Fulham’s players will return to the club for preseason training next week and for some members of Lawrie Sanchez’s squad it will be their last chance to convince the manager that they are good enough for the Barclays Premier League.
Sanchez is willing to listen to offers for at least six players and the former Northern Ireland manager started the rebuilding process at Craven Cottage yesterday by signing Aaron Hughes, the versatile defender, for £1 million from Aston Villa.
Hughes is unlikely to be the only new face at the club next week. Sanchez is close to completing a deal for Steven Davis, Hughes’s Villa and Northern Ireland teammate, while Chris Baird, the Southampton defender, David Healy, the Leeds United striker, and Diomansy Kamara, the West Bromwich Albion forward, remain on the manager’s wish-list.
“We are going to have major changes this summer with probably six, seven or eight players coming in,” Sanchez said. “I am delighted that we have been able to bring Aaron to Fulham. As my captain while I was manager of Northern Ireland, I saw his obvious leadership skills and his qualities as a player. He’ll bring some much-needed depth to the squad and a level of commitment and tenacity that forms an integral part of my philosophy for next season’s campaign.”
Sanchez may not have convinced some players or supporters that he is the right man for the job since he replaced Chris Coleman in April, but Mohamed Al Fayed has liked what he has seen and the chairman has given him about £10 million to spend on new players.
Coleman was dismissed after his team won only two league matches in four months and Sanchez believes that players who are more receptive to his methods and who have a tougher mental attitude need to be signed if the club are to avoid being sucked into a relegation scrap for the second successive season.
Fulham have won only two away matches in the top flight since May 2005 and Sanchez’s team are unlikely to play the type of football that will appeal to purists next season. Sanchez’s direct tactics and reliance on the long ball have caused friction in the dressing-room and Claus Jensen offered a withering assessment of the manager before he left the club in May. “I didn’t see a future for me at the club,” the Denmark midfield player said. “The way Lawrie Sanchez wants to play doesn’t appeal to me. The long-ball game has been pretty much what we’ve been doing and that isn’t my kind of football.”
Sanchez has pleaded for patience because his planned overhaul of the squad may take time to yield results. The 47-year-old masterminded famous victories over England, Spain and Sweden while he was manager of Northern Ireland and he believes that radical surgery is the only way to make Fulham competitive after the players he inherited finished only one point above the relegation zone last season.
“To get where I was as Northern Ireland boss took three years,” he said. “It was a gradual progression and along the way there were times when people questioned what we were doing. But as a manager and group of players we got through that and it will be a similar pattern for Fulham.”