Getty Images

Fulham make difficult choice to break from Jokanovic, past

Leave a comment

172 days ago. That’s how long ago Fulham was celebrating its first-ever win at Wembley, capping maybe the greatest five-month stretch in club history. The Whites were headed back to the Premier League, a feat that seemed more and more unreachable as the months in the Championship dragged on.

Slavisa Jokanovic was at the center of it all. He was hailed as a visionary. He was hailed as a calculated risk-taker. He was hailed as a manager who took an ideal and made it a reality.

172 days is the time it took for all of that to come crashing down. On Wednesday, Fulham – sitting bottom of the Premier League – unceremoniously replaced Jokanovic with another dreamer, another visionary in Claudio Ranieri, the man who did the impossible with Leicester City.

[ MORE: Rooney to captain England vs USA ]

Many fans are furious. How could they so quickly forget what Jokanovic brought this club? How could they tear down what he so tirelessly built up?

The reality of the situation, however, is clear: Fulham has not only sunk to the bottom of the Premier League table, they have been flat out terrible. Statistically, they claim ownership to the worst defense in the European top 5 leagues, but it’s about so much more than that. The squad lacks any semblance of ambition, energy, or purpose on the pitch; the players have appeared utterly devoid of life, a husk of their former selves. The same team that led the Championship in both possession and completed passes the previous two seasons was so thoroughly beaten by Huddersfield Town earlier this month, that it’s clear the past is just that – an unrecognizable memory evaporated into the annals of club history to take its place alongside Johnny Haynes, Bobby Robson, and the 2010 Europa League run.

Fulham’s Championship playoff triumph in May is fresh in the minds of fans, yet suddenly seems like a distant memory (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images).

Which is why, despite the sting of cutting ties with someone so dear to the fans and team, the club made the right decision moving on from Slavisa Jokanovic. The manager is most certainly not the only one to shoulder blame for the club’s horrendous start to its Premier League campaign, but he’s most certainly part of the crew. Jokanovic was caught between what worked last season and what he knew had to change, continually flip-flopping between loyalty to the players who brought him Wembley glory and the ones who were poised to bring the club into the new era. Jokanovic was partial to players like Kevin McDonald, Stefan Johansen, and Denis Odoi – who were critical to last season’s triumph but clearly not up to Premier League standards – with disastrous consequences.

As a result of his inability to resolve the internal struggle he faced, expensive new players like Andre Zambo Anguissa and Alfie Mawson struggled to mesh with their new teammates and it showed on the pitch. Fulham central defensive partnership was a carnival turnstile – they haven’t started the same center-backs in consecutive league matches since mid-September. The decomposition continued to manifest on the field as players became more discouraged with the results, coming to a head in the Huddersfield loss. The team that had led the Championship in every possession-based statistical category the year before was beaten in shots and attacking third passes by a team that hadn’t scored a home goal in over 650 minutes. Fulham, as they were know, had faded into nothingness.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings for Week 12 ]

Undoubtedly, others share the blame. The players have looked disinterested and unmotivated over the past month, happy to pass the ball square around the midfield like zombies, without direction or purpose. Recruitment chair Tony Khan, who led Fulham to a massive summer spending spree of $126 million, seems to have missed on a couple of big-money buys like Anguissa and Mawson, while Jean-Michael Seri has cooled after a hot start. Khan built the Championship juggernaut with a statistical approach that led to shrewd purchases in the midfield and on the wing, but in the Premier League, his targets have struggled to make a serious impact as Jokanovic trended towards his more tenured players. In addition, the attitude on the pitch has been nothing short of pathetic, as the players have shown little fight when falling behind, and never has a collective lack of confidence been more apparent.

Still, those deficiencies fall back – at least somewhat – on the manager. Jokanovic proved unable to motivate a fractured and disjointed squad, beating the same drum week after week and throwing his players under the bus for their tainted attitude. He also showed an inability to adapt to a new situation, a naively egotistical approach in hoping to replicate last season’s possession-based tactical model against even Champions League sides at the top of the table. That not only saw his tactics beaten to a pulp week after week, but it also lent to a favoring of tenured players more suitable to his tactical approach rather than allowing the newer – and theoretically better – players a chance to break into the side. As a result, the team was shredded on a weekly basis as Tony Khan was resigned to watching his prized acquisitions rot either on the bench or in a squad with clear defects.

In the end, a change was painful yet necessary. Letting loose the triumphs of last year so fresh in the memory was a difficult one to swallow. Even owner Shad Khan said in his letter to fans, “I wasn’t anticipating having to make this announcement related to Slavisa and wish the circumstances were such that I didn’t have to.” Yet here the club is, with just one win in 12 and a mountain to climb. Jokanovic, for all his successes at Craven Cottage, was never going to provide the immediate on-field change this club needs so desperately, instead determined to plow through the oncoming wave with his feet buried in the sand. If the necessary points weren’t going to come against Cardiff City, Bournemouth, and Huddersfield, they weren’t going to appear against anyone else.

Jokanovic will always be remembered fondly by those at and around Fulham FC, but the only decision moving forward was to cut him loose. It was now or never for the Whites, as desperate as any in the Premier League in mid-November.

Europa League roundup: Arsenal wins; Rangers, AC Milan bounced

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
Leave a comment

Twenty-four games in about four hours: It’s the Europa League group stage, and it’s reached its conclusion.

[ MORE: Mourinho: “Job done” in UCL ]

A very young Arsenal claimed its group, Celtic bunkered down but couldn’t advance to the knockout rounds, and rivals Rangers couldn’t quite find the offense needed to complete a promising UEL campaign.


