Cutting Out the Heart of the Matter

Discussion in 'Fulham FC News and Notes' started by BarryWhite, May 16, 2013.

  1. BarryWhite

    BarryWhite Well-Known Member

    Sep 24, 2011
    Newburgh, IN
    Call it a retrospective, a benediction or even self-flagellation if you like but since I couldn’t find the will to look forward to the Swansea match I thought I would go through the exercise of looking back and evaluating the season that for all intents and purposes has been put to rest.

    My expectations coming into the season were not overly high to begin with given the departures of Dempsey, Dembele and Murphy and no obvious like for like replacements incoming. So when I say that the club has underperformed to the level that I expected it is a bit of a damning statement because the bar was not set terribly high to begin with. The question for me is with Fulham sitting just above relegation and in fifteenth place do I believe the club underperformed or did they meet that low bar of expectation I began the season with? Part one of that soul searching question begins with an evaluation of the Board.

    For me the Board holds the purse strings and should get a majority of both the credit and blame for what happens in the transfer market. They set the policies, sign the contracts and go and get or don’t go and get the players for the positions the manager identifies as areas of weakness. I know the manager plays a part in identifying and even drawing interest from players but on the whole this responsibility seems to be a matter that is in the Board’s hands.

    Complain all you like about Martin Jol and his coaching abilities or lack thereof but to begin an honest evaluation of the seasons turmoil’s I needed to try to come to grips with what the Board did to and for Martin Jol, the squad and the fans with their transfer market decisions. In a way when I start with what the Board has and has not done in the transfer market I almost have a sense of compassion for Jol. Especially when I hear fans vent their frustration on him for tearing apart a settled squad that had performed so admirably over the past few seasons. I believe that hard truth is that Jol was left was a severely diminished squad by the Board and expecting anything other than diminished results this season was a bit unrealistic.

    I have throughout the season pointed to our weakness in the middle of the pitch as my major source of aggravation with the club itself. Repeatedly and openly this season Martin Jol has lamented the losses of Dempsey and Dembele and bemoaned the absence of a creative central midfielder from his stable of horses to ride. In part I believe he did so to publically air his grievances with the Board. I am starting this analysis with a presumption that Jol privately conveyed his thoughts that our central midfield and scoring needed shoring up along with other squad weaknesses that need to be addressed by the Board. Based on that presumption the first question for me to consider is did the Board provide Martin Jol with a squad comparable to the prior season? The answer is a resounding no.

    I don’t expect the club to splash out twenty million pounds or more every time a window opens but there are times when critical decisions have to be made and for me the Board floundered here in the offseason. Why? It was their allowance of the heart of Fulham’s squad to be cut out with no transplant plan in place which leaves us with far too many critical positions filled with patches and plaster. One of the main reasons Fulham achieved a stable table status across the past few seasons in my opinion is because Fulham achieved a stable roster with their core group of players that were the backbone of the starting eleven. For that stability to continue the Board needed to have responsible spending plan in place to replace these players. Not a Champions League budget or even a Europa League budget for that matter but a responsible spending plan that recognizes who are key players are and plans for their departure. Roster turnover is to much a part of the game today to believe a full core group of players is going to continually sign contract renewals at Fulham or not suffer the inevitable decline of age thus requiring a certain level of spending over and above the norm on occasion.

    During the 2011-2012 season Fulham had seven field players that made twenty-five or more Premier League appearances. Included in the seven were a center back, two central midfielders, an attacking midfielder and a goal scorer. If you exclude the attacking mid the other four started at least thirty-three matches. That is a dedicated spine of players on the pitch in key positions working together consistently throughout the season. During the 2012-13 six field players managed twenty-five or better starts but not a single one was a central midfielder and only three players managed better than thirty starts with one of those being a right back. No spine, no organization and truth be told very little fault for Martin Jol to take in this matter since the cupboard was left barren over the summer.

