Back in March The Ericle reported, (see here), on the likely relegation of his favourite football team; after 13 seasons in England’s Premier League. Today – the inevitable having come to pass – just 4 games into the new season, Fulham* are rock bottom of The Championship**, having lost all of their opening games. It has been an incredible fall from grace. Only 4 years ago, Fulham had been just 4 minutes away from a penalty shoot-out in the Europa League Final (see here) and an established Premier League club.

I believe that it is pretty clear as to what happened at Fulham during the period after Hamburg up till when Mohammed Al Fayed sold the club to Shahid Khan. What has never been clear (to me at least) is the reasoning behind Khan’s purchase and what his plans then were.

Fulham have now reached a ‘tipping point’ where all will become clear(er).

I do think it is reasonable to say that Khan bought Fulham with his ‘business head on’, rather than because he has a passion for ‘soccer’ or Fulham Football Club. As a business purchase I can then see 3 basic scenarios:

  1. He bought the club because he believes that owning a Premier League team is a great investment.
  2. He bought the club because he has another agenda – a property play possibly for a prime piece of real estate on the bank of The Thames – where success on the field is immaterial, or even counter-intuitive, to the investment
  3. He bought the club because of A with the ‘safety net’ of B if that doesn’t work out

FWIW, I would choose to believe that it was A.

Being a reasonable, and successful, entrepreneur he took the eminently sensible position – in an industry he knows very little about – to rely on ‘experts’, principally his CEO, to run the on-the-field business. At this time, it must be crystal clear to Khan that his choice of experts has not paid off. In Alistair Mackintosh he has a CEO who has supervised the appointment of 3 failed managers and a disastrous rotation of players, which has resulted in the exit of 20 players and an effective reliance on youth and a bunch of ‘newbies’.   My hope is that this realisation will lead to the very prompt departures of our bean-counting CEO, and his most recent absurd managerial choice, accompanied by the making available of a sizeable business-safeguarding re-investment budget. My real fear, though, is that this will not happen; that Khan will view Fulham as a ‘busted flush’ and make a business decision not to throw good money after bad. Where such thinking would get Fulham I cannot know, but I am pretty sure that the outcome would not be good.

How Khan reacts over the next few weeks will at last tell us a great deal about his true intentions.

* See here for a history of Fulham, one of the oldest club’s in professional football**, and here for some historic images

** England’s 2nd tier of professional football


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2 Responses to FULHAM FC: At The Crossroads

  1. Ericle says:

    Well argued piece from ASPT on The Fulham Independent (http://www.voy.com/13865/)

    I want to make a few things clear:

    1. I have seen nothing from Felix since he arrived that makes me believe he is a good choice to manage Fulham.
    2. I do not believe that just given time, everything will right itself.
    3. I do believe that if he doesn’t sort our defence out, we could continue to get punished.
    4. Some of the below is based on some conjecture on my part, if it proves not to be correct, then it is so central to my argument that you can ignore me – we will know next week.
    5. I am not a simpleton who just blurts out stuff to make me feel better, ignoring the facts and evidence and just believing that everything will be rosey. I have always taken calm/patience over knee-jerk/hysteria (an illustrative point – not saying anyone is being overly hysterical. Except Rollerball who is nutty as a fruit cake)

    OK, here goes.

    If we sack Magath now, it will be the third time out of 3 transfer windows that teams which were bought by one manager end up being managed by another. It has not worked very well for us. I have only seen little glimpses of what he is trying to do, so I am not saying he should be retained to see the job through based on any level of success so far, I just think that he has more chance of succeeding with his plan than someone coming in and shoe-horning in players into another one. I think that the accusations that he has no plans or tactics are a little hysteria-fuelled – of course he does. It is entirely possible that it is not the correct one for this stage of the clubs transition and/or for this division, but I still think it would be more fruitful than someone coming in to set up a style of play in their vision with someone elses squad.

