Oblivion. It is there all around us, waiting silently to encroach upon life wherever it can. Don't be fooled. One day you and all that you love will be consumed by oblivion, become dark, powdery fuel for its parched sinuses. It will inhale the oceans, the lost dogs, the weekends and the roses. It will hoover up the ice-cream men and birds sleeping on the wing. When its nostrils are full and fat, it will cut a hole in its trousers and hoik you around in the vice-like grip of its anus, reducing you to a visual prop in a depraved one-man-band skit performed solely for the amusement of other abstract concepts in the shadow realm where oblivion lives, concepts like shame and Tatler and lacrosse. 'At least it had the decency to shove me up here face-first,' you'll think to yourself. 'At least they can't see how it hurts me. At least oblivion spared me the indignity of that.'
This basic rule – that everything must, one day, fall in line and dutifully march off into the abyss – applies to English football as much as it does anything else in the universe. As the Premier League succumbs to yet another international break, it's difficult not to feel plagued by thoughts of a harrowing footballing farewell that this week has finally come to pass.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It is time to say goodbye to Slaviša Jokanović's eyes.
Slaviša Jokanović's eyes have been the most startling visual feature of a Premier League season that has so far only flirted with the idea of being memorable, a pair of eyes that with every Fosu-Mensah pratfall and Le Marchand mis-kick have come more and more to resemble nuclear blast sites, the flesh surrounding them fleeing in all directions. Slaviša Jokanović's eyes have seen oblivion, and now they are dutifully marching towards it, eyes that have spent the last few months living inside that Mr Krabs motion-blur meme, Vietcong-birthday-cake PTSD-dog eyes, big fish, little fish, cardboard coffin box eyes, eyes that have been let down too many times by people they’ve put their trust in, eyes that have nurtured and protected ideas of salvation all week, only to watch them drown horribly out on the pitch. If eyes truly are the windows to the soul, then Jokanović's look like they’ve just been smashed through by a pair of confused and dying swans.
And remember: swans mate for life.
The first time I really noticed Slaviša Jokanović's eyes was during Fulham’s away game in Cardiff on the 20th of October. It was a game his side would go on to lose 4-2, but even before half-time, with the score poised at two-all, they'd taken on a haunted quality rarely seen in the English game, or indeed in English public life, scanning the pitch for survivors as his mouth tried to eat itself.
Whatever Jokanović said during the interval didn’t work. Watching the highlights back, it’s difficult to think of a worse defensive performance since Arsenal were emasculated by Bayern Munich in March last year, the 1-5 second-leg home loss putting the seal on a memorable 10-2 aggregate castration in front of their own traumatised fans and a watching audience of millions. Time and again against Neil Warnock’s Cardiff, Fulham turned their guns on their own dicks – and there, screaming at the heart of the chaos, was that man Tim Ream.
Tim Ream, Tim Ream. Unlucky 13. You have to feel a bit sorry for the American centre-half, who seems to be a perfectly level-headed and pleasant bloke, but also somehow falling over at all times, to the point where you suspect there's an old woman with a grudge and a SportsAccess subscription doing bad things to a little dolly Tim Ream in a trailer park somewhere in rural Nevada. The players alongside him in that cursed image of a defence have barely been better. Maxime Le Marchand and Timothy Fosu-Mensah have made error after error. Calum Chambers should've been sent off at least twice in the last few weeks, once for a professional foul during that hammering in South Wales and again versus Liverpool on Sunday for a horrible studs-up lunge into Mo Salah's planted ankle. All three goalkeepers look totally shit. Dennis Odoi looks out of his depth. Alfie Mawson looks like a man who’s just lost his kids in a shop.
"We are definitely not doing enough good work in our box," said Jokanović through his big, sad eyes after the Cardiff mauling. "Even when we defend with four or five centre-backs, we didn't find the solution." Ultimately, that solution was never found, and that is why – despite leading the club to glorious promotion just six months ago – Jokanović is oblivion's now, his replacement Claudio Ranieri surely capable of doing better simply because it would be harder for Fulham to get much worse, even if they decide to play with six or seven or eight centre-backs from now on, a panic for defensive security, which, while we're on the subject of oblivion, has something of the doomsday prepper about its maniacal survivalist zeal.
None of this is said with the intent of being too harsh on Jokavonić, a dignified man who released a dignified statement in the wake of his undignified sacking, and who – it should be remembered – saved Fulham from relegation just one season prior to leading them and his chairman Shahid Khan to the Premier League's sunlit uplands. But his departure speaks to one of the immutable laws of elite football: once the end starts living in your eyes, your time is up. Fulham spent over £100 million on seven new players in the summer, as well as welcoming five loanees. The idea that this has much to do with that money, though, feels wide of the mark – as we’ve seen this week, with the £5 million pay-out to Richard Scudamore, football cares much less about wasting money than it does the risk of oblivion, the idea of things bottoming out, falling apart, the bubble being pricked.
One thing that has been remarkable about Jokanović's departure is the lack of dissenting voices. It’s been the norm over the past few years for the infinite watching faces that orbit the Premier League to decry any pre-Christmas sacking as "out of order", the hasty and improper act of a Bond villain owner with an inevitable comedy moustache and ants in his pants. There seems to be more understanding this time round that, for all the dents Jokanović was able to make in Fulham's folklore, football is no longer a game ruled by the head or even the good parts of a man's heart, but by the dark and vaulting impulses that come rising up out of the gut, that deep and unlit place where the shame lives. Nothing is ever final in football; the game abhors an end, which is why it doesn't, wiping the slate every year so the whole circus can start over, something that will provide succour and redemption to Fulham's deposed general. But all the same, it still has to make the odd blood sacrifice from time to time in order to sate oblivion, keep oblivion's rat-eyed glare at bay, oblivion: the twitching coke fiend in the night club toilet queue of life, life the exception, oblivion – always – the rule.