Eve of the Season:It's FF Again!
Thoughts on a new season

The Eve of the new season in the last 3 season has seen an issue with Fernando Forestieri take the attention. In 16/17 there was the toys out of the pram hissy fit and having to be cajoled into playing against Villa. 17/18 was the altercation at Mansfield which led to a 3 match ban and further consequences. One of those further consequences played itself out this week in the run up to 19/20 with his 6 match ban and £25k fine, both of which have been held in abeyance until his appeal his heard. I won’t comment on the evidence issues or merits of the decision due to the outstanding appeal but I will say that I wasn’t surprised by the decision as the FA have been consistently firm in recent years on racial comments made by players, and also because the burden of proof in civil cases is lower than that in criminal cases.  He has been found by the Disciplinary Commission to have made racially aggravated comments to a player which has rightly been dealt with very firmly. It is very problematic though that clubs in the UK and worldwide, and other national football associations, receive a tap on the hand in respect of racist incidents whilst individual players get in the neck. Something is wrong here surely? Addressing the behaviour of individual players is right but systemic and cultural racist behaviour at some clubs is not given the same treatment.

This FF incident adds to the sense that many observers may have of a club in crisis with no permanent manager in place, a dispute ongoing with another club and former staff, only just out of a transfer embargo, less than a week to go to the close of the transfer window, and departures and in-comings of players not happening. Fans are rightly frustrated about the non-appointment of a permanent manager and the total silence from the club on what the plan is beyond the opening game at Reading. But, there clearly are positives. We have seen a good pre-season, Tony Strudwick is still here and the players look fit and well. I was also fairly uplifted by the game against Espanyol – I accept that our opponents may have been able to step up a level but against a decent La Liga side we looked competitive and should really have won the game. Contrast that with the game against Villareal at the same stage last summer when I thought we looked a shambles defensively and toothless up front.

Before the game at Wigan on the opening day of the season in 2018 I thought we were a mid-table club that had potential for a play-off place if everyone stayed fit, and if we had a fair wind on the form of key players. However, the worries from the Villareal game were still there and they were apparent at Wigan where we were a mess of a team. I have to say I don’t have the same fears in 2019. I know that this view can be wide of the mark and we could suffer badly, but the players do look to be at it and Bully looks to be keeping them at the right level. That said, I still think that we are a mid-table club in a very challenging league without any of the momentum behind us given the SB departure in the summer. But, on paper we have a decent squad that contains some really good players at this level; if we can keep those players fit we can give any club a game in the Championship. We ought to be competitive and have a chance, along with many other clubs, of a play-off place but the top two feels to be out of our reach. As I said on here in my last piece I would be ok if Bully got the job but I do think he would need some senior support to deal with all the off-field issues that arise at a large football club. Bully’s commitment to and understanding of the club is outstanding and whether he has the gig temporarily or permanently he should have our full and total support.

Anyway, we all set off to Reading tomorrow not knowing quite what awaits us, but with maybe a scintilla of more confidence than we had on the shorter journey over the Pennines in 2018. I am totally realistic about where we are as a club with a major transition to  to a new model to achieve and I have doubts about whether the Chairman is bought into that, but I do believe that we have an opportunity to position the club well in advance of the next 2 transfer windows in which the future shape of the team will be formed. Players, Coaches and Chairmen come and go but we will be there come what may. Fingers crossed that we get some reward in 2019/20!

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