Football League: Fulham boss is feeling out on a limb

Fulham’s Head Coach Slavisa Jokanovic has openly complained that he is “not an important person” in the club’s recruitment process. Laura Jones looks at why The Cottager’s boss is feeling out on a limb.

‘Lies, damned lies and football data analyst statistics,’ that’s how the saying goes – isn’t it?

It seems Fulham’s Head Coach, Slavisa Jokanovic, has had his fill of data analysis taking precedence over a coach’s preference when it comes to signing players.

Back in January, Fulham employed Craig Kline as Director of Statistical Research. Kline is an American data analyst who had previously worked with Fulham’s owner, Shahid Khan at NFL team, Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite not winning a season since his purchase of the American Football club, Khan believed that Kline’s ‘statistical formula’ is essential to Fulham’s recruitment of players; but not everyone agrees.

Jokanovic has openly criticised the data analyst’s approach and berated him for having lost out on signings during this summer transfer window.

Speaking to BBC London after Fulham’s 2-2 draw with Cardiff City, Jokanovic said, “I’ve lost many players in this process in nine months. In the last two days I lost a few players who he [Kline] believes are not good enough.”

Fulham’s Head Coach went on to say, “I had an opinion from one of the best managers in the world on a player and he believes it is a good signing for us and I believe that too. Craig doesn’t believe it is a good signing for us and this guy is not with us.”

Kline isn’t a popular man behind the scenes at Fulham. His approach means he doesn’t watch games relying solely on statistical facts. He has no previous experience in football and has been described in the past as having a “challenging personality.” Kline had what has been described as a “ruck” with the Chief Operating Officer, Darren Preston, where he was later ordered off the premises. Yet he holds a level of power that is unpalatable for some at the club.

Kline’s magical statistical formula is as a guarded as any illusionist’s trick, so have the players signed during his tenure lived up to their mathematical CV?

Now I’m sure Kline’s model looks at specific individual data that comes from club’s training stats, as well as their game time, but in the public domain we just have match data.

According to the Opta stats used by Fulham, since January 2016 the top performing Fulham players have been Tom Cairney, Ross McCormack, Scott Parker, Michael Madl, Moussa Dembele, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Rohan Ince. Of these players only Madl and Ince were signed on loan under Kline’s statistical model.

Since then McCormack and Dembele have been sold leaving big holes in the team. It’s too soon to tell whether any of the summer signings undermine what Jokanovic is saying but new boys Kevin McDonald, Sone Aluko and Denis Odoi are giving Tom Cairney and Scott Parker a run for their money.

What stats can’t take into account is whether these players will continue to work well under their new Head Coach, especially if there is resentment about their purchase.

As an outsider, it’s bemusing that if a statistical formula is being applied to the recruitment of players, why more effort isn’t being made to keep statistically important players? Ross McCormack is the best performing Championship player in the past two seasons and third best performing player in 2014/15. If there is a possibility of keeping players of this calibre, why not work together to keep them?

A joined up approach could work but Fulham sound like they have a power struggle that won’t be resolved any time soon.

Read more from Laura here
Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR

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