It’s been a tremendous start to the transfer window at Craven Cottage. We have our new starting goalkeeper in Maarten Stekelenburg and a new starting centre back in Fernando Amorebieta, while Derek Boateng has joined to provide much needed central midfield depth and Sascha Riether has completed his permanent transfer at right back. The benefit of getting all this shopping done early in the window, more time to focus on what we really need; a new midfield maestro.
The problem with writing a scouting report on possible midfielders is that there’s just so many out there. Finding a gifted Premiership central midfielder can be a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. Midfielders can be scouted at length, yet until they get their chance in the middle of a Premiership pitch it is hard to know how they’ll fare.
Marcel Gecov was an emerging star at the European Under 21 championships in 2011 yet he failed to last a year in England. At the other end of the spectrum, Mousa Dembele was signed as a young, lively and somewhat raw winger, yet has gone on to become one of the league’s best and most dynamic central midfielders, and the one we’re still trying to replace.
So here below are a few of the midfielders who could potentially help solve our problems in the middle of the park:
Vive La France
Whether it’s the 3 Michelin starred gastronomic temples of Paris or the wine aisles of Carrefour in Calais, our Gallic neighbours seem to produce something for everyone and its no different when it comes to midfielders.
A move for Toulouse midfielder Capoue is not out of the question for Fulham this summer. The 24 year old is represented by Martin Jol’s agent Mino Raiola, who has a history of doing business with Fulham over Jol’s tenure. With 6 French caps to his name, Capoue is a lung-busting midfielder who scored 7 goals in Ligue 1 last season; previously linked to Arsenal, he had formed an intimidating partnership with Moussa Sissoko before his move to Newcastle in January. A price-tag of over £10m would likely be required to bring Capoue from France but he’d be the perfect addition to the Whites midfield this off-season. Not the creative tour de force we’re after, but St Etienne’s Joshua Guilavogui is another Ligue 1 player to watch, the 22 year old was an ever present in Les Verts run to a Europa League spot.
23 year old Morocco international Belhanda is undoubtedly one of the brightest young creative talents in all of Europe. Having helped Montpellier to their maiden domestic crown in 2012, he scored 10 and assisted 5 in a stuttering campaign for the reigning French champions this season. Linked heavily to Turkey, the playmaker has spoken of a desire to move to England, with Aston Villa surprisingly the first team to make their move. A hefty eight-figure fee would probably be required, but Belhanda would be just the player to provide the spark we need. Teammate at Montpellier Remy Cabella would be a cheaper but similarly creative option, at 23, he scored 7 with 7 assists last season, and has racked up an impressive 17 caps for the French Under-21 side. Lille’s highly rated 26 year old Dimitri Payet has been linked, along with Paris St Germain’s Clement Chantome.
Like Belhanda, Taarabt is a fellow Moroccan international; unlike Belhanda, Taarabt has swathes of experience in English football, having left Lens as a teenager. Taarabt is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, he has an ego the size of Shepherds Bush (and the bus it takes to get there), but his talent is undeniable. 5 goals and 5 assists, including both goals in the December victory over Fulham, is a good return from QPR’s dismal season, not least because despot former manager Mark Hughes refused to use his best creative asset for most of the season prior to his dismissal. Whether you love him or hate him, Taarabt would be a talented addition to our midfield. Besides, when Berbatov’s around, everybody, even Taarabt, might keep his ego in check. Teammate Alejandro Faurlin suffered the ignominy of being relegated with 2 teams last season (having spent the latter half on loan at Palermo) despite himself being a classy link player and the key to QPR’s promotion and subsequent survival in their first season up.
Heavily linked with a loan switch to Craven Cottage in the first weeks of the transfer window, Marseille’s Morgan Amalfitano could well be on his was to South West 6. At 28 he’s no spring chicken, but his ability to play both centrally and on the right flank could provide some much needed depth and versatility. Undoubtedly talented (he’s better than his brother Romain at Newcastle), whether he’s the star we’re after or a potential squad player would remain to be seen. Lyon’s Clement Grenier would be such a star, but at 22 he’s likely destined for higher pastures.
At 19, AZ prodigy Maher is currently being seen starring for the Netherlands in the European Under-21 championships. A centre mid who likes to attack, he our fits the job description almost to the word. 7 goals and 6 assists in the Eredivisie last season is some return for a youngster playing his first full season. Fulham Under-21 midfielder Chris David was signed in the Maher mold back in January, but having a pair of up and coming Dutch talents would be to nobody’s angst, although calling Maher up and coming is selling his vast talent short. Seeing as Mousa Dembele came from AZ, another raid on Alkmaar would be just fine. Norwegian playmaker Markus Henriksen is another AZ player who could prove a possible Premier League target over the coming seasons.
Twente’s combative midfielder Fer was a failed medical away from signing for David Moyes’ Everton in January. 23 league appearances for the Enschede club with a last injury lay off back in November suggest such troubles are behind him. Despite the spell on the sidelines, he netted 5 times with 4 further assists last season, and scored the winner for Holland off the bench in their Euro Under 21 opener v Germany, as well as a follow up in the next game. Feyenoord duo Jordy Clasie and Tonny Vilhena would also be worthy additions, and two players very much to watch out for.
