In July, Fulham flew to Thonon-Les-Bains in France for what was supposed to be a luxuriating preseason training camp in contrast to the previous year’s slog across Eastern Europe.
A small town of 35,000, best recognised by the crystal blue of Lake Geneva, small stadiums are set against the backdrop of Switzerland’s snow-capped mountains. The serene setting where Stravinsky wrote the Rite of Spring and Russian emigré’s build summer mansions to escape London’s metropolis - an apt destination for Putney’s professionals to stretch their legs between Chamonix and the Valais region if there ever was one.
But rich Russians and sojourning South West Londoners aren’t the only settlers on the lake’s banks, colloquially dubbed the Swiss Riviera. Lake Geneva is also the home of 'les curistes' - nourishment neurotics who visit the surrounding spas where the 'pure' water is integrated into treatments such as cling film-wrapped seaweed mousses and anti-ageing serums.
However, it was in fact there in the healer's paradise that the problem which catalysed Jokanovic's proliferation of wrinkles manifested. Fulham may have only played two preseason friendlies in East France - scoring nil and conceding seven to Fenerbache and Lyon - but those matches prompted the club’s hierarchy to sign no less than eleven new players, eight of whom were defensively orientated, prior to Fulham’s opening day defeat to Crystal Palace.
The supermarket rush not only destabilised the squad but unsettled the manager who has spent the first ten games of this season relentlessly tinkering with defensive combinations - six times in ten games - all of which have come to curdle.
Certainly, Fulham weren't any closer to a solution last weekend when beholding a home turf battering by Bournemouth. In fact, on current course, Fulham are only just shy of breaking Swindon Town’s near quarter-century old record of conceding 100 goals in a single season.
At the start of October, Jokanovic claimed there were only two types of manager: “the sacked and the ones who are about to be sacked” - a prelude perhaps to his side failing to win a single point and conceding 12 goals in three games in the month.
Jokanovic was summoned for another follicle-weakening appointment with club owner Shahid Khan, prior to Fulham’s fairly restrained defeat to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup last Thursday evening.
No doubt the manager will have pointed to last season’s promotion-winning Championship campaign where Fulham only won four out of their first 17 games before starting a 23-match unbeaten streak two days prior to Christmas. Whether Khan can be convinced to call bluff until another post-Claus miracle, having wagered over £100m on the higher-stakes green-felted Premier League, remains an altogether different matter.
It’s quite the contrast to the Terriers, whose squad is indisputably inferior to Fulham's and who should in theory finish a bone’s throw below. Huddersfield already performed their own miracle to reach the Premier League. Staying afloat last season with late draws against Manchester City and Chelsea was almost a matter of divine nonpareil.
For that reason alone, despite sitting two places and points below and still awaiting a first scalp of the season, there is a calm stability to the club. David Wagner, still in only his second managerial role, is a coach on the ascent and will be backed by the owners regardless even of relegation this season.
Yet at Fulham, there is an expectancy which demands more than faith. The doubts linger as to whether Jokanovic has already peaked, despite only being three years older than Wagner. There is an inevitability to his departure and failure to fleece all three points from West Yorkshire on Monday evening may well signal the end. A second victory of the season more reprieve than resurrection.
The Serb is a serially nomadic manager. Despite being in his fourth season at Fulham, the Cottagers are still the sixth club he’s taken charge of in the last six years. A hit in his home country, Israel and Thailand, bust in Bulgaria and Spain, one senses his second stint in London has aged and greyed him more than any other. Perhaps, at Fulham, the last of his healing powers have been depleted.
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