While the transfer sagas of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard, Dimitar Berbatov and Robinho keep sellers, suitors and shirt-stencillers in limbo one club has been acting decisively. Fulham have been the most active Premier League operator in the transfer market, with this week’s capture of the right-back Fredrik Stoor from Rosenborg taking their summer acquisitions to eight, and Andrew Johnson next in line.
The question exercising owner Mohamed al-Fayed’s mind will be: “Is Roy Hodgson’s judgement better than that of Lawrie Sanchez?” Last summer Fayed, having starved the previous manager, Chris Coleman, of resources, found £25m to fund a spending spree by Sanchez. Much of this went on players who had impressed for Northern Ireland under Sanchez, or in the Championship. Raising their game every week proved too demanding. With Fulham in the relegation zone Sanchez was out by Christmas.
Hodgson arrived and used the January transfer window to bring in four signings and three loanees. After a slow start he engineered a near-miraculous escape from the drop. With Fayed acutely aware that relegation would probably prove disastrous for Fulham, the chairman is taking another £20m plunge.
The truth will not be revealed until the season starts, but there does look to have been more quality on Hodgson’s shopping list. The veteran, itinerant manager has used his extensive contacts wisely, making Fayed’s largesse go further by bringing in several players on free transfers. The majority of his signings are foreign, but most have Premier League experience. “It’s a work in progress,” Hodgson said. “Most football clubs are a work in progress. Especially after the type of season we had last year and even the year before. We’ve got to try to re-establish ourselves as a mid-table Premiership side at least – to get there there’s a lot of work to do.”
Speaking prior to this week’s planned double swoop, he said: “We haven’t ruled out bringing in a couple more players but it won’t be wholesale because we’ve done quite a few things already and I’m very pleased with what we’ve done.”
Hodgson felt he was close to “a very strong squad”, with a striker the main requirement. Johnson would fit the bill. He should partner Bobby Zamora, a pairing which has plenty of mobility and pace, but could struggle to score regularly – both players tend to enjoy bursts of form interspersed with lean periods.
It is a risk. In an injury-hit campaign Zamora scored only once last season for West Ham – against Derby – and has reached double-figures for League goals only once since leaving Brighton in 2003. Johnson, often used as a substitute, scored six in the league and four in cups last season, his worst return in six years. Both, however, have scored goals in the past, and will not lack for desire. “It’s a great opportunity to play first-team football in the Premier League and I grabbed it with both hands,” Zamora said. “The last few seasons have been off-and-on and last year was pretty much a write-off for me.”
Hodgson said: “It’s a new start for Bobby. He needs to put last season totally behind him and we’ll work with him on the player he was before last season. I think we’re getting a player that is more than motivated and anxious to show he’s a top-class Premiership player.”
Although Diomansy Kamara has a cruciate ligament injury which will keep him out until next year, the American Eddie Johnson, who will be better for his introduction to the Premier League last season, and Erik Nevland, who weighed in with some crucial goals in the final month of the campaign, offer other attacking options. There is also David Healy, a survivor of the Sanchez splurge, and, back from loan, Collins John.
Here, as elsewhere, there appears more quantity than quality, a legacy of three managers in 16 months. But Hodgson has an eye for a player, and the ability to integrate them via work on the training ground. The centre-half Brede Hangeland, who initially looked out of his depth, emerged as a key figure in Fulham’s survival.
The desire to spend time on the practice pitch, in south-west London and on tour in South Korea, honing methods and tactics, is behind the early buying policy. Even as Fulham searched for an escape route last spring, Hodgson was identifying transfer targets, drawing up two lists, one to follow if the club stayed up, the other if they went down.
As soon as survival was clinched on the final day at Portsmouth, Hodgson began working the phones, putting deals into motion. If the goalkeeping coach, Mike Kelly, was the driving force behind the acquisition of Mark Schwarzer and David Stockdale from Middlesbrough and Darlington respectively, Hodgson knew Stoor from working in Scandinavia. The rest he had seen in England and, in the case of John Pantsil and Andranik Teymourian, at the 2006 World Cup.
Should Johnson sign, Hodgson will, together with his January deals, have brought, on a permanent basis, 13 players to Craven Cottage. Nevertheless, one of his most significant pieces of work this summer has been resisting offers for Jimmy Bullard. Others will be allowed to leave. Johnson would bring Hodgson’s squad to 31 players. Keeping them all happy will be as much a test of Hodgson’s expertise as his transfer dealings.