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Jol a prisoner of prudence

last updated Saturday 05th October 2013, 10:43 AM


Fulham manager Martin Jol
Fulham manager
Martin Jol
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Martin Jol
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There might have been times in recent weeks, when the injuries piled up, the last-gasp concessions hit hard and a section of the Fulham support called for his dismissal that Martin Jol wondered whether he truly needed this job.

The Dutchman came to Craven Cottage as the manager in the summer of 2011 to build something exciting and yet, in the face of myriad challenges, the majority of them underpinned by financial restrictions, he has found himself barging through the doors at the last-chance saloon.

Jol has his pride and the big-club pedigree, having previously taken charge at Tottenham Hotspur, Hamburg and Ajax. Scrapping at the wrong end of the table, at a club that has not demonstrated the capacity for serious investment during his tenure, is surely not his idea of satisfaction.

Fulham do not want to sack him. That much has been made clear this week, in the wake of last Saturday's tortuous injury-time home defeat to Cardiff City. They want to give him the chance to turn things around. And yet no one is kidding themselves. If results do not pick up immediately, the new owner, Shahid Khan, will have no alternative.

The visit of Mark Hughes's Stoke City on Saturday has assumed do-or-die significance for Jol and it is a quirk of fate that he could be pressed to the exit by his Fulham predecessor, the man who walked out on the club because of what he felt was a lack of ambition.

Jol is not a quitter. But when he reflects on his situation, any regrets may mirror those that Hughes felt. It is a truism of the Premier League that you generally get what you pay for and a prime example right now is Arsenal and Mesut Özil. Jol's net spend on permanent signings across his five transfer windows at Fulham is roughly £4m. The club have lived within their means, which is commendable on one level but deeply frustrating on others.

The decision to lavish £10.6m on Bryan Ruiz from FC Twente in Jol's first summer seems as though lifted from a different age. Jol's charge has come to be characterised by the hunt for loans, frees and bargains; for players who have lost sight of their best form but retain the potential to be built back up. He has largely been unable to buy the 24-year-olds that he wants and, consequently, he has looked towards the more seasoned end of the market.

This summer, Jol paid fees for Maarten Stekelenburg (£5m), Scott Parker (£3m), Elsad Zverotic (£300,000) and Sascha Riether (£1.2m to turn the loan into a permanent transfer). He picked up Fernando Amorebieta and Derek Boateng on frees; Adel Taarabt and Darren Bent on loan. There were a glut of players released but at least there were no damaging departures like those of Moussa Dembélé and Clint Dempsey from the previous summer. They joined Tottenham for a combined £21m.

Jol has had to finesse his contacts and persuade players that he knows, and has worked with in the past, to sign. Bizarrely, this has been held against him, as though it is a reflection of a type of short-sightedness. He did not pay over the odds for Stekelenburg, Parker, Taarabt, Bent or Dimitar Berbatov, who joined in the summer of last year from Manchester United for £5m and it is questionable what the alternatives might have been. Berbatov's 15 league goals last season were invaluable.

Jol's other old boys, who have since left Fulham, have been Mladen Petric, Urby Emanuelson and Eyong Enoh. The former arrived as a free agent; the other two on loan. Only one client of Jol's agent, Mino Raiola, has completed a permanent move to Craven Cottage during his tenure - Pajtim Kasami, who signed for £1.5m from Palermo in July 2011.

Jol respects the club's chief executive, Alistair Mackintosh, who has a burgeoning reputation in the game as a tough negotiator and shrewd market operator. He even feels a sense of loyalty towards him. Mackintosh is always positive and it is believed that he is sympathetic to the plight of Jol and the team. The margins so far this season have been fiendishly tight.

Khan, who is based in the United States, talks to Mackintosh every day and it is fair to say he is feeling his way into English football and its attendant idiosyncrasies following his takeover from Mohamed Al Fayed on 12 July. He signed off the deals for Parker, Taarabt, Bent and Zverotic, the back-up full-back, and he appears to be taking a prudent line. His business model is in keeping with the Premier League's other US-based owners. Khan has already toppled one MJ at Craven Cottage, having ordered the removal of the Michael Jackson statue.

Everything that could have gone wrong for Jol so far this season has done, apart from the opening day victory at Sunderland. The problems in his team have been exposed, such as the slowness of the defence and the lack of pressing from the front and there have been cruel cuts at virtually every turn. The late winners for Newcastle United and Cardiff, together with West Bromwich Albion's injury-time equaliser, have deprived the club of a fistful of points and they currently sit above only Crystal Palace and Sunderland.

The injuries have been a factor. All of the new faces from the summer - with the exception of Zverotic - have been stricken at various stages, with Stekelenburg, who hurt his shoulder at Sunderland, still out and there now being the suggestion that he could require surgery. Kieran Richardson, Jol's first-choice left-back, has also suffered along with Ruiz and Berbatov.

Jol has heard criticism for his lack of faith in youth, despite his promotion from the academy of Alex Kacaniklic and his use of Kasami. He has high hopes for Chris David, Buomesca Tue Na Banga and the 16-year-old England youth striker Patrick Roberts, among others. Jol includes six or seven academy players in first-team training every Monday.

The club's move for Rene Meulensteen has provided a further talking point. Jol recommended that they appoint the former Manchester United No2 as his assistant - he knows and likes Meulensteen, his compatriot, who was sacked as the Anzhi Makhachkala manager in August - and the initial contact took place three weeks ago.

Meulensteen, who has other offers, turned Fulham down and took himself off to Dubai to consider his options. Khan, Mackintosh and Jol have each attempted to persuade Meulensteen to change his mind and join them. And yet, for Jol, there appears to be a catch. If Meulensteen did sign and Jol could not improve results, Khan would have a managerial replacement already on the staff.

Jol is into the final year of his contract and he fights on. His first two seasons at the club were broadly successful, with ninth and 12th-placed finishes but the trenches have been dug for a struggle. With or without Jol, it will not be easy.























Source David Hytner at The Guardian

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