Jol’s long term vision slowly changing Fulham’s short term attitude – opposition profile
Thursday, 23rd Feb 2012 23:14 by Clive Whittingham
Martin Jol, like his Chelsea rival Andre Villas Boas, is a man charged with moving aside a deeply entrenched old guard and bringing down the average age of a team built with short term aims in mind. He’s making a better fist of it than AVB though.
The borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, which covers areas as diverse as the King Road and White City Estate, is the third smallest in the country and yet is the only one to boast three Premiership football clubs. Two of them, QPR and Chelsea, have generated enough headlines and column inches this season to last a lifetime which has rather left the third, Fulham, in the shade – although given that only a small portion of the stories written have been positive perhaps the shade is the place to be.
A journalist or analyst looking for a case in the crazy short termism of football could do a lot worse than setting up base camp in Hammersmith and Fulham and simply watching the madness unfold. The basic mantra of all three clubs over the past 15 years or so has been to throw money at it and then sit back and await results. If further problems arise throw more money at them. If this doesn’t work then fire the team’s manager, appoint a new one, and hand him some more money to throw around. That the club doesn’t actually have or generate the money itself is irrelevant – just find it, borrow it, steal it and throw it at the team. Stop asking questions and start throwing money, we’ll throw more if there’s more of us doing it.
The results are there for all to see. Fulham have gone from a destitute mess struggling to stay in the Third Division playing in a half condemned ground in front of 3,000 people to a Premiership team averaging more than 20,000 spectators at a revamped stadium and Europa League finalists. Chelsea have gone from a middle to lower top flight team not immune from a spell in the lower leagues playing at a rundown shack of a ground to English league champions, FA Cup winners and European Cup regulars. QPR have returned to the Premiership after a 15 year absence. Money, in football, is at the root of most modern day success stories.
But, the drawbacks are starkly evident at all three clubs as well. Money above and beyond what the club brings in through merchandising, ticket sales, sponsorship an player sales puts you at the whim and mercy of the man, consortium or bank providing it. At QPR the squad is now one of the Premiership’s largest, with a clutch of players on wages the club could not afford by itself not even eligible for league matches this season. They are paying big transfer fees and big wages to players like Djibril Cisse, Bobby Zamora, Joey Barton, Shaun Wright-Phillips and others that a club with an outdated 18,000 stadium could never possibly afford without subsidy. To make matters worse, very few of QPR’s signings this season possess any potential resale value whatsoever.
Should the people subsidising this ever pull out, get bored, leave or withdraw the funding then the players don’t disappear with them, the club is left to sink with them aboard. It’s a model that brought short term success and long term oblivion for Portsmouth and it’s being followed to the absolute letter so far at Loftus Road.
At Chelsea the income is far greater – a 40,000 stadium, Champions League football, colossal television windfall each season. But this is a club that loses £68m per season at the last count. That’s fine, a long as Russian oligarch Roman Abramovic remains committed to underwriting it. Within three seconds of him deciding he won’t any more Chelsea would be bankrupt. Abramovic, above all else, wants to win the Champions League, the trophy that first made him “fall in love” with the sport. This has led him to make stupid decisions, shelling out astounding amounts of money on people like Andrei Shevchenko and Fernando Torres who were both well past their best at the time and firing better managers than the chump he currently has in charge.
They were investing in their youth academy at the same time, and snapping up any half decent teenager who looked like he might be able to kick a ball from all corners of the country into the bargain, but the short term pursuit of the Champions League through big money acquisitions for the first team meant that the likes of Michael Mancienne and Scott Sinclair found an impenetrable glass ceiling on the roof of Chelsea’s fancy Cobham Academy and they eventually grew bored and left. Chelsea’s current first team features one player, John Terry, who came through the club’s ranks and none who have graduated since Abramovic arrived. They seem to have realised, far too late, that there is no long term plan in place but now they’re saddled with an ageing squad of players holding all the power. Any attempt to usher the old guard aside and bring in newer, younger players is immediately met with a dressing room rebellion, players demanding Guus Hiddink is brought back, and newspaper journalists falling over themselves to ask why on earth poor Frank Lampard (33) can’t get in the team. Their Champions League hopes this year don’t look to stretch much further than a second leg with Napoli, their Champions League hopes next season probably don’t exist at all.
