So my country just went through quite an important election this week. Last Tuesday, any American who is registered and over 18 years of age had the ability to cast a vote and make a decision for who would be best to run their government and what are the best choices to many of the country’s most important issues. Some will say it’s an imperfect system. Some will say that, lately, democracy has divided America to so much civil discourse that it may not be able to recover from it for generations. But for now, being able to have the people make decisions and the have the people be able to voice opinions and spring debate is why democracy is considered the best way to govern.
Why am I bringing this up? Because even with Fulham Football club, there’s always debate over what is best for what we love, especially with the club’s biggest issue at the moment. Should Slavisa Jokanovic stay or go before the international break?
We all know why this has to be discussed. Fulham are sitting bottom of the Premier League table, are on pace to give up the most goals in a season in league history and have not even collected points, let alone recorded a win, since their draw with Watford on September 22nd. Oh, and Fulham’s next fixture is against Premier League contenders Liverpool: a game that could probably see them get whipped off the park regardless of the managerial circumstances. So with 26 games to go once Sunday’s fixture comes to a close, should Jokanovic stay? With the powers of voicing two sides of the argument, let’s present one side where the man that brought us back from temporary football wilderness and back to England’s top flight should stay.
Anybody remember what he’s done for us before
It’s very hard to look at an entire body of work for a manager when they are on the verge of getting sacked. But for Jokanovic, it does need reminding that this is a boss that has guided not one, but two clubs from the Championship to the Premier League. This is the first season in which Jokanovic has been able to test himself in England’s elite since Watford essentially let him go before giving him the chance for 2015/16.
But if you were to look at his body of work, the former Serbian International has been successful most of the time than not. He even guided Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Group Stages of the 2015/16 Champions League; the first time the club has ever made it that far and was a Championship winning manager in Thailand with Muangthong United in 2012 and in Serbia with Partizan Belgrade in 2008 and 2009.
The point is, the man knows how to win and is not susceptible to that much failure while in charge.
Poor starts aren’t new for him
The reason for that is, despite only claiming five points in 11 Premier League fixtures, it’s not like Fulham haven’t been in this position before. By about this time last season, the club were 17th in the Championship before their ridiculous 5-4 victory at Sheffield United kick started the rest of the campaign. The same also happened in the start of the 2016/17 season when Fulham were sitting 14th after a defeat to Aston Villa back in October 22nd. After a 5-0 drubbing to Huddersfield Town at Craven Cottage (hey, remember when we used to drub teams like Huddersfield Town?), Jokanovic was able to regroup his team towards a sixth place finish. There are plenty of reasons why Fulham seem to time and again start off so slow, but one of them looks to be outside his control.
Don’t blame it on Slav, blame it on the board
That’s right. I’ve poked the bear that Fulham supporters just love to argue about whenever they have the chance. Tony Kahn has been a fan favorite and a fan villain all at the same time during his tenure at Craven Cottage. The son of owner Shahid has been in charge of Fulham’s recruitment strategy for quite some time and his been responsible for a data-driven approach to their transfer window strategy that has resulted in less power from the manager on this side of his responsibilities.
In the year, 2018, this is necessary for either a director of football or somebody else to oversee these matters instead of the manager due to the ever-changing world that is going around the sport. However, if the manager and the board don’t see eye-to-eye, that’s where chaos ensues. Surely enough, that is what happened with the sacking of Craig Kline this time last season during the lowest point of Fulham’s season. In that summer before Kline’s departure, 11 players came in as transfers or loan deals. Of those 11, only six of them played over 1,000 Championship minutes and only Aboubakar Kamara and Rui Fonte were able to do so while coming in permanently. Neither of those two players have played enough to be a part of Jokanovic’s rotation in the Premier League this season.
This summer, 12 signings and loanees have come in but five of them came in during the transfer deadline date. As a result, Jokanovic was not able to have has entire senior team gel as much as he would’ve liked to and he has basically been behind schedule in terms of picking out his best system and his best starting XI.
