It is human nature to romanticise the past. And the romantic feelings I have towards May 26th 2018 and Slavisa Jokanovic are bordering on inappropriate. But I’ve glossed over that cold December night when that Fulham team gave Sunderland their first home win in 364 days. I’ve repressed the memories of losing 8-2 to Chelsea pre-season. ‘It means nothing,’ I told myself, very unconvincingly. No, that season is all Mitro on fire and Denis sitting on the crossbar at Wembley.
However, if I’m able to remove the rose tinted glasses, this Fulham (players, manager, philosophy) is superior to that of the season we spent in the premier league, the promotion season… and every season before that until probably 2013.
A Manager who learns
Let’s be clear: Losing to Stoke really hurt my feelings. The decision making was odd, and it took the wind out of the sails of a team in form. However, you don’t get the sense that this is the best Scott has to offer; this is not a manager in his peak who simply can’t cut it. Rather, it is a manager who is inexperienced, learning on the job, and still has us within play-off contention. What happens when these lessons have been learnt, and he is coming into his own? Lets not forget that at this stage in the promotion season with Slav, we were bottom half of the table…
Scott is cut from the same mould as Slavisa in the sense that when his plan works, it is something to behold. Parker’s Fulham smashed the Opta record for possession against Millwall, and Ream alone made more successful passes than the Lions had in their 134 year history. You only need to cast your mind back to Ranieri to realise that this is not a given. Or cast your mind back to Magath if you’re feeling especially self-loathing. Once relegated, it was possible that we may have been lumped with a manager who wanted balls lobbed up to Mitro at every opportunity. Instead, we still get games like Reading and Millwall. Fulham are still the entertainers.
In fact, Scott is superior to Slav in many ways. We no longer play Slav Bingo, where the manager seems to be unsure of who his best XI are. Also, like a mutating strand of the flu, Scott is learning to adapt to the opposition strategy, making tactical decisions to address areas of weakness. Didn’t quite work against Stoke, but look at the decision to bring on Bobby Reid against Charlton. It wasn’t a like for like 4-3-3 to which Slav chained himself. As that system slowly sunk, Slav went down with it.
Scott has got all the flair of Slav, but has a creativity and an agility which eluded our beloved Serb. It makes for a very promising career as a manger. The fact that he dresses like a dapper 1940s gentleman, with a jawline you could set your watch to doesn’t hurt either…
After Fulham made a New Years Resolution to go 23 games undefeated, the matchday sheet was practically set in stone. The only spot up for debate was right wing, and it only ever went to Piazon or Ojo depending on whether we were home or away. Consistency is a good thing, but in this case it was really due to a lack of depth more than anything. Every time Cairney went to ground clutching his ankle, I was left clutching my chest. Surely you all considered what would have happened had Mitro pulled a hamstring mid Feb. Chaos.
Now, we rotate and substitute players who are at least as good as those they are replacing. Odoi can replace any of the backline, Bobby Reid could slot into a number of positions in the front four. I keep flipping on whether I would rather start Reed over Arter… These were the quandaries we didn’t face in the promotion season. We were only one injury away from finishing 17th, weaker than Jamie Reid’s bladder. Now, almost anyone could take a knock, and it wouldn’t completely sink the HMS Piss the League.
Piss the league?
The phrase “Manchester City of the Championship” gets bandied about in regards to Fulham. We tend to only hear the Man City part of that equation, and forget that it is tempered by the fact that it is the second division. We are a good side, but we are not world beaters, and in no way am I suggesting this Fulham team should walk this league. The phrase piss the league will forever fill me with a fear that we will become the proverbial Leeds: talk a big game in October, and limp into mid table come May. What I am saying is that this Fulham squad should beat any previous Fulham squad from the last seven or eight years*.
*Provided I could go back and retrospectively ‘Tonya Harding’ Berbatov in the carpark at Motspur Park.