And there’s a similar situation developing down at Craven Cottage, albeit away from the full glare of the media. Likeable Dutch manager Martin Jol arrived last summer to find a team that had, in many respects, punched above its weight for years in the Premiership by finishing midtable and enjoying lengthy European adventures. His predecessors Mark Hughes and Roy Hodgson were loathe to mess with this winning formula, given that Lawrie Sanchez’s attempt to rebuild the team around hard working players from the Championship had almost ended in disaster. So this is a Fulham team that has grown old together, and isn’t getting any younger. It cost £200m to build over the last 15 years, above and beyond what has been paid to the club by television companies, and that is owed almost exclusively to Mohammed Al Fayed. If he were to ever decide he wanted it back, Fulham would be bankrupt quicker than Chelsea if Abramovic left.
Jol’s job has been a tricky one. The old guard need replacing with younger players of a similar quality but Danny Murphy, Bobby Zamora, Damien Duff, Mark Schwarzer and others weren’t cheap when they were 25 years old and their 25 year old equivalents aren’t cheap now. Replacing them is a slow process, particularly when you can only buy players in two small windows a year and you don’t have a book full of blank cheques to do it. In addition, as at Chelsea ,the players aren’t going to like what the manager is trying to do, but must still be cajoled into performing for him to maintain the club’s Premiership status. Rumours of ructions with 31-year-old Bobby Zamora abounded all season before he was quickly offloaded to QPR on the January deadline day and replaced with Russian Pavel Pogrebnyak who is three years younger. Will Pogrebnyak be as good as Zamora? Will he settle and succeed in English football, given the struggles of Russian footballers in this country before him? It’s a huge risk, but it’s one Fulham needed to take with Zamora and will need to take with Danny Murphy and others in the not too distant future.
In the short term Jol seems to just about be keeping control of potentially volatile situation, and Fulham are quietly developing a very useful academy side and snapping up youngsters from all over the country who, unlike at Spurs and Chelsea who are prolific at such legalised poaching, might actually get a chance in the first team here. But it will only need one expensive replacement for the old guard to fail and the team could be fatally weakened.
Longer term it might be an idea for Fulham, QPR, Chelsea and everybody else in football to look a little bit further than the end of their nose when planning a team building strategy in future.
We liked Jamie Doak so much when we asked him for a Fulham fan’s opinion on the Mark Hughes appointment in January that we collared him again this week and tortured him until he gave us more opinions about Fulham. Nice lad.
Now the dust has settled, what do you make of the Mark Hughes appointment at QPR?
My opinion hasn't really changed that much, I rated Hughes when he was at Fulham and I still think he is a good manager. Obviously I am not overjoyed to see him at a rival team and I will no doubt give him some stick next week but he done well for us and I don't doubt that he will do well for QPR. I also like some of the signings he has made at QPR and think he has put a solid squad together for the club to push on.
What is the general feeling among Fulham fans about Bobby Zamora's transfer?
There does seem to be some anger toward Zamora within some Fulham fans and I must admit I myself felt initially frustrated by his decision. However, I can’t blame Zamora, he was unlikely to get another contract at Fulham as his deal at the time wasn't due to expire till 2014 I believe, he's 31 and doesn't really fit into Martin Jol's ideas about creating a younger squad. QPR are likely to stay up this year so it shouldn't hinder his England chances and ultimately the fact that the clubs are so close together means Zamora won’t have to uproot his family in any way. On a personal level I will always respect Zamora, he hasn't been the same player since our Europa League season and the main reason for this was his continuing desire to play with injuries throughout the season which may well shorten his career, as such he deserves a lot of credit for the commitment and goals he scored. Nevertheless, football fans are a fickle bunch and expect him to get some stick, both because he moved to a rival and because he never really built a good relationship with the fans during his time at the club.
Although we've seen a lot of him before, what can QPR fans expect from Zamora?
The ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play is his strongest asset; I have memories of the man bullying top class defenders such as Carragher, Cannavaro and Vidic. Ultimately, on his day he can be unplayable and he could really form a nice partnership with Cisse who, from a Fulham perspective I’m glad won’t be available for our game.
Tell us about his replacement at Fulham Pavel Pogrebnyak - first impressions, hopes and fears?
