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Why it is déjà vu for Slavisa Jokanovic at Craven Cottage

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Slavisa Jokanovic
Photo: Reuters

For most clubs, the opening of the transfer window brings newfound optimism and excitement, filled with intrigue and hopes for an impact addition to the squad. Yet for Fulham in the Slavisa Jokanovic era, there is a far different flavour to the window: one of public spats and constant displeasures voiced to the media.

In the run-up to last weekend’s FA Cup Third Round loss against Southampton, the Serb unleashed another of his patented transfer tirades. Jokanovic expressed his disappointment with the club’s supposed lack of ambition in the market, and offered a provocative solution to the problem: he should be sacked.

To many Fulham fans, these sentiments are far from a revelatory bombshell. One only has to look back to late July for a similar outburst. Then, Slavisa claimed his transfer list was being completely ignored”, in addition to stating his support for Sone Aluko, who he said he was fighting to keep at the club. In the end, Aluko was sold to Reading, seemingly against Jokanovic’s best wishes.

The fractious history doesn’t end there. Back in August 2016, after Fulham’s impressive unbeaten start to the Championship season, Jokanovic was frustrated with Fulham’s lack of transfers.

Add in the Craig Kline disaster, in which the controversial American data analyst had an outsize say over transfers and clashed with Jokanovic, one gets a recipe for managerial discontent.

It is certainly clear that there are still problems behind the scenes at Fulham, illustrating that the departure of Kline has done little to cool the tensions between Slavisa and the club’s ownership. Yet the public voicing of disapproval from Jokanovic has to stop.

The state of affairs regarding the club’s transfer policy indicates serious issues behind the scenes. At any organisation, issues such as Jokanovic’s should be dealt with behind closed doors, rather than publicly aired in the media. If the manager truly felt aggrieved, he should take these matters up privately with the ownership.

No matter how annoyed Slavisa may be, taking internal disputes public is counterproductive and can only make matters worse. The fact that he has complained publicly for the past three windows shows the collapse of normal communication measures at the club.

But this does not indicate a club in crisis; Fulham is by no means in disaster mode. The new plans to redevelop the Riverside Stand, the retained Category One status of the academy, and the gleaming new Motspur Park training ground are all prominent examples of the healthy state of Fulham Football Club.

Much of the public posturing can be attributed to Slavisa’s sometimes abrasive demeanor. These threats have persisted throughout his tenure at SW6, and the Serb has stayed with the club and expressed his desire to take the Whites to the Premier League. Surely if Slavisa truly intended on leaving, he would have deserted Fulham long ago?

Jokanovic’s public outbursts appear to be nothing more than the manager throwing his toys out of the pram. The threats and ‘back me or sack me’ proclamations carry little weight and only serve to disrupt the club. The media focus should have been on Fulham’s superb dismantling of Ipswich in midweek, yet instead Slavisa’s petulance dominates the headlines.

Fulham supporters hope they have heard the end of their manager’s complaints, and will be hopeful of bringing in Matt Targett, who has been linked by Sky Sports, on loan in the coming days. Slavisa hopefully has learned his lesson, and given his comments following the Southampton match, he intends to change his ways.

“If somebody is hurt, sorry, I’m not going to [talk] anymore”, Jokanovic told BBC Radio London“I’m going to be quiet and [continue] coaching my team.”

For the sake of Fulham and its stability, let us hope Slavisa Jokanovic honours his word.

Championship

What is responsible for Fulham’s slow start to the Championship season?

Jake Jackman

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Fulham

Fulham were billed as one of the favourites for promotion to the Premier League this season after an impressive 2016/17 campaign. The Cottagers were labelled as one of the best teams to watch in the Championship during the second half of last season. Their form in 2017 was excellent as they won 15 of their 26 matches across all competitions heading into the play-offs. This included an eye-catching 3-1 victory against Newcastle United at St James’ Parks.

Although they finished in sixth position, they were the bookmakers’ favourites to win the play-offs, but they were defeated in the semi-final by Reading. It was a bitter pill to swallow at the time as they had a lot of momentum and looked ready to enter the top-flight again. However, the lottery of the play-offs means that they fell short.

It was a difficult failure to bounce back from, but Fulham supporters saw the improvement that the club had made under Slavisa Jokanovic and entered the new season with the hope of another promotion challenge. After 15 matches, they find themselves in the bottom half and are already six points behind the top six. A total of four wins is a huge disappointment and there are questions being asked about the where it has gone wrong for the West London club.

