Fulham’s Roadmap to Regeneration: Part III – Promoting the Youth

by Chris Gilbertson on May 24, 2014

Round Three on the Roadmap to Regeneration is by far the most exciting one for Fulham Football Club and its fans. Having first determined exactly who will be making decisions and followed that up by deciding which of the first team should be let go, the next step will be to decide which of the club’s talented young players are to be promoted to regular first team duty.

Read Fulham’s Roadmap to Regeration: Part I – The Future of The Boardroom.

Read Fulham’s Roadmap to Regeration: Part II – The First Team: Going, Going Gone.

Through relegation Fulham now have an unexpected opportunity to take what has been created at academy level and develop something great. Instead of muddling year-to-year survival in the Premier League where out young players either got their opportunities to develop elsewhere or not at all, we are now in a situation where to not give them their opportunity would be tantamount to stupidity.

Fulham must build upon the wealth of talent that has been amassed at youth level. By ridding the squad of the obstructing deadwood at senior level, Fulham have the opportunity to unleash what is potentially the most talented crop of young players the club has ever seen.

Of course, it is easy to get carried away when discussing the Fulham academy. Long starved of home-grown success, we have been blessed with a burgeoning academy in recent years. The last four seasons have seen Fulham reach the Final of the Under-18 Premier League three times, winning it twice and then followed that up this past season by reaching the final of the FA Youth Cup for the first time ever, narrowly missing out on the title after to Chelsea 7-6 on aggregate.

Such sustained success at youth level can raise expectations amongst fans to an almost unhealthy level. Whilst relegation will mean many of the players listed below do get regular game opportunities, we as fans must remember they are young professionals, learning their craft and continuing their development. They will make mistakes, but by giving them a chance, some of them could become great.

We have more youth players seemingly involved in their national team set ups than at any time in the past and had double digit first team debuts last season. Huw Jennings and Malcolm Elias have done an exemplary job in building the academy from a virtual standing start, while the coaching of the now departed Steve Wigley and Under-21 boss Kit Symons has proven exemplary.

Trophy success or near success is all well and good, but the role of a flourishing academy is principally to provide players who can eventually feature for the first team. We have at our disposal a set of young players with tenacity and ferocious hunger to succeed that was sadly lacking from many of our so-called experienced professionals last season.

Cautionary footnote aside, this really is a fascinating and promising once in a generation wave of youth promotions in prospect. Here is a selection of our youth players who are likely to and deserve a chance in or around the first team next season.

Dan Burn

At 22, centre back Burn is no stranger to first team football. A successful season at League One with Yeovil, which resulted in promotion in 2013, was followed with a six-month spell at Birmingham City for the first half last season. Having made 28 appearances for Lee Clark’s side, the defender was called back to Fulham by then manager Rene Meulensteen in January. Burn proceeded to make his debut against Norwich in the FA Cup two days later and went on to make 10 further First Team appearances, mostly under Meulensteen. The natural heir to Brede Hangeland at the left side of our centre half pairing, Burn’s aerial prowess is no secret, but he has shown deft touch and a propensity to get forward on occasion. Positional awareness and turning circle must continue to improve but regardless, Burn is a natural fit to start every game in the Championship and is on his way to becoming a classy top-flight defender.

Fulham First Team Appearances: 11

Likely role next season: Starting XI

Alex Kacaniklic

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Swedish International Kacaniklic is not a youngster who can technically be promoted to the first team, but he can be used a lot better. At 22, he has somewhat been a victim of his own success, in that he broke into the team as a 19-year old alongside Kerim Frei and never quite nailed down a starting spot from the outset. Most often used as a left midfielder, Kacaniklic’s main problem is his delivery. He has a superb ability to get into the right position but his final ball, both in decision and execution has so often lacked the necessary quality. In the cutthroat world of Premier League football this has seen him yo-yoing in and out of the side. He made 29 appearances in all competitions last season. Having succeeded on loan at Watford as a teenager, Kacaniklic has already proven a good Championship operator, and should he stay in Fulham’s colours he could and should be a key part of a promotion challenging side next season.

Fulham First Team Appearances: 56

Likely role next season: Starting XI or sold.