From the little I have seen I really like him, he bullied a Stoke defence which is no mean feat and he played a similar role in bringing players into the game as Zamora did. I hope he can continue to play the way he did against Stoke but in the end his job is to make sure that he holds the ball and brings our trio of Dempsey, Dembele and Ruiz into the game because they are our danger men. The only real fear I have is that he probably won’t get the same number of goals as Zamora.
How would you assess Martin Jol's first season in charge so far?
It’s been steady, nothing spectacular with flashes of absolute brilliance and absolute crap thrown in. I understand what Jol is trying to achieve at the club but sometimes I am not too sure about his team selections or his substitutions. However, if his team achieves its full potential it can be something special and it bodes well for the future that he is trying to give youngsters a chance in the first team.
Who have been the stand out players and weak links in the side?
I think the weakest part of our game this year has been defensively which all comes back to the tactics we are employing this year. Previously we have had a back four protected by two midfielder's but this year its tended to only be the one midfielder sitting and a heavier emphasis on the full backs to get forward. The jury is also still out on the full backs themselves, Riise has good days and bad days and Kelly is much the same.
As for the stand out players, Dempsey has been phenomenal again this year and the club has done fantastically to hold on to him. Also Dembele continues to show us what an incredible talent he is, if you don't get close enough to him he will punish you and I fully believe if he scores 15 goals in a season we could easily lose him to a top club. Ruiz is one to watch, he has shown flashes of brilliance but can be incredibly frustrating at times. And finally Hangeland, he is a top notch defender and just consistently good for the club.
What are your short, medium and long term ambitions for Fulham?
Short term is an easy one, simply get to the 40 point mark and stay up. As for the medium term well that really depends on investment in the team, we are in desperate need of a quality replacement for Murphy and if we stumble across a goal scorer we could be a real threat. The long term is really interesting, we have a lot of exciting talents emerging and have been quietly buying up a lot of talented youth so hopefully some of these will make the jump to the top level.
Martin Jol is a well liked character on these shores, and not just because he looks like a cross between Shrek, Tony Soprano and Barry from Eastenders. A lot of the goodwill stems from the way he was sacked by Spurs. Jol did a good job at White Hart Lane, better than the majority of his predecessors, but was removed from his position during a European game against Getafe after weeks of speculation and several less than secret meetings between the Tottenham board and Spaniard Juande Ramos. Within a year Tottenham couldn’t get rid of Ramos quickly enough, inadvertently furthering Jol’s reputation without him even doing anything.
Following his time with Spurs he has managed in Germany with Hamburg and his homeland Holland with Ajax. At Hamburg, in the 2008/09 season, he reached the semi-finals of the Europa League and the German Cup but lost on both occasions to Werder Bremen. After only a year there he took over from Marco Van Basten in Amsterdam and his Ajax side was something of a tour de force in the Dutch league. They won their final 14 matches of the 2009/10 season, conceded just four goals at home in the entire campaign and scored 106 of their own. Their goal difference was a remarkable +86 by the end of the season, next best PSV were +43 by comparison. Despite all of this, and 85 points, they finished second to Steve McLaren’s FC Twente.
It’s this lack of a cutting edge right at the last that perhaps undermines Jol. He won the Dutch Cup with Ajax but that was the first trophy he’d won since lifting the same trophy 13 years previously when at Roda. Managing at Hamburg and Spurs it could be reasonably expected that the odd domestic cup, at least, may drop into the lap of even a reasonably good manager.
As both a player and a manager Jol has found himself travelling extensively around Europe. He played in this country in the 1980s for first West Brom and then Coventry and also spent time in Holland with Den Haag and Twente and Germany with Bayern Munich.
He almost became Fulham manager in the summer of 2010 but could not negotiate his release from Ajax so the Cottagers went with Mark Hughes instead. However Mohammed Al Fayed kept in touch with Jol and turned to him immediately after Hughes resigned this summer. Upon taking the job Jol said he was impressed with Al Fayed’s loyalty, and the family atmosphere at the club.
Martin Jol seemed like a very good fit with Fulham when he was finally appointed as manager last summer, 12 months after they first tried to get hold of him, but his preferred style of play is very different to his two predecessors. As we know with Mark Hughes the formation and team shape is regimented and disciplined – a place for every man and every man in his place. Roy Hodgson, who took Fulham to Europa League glory before Hughes moved in, was even more of a stickler for team shape.
