We knew it was coming, but earlier this week on the 1st of July – the typical date of expiring contracts – Fulham confirmed the releases of first team squad members Mark Schwarzer, Mladen Petric, Chris Baird, Simon Davies, Gorgios Karagounis and Csaba Somogyi, along with Alex Smith, Tom Donegan, Corey Gameiro, James Musa and Richard Peniket, who featured in the development squad (note that Diarra isn’t on the list). I think that every Fulham fan to a man anticipated the releases of the senior players, and had done so for some time, but it doesn’t make it much easier to swallow. Even though it’s entirely cliche and every fan with a blog/twitter account/messageboard moniker will have done one, here’s my goodbye to those who’ve left.
Mark Schwarzer: What a guy. To be honest, when he first signed I was distinctly underwhelmed. I was a pretty ignorant of players outside of Fulham and the Champions League, so when I heard we signed a 35 year old keeper who was woeful on Football Manager I was profoundly irritated, with a real sense of entitlement that we should show signs of progress after our great escape. I don’t think I’ve ever judged anything more wrong. Over the five years he has demonstrated that he is an exceptionally competent goalkeeper and a consumate professional with a fitness and athleticism that would make most 20 year olds look like Robert Chew in comparison. In his first couple of seasons I don’t think it’s unfair to claim that he was one of the top four or five keepers in the league, and even though his performances dropped off steadily in the years after that, they were incremental, and he displayed his ability on numerous occasions last season. The QPR and Arsenal penalty saves stand out in my mind, and it was great he could sign off with MotM display at Swansea in May. I think that ever since January and our determination to sign Stekelenberg was revealed, his days were numbered, and it’s no surprise he rejected our contract offer, as he did to Bayern Munich and Juventus for us back in ’08, for guaranteed first team football. I think he’s replacement is more than capable, but I’m sad to see Schwarzer leave regardless. A natural time for separation and I wish him all the best.
Simon Davies: After struggling at Spurs and then Everton, Simon Davies must have been wondering why he left the cushy position of the bench for our relegation battles – we were confined to them in the first 18 months of his time with us – but it is fair to say that Fulham was the making of him. A player with much promise but not a lot to show for it, Davies came in to his own at Fulham. Demonstrating great technique, great passion, and great ability, his lack of pace as a wide man did not hinder his game. To be honest, there is not much I can say here that I didn’t say in my salute to him last year, but what memories he left us! That wonder goal against Reading, what wonderful technique, for a struggling Lawrie Sanchez; the ball through to Nevland in the reverse fixture that season; his deliveries to McBride in the great escape; and the goals in the Europa League… well, they speak for themselves. We owe some of the most wonderful Fulham moments in recent history to this man, and it is really quite sad that his injuries over the last couple of seasons have meant he has almost become a forgotten part of our squad. Let us make sure we remember his contributions.
Chris Baird: Lawrie Sanchez signed him as a right back and initially it was proving to be perhaps one of the worst decisions of all time. The absolute roasting from Petrov in one of his first games aside, Baird was abysmal in an unfamiliar role (he’s a centre half by trade) and the situation was desperate enough that Roy Hodgson recruited Paul Stalteri to replace him. With those performances however came the most unfortunate and shameful abuse. It was genuinely embarrassing to hear a player’s name booed as it was spoken over the speakers, especially someone who had shown no disrespect or disloyalty to the club. That was as low as it got though, and in the seasons since Baird has shown to be a versatile, professional footballer of some ability. Although he will probably leave being best remembered for smacking Bullard in the nose, he played his role in the most fruitful period of Fulham’s history, setting the stage for a top 10 finish with two brilliant long range strikes against Stoke (eat your heart our Riise) over the 10/11 season, and being the midfield anchor in our win over Juventus – perhaps the most standout result we’ve ever had. It’s truly a zero to hero story, and I’m very disappointed to see him leave because I feel his versatility means there is a role for him to play in our squad, but he deserves to play football and so I hope he finds somewhere where he can enjoy himself. All the best to Chris ‘Bairdinho’ Baird.
Mladen Petric: Petric’s career never really took off at Fulham, although it threatened to. I was excited to see him join because of his reputation as a prolific goalscorer, but really when Berbatov joined his days were numbered. Jol would always prefer Berba and Ruiz up top, leaving no room for the Croat apart from on the bench, and as his minutes dwindled so did his performances. Still, he seemed like a good character and didn’t complain about his bit part role, so one can only give a fond farewell.
Giorgos Karagounis: This fella defines Greek theatre. His pantomime dives and pleads to the referees will stick in my mind. Karagounis was really signed as a stop gap after the midfield was ripped apart in the Summer, and although he was never expected to make an enormous contribution to the first team he had a surprising impact, and his work rate and personality endeared him to the fans. A fine passer, he could never really reach the heights of Danny Murphy – of similar age and pedigree – but his two stunning goals were a couple of standout moments from the entirety of last season. All the best, Giorgos!
Csaba Somogyi: This is awkward. Although he was Martin Jol’s first signing, he never played a minute for the first team. I think Jol was hoping he had unearthed a rough diamond, but really it was more like a rotten carrot. Still, he must have had something to get a year’s contract extension, and hopefully he finds better somewhere than Dartford to move to next season.
As for the youngsters, it’s a shame to see Tom Donegan be release. He was the man of the match when Fulham met Everton in the youth cup game a couple of seasons back, but it appears he couldn’t build on that promise. Alex Smith was always competing with Matty Briggs at left back and there was only one winner there, although he looked to have something about him when he made a cameo appearance against West Brom back in August. I think he’s signed at Leyton Orient, so all the best to him. Richard Peniket joined from Walsall for a fair fee as we fended off competition from the likes of Manchester United, but he never really kicked on and after some disappointing loan spells out at non-league clubs, it’s no surprise to see him go. Corey Gameiro is I think another one who couldn’t really get any momentum going, but apparently he’s signed a deal back in his native Australia, so congratulations to him. Finally, James Musa showed enough promise at the Olympics last year for the club to invest in him for a season but ultimately showed he wasn’t up to the challenge. Another Australasian, let’s see if his career can pick up once again like compatriot and fellow defender Winston Reid.