Where has it gone wrong?

In one sense, Fulham have been a victim of their own success, as they lost three key players during the summer. Scott Malone was excellent at left-back and offered a good attacking support, contributing six goals and three assists. His performances earned him a move to the Premier League with Huddersfield Town. Sone Aluko was another that departed during the summer after a long saga. The winger was one of the side’s best attackers, contributing eight goals and ten assists to the team’s play-off assault.

Fulham

Throughout the summer, he was heavily linked with Reading and he eventually made the move to the side that bear Fulham in last season’s play-offs for a fee of £7.5 million. It was difficult for the Cottagers to turn down considering they signed the player on a free transfer 12 months earlier. The third and final big departure was Chris Martin, who returned to Derby County after a loan spell. He was at the centre of controversy during his time at Craven Cottage, but he was a crucial part of the team’s success and they failed to replace him sufficiently.

The biggest problem for Fulham has been the failure to find a striker to lead the line. Aboubakar Kamara and Rui Fonte were signed to strengthen their forward options, but the pair have contributed three goals and one assist between them in 22 matches. This isn’t good enough and their failure to hold up the ball like Martin did last season has reduced the side’s attacking threat.

Jokanovic needs to be more adaptable with his tactics, as his team have become static and predictable to play against this season. The loss of key players has left the current style ineffective, as teams are pressing Fulham high up the pitch and limiting the space on the flanks, which stops the full-backs from being as influential.

Last season, Ryan Fredericks and Ryan Sessegnon averaged a goal involvement every 306.4 minutes. This season, it stands at 517.8 minutes. Fulham are being forced to operate further away from the opposition goal, as they lacked a physical presence up front capable of holding the ball up and bringing others into the game. By the time they reach the final third, the opposition have enough men back to defend the space effectively.

Fulham

Against Bolton Wanderers, they created little in terms of clear-cut chances and were lucky to come away with a point. This is a team that will be fighting relegation and are currently bottom of the division, but they came to Craven Cottage with a game-plan and earned a point from the game. They packed the midfield area and forced Fulham to rely on crosses from deep and hopeful long balls. It was quite a change from the free-flowing football that was consistently played last season.

Supporters will allude to the loss of Tom Cairney through injury for a long period this season and that has been a factor. However, a team challenging for promotion shouldn’t be reliant on one player. Their current position of 16th means that the Scottish international is facing a lot of pressure to immediately come back into the team and make an impact. He scored the equaliser against Bolton, but they need others to step up and support him.

Can they recover their season?

The Championship is a tight league and the beauty of the division is that a few wins can lift you into play-off contention. Despite the failures of the summer’s recruitment, Fulham have a good squad and a manager that is revered as one of the division’s best. It has been a difficult start, but they have lost only four of the 15 matches. If they had turned three of their seven draws into wins, they would be tied on points with Derby County in 6th position.

The next three matches are huge for Fulham and there is no margin for error. They face three of the current top six in Wolves, Derby County and Sheffield United. It is a difficult run of fixtures, but they must approach it with the intention of taking points if they are to move back into promotion contention. The improving fitness level of Tom Cairney will help, but the rest of the team must do more. There will be money to spend in January, but Fulham could find themselves out of contention by that stage if things don’t improve.

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Chelsea

Five players to watch from the England Under-17 World Cup squad

Jake Jackman

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England

England Under-17s delivered a dominant performance to beat Brazil to reach the Under-17 World Cup final on Wednesday. The team excited the nation as they were confident on the pitch, attacking the Brazilians with pace and purpose down the flanks. It wasn’t a display that was typical of English teams and offered hope that a brighter future is ahead for the Three Lions.

The concern will be that the league structure in this country isn’t the best for nurturing talent, but there is no doubt that the talent is there. The age groups from Under-17s to Under-21s have all fared well in major competitions in 2017. The Under-20 team won the World Cup and this Under-17 side will be hoping to replicate that success on Saturday. Here are five players to keep an eye on from the squad:

Steven Sessegnon

The Fulham full-back is one of the best talents to come through at Craven Cottage in recent times alongside his brother Ryan, who is already a first-team regular. Steven made his first-team debut earlier this season and has been described as the future of club by his manager Slavisa Jokanovic.

Like his brother, he has a lot of pace and is reliable in possession, capable of carrying the ball for long distances. Against Brazil, he was regularly trying to get forward to support attacks and offered a threat. Tottenham and Everton have both been linked with him, but he is currently at the right club to progress his career.

