Without any concrete first team transfer news coming in or out of Fulham at the moment, speculation becomes flight of fancy and rumour spreads like wildfire. It is the time of year when we all dream of being better, spending big and making a splash.
This year, it’s even worse. With Euro 2012 in full swing, we all become scouts, and solid transfer dealings seem to take a step back until the tournament comes towards its close. Quite right, too. If we are in talks with the star player on the hypothetical semi-finalists, why on earth would they want to talk to us now? Let alone take the famous Fulham medical.
For you and me though, it’s all good fun. It’s far rosier to assume the club’s early summer transfer passivity is due to a target’s involvement in a tournament under the eyes of the world, than the fact that the player is exorcising his demons at a beachfront bar in Marbella.
The truth of the matter, or so I hope, is that Fulham have already identified, scouted and re-scouted our key summer targets, regardless of their current whereabouts. This is, of course, not the case with every target, some of whom become available at the last minute, but the value of scouting cannot be ignored.
Newcastle’s recent handing-out of an 8-year contract to Chief Scout, Graham Carr, shows a great scout’s importance. There isn’t a manager or player in the land with an 8-year deal. For clubs like Newcastle and Fulham, who aren’t in the category of the mega-rich, but aren’t exactly short of pennies, scouting talent, for both youth and first-team alike, can hold the key to success.
For Newcastle, the signings of Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse amongst others, propelled them up the league table to echelons not usually reached without significant investment into the already-known elite of global talent.
The area in which, in the last few years, Fulham seem to have excelled, is scouting quality youth players. We saw no fewer than six first team debuts from academy products last year, of which only one, Neil Etheridge, was truly home grown. The first team has proven somewhat hit or miss. Few of us imagined the player we were getting when Moussa Dembele put pen to paper two summers ago, while some others have yet failed to set the world alight.
Three managers in three years will do that for you. The club’s scouts work of their own accord, compiling recommendations for managers to look at but, undoubtedly, managers also have tremendous say in how the lists get put together. Would Bryan Ruiz have been our top target last summer had Martin Jol, a Dutchman, not been appointed manager? Would Bjorn Helge Riise have arrived from Lillestrom had Roy Hodgson not been in charge?
Major international tournaments bring about their own risks for scouts. To what extent is performance on this stage a true reflection of someone’s talent? I would, for example, like to know how many times Marcel Gecov was scouted prior to last summer’s Under-21 European Championships, where he excelled with the Czech Republic. I personally rate Gecov as a good Premiership prospect, but in starting only three matches last season, the suggestion is that not even Martin Jol is quite sure.
Take the current tournament in Poland and Ukraine. Players of the home nations are emotionally charged, perhaps giving the performances of their lives. Had a scout been at Tuesday’s Poland v Russia game for example, they’d be hard pressed not to add a million or two onto Kuba Blaszczykowski’s value following the Poland captain’s wonder goal.
That being said, tournaments are also an opportunity for players to broadcast themselves to a wider audience. For a club like Fulham, having a permanent Ukraine-based scout is probably too much to ask. So players like Dnipro’s Yevhen Konoplyanka and Dynamo Kyiv’s Andriy Yarmolenko can use these games to reach the wider audience of overseas clubs. The same for Slovan Liberec right back Theodor Gebre Selasse, whose performances for the Czech Republic will likely lengthen his list of suitors.
I hope Martin Jol has his list of targets. Maybe some of them are playing in Poland and Ukraine at the moment, maybe some are currently on a beach, and maybe some of them are taking a tour of Motspur Park as we speak. If the list of names is yet to be completed though, all I hope is that we’ve really done our homework. We don’t have too large a pot of money to spend, so let us please spend it wisely.