But any credit will go to new head coach
23 November ~ Many Fulham fans expected a new face in the dugout after the international break, but not alongside Martin Jol. The appointment of Rene Meulensteen as head coach has prompted a surge of optimism despite the continuing presence of the beleaguered manager. While today's visitors Swansea are hardly a pushover, the distraction of the Europa League (ah, happy days) and the absence of the injured Michu make them less daunting than last season. After drubbings from Liverpool and Manchester United, this was expected to be either Jol's last stand or someone else's fresh start.
This halfway house is neither one thing nor the other. Leaving aside the confusing job title – used synonymously with "manager" at other clubs – the appointment of "one of the best coaches in the world" (according to Robin van Persie, among others) is undoubtedly a good thing, but the timing could have been better. Since Meulensteen's name was first linked to Fulham in September, the mutterings against Jol have become louder and increasingly bitter.
Jol's side have consistently underperformed, frequently looking unbalanced and disorganised. The pairing of Scott Parker and Steve Sidwell in central midfield lacks spark, while the wide attacking positions have featured a succession of creative types – Bryan Ruiz, Pajtim Kasami, Adel Taarabt – whose natural inclination is to drift inside and clutter up the space that Dimitar Berbatov isn't running out of.
It wasn't always like that. It's easy to forget how good some of the football played under Jol has been. It was Jol who turned Moussa Dembele from Mark Hughes's goal-shy striker into Fulham's most exciting central midfielder of recent years. Where Roy Hodgson's sides were organised and solid (and loved for it), Jol's passing game was at times breathtakingly good. Even if it didn't always work, most games offered a glimpse of something, a reason to believe we were on the verge of the great leap forward. This season, the odd Kasami wonder-goal apart, even that straw has remained beyond our grasp.
Jol hasn't helped himself by reminding the fans how lucky we are to have him, or by constantly repeating the mantra that he didn't want to sell Dembele (it was a year ago - move on). While the hostility is by no means unanimous, things have deteriorated to the point where it's hard to see how Meulensteen's appointment can help Jol. If things turn around, the credit will go to the head coach; if not, manager Jol will get the blame and probably the sack. Whatever the result against Swansea, Meulensteen's arrival buys Jol more time, but his long-term future may have more to do with rebuilding burnt bridges with supporters than how his team fares on the pitch. Steve Couch