IMO: Cairney Still Do It?

Image: Fulham FC

The form of Tom Cairney has come under scrutiny in our first two games back from the break and his form beforehand wasn’t fantastic either.

TC is clearly finding it hard to have an impact on the game at the moment which has been a huge disappointment. Last week marked 5 years since our club captain signed for Kit Symons in 2015, and he is now one of our longest-serving players. In that period he has also been one of our most consistent performers and at times the first name on the team sheet. So, whilst I fully understand the criticism he is getting at present, I do feel sympathetic towards him. One thing we are not doing with Parker at the helm is utilising our strengths as a team and getting Cairney on the ball, making things happen is one of them.

Throughout our last promotion season under Jokanovic, nearly everything we did right and effectively came through our captain. He developed an outstanding understanding with Ryan Fredericks and Ryan Sessegnon which helped us stretch teams and win games convincingly, as well as forming the creative role in a very well balanced midfield, which gave him the license to play with freedom. There is no doubt that an inform Cairney is one of the best players in the division, we just are not seeing that at present and it’s because of the way he is being used.

He has been plagued with a constant knee problem for the past 3 years but still went on to make history as the first Fulham player to score at Wembley in that very memorable playoff final. Whilst being interviewed on the pitch amid the celebrations, I remember him revealing that he had to play through the pain barrier for much of the season which shows his commitment to the club. He was then very unlucky to suffer another setback in just the third game of our Premier League campaign against Burnley which saw him sidelined for another three months. On return from injury, he was greeted with a completely different environment to the buzz surrounding the club in August. No more anticipation and excitement of the prospect of a £100 million squad in the Premier League, Slav was gone, Claudio Ranieri was dilly donging about and for some reason, saw Cairney as a right-winger… He was played out of position for the next couple of months before Ranieri was rightfully sacked and replaced by Parker, who put Cairney back in his preferred position, playing just behind Mitrovic. It’s no surprise that by playing in his natural position, we went onto finish the season strongly, he scored against Everton, we won three games in a row and he signed a new 5-year contract which pleased everyone associated with the club.

The momentum which we finished the campaign, was also apparent at the start of the season. We saw some moments of brilliance from his wand of a left foot, with his 25-yard screamers and most notably for me, his assist for Cavaleiro at home to Millwall which remains the standout performance of the season. But as the pressure on results began to build, the football has become less and less enjoyable to watch and I’d imagine equally less enjoyable to play in. Our game plan always appears to be more concerned with a fear of losing as opposed to a confidence that we will win. That lack of confidence from the manager’s approach must rub off on the players which appears to be the case with Cairney.

More often than not this season, we have seen Cairney in a slightly deeper role where he can’t influence the game as much as we would like because he is required to do the ugly work and much more restricted in the way he’s allowed to express himself. We also spend most of the time passing the ball along our backline before asking our wingers to make things happen. Our style of play does not play to our strengths, we totally neglect the centre of our midfield for creativity which is a complete contrast to the way Slav set us up and we also make Mitrovic drop far too deep. When we do see Cairney on the ball, he has not been the playmaker we have seen in recent years but that’s because there’s never enough options for him to carve open defences and the tempo of our play is far too slow. He spends most of his energy either running into space making himself available or running back helping out the defence and that is clearly not his natural game. Like many others in the squad, he looks short of confidence, they seem to be held back with the ideas of Parker and for someone like our captain, confidence is massively important. 

He may not be the vocal leader that most fans crave but he seems to be pinpointed every time things go wrong because he is our captain. I think this is slightly unfair and lets the other players off lightly when character is needed all over the pitch if you are to be a success. We have an experienced squad, most of which know how to achieve promotion from the Championship. In the modern game, is it really the job of someone with an armband to hold the rest of the team’s hand?

I want to see Cairney more involved, I want to see him further up the pitch and I want us, to start playing through him again. He has the quality and the technical ability to change games in an instant but asking him to play deep is counterproductive. We have enough midfielders in the squad to do the ugly side of the game, it makes no sense to force that role upon the craftsman most likely to unlock the door.

With Harrison Reed fit and looking better than ever, I would like to see a midfield trio of Reed, Johansen and Cairney. Effectively recreating the famous trio who did the trick last time we were promoted, but with a more mobile version of McDonald in Harrison. Let’s make a real impact in these last 7 matches and get TC back to doing what he does best!