Jol, as you would expect from a Dutchman, is much more open to fluid football. He wants his full backs to attack more, and bought former Liverpool man John Arne Riise in the summer for that purpose, and the midfield is occasionally allowed to break from a straight line of four men in front of the defence. He’s been trying to instigate this while bringing down the average age of the team and completing a season that started just days after his appointment a whopping 42 matches ago.
The first thing I always notice about Fulham when I see them play is the amount of left footed players they have in the team. Damien Duff, Riise, Moussa Dembele and Bryan Ruiz all appear to favour their left peg, as did Bobby Zamora before he left for Loftus Road. The second thing is how many left footed players Jol plays on the right and vice versa. He’s a big one for this modern thinking that wide men are better cutting in onto their favoured foot rather than taking a full back on outside. That may well be because Fulham lack players with natural pace to get to the byline, but it makes them quite narrow when attacking at times and their progress often becomes laboured around the edge of the penalty box – although not when they play us obviously.
Clint Dempsey continues to be a star man and goalscoring threat, but on several occasions earlier in the season when I watched this team he actually became marginalised wide on the left while Fulham focussed their attacks almost exclusively through the right channel with Duff and Zamora. When I saw them play Liverpool Dempsey was often arriving right on cue at the back post for crosses that never came from the opposite flank because Bryan Ruiz constantly had to check back onto his left foot before delivering them. Two recent Dempsey hat tricks against Charlton and Newcastle suggest that has changed somewhat post Christmas.
Danny Murphy is the man who makes the midfield tick over, although in that Liverpool game I actually thought he was quite poor. Fulham do all their attacking build up in front of an opposition back four unless Andy Johnson plays in which case his pace gives them an option to play balls in behind teams that they simply don’t have without him. Moussa Dembele provides a dangerous and unpredictable attacking weapon, roving around looking for space and time to do damage – when Liverpool went down to ten men he revelled in the extra space so QPR must not give him any when they have 11 men out there and must ditch their recent fondness for early sendings off.
At the back two weaknesses have struck me when I’ve watched Fulham this season. The first is John Arne Riise, not because of the inevitable space left behind him when he attacks which Fulham actually deal with quite well, but when he is actually back in a defensive position he’s far too willing to stand off his man and allow a cross to come into the penalty area. The second is Philippe Senderos who, alongside the ever impressive Brede Hangeland, looks like a bit of a liability. His decision making is poor and he is very suspect when asked to do the job of playing out of defence into Murphy’s feet. It’s a shame we don’t have Cisse to play against him this weekend. It seems strange to me that Jol chose to break up the successful partnership between Hangeland and Hughes to include the Swiss centre back instead.
I also saw Fulham recently at Manchester City but given City’s ability, Fulham’s abysmal away form over many years, and the performance of Chris Baird in that game it’s perhaps best not to dwell on it too much. Should Baird play here QPR have no excuse for not filling their boots.
Somebody will correct me if I’m wrong I’m sure but I believe Fulham have now not conceded a penalty kick in 64 matches dating back to a game with Man Utd at the end of last season – and that one was missed.
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Letters from Wiltshire #35 by wessex_exile
As many were predicting, time finally ran out for Steve Ball mid-week, after the U’s lost 2-1 at home to Exeter City. Although a considerable improvement in score-line compared to the 6-1 thrashing they handed out at St James Park earlier in the season, apart from the first 10-15 minutes and very brief glimpses throughout the remainder of the game, it was a poor performance, leaving Robbie Cowling with no choice. After a brief interlude, Robbie named Wayne Brown as our new Interim Head Coach (that’s caretaker as far as I’m concerned), and after an even briefer interlude, Robbie and Wayne in a joint statement put to rest any lingering concerns about Wayne’s attitude to race. If Wayne can show the same sort of leadership on the training ground and in the dressing room as he used to show for the U’s on the pitch, I am certain he’s going to do very well in the job.
