Fulham have only recently shaken off the tag of being a yo-yo club. Over the past six years, we have been promoted three times. As a result of each of them, there’s been pressure to get new players in the squad in order to succeed at the highest level. Fulham has spent £209 million in total over the last three promotion seasons.
A by-product of that activity has typically been that certain players who managed to get us promoted in the first place are immediately deemed not good enough for the top division. Marco Silva, however, has proven this is not the case. He’s brought the best out of those players and proven that they have the quality to thrive in the Premier League.
Despite this, an agenda against what could be deemed as “second-choice” players still exists. Could this level be considered too harsh?
Give them time
Tim Ream is a perfect example of a player who’s been unfairly scapegoated in our Premier League campaigns in the past. Under both Slaviša Jokanović and Scott Parker, our two centre-back partnerships have been revised by bringing in Alfie Mawson and Maxime Le Marchand in 2018/19 and Joachim Andersen partnered with Tosin Adarabioyo for the 2020/21 season.
Ream saw more game time in the former season, starting 65% of games, but saw that plummet under Parker, starting in just 18%. This is a drastic change from starting in 95% of games in the Championship seasons prior to these. He became viewed among fans as too much of a liability when facing Premier League sides. Silva clearly has more trust in him, only purchasing Issa Diop in 2022, who would end up joining him in the back line. Silva has let Ream show he’s capable of managing the pressure of the Premier League despite his age as he started every game that he wasn’t injured last season. Ream went from a player who was classed as not good enough to becoming a regular starter. Second-choice players need to be given more respect and more of a chance.
Another player who many thought was one the wane is Tom Cairney. TC has gone from an impact sub to one of the most important players in the starting XI. Since signing in 2015 alongside Ream, TC has thrived, scoring 45 goals in 306 appearances. But to his dismay he’s been cursed with knee and foot injuries. His time away has meant people have forgotten how essential he is to Fulham’s success.
(Tom Cairney statistics in the league)
Similarly to with Ream, Silva took some time to realise Tom’s importance. He received five man-of-the-match awards last term – the most of any player – despite only averaging 29 minutes a game. His composure on the ball has earned him his spot in the midfield from the off. When a player has been riddled with injuries, they need to be given more time to gain confidence and part of that comes from the fans remembering what a player is capable of.
The issue of underrated second-choice players is particularly prominent with players who were brought in during Premier League seasons. It’s often forgotten that we brought Joe Bryan in for the Premier League season under Slavisa Jokanovic, yet his stock plummeted during the top-flight campaign under Scott Parker. In his first season in the Premier League, Bryan played 71% of matches. This unsurprisingly increased to 84% in the Championship, but then declined steeply in the Premier League season under Parker to 18%. And yet he still didn’t get much game time in the Championship under Silva, only playing 28%.
Parker favoured Antonee Robinson and Ola Aina, which is understandable given their ability. What is harder to comprehend, however, is the reason as to why fans believe he lost a lot of his ability to play football. The problem isn’t the fact that other players are starting ahead of him, it’s the fact that people feel we’re at a massive disadvantage with him on the pitch even in the Championship.
When a player hasn’t had as much game time, it’s never an easy task to immediately come to grips with the style of play or compete to the same intensity, and yet so many players are expected to do so.
Michael Hector played a crucial part in our promotion under Parker after he cleared it off the line in the first leg of the play off against Cardiff. He started in the first three games of the Premier League, only to have one substitute appearance after that. He did, however, play in four cup games, which is where he received most criticism. It was after a particularly cold (literally) defeat against Burnley, in the FA cup, that he was written off.
Even though we know he can play at Championship level, again, people felt that, within a year, he became a much weaker footballer than before when he played in the same division under Silva. Even though he only played five games under Silva, he was expected to pick up on the same play style and game plan as another manager. The standards are too high for players who have played little-to-no football prior.
There’s no denying that Fulham have had issues relating to strikers this season. Originally, the debate between who started consisted of just Raul Jimenez and Carlos Vinicius; Muniz wasn’t even in the conversation. This is down to the fact that he was constantly in the shadow of Mitrovic in the Championship and had a loan spell at Middlesborough the season after where he only played just 889 minutes. Muniz has almost surpassed this figure already this season.
Despite this, whenever called into action after the absence of Mitrovic, he delivered. His goals-to-minutes ratio in the 2021/22 season was just short of Mitro’s at 0.0102 compared to 0.0112. Muniz has shown positive signs this campaign through performances against Ipswich and Man United by proving he arguably has the best hold up play out of the three options. This goes to show that second choice players aren’t always a worse option and may even be the best option.
The list of these sorts of players could go on, with even Wilson, Seri and Anguissa being on the receiving end of this issue despite their quality. The main cause is people forgetting how good a player can be as well as a high expectation for a player to perform after lack of game time or under a new managerial system.
Parker made some big changes to the squad which instigated the problem by dropping players from the Championship. Whilst players may not be the best option and are rightfully second choice, it doesn’t mean that they are far worse than their counterparts and it certainly doesn’t mean we become a much worse side with them in the team. Instead, second choice players need to be given more respect, time to regain confidence and less pressure on their backs to perform after injury or time out. It is unrealistic and harsh to expect them to do so.