    I suppose the Board and Jol’s plan was for Diarra to replace Danny Murphy’s thirty-six appearances and if so on face value who could fault them but Danny Murphy had a competent back-ups in Diarra and Sidwell who were promoted to a starters without proper replacements. Some will say it was not the Board’s fault that Moussa Dembele left at the stroke of midnight but Moussa had a competent back up in Dickson Etuhu who was allowed to leave without replacement. Instead of finding another Steve Sidwell and Dickson Etuhu Fulham’s midfield gaps were filled with Girogious Karagounis and a defender in Chris Baird. In place of a wily, string-pulling Premier League vet, Fulham’s most dominant player in the middle of the pitch and three competent substitutes Martin Jol was left with two starting central midfielders who were limited to twenty starts between them in the prior season, an aging and out of condition last minute replacement who was not in the squad or the league the season prior and a defender who would be pushed into emergency duty to start the season. Then in January he was thrown a couple of loanees to try and cover the cracks. Of the midfielders who started more than six matches Sidwell and Baird averaged better than one league point per match per start with Karagounis and Diarra averaging slightly less than one point per start and Enoh barely registering on the meter.

    Whatever else the Board did or didn’t do it is certain they gave Jol no spine to build play off of. I will contend that the addition of Dejagah and Berbatov was meant to offset the loss of Dempsey and the Board should be given full marks for adding Riether as well but you only needed to be slightly less than blind to recognize what Fulham had lost in the middle of the pitch could not be made up for by those the Board’s summer additions.

    When all is said and done the Board probably deserve no better than a C- or D for their handling of the 2012-2013 transfer windows. If Fulham are to better their season next year the Board will need to do a better job of signing players to recreate the backbone of the team that saw Fulham achieve a steady league finish. Somewhere in their budget I hope there is room for a center mid to partner with Sidwell and a couple of backups if not better and it would not hurt to find a second defensive back that can partner with Hangeland on a regular basis throughout the season.

    Up next when I have the time will be Martin Jol and the squad.
  2. HatterDon

    HatterDon Moderator

    Mar 18, 2006
    Peoples Republic of South Texas
    As always, a compelling read. I've been tempted to drop the shoe and give a season long rating, but the heart just isn't there after this disgusting end-of-season run. How we went from a strong, competent, disciplined, and talented squad to an absolute shambles in one season amazes me. It also saddens me no end.
  3. nevzter

    nevzter Well-Known Member

    Mar 5, 2007
    A City by a Bay
    Great read, again.
  4. sullytex

    sullytex Member

    Nov 15, 2008
    Houston, TX
    Nice summary. Your comment on 'backbone' of the squad is very accurate. I can't find a team 'identity' that we had over the past couple of years. Solid players, lots of heart, great hustle, over achievers. My type of team. I am caustiously optimistic for the offseason.

    The final standing is not all that suprising. If we would have pulled out an additional victory and a say a draw in that last horrible stretch, we may not be feeling so down. We would have finished 10th(ish). Also if the relegation struggle would have been in the lower 30's, we might not be so puckerd up. Such is life as a middle of the road premiership club (very frustrating at times).

    Another year in the premiership is something to celebrate. I will be planning my annual pilgramage soon to see my much beloved, sometime mediocre or worse, Whites next year!
  5. SoCalJoe

    SoCalJoe Well-Known Member

    Sep 5, 2006
    Walnut, CA
    :clap: Looking forward to the next piece on your season review. The club appeared to roll the dice in the balancing act of having enough talent to stay out of the relegation fray and paying for the new stand. The new TV contract kicks in, so it should be an interesting to see what management does (and they're off to a good start).
  6. SteveFakeBlood

    SteveFakeBlood Member

    Feb 8, 2010
    Broward County , FL (from DuPage County, IL)
    Well said, Barry and Sully. I find it funny that for as absolutely miserable as we were down the stretch (I'm still wrapping my head around the fact that we lost five in a row and went winless for seven matches) we still finished 12th and only a win and a couple goals out of the top half. The good news is the Summer 2013-14 transfer window seems to have started well, re-signing Riether and picking up Amorbieta and Boateng (partly solidifying that central midfield). The funny thing is, I feel like we've got some good midfielders- we just can't use all of them properly and they're all either attacking midfielders or wingers. I was happy to see Duff re-signed, but at the same time, maybe it wasn't for the best since he could take away playing time from Special K, Frei and Dejagah. Ruiz obviously has the talent, we just need to figure out a system that best uses him. Hopefully, Boateng will stay healthy and he and Sidwell can pair up in the center and we can keep one of the loanees (although that ship may have already sailed) and get some more cover in the center of the park. At any rate, it should be an interesting summer.

    ~ Steve
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