Letters from Wiltshire #34 by wessex_exile
I won’t dwell on Robbie’s latest message to the supporters – we’ve all read it, and we’ve all probably drawn our own conclusions about what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. To me, bottom line, I suspect the clock is now ticking for Steve Ball (at least), turn around this terrible form pretty damn quick, or start clearing out your locker. Regardless of personal opinions on any of the individuals concerned, I would like to think none of us actually wants to see people made redundant in the current climate. But, these are difficult times that require tough decisions. If Steve Ball is up to the job and can turn this around, I’ll be more than happy to support him. If he’s not, he has to go before irreparable harm is done…and we all know what that will look like, we’ve been there before…
Letters from Wiltshire #33 by wessex_exile
Today we face a trip to Crawley, not usually a venue that bears fruit for the U’s it has to be said. In nine visits we’ve only won once in the league, and once in the League Cup. Of course, we’ll all remember that League Cup victory, indeed many of us were probably there to see us progress through to 5th round and the dream fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford. All of our goal-scorers that night, Luke’s Norris and Gambin, and Cohen Bramall (okay, technically an O.G.), are no longer with us, so let’s hope at the very least that recent departee and subsequent returnee Frank Nouble can bag another like his late equaliser against Mansfield. Steve Ball commented during the week about how tight the league is at the moment, and he’s right that a couple of back to back victories would see us move significantly up the table away from danger – but we’ve got to win them first Steve – something we’ve failed to do since our 1-0 victory at Scunthorpe on December 8th.
Letters from Wiltshire #32 by wessex_exile
Fifty years ago yesterday, Colchester United of the 4th Division pulled off the greatest cup giant-killing ever, beating 1st Division Leeds United 3-2 at Layer Road. Watched by 16,000, and the Match of the Day cameras, Dick Graham’s U’s, a rag-tag band of mostly aging journeymen, defied the odds to defeat arguably the greatest club side in Europe at the time. “The greatest cup giant-killing ever” is a bold claim, and over the years various football magazines and websites have run their own polls of which was the greatest. Whilst that day at Layer Rd always features, as the years have gone by other feats fresher in the memory have been put forward as a candidate – we probably all remember Ronnie Radford’s screamer against Newcastle, Sutton’s exploits, or even Bradford City quite recently at Stamford Bridge – but these pale into insignificance when you pause to reflect on the Don Revie side that we beat that day. Sprake, Cooper, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Giles etc – all full internationals, all household names – the only one missing was Billy Bremner, and that was because he was injured. By comparison, all we had to offer was Ray Crawford – at his peak arguably on a par with some in the Leeds side, but that peak had been ten years earlier playing for Ipswich and England. Eleven heroes didn’t just try and hold out against Leeds United, they took the game to their illustrious opponents with such tenacity, grit and no small amount of flair, and before we knew it, the U’s were 3-0 in the lead. As legs tired, Leeds got back into the game with goals from Hunter and Giles, but we held firm – typified at the death by Graham Smith pulling off an impossible save to ensure the U’s achieved the greatest cup giant-killing ever!
Letters from Wiltshire #31 by wessex_exile
And so the dust settles on another transfer window closing, and despite (my) expectations that the possibility of incoming business was going to be remote, we have instead seen a veritable flurry of activity, with no less than three coming in. Big Frank Nouble, making a very welcome return on loan from Plymouth Argyle, of course needs no introduction. Neither really does feisty Brendan Sarpong-Wiredu, here on loan last season, and this time signed full-time from Charlton Athletic for an undisclosed fee. Actually paying hard cash for someone did come as a surprise, presumably offset by the sale of Cohen Bramall to Lincoln for a similarly undisclosed fee. However, the fact that the Addicks have insisted on not only a sell-on clause, but a rarely used buy-back clause too, suggests (a) Wiredu’s signing fee probably wasn’t too high, and (b) Charlton are protecting those finances with these clauses. The last one, which would have been a complete surprise for me were it not for a contact leaking me the news earlier yesterday, is left-back Josh Doherty on loan from Crawley. Josh was only announced once outgoing left-back Bramall was confirmed, and presumably his loan is directly related to part-time fashion model, TV and radio celeb and former left-back Mark Wright signing for Crawley on a non-contract game-by-game basis in December. We have also released seven from the academy, Ollie Kensdale, Miquel Scarlett, Sammie McLeod, Michael Fernandes, Ollie Sims, Danny Collinge and Matt Weaire, and I’m sure we all wish them the best for the future.
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