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There are clichés abound as to January being the hardest time for a football club to get value for money in the transfer market. Fulham are in particular need of a trip to the transfer supermarket this January and we are all well aware of the constraints on budget a team in our position face when entering such a market.

The question with transfer targets then becomes which players can Fulham sign within budget at a price that can be considered worth the value that has to be paid.

With the enigmatic talent that is the Bryan Ruiz experience set to complete his loan move away from Fulham to Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, I asked myself this question; why is it that players, attackers in particular, from the Eredivisie seem so hit and miss in England’s top flight?

bryan-ruiz

There are many factors as to why a player succeeds, not least their physical attributes, but is it possible that the league a player comes to the Premier League from can play a role in their success once they get there?

Perhaps strikers who score goals in a league where it is statistically easier to score goals should come with a warning label. The Eredivisie averages nearly a goal a game more than France’s top division for example. So should the price paid for 20 goals in Holland equal the price paid for 20 goals in France?

Should it be then that clubs like Fulham look to sign players who excel in the opposite trait to the league they play in. Surely a striker who scores goals in a league where goals are hard to come by must have more about him than a striker scoring goals for fun in a league where defending is at a premium.

Simultaneously, would a defender who excels above and beyond his peers in a division such as the Eredivisie be worth more than a defender in a league where attacking is at a premium?

Take 7 major European leagues; Barclays Premier League (England), Eredivisie (Netherlands), Serie A (Italy), La Liga (Spain), Bundesliga (Germany), Ligue 1 (France), The Championship (England)

Here are there stats for goals scored in the 2013/14 season up to last weekend:

  Goals Scored Number of Matches Average Goals Per Game
Premier League

533

200

2.67

Eredivisie

557

162

3.44

Serie A

495

180

2.75

La Liga

524

180

2.91

Bundesliga

486

153

3.18

Ligue 1

461

190

2.43

Championship

724

28

2.51

 

On the basis of these statistics, Ligue 1, France’s top division, and The Championship, the second tier of English football, are the hardest to score in. Holland’s Eredivisie and the German Bundesliga are the easiest. What the stats cannot explain, at least at this level, is whether the results are as a result of good defending or profligate striking or vice versa.

If, however, for the sake of argument, we assume the hypothesis is correct, and strikers who excel in a league in which it is traditionally hard to score are more likely to have success in England, should Fulham be looking to France for a new goalscorer?

If we exclude all players from mega-rich sides Paris St Germain and AS Monaco from discussion as there is as much chance of a player leaving those for Fulham as there is Darren Bent being World Cup Golden Boot, here is a comparison of two players Fulham could consider if trawling the French transfermarche:

Age Height Weight Goals Shots per goal Dispossessed per game
Player A 28 1.86m 84kg 9 5 0.7
Player B 22 1.75m 73kg 9 5 1.7

 

Andre-PierreGignac-celebrates120902R300

Player A is Andre-Pierre Gignac. The Marseille forward will be well known to Fulham fans after a move to South West London fell through for the Frenchman at the eleventh hour in 2011. Having scored 9 times in the league this season Gignac has shown a propensity to score for an underperforming team. His statistic that shines out is his strength in possession, as shown by an impressively low 0.7 dispossessions per game. This ability to hold up the ball would suit Fulham’s 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formations, which at present lack any semblance of a target man to lead the line.

Player B is Alexandre Lacazette. At 22 the Olympique Lyonnais forward is 6 years younger than Gignac. Statistically, these two forwards have identical success rates of one goal every five shots. In comparison, incumbent Fulham striker Dimitar Berbatov averages a goal every 8.25 shots this season. Lacazette’s age would likely render him more expensive than Gignac as would Lyon’s infamous stance on selling young stars.

However, which of the two would be more suited to the Premier League, and Fulham in particular?

Gignac, at 6 foot plus and 10 kilos heavier may be more attuned to the immediate physical demands of being a lone target man in English football. Being dispossessed 1 time less per game also indicates Gignac has an ability to hold up the ball, a characteristic long missed by Fulham following the departures of Bobby Zamora and Pavel Pogrebnyak some time ago.

Age Height Weight Goals Shots per goal Dispossessed per game
Player C 21 1.84m 82kg 11 4.5 3.3

 

Now consider the case of Player C, Vincent Aboubakar of Lorient. At 1.84m and 82kg, Aboubakar is a similar physical specimen to Gignac, and at only 21 he also has the opportunity to improve his physical stature. His goal stats are impressive in what has been a breakout season following his move from Valenciennes in the summer. However, the Cameroon international also shows signs of rawness, his dispossessed statistics indicate a man who’s yet to fully learn his craft.

Vincent-Aboubakar-2-472x340

 

So which then of the three players would you want Fulham to look at? Name recognition would suggest it be Gignac. The statistics back that up, but would a 21 year old with near identical, if not better, numbers from a lesser fancied club not be the better value signing?

Simultaneously if we look at The Championship where it also proves difficult to score relative to the Premier League.  Compare the following two strikers:

Age Height Weight Goals Shots per goal Dispossessed per game
Jordan Rhodes 23 1.85m 71kg 16 4.3 0.8
Danny Ings 21 1.78m 73kg 16 4.9 2.6

 

The two hottest striking prospects in the Championship, Rhodes and Ings will both surely end up in the Premier League one day, should that be with Fulham?

On the basis of the above statistics, Rhodes might just be the answer. The Blackburn striker has age on his side and has the physical attributes required to succeed in the physically demanding Premier League. His ability to hold up the ball is impressive, but what is remarkable is his conversion rate. At 4.3 shots per goal it is nearly twice as good as that of the aforementioned Berbatov.

Jordan Rhodes

Unfortunately when it comes to finding value, The Championship is not a good marketplace. English, or Scottish as would be the case with Rhodes, young talent is vastly overvalued when compared to its continental rivals. It is the so-called British tax.

There is also the difference in quality of leagues that needs to be taken into account. Both Ligue 1 and The Championship are of a lesser quality than the Premier League. However, Fulham’s relative stature and size of transfer war chest (or transfer piggy bank if you will) means targeting players from the other major European leagues in Germany, Spain or Italy becomes more difficult.

With there needing to be a focus on recruiting players in form and in their prime, there has to be a new found focus on value for Fulham’s transfer activity. There should be no more scatter-gunning of aging former names with no sell on value from the substitutes bench of other clubs from the major leagues. Scouting must get clever.

Alfred-Finnbogason-Heerenveen-300x186

There is of course another reality, that there are still strikers in Holland worth paying for, where the increased price still results in value for the purchaser. Alfred Finnbogason’s 17 goals in 15 league games at a goal every 4.05 shots will make him a much sought after commodity. Are his chances easier though? What would Gignac, Rhodes or Berbatov do if they were playing for Heerenveen?

We’ll probably never know, but it is time Fulham did something to shake up the system. From start to back the team isn’t working. Defence is the major problem.

For all I’ve written about strikers above, it is a new defence that will keep us in the Premier League. Having the worst goals against record is something to be ashamed of and is a far cry from the halcyon days of Hughes and Hangeland under Roy Hodgson.

Watching some of Jermaine Defoe’s introductory press conference at Toronto FC, CEO Tim Leiweke quoted Bobby Kennedy when he said, “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

Well, why not Fulham fans. We can survive if our club dreams to make it so. The next three weeks will be crucial. After several seasons of doing the minimum, it is time for Fulham to dare to dream. By standing and waiting for the miracle solution to present itself, we might just let it pass us by.

COYW