In defence of Tony Khan

Fulhamish 17th June 2021
"Wraaaastling!"

In his debut piece for Fulhamish, Evan Lorendo sticks his head above the parapet to offer some words of support for our Director of Football.

I was involved in a Twitter spat earlier this year, where I took a fair bit of flak from fellow Fulham fans. My crime: I asked for some positivity towards the club and said that our current predicament was not all down to the fault of our Director of Football.

There were those who did not want to hear it. Even though we were still in the running for Josh King at the point and about to finalise the deal for Josh Maja. It wasn’t the perfect January window, but very few are.

But so is the temperance of some of our supporters. It has to be all Tony Khan’s fault. If you push back you at all, you become part of the problem.

How we got here

I honestly don’t like being the person to have to write this. I don’t like everything he has done or said.

His apology for the team earlier in the season wasn’t a good look and it undermined Parker publicly. However, I hate to see someone have constant negativity hurled at them, especially if it’s to the detriment of the club.

Of course, many people will say that his involvement with wrestling and American football also takes his attention away. But does anyone actually believe that he is the one sitting there with the abacus figuring out who to sign? No. He has a team of people.

In many ways, he’s a DoF in name only. Sure, he’s the face. But he has help. And if that’s the case, I don’t understand the need for people to continually pile on him.

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In his defense

As I say, I don’t want to be to one to write this. Yet here I am writing 2,000 words to defend him.

And in reality, it is not completely about defending Tony as it is to just take an honest look at what’s happened and where things are headed.

I’ve outlined below a defense of Tony. I have no doubt that I will be pummeled on Twitter for this. But that’s ok, because I genuinely believe that the Fulham fanbase needs to rethink how they see Tony. Not for his sake, but for the sake of the club.

I try to be consistent in my praise and criticisms. I think that’s a trait that people should have: give Tony credit where it is due and criticise him when he actually deserves it.

I just get the feeling that many people have given up on him no matter what he does. The problem is, you can’t really separate Tony from the club. They are very much one and the same.

From people who know him

Starting with the most subjective defense, I have spoken with three people who have either worked for him or with him. Whenever the subject of Fulham comes up, all three have independently said the exact same thing:

He’s a lovely and kind guy.

I can hear the pushback now and it’s fair. But when multiple people say the exact same thing about a person, I tend to believe it.

But in a day and age that most DoF swould bite your arm off to be in a European Super League and come across as unfriendly, maybe Tony isn’t the worst.

I think we can all see that he has grown into the position.

Another bias seeping in

I hate to bring this up, but as an American who has lived in London and has been a season ticket holder, there can be an anti-American bias.

I saw it start at the club level about 15 years ago as the first wave of American supporters would make their way to the Cottage from Texas and Florida and DC. I’ll wholly admit that the typical new Fulham supporter did not know much about football and even less about the culture and history of the club. These were people who started following the club because Fox Sports bought the US rights to show games, and they wanted to follow a team.

They started as Dempsey and McBride fanboys. But they became Fulham supporters over time. I met many of them on their first pilgrimage to the Cottage. They were so in love with the club. Most of our supporters welcomed them in. But there were always a bitter few who had a snarky comment or tried to one-up them just because. I have seen many a confused look on a new supporter’s face after being called a septic.

As a result, I believe that there will be people against Tony just because he is American. Of all the reasons to hate him and want him gone, this one makes the least amount of sense to me. 

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Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t

The same people who will give Parker time to settle in do not extend the same to Tony..

Just throwing money at the squad doesn’t mean you get to stay up, and we learned that a few seasons ago. While it ultimately failed, you could see where Tony’s mind was when he built that 2018/19 team. It was the window that we were able to keep Mitro and bring in Anguissa. Others didn’t work out, but it wasn’t a complete failure.

We were the laughingstock because we spent 100 million pounds. But it was never that simple.

Tony caught a lot of flak for that window, but he learned. He went out and got better overall talent and hidden gems for 2020/21. Yes, many were loans, but many would have stayed if we stayed up.

Lookman, Anderson, Aina, Lemina. We would have spent the money to keep them and had clauses in most of their contracts. I always thought Areola would have been a tough sell, but we would have been in the running to keep him.

But the results didn’t go our way, and these guys left. It sucks. We loved these guys. And in some ways we want someone to blame.  It’s tough to blame Scott (whether he stays or goes), because he’s so passionate. He’s so put together. He’s up and coming.  So Tony becomes an easy target.

It becomes his fault that we have loans, even though they’re out there bleeding for us. It’s his fault that we waited so long, even though we were able to get steals late in the window. It was his fault for everything.

And that led to what can only be described as childish bullying. The thing is, when Tony does make a statement, every word is criticised. When he doesn’t say anything, he’s too busy with AEW to care.

He is in a no-win situation.

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Patience is a virtue

Speaking of the transfer window, we have always been a club to get our business done. That didn’t start with Tony. This season wasn’t lost because of those first six games.

Honestly, this season the club was due for a fresh start: age out the Reams, Odois, McDonalds and bring in younger depth. The problem was we got promoted six weeks before the start of a new season.

Could there have been more done a bit quicker? Absolutely. The fact that we didn’t have a right-winger or striker depth was a killer. But who could have seen Hector being as terrible as he was. Or Mitro losing his mojo.

A few things just didn’t break our way.

But this was a likeable team that played for each other and honestly tried to keep us up. Tony put that together, with Scott’s help and input. But it was Parker who picked the team. It was Parker who designed the strategy. It was Parker that led the men out. And it was Parker that got just five wins of the team. That led us to score just nine goals at home. And that managed a team that couldn’t beat the ones around us when it mattered.

I know that the media fawns over Scott, but do you honestly see it?

Did we do enough on the pitch to stay up?

On any other team, two points from 30 gets you fired. Based on our stats alone, is Tony really to blame for the outcome of this season?

All that said, we have strengthened our back line with permanent signings. We may lose one or two, but we have a solid start. In our midfield, a few guys will go, but Josh, TC, and Reed are all top Championship talents.

The attack needs an overhaul, but we have youngsters like Carvalho helping us make that happen.

It has been brick by brick and I don’t think it will be as dire as it may seem. And like it or not, Tony is to thank in large part of that.

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Where’s he going to go?

I get it, some will never give him a chance. I hate it because it is a negative and toxic mindset. It’s a mindset that seeps in and gets in other people’s heads. It gets posted all over Twitter and Instagram. It gets seen by our players and staff. It isn’t good for anyone.

I do genuinely believe though that Tony will step aside, but on a high, not a low. We can’t shame him into leaving. Instead, he will keep trying until we stay up, and then he can feel that he hasn’t failed.

Time is on his side. As long as we yo-yo, he’ll be here. If we build a foundation, his work will be done. So, even if you don’t like him, quit being antagonistic. Quit trying to shame him into quitting. It’s just toxic and it only makes him dig in more.

Want him gone? Just shut your mouth. By getting relegated we have at least two more seasons of him, so hunker down and let him do his thing.

Telling him to “do the right thing” and to leave doesn’t help. Because at the end of the day, it’s his club. Where is he going to go?

Is it perfect? No. But let’s take the relegation as a reset. Accept the things that you cannot change. And let’s go and win the Championship next season.