position, expect someone completely different to step into the breach!