Cauley Woodrow

The success story of the season just gone, 19-year old Woodrow has enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom in the last six months. Having spearheaded several of the successful Under-18 campaigns, including captaining 2013’s victorious team, Cauley was rewarded with a loan spell at League Two side Southend United last autumn. In his time at Roots Hall the technical striker made 19 appearances but flattered to deceive with a meager return of just 2 goals. An example of statistics lying, Woodrow was technically superior to those around him, with the lack of goals a reflection on his difference in style to the less polished lower division. Having returned to Motspur Park after dropping out of the Southend side, Felix Magath began involving the Englishman in first team training. Woodrow would go on to make six first team appearances in the run in, including scoring his first senior Fulham goal in front of the Hammersmith End on the final day. Such is Cauley’s obvious talent, he has been rewarded with a call up to the England U21s alongside several big names up front including Saido Berahino and Danny ings. Expect Woodrow to have a big role in our future, his technical ability and first touch put the likes of Darren Bent to shame. Regular football should help enhance his ability to become a regular goalscorer like he was at youth level. He is best with his back to goal and should play with a strike partner and not as a lone frontman.

Fulham First Team Appearances: 6

Likely role next season: Starting XI

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Patrick Roberts

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Ask anyone around the club for the past few years who the most exciting prospect in the entire academy has been and they have all unanimously said Patrick Roberts. At 17, the winger has just turned in some “remember the name” type performances for the England U17 side as they won the European Championships. A local south west Londoner, Roberts is thankfully under contract at Fulham having signed professional terms until 2016 during last season. His potential is limitless and his dynamic running style compares favourably to two other Huw Jennings discoveries, Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale. Roberts scored 14 goals in 26 appearances for the Under 18s including a spectacular goal at Stamford Bridge in the Youth Cup Final. Whilst he will eventually ply his trade at the very highest level, he must have the right environment to ensure he develops into that player. A season of regular first team football in the second tier as a 17/18 year old would be a great place to start. Should he start there, Robert’s talent is such that he is unlikely to be sat on the bench for long.

Fulham First Team Appearances: 2

Likely role next season: Squad but progressed to starting XI before Christmas.

Marcello Trotta

The marmite man of our academy, Trotta was one of the first wave of young players to make it to senior football from the current crop. However, Fulham fans remain divided on whether the Italian will succeed at first team level. After two seasons on loan in League One at now Championship rivals Brentford, Trotta has proved an adept goal poacher, something Fulham have not had in abundance of late. At 21, some fans have been too quick and keen to write off Trotta and with Brentford keen to keep the Italian U21 squad member who scored 13 goals in League One last term it remains to be seen if he stays at Fulham, and after two and half seasons out on loan he may not actually know his way round Motspur Park. Word from Griffin Park is he has shown considerable development in his time there and he may well have earned his chance to finally show Craven Cottage what he can do.

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Fulham First Team Appearances: 1

Likely role next season: First Team Squad / Leaves for Brentford on a permanent deal

Moussa Dembele

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At 17, Frenchman Dembele is the youngest of our striking trio and by far the most dynamic. Convinced to leave hometown club Paris Saint Germain as a 16-year old, Dembele made his Premier League debut at home to Everton in March and arguably should have scored in that game. Having signed a new deal during last season to ensure he remains at the club for now, Dembele, along with Roberts, has been the star of the Under-18 side. A staggering 23 goals in 17 Under-18 appearances was complemented by a further 8 goals in 9 games for the Under-21s. He has the confidence of a future superstar, and missed panenka in the Youth Cup aside, everything he tries usually comes off. He will be a star and hopefully some of his senior career will be in the white of Fulham.

Fulham First Team Appearances: 3

Likely role next season: If he isn’t poached, First Team Squad and starter by January

Jack Grimmer

20-year old Scottish defender Grimmer is a player who’s shown signs of a first team future ever since he arrived from Aberdeen in January 2012. A versatile defender who can play at either centre or right back, Grimmer has developed into a senior footballer this season. His 13-appearance loan spell at Mickey Adams-managed Port Vale showed that Grimmer is already a cut above League One level. Though he’s likely to develop into a top level centre back, it is probably at right back that Grimmer gets his shot in the first team next season. Whoever wins the pre-season battle out of Grimmer and Josh Passley may end up securing the spot as their own for next season. It also won’t be long before Gordron Strachan picks up his phone for the Scottish national team.