Tashan Oakley-Boothe 

The central midfielder is at the perfect club to make his first strides into senior football.

Tottenham have become the place to be for young English talent and Oakley-Boothe has been on the fringes of the first team under Mauricio Pochettino. He made his first-team bow against Barnsley earlier this season and has been on the bench for a Premier League fixture.

The teenager is confident on the ball and good at winning back possession, as has been evident throughout the competition. More opportunities could be on the horizon when he returns to Spurs as his manager is already a big fan.

Soccer Football – Brazil vs England – FIFA U-17 World Cup Semi-Final – Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium, Kolkata, India – October 25, 2017. England’s team celebrates their win. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika

George McEachran

His older brother, Josh, was billed as the best player to graduate from the Chelsea academy, but he failed to make an impact in the first-team. The Blues have similarly high hopes for George and he will be itching to go one step further than his older sibling.

He is a similar player, as he is comfortable in possession, but he is more offensive and can be used further forward or on the wings. The midfielder has scored crucial goals for the youth teams at Stamford Bridge and his performances at the Under-17 World Cup enhance his reputation.

It could be a while before he plays for the first-team, but he is likely to be seen out on loan in the not too distant future.

Phil Foden

The player on this list with the best chance of making first-team progress this season is Phil Foden and he was the standout player against Brazil. Pep Guardiola is a known fan and has brought him up to the fringes of the first-team squad at Manchester City.

The midfielder is comfortable with the ball in tight spaces and distributes it intelligently for a player of his age. Coaches at the club have been excited about him since he joined as a child and a first-team debut is surely just around the corner.

Soccer Football – Brazil vs England – FIFA U-17 World Cup Semi-Final – Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium, Kolkata, India – October 25, 2017. England’s Rhian Brewster celebrates his goal. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika

Rhian Brewster – Liverpool

It will be the young striker that takes the headlines tomorrow and deservedly so. He scored a hat-trick for the second successive round and is currently on course to finish as the tournament’s top scorer.

Brewster is a confident and accomplished finisher as he has shown during the last two matches, while his free-kick against Mexico in an earlier round was superb. His movement and technique on the ball mean that he is difficult to defend against.

There will be several Liverpool fans that will be hoping he gets a chance at some point during this season.

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Championship

Fulham increase bid for Dwight Gayle – would he be a good signing?

Jake Jackman

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Gayle

Fulham have made Newcastle United’s Dwight Gayle one of their priority targets during the last week of the transfer window. The Sun report that they aren’t going to give up on the striker and have increased their bid to £18 million. This would be a club record deal for the Cottagers and shows their ambition to get back in the Premier League. The Magpies striker scored a goal every 93.3 minutes in the Championship last season and would be a great buy for Slavisa Jokanovic’s side.

Newcastle United had indicated that Gayle would be available for transfer if they managed to sign a replacement. They are reluctant to let him go at this stage, as they have failed to sign anyone on deadline day, but the figures of the deal might be too good to turn down. Fulham aren’t prepared to give up on the player and this one is likely to go down to the wire.

Would he be a good signing?

His record in the Championship speaks for itself. Chris Wood may have finished last season as the division’s top scorer, but Gayle would have taken that honour if he didn’t suffer a hamstring injury at the beginning of 2017. The striker was playing in the team that won the league, but it wasn’t easy for him. He managed to finish the chances that came his way and showed that he can score different types of goal.

Fulham need to have a goalscorer if they are to win promotion. That is what they lacked last season. It won’t be easy for them to convince Newcastle to sell, but Gayle would be the best signing they could make in their current position. It would be a signing that excited the supporters and provides them with momentum to have a real go at promotion. The deadline is fast approaching and it looks like the all of their eggs are in the 27-year-old’s basket. The club are showing real ambition and they deserve to be applauded for that.

How likely is a deal?

At this stage of the transfer window, it looks difficult to get a deal completed for Gayle. Newcastle haven’t signed a replacement and they can’t afford to take the risk of letting one go. Fulham are going to keep trying until the deadline passes, but it would be a surprise if this one goes through. It was an ambitious move from the club, but they are unlikely to be rewarded for it.

Dwight Gayle to Fulham
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Transfer Likelihood
The Boot Room's Verdict
At this late stage, it would take a remarkable offer to convince Newcastle to sell, but never say never with Mike Ashley.
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