I’m delighted to welcome you to today’s important match against Preston North End and for what is perhaps the most crucial month at Craven Cottage in my time thus far as Chairman.
Following a rather gruelling schedule in recent weeks, we’ll play only five games in all of March, with four of them here at Craven Cottage. It’s always a pleasure to play at home in front of our outstanding supporters, but the task ahead will nonetheless be difficult, with Preston trailing us by just a point and Leeds United arriving here on Tuesday night ahead of us and in a Play-Off position in the Sky Bet Championship.
The good news, of course, is we’re playing spectacular football. Subtract our FA Cup defeat two weekends ago against Tottenham Hotspur and the Whites had won four, drawn one and lost one in the league in February. We averaged two goals a match through that span, posted a pair of clean sheets and played the style of football that is both thrilling and now becoming consistent with our identity at Fulham.
And, while the result against Spurs was a disappointment, the fact we progressed to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup by virtue of a victory over Premier League Hull City in January is certainly evidence of a club that continues to come together under Slaviša Jokanović, our excellent Head Coach.
Slaviša has clearly earned the respect and love of Fulham supporters here in SW6 and throughout the football world. And he deserves all praise. Slaviša accepted quite a challenge when he agreed to leave Maccabi Tel Aviv and join Fulham in late December 2015. At the time we announced his recruitment, we’d gone nine matches without a win and Fulham supporters everywhere were understandably restless. Let me rephrase that. Supporters were irate, especially with me.
It was during those dark months of November and December 2015 that my focus was squarely on reeling in Slaviša. It wasn’t easy. Maccabi didn’t want to lose him. And Slaviša had to be convinced. Finally, between Christmas and the New Year, we introduced him as our new Head Coach. I was exhausted and overjoyed that Slaviša wanted to be the difference-maker I was confident he’d be at Fulham. And I knew it wouldn’t be long before we’d be addressing a contract extension with Slaviša.
Last week, I was extremely proud that we made the announcement that Slaviša is now under contract through to the 2018/19 season. I thank him for having the same faith in Fulham as everyone who loves Fulham has in him.
I was also enormously proud that the announcement was made by Tony Khan, whom I named earlier in the day as our Vice Chairman and Director of Football Operations.
As I stated on numerous occasions, my commitment to Fulham as your Chairman is unqualified. It’s for that reason that I appointed Tony, my son, to this important dual role. As Vice Chair, Tony will have in his head and heart the best overall interests of the Club. Fulham is a major part of my life, and I’m privileged as Chairman to serve the Club and its supporters. Well, it’s all of that and more to Tony. I know he’ll represent the Club with distinction as Vice Chair.
And, as Director of Football Operations, Tony will serve at the point of a new organisational and player identification structure that will feature and insist upon a balance of scouting and analytical data. In fact, this has essentially been our approach for more than two years and especially so since Tony assumed responsibility of last summer’s transfers, ahead of this season. Simply put, the system of combining the classic and essential art of player scouting with the science of data and analytics is working. I expect that to continue, with Tony collaborating with his newly appointed Assistant Directors of Football in Brian Talbot, our Chief Scout, and Craig Kline, who will lead analytics. Congratulations to them both! And finally, to be clear, Slaviša will have a strong voice in everything we do.
Now, with all the off-pitch business complete, it’s time to seize the moment. We’re not merely targeting a strong finish so we may truly compete for promotion next season. We’re shooting for promotion now. Could you imagine Slaviša settling for anything less from himself and his players? The chase begins now.
And I hope you join me in both confidence and optimism that we will indeed jump a club or two and finish in the top six. We’ll open play today in seventh place, a mere five points from a Play-Off position with a match in hand against each of the three clubs ahead of us in the table. We can do this. And it starts this afternoon against Preston. But, we’ll need your support to complete the job. I know we’ll have it. We always do.
To the visiting supporters from Preston, we welcome you to Craven Cottage and look forward to a great afternoon of football. And, to our supporters, thank you for your amazing loyalty and always believing in Fulham Football Club. We are inspired and grateful.
Come On You Whites!
Shahid Khan, Chairman