Fulham First Team Appearances: 0

Likely role next season: Starting XI, albeit maybe not straightaway

Lasse Vigen Christensen

19-year old Dane Lasse Vigen Christensen arrived in SW6 at the same time as Grimmer in January 2012. An example of good youth recruitment, Christensen came to Fulham from little heralded FC Midtjytlland in his homeland. A classy ball playing central midfielder, Christensen made his first team debut this season and captained the Under-21s on a regular basis. He recently signed a contract until 2017 showing the club has faith in him. Had we not been relegated, he would likely have been loaned out to the Championship, so our demise may well have removed the need for a loan spell elsewhere. He is now a fixture of the Denmark Under-21 squad and is likely to continue his development into 2015 for both club and country.

Fulham First Team Appearances: 2

Likely role next season: First Team Squad

Chris David

Dutch midfielder David was one of the players you’d have thought might have left after this season in search of opportunity, however, his superb cameo and spectacular goal on the final day showed he has the talent to force himself into Felix Magath’s plans. A cultured midfielder who can play wide, in the middle or as a support striker, the coming season should provide him his chance. The key with older academy players like David will be playing games, at 21 time is not on his side development wise, but on raw talent alone, the hour showing against Crystal Palace proved he deserves a shot to mix it with the pros. Unlike David, Mesca is a midfielder who has lost his apparent First Team spot. Having made his debut under Jol at Stamford Bridge in the autumn he endured a disappointing loan spell at Crewe. A player tipped for great things, injuries have slowed his progress and it remains to be seen if he can become the player some had hoped.

Fulham First Team Appearances: 3

Likely role next season: First Team Squad, could progress to regular starter.

Liam Donnelly

Under-18s captain Donnelly is an intriguing prospect at centre back. At 18, he is probably several years from becoming a first team regular, but his calm and intelligent play at the back, shown whilst he was an ever present in the FA Youth Cup run, could see him rise through the ranks faster than most. His talent has been recognized with a call up to the Senior Northern Ireland squad for their end-of-season matches in South America where he could line up alongside former Fulham men Aaron Hughes (to whom his playing style is not dissimilar) and Chris Baird. Centre back partner for the Under-18s Cameron Burgess also looks to have a bright future and both could be loaned out to League One level to gain experience this season.

Fulham First Team Appearances: 0

Likely role next season: Loan to League One

Stephen Arthurworry

Completing the roundup of centre backs is the imposing figure of 19-year old man-mountain Stephen Arthurworry. Like his former youth team partner at the back Grimmer, Arthurworry has spent time learning his trade on loan in League One this past season. 17 appearances for a porous Tranmere defense will have provided great experience for the defender who already has the physical attributes to forge a career in the football league. As a local product of the Coombe School project, there will be a lot of proud faces if and when Arthurworry makes his first team bow, but that may not be just yet. Some more seasoning on loan would serve him well, however, injuries and transfers may predicate otherwise. He is technically out of contract this summer but it appears the club has offered him a new deal. Other defenders who may see action professionally next season could include left back Tom Richards who reportedly impressed on loan at AFC Wimbledon and Irishman Sean Kavanagh who impressed as the left back in the two Under-18 winning league sides of 2012 and 2013.

Fulham First Team Appearances: 0

Likely role next season: Loaned out to lower Championship or League One

Ryan Williams

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A player not considered by many Fulham fans as one to have a significant first team impact, Williams’ impressive development whilst on loan at Oxford United has snuck somewhat under the radar. Having just signed a two year contract extension, Williams is obviously highly rated by the powers that be and looks like being one of the major benefactors of our relegation. The 20-year old Australian winger played 47 times for League Two Oxford last season and chipped in with a tidy return of 8 goals (not bad when you consider Steve Sidwell top scored with 8 for the First Team). I suspect Williams will get his opportunity to stake a claim for a First Team spot in pre-season, though much may depend on whether Ashkan Dejagah stays at the club and Pat Roberts development.