Or maybe, blame it on the players
Even if you were to not blame the board on this issue, it’s not like health has been kind to Jokanovic’s squad either. Both Tim Ream and Alfie Mawson started the season off injured, which put an end to any of Fulham’s chances for finding out who their best back line was before the season ever started. It’s been all chop-and-change since and Tom Cairney’s absence completely plummeted the production of the midfield since his ankle injury in the Burnley fixture while Joe Bryan has been sorely missed due to his hamstring injury to Everton. Oh, and let’s not forget the persistent injuries Floyd Ayite and Neeskens Kebano get as well, limiting Fulham’s options in attack surrounding Aleksander Mitrovic.
Even if you don’t want to blame injuries to the club’s performances, Tim Ream couldn’t have just called out his teammates on Sky Sports for no reason whatsoever. There’s no denying that there is plenty of change in the Fulham dressing room, which leads to completely different personalities infiltrating the club and a completely new dynamic that we’re used to seeing than last season. That’s not to say that what Ream did was right either. We only need to look at his performance at Cardiff for him to get his complete comeuppance after he decided to take the internal locker room strife and put it out in the public like that.
But somewhere along the line, the experiences of these players, whether it is playing in a Europa League final at Marseille or in a World Cup Final for Germany, have to come through and instill confidence in a club that is begging for mercy for it. Last time I checked, senior players compile of almost always grown adults. So if you can’t get motivated beyond a 50-year old getting on your case to play better in a sport you’ve had a passion for for most of your adult life, I don’t know what to tell you anymore.
We’ve all been in this road before
So beyond just looking at the current state of the club for why Jokanovic has to stay, we only need to remember the worst of times when Fulham seemed like a club in crisis. There’s no denying that Fulham’s best years in the Premier League era happened when there was stability in the dugout. Between 2000 and 2010, Jean Tigana, Chris Coleman and Roy Hodgson held the managerial role for more than nine of them.
Lawrie Sanchez rounded out that tenure, but that was when Fulham seriously looked like they were to be relegated before Hodgson saved the day with the great escape. Afterwards, Fulham have dealt with Mark Hughes, Martin Jol, Rene Mulensteen, the Felix Magath experience, Kyt Symons, Stuart Gray before rounding it all out with the man we know and love today. Between 2013/14 to 2015/16, there were five official managers in charge of Fulham during that time. That’s right, five men with five differing ideas of man management, training regiments and tactics in three years.
Plenty of other circumstances were in play as to why that took place, but you walk around the River Thames and wonder why there’s so much loyalty to Slav, that’s why. The memories of this past decade are still all too fresh in the minds of many and the last thing they want to see is any instability after finally seeing it for the first time in years.
Are we sure there are better options out there?
Lastly, are you kidding me with these odds?!?!? Haven’t we all seen how much Everton couldn’t stand Sam Allardyce? How about Sunderland and West Ham under David Moyes? We all know England’s favorite punch line on social media. You know you’re not a bottom half of the table Premier League club if you haven’t been managed under Allardyce, Moyes, Mark Hughes, Alan Pardew, Steve Bruce or Tony Pulis. They’re the by-default cream of the crop when it comes to English managerial talent that is always available and always do a job of keeping your club from being relegated...most of the time.
Even when your club does stay up, their style of football is always generic, boring and miserable. In the year 2018, that’s unacceptable for any football fan. Nowadays, its a requirement for a manager to come in and not only bring results, but bring in an identity. Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and even peak Mauricio Pochettino have done that with Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham, respectively, with their breakneck pressing and possession style football. We all know Eddie Howe brings the town passion and a sense of belonging at Bournemouth with his style of play. Even Brighton, Wolves and Cardiff (very loud sigh) have an identity.
If you remove Slav, you remove what Fulham stand for. That only gets to be recreated if a Leonardo Jardim, Roger Schmidt or even a Ralph Husenhüttl. But why would any of that trio want to go from reaching the heights of European football to come to a Southwest London club that isn’t the only club in town and not guaranteed Premier League survival? The pickings are downright slim and not in any of Fulham’s favor. That’s why Jokanovic has to stay.