The middle of last week was not the best in Fulham’s long history. Common consensus, before the opening of the transfer window pointed towards the need for a new right back and an intuitive striker. However, when the window closed, our first team squad had the same number of players as we went into the month. Hardly what you’d call strengthening. Whilst, on the pitch we squandered a safe 1-0 lead to Woy’s West Brom to draw meekly 1-1 on a freezing night at the Cottage.
I’m not going to use the following paragraphs to portray a sense of doom and gloom though. Yes we may have ended January having lost our preeminent front man, Bobby Zamora (to he who shall not be named at the upstarts up the road no less); but in losing Bobby we lost a player who for long spells this season has frankly looked disinterested and is definitely on the downslope of a career that had more undulations than the Cotswold countryside.
We replaced him with Pavel Pogrebnyak, a 6’2” Russian international with a somewhat disappointing scoring record in recent years. Having fallen foul of management at VFB Stuttgart, (Bruno Labbadia, Martin Jol’s former skills coach at Spurs and Hamburg, is current coach at Stuttgart), we have signed Pogo (as international teammate Andre Arshavin affectionately called him in a good luck tweet last week) on a deal similar to that of Steve Sidwell from Villa last year. With six months remaining on his contract, he is ours to keep, should we wish. Martin Jol has revealed he sought the advice of fellow Dutchmen Dick Advocaat and Guus Hiddink, both former Russian national team coaches, before signing the player who is looking to rebuild his career and reputation after a disappointing spell in the Bundesliga.
Our only other business involved the Development Squad and Under 18s. In came Australian winger Ryan Williams from Portsmouth, Scotland youth international midfielder Jack Grimmer from Aberdeen and Danish Under 17 international Lasse Viggen Christiansen. The latter of whom caught my attention due to him sharing a name with the Viggen fighter jet, another Scandinavian export of recent times. Finally, Swedish winger Alex Kacaniklic was loaned out to Watford for the remainder of the season to gain some vital first team experience and by all accounts if off to a tremendous start being named in the Championship Team of the Week.
The window left more questions than answers though. Who will score our goals for the rest of the season? What do we do if Dempsey gets injured? Is Stephen Kelly really our starting right back for another 15 games? Will Kerim Frei, Marcelo Trotta, Pajtim Kasami and Marcel Gecov all begin to get serious first team minutes? Where is Orlando Sa?
Martin Jol has yet to vindicate himself as a tactical genius. Fulham have been a team of disproportionate schizophrenia this season, going from the sublime to the ridiculous in a matter of seconds. Martin wants us to get younger, yet he consistently refuses to show faith to our promising band of up and comers such as Frei and Kasami. We also account for 2 of the 3 occasions this season when a Premierleague team hasn’t made a single substitution, including Jol’s ridiculous passivity against West Brom last week.
Our exit from the FA Cup last month means that we are now only fighting a battle on one front. Having started the season over seven months ago this is not the worst thing for me to be saying. Indeed, this also presumably impacted on our reluctance to spend vast amounts on overpriced reinforcements in the transfer window. Lucas Barrios or Jordan Rhodes would have been fine and dandy, but the exorbitant fees, wages and inadequate medicals that last minute January dealings bring would perhaps have been unnecessary for a campaign with so relatively few games to go. We turned a profit last year, and hey, that’s a nice feeling. Just look at Portsmouth and Darlington to see what can happen if you ignore the red lines on your balance sheet.
From this point, our season really could go either way. There will be goals aplenty both for us (hopefully!!) and against us that’s for sure; along with a fair share of drama. The way this season has gone we’ll win games we shouldn’t and lose ones we should win.
The fairly gutless performance at Man City on Saturday served as evidence that we are still a long way from being the team we should be. We actually had more possession than our hosts, but such is the problem of playing six midfielders and no strikers that we barely managed to coax Joe Hart from his late afternoon nap. The lack of faith in youngsters again reared its ugly head when an out of position Chris Baird was chosen ahead of Matthew Briggs to play left back despite the latter being well, a left back. Meanwhile a fully fit John-Arne Riise sat willfully on the bench; tactical genius at work? I’m not so sure
We didn’t address our needs in January and we definitely need to develop a sense of collective unity and tactical cohesion that is present in successful sides, but this Fulham outfit aren’t too bad. We have some of the league’s most skilful and exciting players, some top young prospects and a Russian striker who in his own words, will train like a bear. Let’s stay together and support the team we all love.
Finally, please take a moment to think about the events that happened in Port Said, Egypt last Wednesday when 73 people lost their lives in clashes between fans of Al-Masri and Al-Ahly. The latter are arguably the biggest club in African football, and dominate Egyptian football. The violence was believed to stem from Al-Ahly’s most fervent fans having become politicised in recent times following the Arab Spring. Violence at sport is never acceptable. After all, these people just went to see their team play.