    The nature of Saturday’s defeat was alarming to say the least. We just cannot defend. Every time they broke we looked scared. I think Burgess looks like an absolute liability at the moment, he is always stretching for stuff and making mistakes when he does – he will get better positionally, he is 10 years off his prime! One of our big issues is that we make mistakes all over the park. This is mostly caused by the fact that they are kids, and that they have not been playing together too long. Many on here predicted that we would have a slow start. Very few, before the season kicked off, said that we’d get off to a 4-game losing streak, but most people realised that an entirely new squad does take a long time to bed in. On top of that you have got kids who will still have nerves and who are learning their trade. Those three factors mean that our start was always going to be slow. We have played 4 very established squads so far, and it has showed. Again, I am not just saying that ‘give it a few weeks and everything will be fine’ – I am just saying that Felix’s chances of getting it right at this point was very low. That is just football. The nature of Saturday’s game showed us and him that he has not set it up properly, but you don’t know what you don’t know and it would have taken a few competitive games to find out certain things about our playing staff. He has shown he knows that our back line is our biggest weakness by buying a new centre back in the week. I hope he is good, we need him to be.

    I will also say that Derby are a very good side, the speed with which they broke caused us problems all game and 3 of the goals were littered with one-touch passing. Exactly what that back line didn’t need. But, one thing I have not seen said so far, is that we matched them for 59 minutes. Arguably the best side in the division, away from home, and we had spells where we were controlling the game. Their two quick goals a)were because we can’t defend and b) a complete punch in the gut – again, too many kids means it is easier for our heads to drop, and that is exactly what happened. From the 60th minute onwards it was men v boys, all the team wanted to do was curl up into a ball and suck their thumbs. The team is unbalanced and needs some experienced players to take the heat out of that situation instead of capitulating.

    There is the factor that you all knew I was going to mention. Investment from the board. Many have pointed out that it was foolhardy to throw so many kids in at once, but is this all Felix’s doing? Doesn’t it just smack of another cheap option – just a different end of the spectrum of cheap options than we are used to. He has been able to invest about 6m so far – between the wages that we have saved, the transfer fees received and the parachute payment, that is absolutely sod all. As I have mentioned, I suspect that the club is waiting to make sure that the want-away 3 are off the books before investing again. They are either being tight again or scared of the FFP rules. This has effectively cost us our pre-season, a big gamble by the club! Does anyone suspect that Felix would not have liked to sign a good 26 year old midfielder or 28 year old keeper? I think that once again the board is gambling sustainability against the future of our club with a flawed investment plan. The real kicker is that if Liverpool wanted Roberts, they would get him. That could happen next week and who would blame him? So what is the point of bringing up a really good young team when you will just be rebuilding again in 2 years time? Look at Southampton. If ever the team needed investment it is now. Spend 15m on the 3 positions it is clear we need or risk watching those kids leave far sooner, and for far less than you had planned.

    I am not standing up for him, or apologising for him, I just genuinely think it’d be better to see where we are in the run up to Christmas and if need be, change things then so that the incoming manager has a chance to plan a January window and have the right tools at his disposal to succeed. I do believe we will get better as 4 games is not enough to have a team playing at its best with so many new, young faces. I do get that this could be destroying the kids confidence, but Felix will know that too. How he reacts now is absolutely key. I am certainly not convinced he will get it right, I just think the likelihood of him, or anyone, having it still incorrect at this stage was very high indeed. Sorry to be a broken record but if we sack him now, the chance of making the right appointment is too low under the current constraints handed to our managers.

    Time will tell I guess.

  2. Ericle says:

    SAM WALLACE/The Independent 25/10/14

    It has been one hell of a fall for Fulham in the space of little more than a year since Shahid Khan, the American car parts billionaire, bought the club from Mohamed al-Fayed. They have sacked two managers and ended up with Felix Magath, the man who earned the nickname “Saddam” at one of his former clubs on the strength of the unyielding way in which he imposed his regime.

    Fulham manager Felix Magath Fulham manager Felix Magath

    When Lewis Holtby found out that Magath, formerly his coach at Schalke, was coming into the club in mid-February, the German midfielder immediately asked to return to Tottenham. His fears were well-founded: against Stoke City last season, Magath substituted him after 34 minutes.

    At Frankfurt they called Magath “the last dictator in Europe”. At Wolfsburg he took a team from the brink of relegation and won the Bundesliga two years later. The question for Fulham is how long they continue believing in the dictator as he imposes his will, without results.

