Reading some of the doomsday scenarios painted by some posters on the other main Fulham forums overnight, you would be forgiven for thinking somebody has died. Our rather quiet deadline day has provoked the usual responses: that Fulham lack ambition or that we’ve wasted a golden opportunity to push on. Whilst I was hoping that we might splash the cash a bit more than we have, I’m far more interested in the players we have managed to hold onto than the ones that we’ve signed.
For the past few years, those of us who have wanted Fulham to remain in the Premier League (and progress) have bemoaned the fact that we were a selling club. Chris Coleman in particular had to cope with his best players continually being sold. Louis Saha went to Manchester United – although we got an inflated fee and the club suggested that the money went towards our reurn to Craven Cottage. We also lost Edwin van der Sar, Steed Malbranque and Sean Davis – all arguably for fees that didn’t reflect their true value.
From before the end of last season, the media were linking Brede Hangeland with a move to Arsenal. When the rumours hit fever pitch just before the start of this campaign, many people assumed he was on his way. Hangeland said publicly that he had no intention of leaving Fulham – and Roy Hodgson told the media he wanted to keep him. Some hoped this was true but there were plenty of people who felt that Fulham could cash in on their biggest asset. Deadline day has passed and the big Norwegian is still here. You simply can’t overstate how important that is.
Just as vital, for me, is the fact that last season’s key performers have been signed up to new contracts. Mark Schwarzer was excellent in goal last season and continues to be one of the most underrated goalkeepers in the league. Clint Dempsey showed the doubters just how wrong they were last year – both for club and country – and, with rumours of Everton sniffing around at the start of the summer, the fact that the American signed a new deal on the new of the new season was a major boost. The rather lacklustre displays in Perm and at Villa Park showed just how much we missed Danny Murphy. Our skipper wants to stay at the Cottage for the remainder of his career – and, whilst there’s a lingering suspiscion that sides might have worked out how crucial he is to our system – he remains a reasuring presence in central midfield. It is, of course, true that contracts don’t guarantee as much as they once used to – but I’d much rather have these three on new deals than risk letting their previous ones run down.
The signings Hodgson has made have been about improving our squad with Europe in mind. Stephen Kelly have already proven that he’s good cover for John Pantsil and – in an emergency, Paul Konchesky. I’m excited by the signing of Bjorn Helge Riise, who looks like he marries the kind of industrious workrate that Roy demands from a new signing with an eye for a pass. I’m confident that Jonathan Greening can improve from a rather disappointing display at Villa and, although some people have been decrying Damien Duff as past it, I think the Irish winger offers us something we didn’t have previously. There has to be a doubt over David Elm’s quality, when you consider his scoring record in the Allsvenskan, but at £500,000 or thereabouts, it’s a pretty low risk investment.
Speaking of investment, some people have criticised the board for failing to back Hodgson with big money. I find this a little strange since we were prepared to pay a hefty transfer fee – and what I’d imagine were big wages – for Peter Crouch. Even if the deal was to be part-financed by the sale of Bobby Zamora, they’d still be the best part of a £5-6m shortfall to make up. I do wonder whether the millions spent by Manchester City, Sunderland and Tottenham have turned people’s heads. Looking at the Harrods financial reports of late, there doesn’t seem to be the money from Al-Fayed’s shopping empire that there used to be. In the current financial climate, it’s entirely understandable that we are being a little more prudent. A misplaced spending splurge – and it’s impact on the wage bill – could lead down the road that Leeds, and, to a lesser extent, Newcastle have recently travelled.
The spending of the likes of Manchester City and Sunderland (both under new ownership) and Spurs, who seem to be following the Redknapp blueprint of spending until the money runs out, makes it very difficult for clubs of our size to keep up. It almost rubbishes the talk of ‘pushing on’ from seventh place. Regardless of how many players we brought it, it was always going to be difficult to repeat that feat. I still maintain that the Fulham are in a good position to finish comfortably above the relegation zone and – whisper it quietly – progress in Europe.