Collins Column: Shadows in the Dark

Jack J Collins 2nd November 2017

In the latest edition of the Collins Column, Jack J Collins discusses the backroom issues within the club which, for the first time ever, seem to be taking their toll on the pitch.

There’s an air of the Film Noir about Fulham this week. Underwhelming performances and attitudes on the pitch, allegations of cloak and dagger off it – it all adds up to a sense of ominous foreboding that something is awry at our beloved little club.

Of course, backroom rifts have become par for the course in the preceding months, but there seems to be something more than speculation afoot in the gloam surrounding the departure of Craig Kline.

Of course, it’s easy to say that when there’s no real way of proving anything one way or the other, but there remains the niggling feeling that Jokanovic is a better manager than he’s showing at the moment, and that something is influencing the sphere of his thinking.

When you consider that in Fulham’s one and only dominant performance this season, Fonte was played as a central striker ahead of Tom Cairney, with two natural wide players and a sitting midfield axis which allowed for the full-backs to overlap at will, it seems bizarre that with all these options again available, Slavisa has chosen to distance himself from a tried and tested system.

The consistent selection of both Aboubakar Kamara and Floyd Ayite, one clearly not good enough for this level of football at the current moment, and the other hopelessly out of form, appears to be influenced by other factors. Either Jokanovic is blind to what the rest of us can see, in which case his days are surely numbered; or there are higher powers afoot.

With Kline’s ignominious departure and the spectre of Coach-Statistics feud now surely put to bed once and for all, the biggest test of all now lies in Jokanovic’s ability; both tactically and in the transfer market.

Whilst James Lovell has been installed as an interim replacement, his promotion from a member of the first-team staff suggests that not only will his relationship be potentially subservient to the Serbian, but also that his footballing nous might be greater than that of the admittedly non-football man who held the position before.

That said, there is much we don’t know. A source close to the club has mooted that Lovell is far from the most popular member of the backroom team, and be that as it may, there remains considerable doubt that the statistics model is going to be readily abandoned after producing such a crop of talent in the summer before last.

Photo: Rex Features

Kline’s departure leaves a bitter taste for me. An innovative system which has the potential to elevate Fulham with players no-one aside from the Football Manager heads would know is something that is extensively appealing, but to leave complete control in the hands of those who refuse to buy into the game’s traditions seems like a bizarre way to implement such change.

The stats model continues to develop in the game, and Fulham had a unique, bespoke chance to use that model to devastating effect. In the entire saga, not only have the seeds of mistrust been now sowed semi-permanently into the heads of some of the club’s fanbase, but we have allowed the rest of the league to catch up with us.

What perhaps irritates most is the lack of influence of a now forgotten man who once bore the stick that ended up falling on the head of Craig Kline in latter years – Mike Rigg. Rigg’s role, in making deals happen for the club, rather than choosing the players, was once which was significantly underappreciated, both in the terraces and the backroom, and the fact that Fulham have had two transfer windows since he left in which we missed out on a number of key targets, is no coincidence.

Kline’s comments, whilst they read a bit like the ramblings of a madman, make a number of accusations which should not be taken lightly. If there are even some of the issues which he points out going on behind the scenes, then these need to be addressed immediately. We cannot perform on the pitch if behind the scenes Motspur Park is in turmoil.

That said, the lack of fight and heart displayed on Tuesday night against Bristol City cannot be ignored. Ultimately, now Kline is gone, the buck stops with Jokanovic, and if his selection and tactical changes are as error-ridden against Wolves as they were against Bristol City, then both Fulham’s players and the travelling faithful are going to be in for a torrid time against a side as good as any in this league.

Soares must start. Mollo must be in the eleven. Cairney needs a rest. Someone needs to work out what’s going on in Stef”s head. Fonte must go through the middle. There’s a lot to fix in a short space of time, and it’s not going to be immediately possible, but what I, and I imagine a lot of others, will want to see is a reaction – a kickback which addresses the tactical misgivings portrayed recently and shows some heart and passion. That is far more important than a result at this stage of proceedings.