    Relegation from the Premier League was one thing, but how long they stick with Magath could define Fulham’s fortunes for years to come. The longer it goes on, the more the feeling is that Magath is not the answer to Fulham’s problems – rather he is becoming the chief cause.

    Fulham could hardly say they were not warned that Magath’s approach to managing is rather like that of the post-war planners who ruined so much of what remained of Britain’s cities. Magath seems to believe that what is already there must be demolished and rebuilt in his own image. The process is brutal. Once embarked upon it makes changing course even more momentous.

    Fulham youngster Patrick Roberts in action against Wolves Fulham youngster Patrick Roberts in action against Wolves

    It will be that decision which Khan will face again if Fulham lose to Brentford. Magath insists on reporting to the American directly and speaks to him every day, bypassing the club’s chief executive, Alistair Mackintosh. It will be Khan’s decision, and Khan’s alone, to sack Magath if that is what it comes to. The mood at the club is that Khan is not at that point yet.

    Magath has made some extraordinary decisions this season already, including a massive clear-out of senior players that has left him with a collection of new arrivals and academy boys who so far lack the nous to navigate the Championship’s gruelling 46-game marathon.

    A decent pre-season with a group of young players convinced him that he could put them centre stage. Given that so few managers, especially those from overseas, have trusted academy-produced players, he deserves some credit for that. The problem is that the likes of Patrick Roberts, Cauley Woodrow, Sean Kavanagh and Jesse Joronen have been thrust into a side with, Scott Parker aside, too few experienced heads.

    For all the anticipation that Fulham’s current generation of academy boys will yield some first-team players, and perhaps, in Roberts’ case, a good England international, the way a young player is introduced to first-team football is as important as giving him the chance in the first place. They need the best possible chance to thrive, and the current Fulham side does not give them that.

    Given his remarks after the defeat to Derby, it seems that Magath is now changing course, and may pick a more experienced team tonight.

    Certainly, the list of those whom Magath has ignored this season is even more puzzling, including the club’s record signing from January, Kostas Mitroglu. Alongside him, Bryan Ruiz, Alex Kacaniklic, Dan Burn and Fernando Amorebieta have not figured either. Ryan Tunnicliffe, signed along with Larnell Cole from Manchester United by Rene Meulensteen, has returned from loan to be sent back to the Under-21s.

    The departures have been eye-watering, with around 11 senior players, some out of contract, leaving in the summer, including Brede Hangeland, Steven Sidwell, Kieran Richardson, Pajtim Kasami and David Stockdale. The Dutch international goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg was loaned out. The club made around 50 redundancies post-relegation to save money although the mood is that the parachute payments make their finances sustainable for now.

    Some of the signings have been just as confusing – and not just the size of the £11m fee paid to Leeds United for Ross McCormack. One wonders what it was about Mark Fotheringham’s recent CV that persuaded Magath to sign him. At 30 years old the Scot’s most recent former cubs – Notts County, Ross County, Dundee, Livingston – are way below the required standard for the Championship.

    Barrie Simmonds, the club’s well-regarded chief scout, has decamped to Norwich City, having decided he did not wish to work with Magath. As for the years of work that have gone into the academy by Huw Jennings and Malcolm Elias, whose Under-18s reached the FA Youth Cup final last season, it has hardly been a gentle integration for those young players into first-team football.

    The feeling at the club, nevertheless, is that those young players are at least loyal to their new manager. It is not a response he has inspired in all his players. The stories about training under Magath are alarming, including three sessions a day in pre-season. His mantra wherever he has managed has been around fitness, or his players’ perceived lack of it. Either way, the start to the season has been disastrous, by any reckoning.

    Hangeland’s parting shot to Magath that “his main tool is to try to mentally and physically batter his players” pointed to trouble before the season had begun. Hangeland was informed by email that a clause had been triggered to end his contract. Since he left, Fulham have let in nine goals in five games, including a fifth to Derby on Saturday immediately after they conceded possession from the kick-off following the fourth goal.

    Little more than four years ago, under Roy Hodgson, Fulham’s finest hour came when they contested the Europa League final in Hamburg. At the time Brentford had just finished ninth in League One in their first season since promotion. Magath was Schalke coach. When Fulham appointed him in February he had been out of work for 18 months and was available. The club regarded that as a great stroke of luck at the time. Six months on, they might realise now why it was the case.

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