The break the bank option from the Netherlands, PSV Eindhoven’s Strootman is a future world-class talent. Signed from Utrecht with similarly gifted wideman Dries Mertens (a player destined for superstardom who scored 16 and assisted on 17 from left wing last season) Strootman is a centre mid with that perfect blend of defensive steel and attacking instinct. 6 goals and 10 assists for the 23 year old quantifies his undoubted talent. Ajax captain Siem De Jong would be another welcome addition from the Eredivisie as erstwhile wunderkind and now superstar Christian Eriksen is surely well above our reach and off to one of Europe’s elite clubs from the Dutch capital.
Not exactly Dutch, but short of dedicating a whole segment to the Belgian Pro League, Junior Malanda had to fit in somewhere. The young powerhouse was heavily linked with Fulham in January when he and his team, Zulte Waregem were both largely unheralded. Having now played 39 times in a season where Zulte achieved their highest ever finish, coming second to Anderlecht on the last day of the season, Malanda will now be a tad more expensive. A box-to-box athlete of some prowess, Malanda would be a welcome addition. William Vainquer of Standard Liege has also been linked.
Candreva is a bona fide talent who’s star lit up Lazio’s run to the Coppa Italia. His cross in the final provided the assist for Senad Lulic’s winner. At 26, Candreva is in his prime and could star for Fulham on the right wing or as a central midfielder. He scored 7 and assisted on 13 last season. A complicated co-ownership situation with Udinese mean a transfer would be virtually impossible, though he’s a player to watch nonetheless. Cagliari’s Belgian international Radja Nainggolan is another to be linked with a move to Fulham, as is 22 year old Romanian Adrian Stoian, who is currently co-owned by Roma and Chievo.
Real Betis’ 26 year old Basque maestro Beñat had a breakout season in Spain last year. Teammate Jose Canas, Sevilla’s Jesus Navas and Celta’s Iago Aspas have already sealed moves to England, so there is no reason Beñat could not follow suit. He’s a deadball wizard who scored 4 and with 7 assists for Seville’s second club last season. Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic and Gary Medel could also be available following their parent club’s financial woes.
26 year old Atletico Madrid midfielder Raul Garcia has been linked to Fulham several times in recent transfer windows. The Spaniard, who has one year left on his contract at the Vicente Calderon, would likely cost somewhere between £5m – £10m should he fancy the move to West London. He would also become the latest opponent from our 2010 run to the Europa League Final to join Fulham, having played all 120 minutes in the final (not that we’d hold that against him!).
28 year old Galatasaray vice captain Selçuk was linked to Fulham in the early days of this window around the time Gala showed interest in Kerim Frei. There is little chance of Fulham securing the popular set piece specialist from the Turkish capital, but at 28 he’d provide an experience edge to Fulham’s creative core.
Northern and Eastern Europe
Japanese midfield magician Keisuke Honda currently plies his trade with CSKA Moscow, however the gifted 26 year old is a free agent at the conclusion of this Russian season in December. Linked heavily with Liverpool, Honda would be open for a switch to the Premier League and his contract situation will make him more financially available. A true star should he follow in Junichi Inamoto’s footsteps and move to Craven Cottage. Another non European option could be St Gallen’s 27 year old Argentine Ezequiel Scarione, who scored a hefty 21 goals from midfield to lead the Swiss league last season.
Magnus Wolf Eikrem
Yes, its true, part of the reason anyone wants to sign Molde midfielder Eikrem is the fact he’s named Wolf. However, the former Manchester United youngster is one of the brightest talents to emerge from the Norwegian Tippeligaen in recent years. Out of contract in December, the midfielder, who can operate centrally or on the right, has a cultured nature about his play, and could follow former teammate Vegard Forren (now of Southampton) in moving to England. Several of Germany’s top clubs are already sniffing around this talented 22 year old.
Like Magnus Eikrem, Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Nordtveit is one of several emerging Norwegian talents lighting up the European Under-21 championships in Israel this summer. Nordtveit is a deep lying central midfielder with a rocket shot who has English experience having spent some of his formative years in Arsenal’s academy. Unfortunately Nordtveit signed a contract extension at Gladbach in December, so any transfer would be costly, but expect to see him return to these shores someday. Teammate at Gladbach, Granit Xhaka, would likely be more available having failed to make an impact since his big money move from Basel last summer, the Swiss midfielder making just 15 Bundesliga starts last summer. Perhaps a central midfield pairing with Pajtim Kasami would push both Swiss talents to where they should be.
