Fulham lost again today, and once more surrendered cheap goals after squandering several gilt-edged opportunities. Within the context of this Premier League season the defeat to Everton was a devastating blow, but don’t let those short-term realities obscure the green shoots of recovery.
Felix Magath confirmed post-game today that he would be staying at Craven Cottage irrespective of the club’s fate this season, and that’s hugely positive given the impression the German has clearly already had at the club.
Fulham may have lost, and they may have been undone by familiar failings this afternoon, but for the most part they were extremely competitive and, until David Stockdale’s unfortunate own-goal, resilient. It may be a meaningless ‘what if’, but had either Moussa Dembele or Kieran Richardson taken one of their first-half chances, Fulham could well have won the game.
The club’s predicament this season isn’t really just about the last twelve months. The cultivation of a retirement-home attitude at Craven Cottage is largely responsible for the current situation, and this just happens to be the season during which the flaws to that approach were exposed. The collective attitude has been too corrosive for too long, and the laissez-faire mentality which has characterised this side for the past two or three years has ultimately been their undoing.
But something’s changing under Magath.
Where once the Fulham team was populated with players who had already earned their reputations in the game, now the supporters are starting to see younger faces and teenagers who are bubbling with enthusiasm. Cauley Woodrow, Moussa Dembele, and Patrick Roberts may not be developed enough to save the club from the Championship, but they represent a shift away from the old Fulham model of assembling a side purely for the here and now. Not only are there exciting academy graduates at Craven Cottage, but there’s a manager in-charge who is brave enough to give them significant first-team minutes.
Maybe this is what the club needed? A manager who is broad-shouldered enough to leave Darren Bent on the bench and start a seventeen year-old. Or who picks his team based on what he sees in training rather than players’ reputations.
Felix Magath has, for want of a better phrase, the balls to interfere with the established order at Fulham, and given the club’s recent downward trajectory that can’t be a bad thing. Big physical demands of the players, giving opportunities to hungry unknowns…these are good developments, and ones which should be applauded by the supporters.
Relegated or not this season, Fulham feel like they’re headed in the right direction at last.
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