Rapid Vienna 1-0 Rangers

Steven Gerrard‘s promising first European campaign as first team manager has ended thanks to a goal from sub Dejan Ljubicic in Austria. A very even game, Rangers could not find a way past Richard Strebinger.

Arsenal 1-0 Qarabag

Alexandre Lacazette‘s 17th minute goal gave the Gunners a leg up on the group lead in a game with a bunch of unusual faces on the pitch. Carl Jenkinson, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, and Saka Bukayo were among the starters, and Lacazette left for Zech Medley in the 63rd minute as Arsenal saved its best for a trip to Southampton on Sunday (No offense to Mesut Ozil and Laurent Koscielny, who went 90 minutes each).

MOL Vidi 2-2 Chelsea

We’ve already shown you Willian’s terrific free kick, and this match in Hungary was plenty entertaining for a relatively inconsequential outing. Ethan Ampadu scored an own goal two minutes after Chelsea took the lead, and MOL Vidi led 2-1 when Olivier Giroud restored the stalemate in the 75th.

Celtic 1-2 Red Bull Salzburg

The visitors dominated and finally found a way past goalkeeper Craig Gordon through a 67th Moanes Dabbur marker. Celtic went down two with Fredrik Gulbrandsen adding to the score line.

RB Leipzig 1-1 Rosenborg

Matheus Cunha’s goal just after halftime looked to have prodded RBL above Celtic and into the Round of 32, but Tore Reginiussen leveled for the Norwegian side.

Olympiacos 3-1 AC Milan

Gennaro Gattuso’s men are out of Europe after a four-goal second half.

Elsewhere
Villarreal 2-0 Spartak Moscow
Lazio 1-2 Eintracht Frankfurt
Sevilla 3-0 Krasnodar
Marseille 1-3 Apollon Limassol
Rennes 2-0 Astana
PAOK 1-3 BATE Borisov
Genk 4-0 Sarpsborg
Dynamo Kiev 0-1 Jablonec
Besiktas 0-1 Malmo
Akhisar Belerdiyespor 0-0 Standard Liege
Slavia Prague 2-0 Zenit Saint-Petersburg
Copenhagen 0-1 Bordeaux
Dinamo Zagreb 0-0 Anderlecht
Sporting Lisbon 3-0 Vorskla Poltava
F91 Dudelange 0-0 Real Betis
Ludogorets Razgrad 1-1 FC Zurich
AEK Larnaca 1-5 Bayer Leverkusen
Spartak Trnava 1-0 Fenerbahce

FIFA won’t be bound by politics over sharing Qatar World Cup

Photo by Pool/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Political tensions won’t prevent FIFA from deciding whether to place some World Cup games outside Qatar, the head of world soccer’s governing body said Thursday.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino used a summit of soccer nations in Qatar to gather support for his mission to add 16 teams to the 2022 tournament – a move that would require the tiny, energy-rich nation sharing games in the region.

[ MORE: Gerrard proud of Rangers in exit ]

That would be complicated by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cutting ties with Qatar in 2017 in an ongoing political dispute that prevents flights between Doha and the boycotting countries.

Qatar won a vote in 2010 to host the World Cup with 32 teams and is only building eight stadiums. A 48-team tournament is already planned for 2026 in the United States, Canada and Mexico, but Infantino wants to fast-track that expansion and add 16 more games for the first World Cup in the Middle East.

“Is it feasible to do it only in Qatar? Difficult probably,” Infantino said. “Is it feasible to have a few games being played in neighboring countries? Well, maybe this is an option, of course.

“I’m not that naive not to know not to read the news and not to know what is going on. But now we are in football, we are not in politics, and in football, sometimes the dreams come true.”

Given 32 teams compete for the World Cup and there are 211 nations in FIFA, adding more slots in 2022 is likely to be embraced by the members given they have already approved expansion of the event beginning in 2026.

Infantino used a trip to Doha in October to ask the emir of Qatar if he would consider allowing matches to be shared with nations that are part of an economic and travel boycott against his country.

“If there is something that I could do which is good for football worldwide, then we should look at it,” Infantino said at a news conference in Doha before heading to Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup. “I have the chance and I’m lucky enough to be able to look into that without having to be bound by any political considerations, but looking at it from a purely sporting perspective.”

Infantino did use a speech to politicians at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina last month to discuss using the World Cup in 2022 to bring countries together by spreading games beyond Qatar.

The 2022 tournament is already being cramped into a 28-day window to minimize the disruption to top European leagues because it was moved from June and July to November and December due to the extreme heat.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Gerrard proud despite Rangers exit from Europa League (video)

AP Photo/Ronald Zak
Leave a comment

Steven Gerrard‘s promising first European campaign as first team manager has ended thanks to a goal from sub Dejan Ljubicic in Austria.

A very even game, Rangers could not find a way past goalkeeper Richard Strebinger.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

“In terms of the performance, I can’t fault the players,” Gerrard said to BT Sport. “They gave me everything. In what we had available, they’ve done extremely well. The whole journey, I’m so proud of the team.

“We’ll come again in Europe. Next year we’ll be better cause we’ll have some better players with us and the young lads in the group with learn and grow. We’ll be together for 18 months instead of six.

Gerrard says he wants Rangers to bring the same intensity back to the Scottish top flight, where the Glasgow side are two points back of rivals Celtic. Rangers have played one more game than Celtic.

Men in Blazers podcast: Chelsea stops Man City, Atlanta wins MLS Cup

@MenInBlazers
Leave a comment

Rog and Davo recap one of the shock results of the season in Chelsea’s defeat of Manchester City. Plus, Liverpool go top, Atlanta United win MLS Cup and the USWNT know their World Cup opponents.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

Subscribe to the podcast OR to update your iTunes subscriptions ]

Click here for the RSS feed ]