Stromsgodset’s 22 year old central midfielder Johansen has shone to the fore for Norway’s exceptional Under-21 side in recent weeks. Along with international teammate and skipper Stefan Strandberg, (the Rosenborg centre back I’d fly to Motspur Park myself) Johansen is one of the premier Norwegian players still playing in his domestic league. With a contract expiring in Decemebr, I’d expect that to change once Norway’s spell in Israel comes to an end. Valarenga’s Mohammed Fellah could also be ready for the move to England. Rennes Anders Konradsen is another to watch but having only moved to France in January (as a replacement for reported near Fulham signing Yann M’Vila) he’s unlikely to move again just yet.
Dnipro midfielder Konoplyanka is not exactly what Fulham need this summer, however, that won’t stop me singing the praises of the 23 year old. Having lit up his home tournament for Ukraine at last summer’s Euros along with Dynamo Kyiv’s Andriy Yarmolenko, it is hopefully a matter of time before we see Konoplyanka in Western Europe. He’d cost a fortune, and after the Derek Boateng saga I’d be surprised if Dnipro were too keen to speak to Alistair Mackintosh and Martin Jol again in a hurry. [N.B. latest reports suggest Konoplyanka is on the verge of an hideously over inflated petrodollar funded move to Shakhtar Donetsk] Shakhtar’s Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan is another reported Premier League target.
Irish international midfielder McCarthy was a consistent shining light in Wigan’s turbulent season that saw them lift the cup before suffering relegation later the same week. Roberto Martinez may well look to take McCarthy with him to Everton, however should he decide to look elsewhere, there will be a not so orderly queue of Premiership teams looking to steal him away from the DW Stadium. Another relegated midfielder, Jem Karacan, deserves a second shot at the top flight following Reading’s relegation to the Championship.
It seemed impossible to leave Spurs midfielder Huddlestone off this list. Perhaps the least glamorous of all the names, “Thud” is somehow still only 26. Persistent queries about his fitness have blighted the Nottingham born player’s career, but his most productive spell was as a youngster under Martin Jol. He’s a scorer of spectacular goals and of forty yard passes, so provided the fee wasn’t too steep, a move for Huddlestone would not seem a terrible move. Personally I’d prefer we moved for Gylfi Sigurdsson, the spectacularly talented Icelander failing to hold down a regular spot in Andre Villas-Boas’ side last season. Fulham could and should offer him a cemented starting spot and wait for the creative genius that would follow for years to come. Youngster Tom Carroll is another option with Spurs potentially willing to loan out the promising 21 year old.
The final profile is that of 24 year old Brighton midfielder Bridcutt. A former Chelsea trainee, Bridcutt is out of contract following Brighton’s run to the playoff semi finals. A combative all action centre midfielder, Bridcutt should be given his top flight opportunity having narrowly missed out on promotion with the south coast club. Current Chelsea academy graduate Nathanial Chalobah, who spent the season with Watford, will have potentially impressed any Fulham scouts sent to watch Matthew Briggs during his loan spell at Vicarage Road. Leicester’s Anthony Knockaert is another destined for better things, though the striker come attacking midfielder would probably benefit from another year in the Championship following his move from France last summer.
Whoever we sign, its another exciting summer in store.
Keisuke Honda would be a dream come true if we could get him to Fulham. Absolutely quality player and one of the most talented Japanese players at the moment.
Always magic happening when seeing him play in the national team matches.
An interesting article. i agree that fulham have to invest heavily in this position. there was a noticeable creative gap in midfield that no one else could fill and cost us in a lot of games.
i can only comment on the spanish players
in my opinion Beñat is well out of price range… hes played 4 times for spain in the last year as well. nothing less than 15million for him (maybe they will be tempted into a spending spree like with Ruiz?). id love to see him at the cottage though. Spain have a great crop of talented creative midfielders who would be ideal for fulhams midfield. getting them for under 10 million and keeping them happy with a fulham wage is the complicated part.
Raul Garcia started playing a lot more for Atletico near the end of the season, so ive got a feeling his popularity may have gone up slightly. he would be an excellent acquisition, he proved he can play well for both big and small sides. with a crazy goal scoring record at Osasuna as well as a good showing at Atletico madrid.
maybe Jol should be looking at the Barcelona B youngsters like Sergi Roberto, Deulofeu or even Rafinha (Thiagos younger brother). everything coming out of that academy in midfield is worth a look, and looking at the pecking order at barcelona (xavi, iniesta, Busquets, Cesc, Thiago etc) its unlikely they will see a jump to the first team football any time soon. These players could be had at a good price (with a buy back clause) or even an attractive loan deal (with an option).
The spanish press has talked recently about Barcelona trying to offload a few of there first team players out on loan. players like Ibrahim Afellay (dutch international), Isaac Cuenca who have both been out on loan but unlucky with injuries). theres also Jonathan Dos Santos (giovanis brother)
Asier Illarramendi from Real Sociedad had an amazing season and an excellent under21 euro. but i think Arsenal may have beaten us to him.
other sides that shouldnt be overlooked are teams like Atheltic Bilbao, where Martin Jol went shopping already this summer. they have some very talented midfielders Iturraspe, De Marcos (who can play anywhere), Muniain and Susaeta. its dificult to tell if they are in our price range because Bilbao usually like to sell their younger players.