After all the drama of deadline day, this has been a taking stock kind of a day. Speaking to a number of Fulham fans today, there’s real satisfaction where we find ourselves at the close of the transfer window. Losing out on Andre-Pierre Gignac, who perhaps would have given Jol a potentially explosive back-up to Bobby Zamora, was really disappointing and – if we were being ultra-critical – perhaps the long-term replacement for Danny Murphy hasn’t materialised, but the arrival of Bryan Ruiz has certainly transformed the glass from being half-empty to half-full.
One of our new contributors to HammyEnd.com – my Swedish friend Mattias – has been asking me over the past couple of weeks whether the squad Jol is building is now stronger than the one that Hodgson took to the Europa League final. I’d been resisting initially, perhaps because even the passing of a couple of years had left me sentimentally misty-eyed about Hodgson’s achievements (or that the run proved the squad were greater than the sum of their parts), but after our work in the last 24 hours, you’d say that the current squad has impressive depth to it.
It was the special one who eulogised about the importance of a strong squad on his arrival at Chelsea. Mourinho reckoned that the modern game required the top sides to have two top-quality players for each position – and, remarkably, Fulham might just be approaching that position. Much will depend on how Jol sets his side up. While he seems to have favoured a fluid 4-2-3-1 in his opening matches, the potential of a 4-3-3 (the continental system of choice) might be explored with these new arrivals. Have a look at how strong we look positionally now:
GK: Schwarzer, Stockdale
RB: Baird, Gygera
LB: J.A. Riise, Briggs
CB: Hughes, Hangeland, Senderos
MC: Sidwell, Etuhu, Murphy, Gecov
RW: Duff, B.H. Riise
LW: Ruiz, Davies
AMC: Dempsey, Dembele, Kasami
FC: Zamora, A. Johnson, Sa
That list is certainly interchangeable. Ruiz could play on either flank or up front, while Dembele might be more useful out wide at times. Clint Dempsey might even have a chance to play in his most natural position – just behind the striker – as well.
The strength of the squad is remarkable considering where the club were at the start of Hodgson’s tenure. Even before then, Fulham’s back five at the back end of 2006 comprised Antti Niemi, Liam Rosenior, Franck Queudrue, Ian Pearce and Zat Knight. It was no wonder we would soon be scrapping for our Premiership lives. Our recent success has come largely on the back of defensive stability provided an altogether more reassuring defence. It seems – although it could yet still be wishful thinking – that we’ve made strides to address the problems at the other end of pitch over the last couple of days. One thing’s for sure: they’ll be some real selection dilemmas for Jol in the weeks to come.