Fulham First Team Appearances: 0

Likely role next season: Potential to become regular First Team squad member

George Williams

By virtue of being named in Felix Magath’s final Premier League squad of the season, 18-year old Wales Under-21 international Williams deserves a mention on this list. Having only really broken into the Under-18s this season following his arrival from MK Dons (where he scored a senior FA Cup goal aged 16), Williams’ progression is somewhat remarkable. An impressive display for Wales against England U21s last week on the left wing highlighted his potential. After 13 goals in 29 Under-18 appearances, a loan to get some senior experience is probably the first port of call but don’t be surprised to see Williams with the First Team before the season’s end. The two other young wingers to watch are Frenchman Ange-Freddy Plumain, 19, who made an impressive first team debut in the FA Cup at Sheffield United, and Larnell Cole, 21, who arrived to much fanfare from Manchester United under Rene Meulensteen, only to have injury halt any progress he was making whilst on loan at MK Dons.

Fulham First Team Appearances: 0

Likely role next season: Start on loan with a view to becoming a regular squad member.

Ryan Tunnicliffe

Versatile midfielder Tunnicliffe arrived at Motspur Park along with Larnell Cole in the dying hours of transfer deadline day in January. Signed under the guidance of former coach Rene Meulensteen, Tunnicliffe saw his career prospects plummet once the Dutchman went all Kevin Keegan on Sky Sports News after Felix Magath’s appointment. After making 26 appearances in central midfield for Ipswich in the first half of the season, Tunnicliffe went on play only 8 more all season, 3 for Fulham and 5 in an aborted loan spell at Wigan. Tunnicliffe is Championship ready and has the engine and versatility to fit nicely into Felix Magath’s plans. Whether he has the quality to nail down a starting spot remains to be seen but we could no doubt see the 21-year old at any number of positions during the long season to come.

Fulham First Team Appearances: 3

Likely role next season: First Team Squad

The Rest

The above list is far from exhaustive, and it is often impossible to tell who will or won’t make it. However, the promise of the Fulham youth set up is such that potential exists in abandon. Players not mentioned above include our junior goalkeeping union comprising Marcus Bettinelli, who enjoyed a successful season on loan at Accrington Stanley, Jesse Joronen, a full international with Finland, and young Slovakian Marek Rodak all of whom look to have professional careers ahead of them.

Another player who will hopefully go on to have a bright future in SW6 is 18-year old American central midfielder Emerson Hyndman. The upcoming season may be one year too soon for Hyndman to break into the first team. As a creative ball playing central midfielder, Hydnman doesn’t yet have the size required to play regularly in the centre of the park at senior level, but his talent will undoubtedly get him there sooner rather than later. Another young midfielder, Soloman Sambou is also likely to require more time and experience before securing a first team berth. English winger Lyle Della-Verde and powerful Belgian Managa Jonathan Buatu may also feature at some level.

The club has however announced that various academy graduates have been released; Matthew Briggs, 23, has suffered from both crippling injuries as well as apparent bouts of the over-confidence that seem to have similarly derailed his former roommate Kerim Frei’s promising career. Should he regain full fitness he has the natural attributes to succeed at a good level, and were he to switch positions from left back to left midfield he could capitalise on his raw talent for crossing and shooting. Unfortunately for Briggs, Fulham have now run out of patience and he will have to seek a fresh start elsewhere. Philippine international goalkeeper Neil Etheridge also leaves the club. He previously impressed on loan but with the various goalkeepers mentioned above looking so promising, it made little sense for the club to keep him. Having appeared for Tromso in the Europa League last season Wales Under-21 midfielder Josh Pritchard leaves the club in the midst of his second spell in Scandinavian football, where he is currently at Finnish side Honka alongside fellow departee Alex Brister. Others to leave SW6 include Swedish striker Dino Islamovic, German’s Max Oberschmidt and Ronny Minkwitz along with local product Charles Banya. Despite not being part of Fulham’s future hopefully each and every one of them will enjoy success in the future.

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Finally, one player not mentioned either above or in the club’s released list is Swedish starlet Muamer Tankovic. Having made his Sweden debut earlier this year in a side that included his idol Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Tankovic has enjoyed a career path steeper than most mountain climbs over the past twelve months. He’s a vastly talented young player who would surely take up residence in the First XI next season were he to stay, but unlike the aforementioned Zlatan, who himself got his break into Malmo’s First Team upon their relegation to the second tier of Swedish football, it appears Tankovic is destined for pastures new. The Premier League retained list indicates the club has made Tankovic an offer to stay but the precocious teenager is out-of-contract and has signaled his intent to leave Fulham with a farewell message to fans on Instagram.

COYW

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  • ‘Sota Dan

    What about Larnell Cole?

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