Before we get started, I want to be absolutely clear. I think Slavisa Jokanovic is the best manager we’ve had this century (that’s best, not most successful, or left the best legacy or anything like that). What he has done for the club has been nothing short of fantastic when you consider the position we were in when he took over and will probably go down as a ‘legend’ when all is said and done. So I hope this article isn’t taken out of context…
However, I think Slavisa has taken us as far as he can. As I’ve said many times before, everyone has their levels and limits to what they can achieve, and from what I have seen during his tenure and most importantly the way he’s struggling to adapt to the Premier League (the number of changes to the back four is the biggest indicator of that), tells me that and I think Slavisa has potentially reached his.
This is not a knock on him, but it’s a matter of what you want your ambitions to be. If you just want to stick around the lower mid-table of the Premier League, similar to what Stoke did for a number of years, then by all means, keep Slav for the next decade if you want, I believe he’ll be able to do that. Again, I’m not saying he’s a bad manager, but if we really want to push on and turn into ‘The Man Utd Of The South’ as Mohammed Al-Fayed put it, then we will need to make changes in the dugout.
Slav’s contract is up at the end of the season, you’d imagine that he’d get a new one before Christmas, which he would fully deserve, but as Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character Art Howe put it in Moneyball “a 1-year contract says the same thing to a manager as it does to a player: There’s not a lot of faith there”. Plus, when you look at the job he’s done for us, I have zero doubt that there are going to be other clubs looking for his services, so the hunt for a new manager could be forced upon us anyway. We need to be prepared for such a scenario and have someone lined up.
I think what we need to do, is go for a manager who has had his promises denied & bring him to a place where he can fulfil them. A manager who’s got a pedigree of winning & has a pretty impressive trophy cabinet to back it up. A manager who’s also going to be out of contract at the end of the season. I’m talking about Rafael Benitez.
Let’s look at the reasons why I think he’s the ideal man to kick us to the next level…
1) When Benitez took over at Newcastle, as well as in the time period from then to now, he has talked about how what he is doing up on Tyneside is a ‘project’, how this is a club where he can build something long term. Look at what we are doing with The Riverside Stand, look at our academy that’s producing exciting prospects by the bucket load. We have a project, WE have ideas of moving the club to another level in the long term. Except we can actually offer some follow through & have concrete evidence to prove it.
2) One of the key things that Benitez has lacked at Newcastle is funds from above. Let nobody say that Shahid Khan isn’t scared to get his wallet out when the situation demands. If Rafa wants a new forward (given his relationship with Mitro, don’t rule it out, but of course I’d rather he stayed), he will get the funds.
3) Sticking with the owner, there is far more stability at Fulham than there is at Newcastle. Gone are the days of three managers in a season & an ever-changing boardroom. Shahid Khan has learnt his lessons and has become a far better owner because of it.
4) Let’s face it, London is better than Newcastle. It’s an easy choice for him to make.
If you want to criticise the fact that he plays too defensively, or that he hasn’t done anything impressive at Newcastle, that he can only really do it at a big club like Liverpool/Real Madrid/Inter Milan, you are well within your rights to, and you’d make some pretty valid arguments. But I’ll say it again, look at the man’s track record. You can’t deny that he’d be an upgrade on Slavisa.
One more time, I want to stress, this is not designed as a knock against Slavisa Jokanovic. I may be completely wrong and we’ll suddenly go on another long undefeated run, end up in 7th and pull a Burnley (except we’d probably last longer in Europe), but the longer the season goes on, the longer Slav doesn’t have a contract for next season, you’re going to start questioning what’s going to happen, and I believe that replacing Jokanovic with Benitez would be the best choice.
Note: This article is the opinion of the author and is not the view of the Fulham Focus brand.