At last! After a four-month long saga, Fulham have signed goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg from Roma. I’m sure we were all delighted when on January 31st he was on the plane over here to complete a medical and put pen to paper on a transfer, and equally disappointed when Roma pulled out of the deal last minute. Some of us were even thinking “the opportunity has been and gone”, as we were looking to take advantage of Stekelenburg’s difficult time in Italy (exiled from the first team, refused to learn Italian) and as he won back his place in the first team it seemed as if the boomerang of hope was firmly in the place of realism once again. After all, a world cup finalist, a worthy successor to Edwin Van der Sar, a Dutch international, Roma’s keeper; why on earth would he want to come to little old Fulham?
But want to come he did. Roma failed to get in to Europe and held only the advantage of prestige. We, however, could offer him an exit from a couple of seasons in which our new addition really struggled. So, it is good news for Stek, but what about us?
Mark Schwarzer has been Fulham’s first choice goalkeeper for fully five seasons now, having signed in May 2008, and what a keeper he has been. However, for about 12 to 18 months now there has been a groundswell of opinion that Schwarzer’s time has been and is going. He has had a marvellous end to the season, culminating in a man-of-the-match display at Swansea (despite the 3-0 margin of victory, he was the standout Fulham player), but that has followed a series of time which has suggested that age is finally captured up the Australia international. Having reached his 40s, he is not going to go on forever, and with his contract expiring in four weeks now seems as good a time as any to bring in a new man. I doubt that he will stay any longer, if he wants the first team football he has mentioned so much in the media recently.
Of course, I would have been comfortable offering Schwarzer another year at the club. After all, he is still a very good goalkeeper. But, the opportunity has arisen to sign someone of true pedigree and, importantly, a decade worth of years on our current man. This is a natural progression. Maarten Stekelenburg is a player who I remember vividly for his great displays during World Cup 2010 as part of a Dutch national team that reached the final and threatened to overcome the great Spain side of contemporary years. Fantastic reflexes, smooth feet, great sweeping capabilities and a large physical presence all point to a typical Dutch goalkeeper – and we have seen with the likes of Vorm how suitable they are to the Premier League. One of Schwarzer’s great limitations was his technical ability with the ball which meant we all too easily surrendered possession. Not so with Stekelenburg, who was raised in the academy of Ajax under the shadow of the connoisseurs of possession football. This was a point which, interestingly, Martin Jol explicitly mentioned in the official club announcement.
It is also interesting to see that this is another player who has reunited with Martin Jol (and another bullet in the idea that he falls out too easily with players). The two men know each other very well, not only having worked alongside each other during their shared time at Ajax, but also sharing the same country of birth. There won’t be any language barriers there either, with Stekelenburg’s fluency in English meaning there won’t be the same issues he had over in Italy.
All in all, this is a great bit of business. Roma have confirmed the fee at £4.7m, a bargain really for a player of his stature, despite a shaky season or two. Sir Alex Ferguson had reportedly taken a real interest in Stekelenburg to replace the retired Van der Sar, and it will be interesting to see our latest addition mirror EVS’s career moves (Dutch goalie moves to Fulham from Italy after a difficult time). With this move confirmed, along with those of Derek Boateng, Sascha Riether and, most importantly, Fernando Amorebieta, Fulham have started off the transfer window on an exceptionally strong foot, making a huge statement intent about our ambition and our place in English football.
I must mention David Stockdale here too, who’s first team chances are now surely doomed. He joined at around the same time as Schwarzer, and for many seasons seemed as if he was being groomed as Schwarzer’s successor. Alas, it hasn’t worked out for him as he would have liked, and I hate that he was never given a real chance. I hope that whatever happens now he gets the first team football he deserves. I’m sure he can do a real good job for a Premier League team. A shame that it won’t be at Fulham.