It’s like opening the door to Narnia. From the moment the transfer window opens on January the 1st football fans go on a perilous month long journey of discovery in search of Aslan The Official News Lion.
It is 31 days of rampant speculation. Did someone see Nani on the Fulham Road? Did Alistair Mackintosh meet with Steven Defour’s agent? Were Lionel Messi and Ferenc Pushkas seen playing Deal or No Deal on the Itbox at The Earl Beatty pub next to Motspur Park station?
As fans we have little way of knowing what’s actually going on. Is our club actively trying to recruit new faces? Have they planned for the window with comprehensive scouting and budgeting? Were those plans ripped up with the comprehensive change of management? What will actually happen?
The trade off in January is much written about. To get quality, you have to pay for it. That is not Fulham’s style. We are not a club who goes out wantonly looking to sign other club’s best players. Our ethos has long been attempting to secure value by signing players unwanted or undervalued at other clubs. Indeed our transfer philosophy since the time of Roy Hodgson and before has been to secure experienced professionals at knock down prices with an occasional drop of high expectation prime of their career stardust mixed in for good luck.
Unfortunately the last real player signed for top Euro was Bryan Ruiz two and a half years ago, and he made his debut for PSV Eindhoven back in the Eredivisie last weekend. Under Mohamed Al-Fayed there was an obvious reluctance to drop too many coins in the ocean. For whatever reason Fulham’s three biggest inbound transfers (Ruiz, Andrew Johnson and Steve Marlet) have left SW6 without setting the world alight. Johnson (when fit) and Ruiz (when confident) had their moments where glimpses of their fee were justified, but they never quite lived up to the billing, though Bryan may yet have the opportunity to resurrect his Fulham career after the World Cup.
With any luck, the new regime does not bare old scars. For Fulham to progress beyond the sedate spiral to anonymity that has been our path so far this season money will need to be spent. 3, 4 or 5 players are needed in the next week for this window to not go down as a failure. There is for all intents and purposes, a summer’s worth of work to get done in a little over seven days.
Yet it appears we might get our wish. The month long game of cat and mouse and agent is being played out in public for several reported targets. When Rene Meulensteen let slip the verbal dogs of war regarding Ravel Morrison last week, West Ham couldn’t publicly cry foul fast enough. A player of Morrison’s talent would not be on Fulham’s radar unless they felt they had a realistic chance of signing him, including the financial resources. That is not to say we should expect Fulham to pay any more for him than they feel he is worth. As often stated, Fulham’s management are not the sort to be held to ransom.
For a player to move you need two things: a willing player and a willing club. But there is something else that clubs want prior to making a transfer, the upper hand, or at least the perception that they are the ones getting a good deal. Apart from ransom sales of players with expiring contracts, this is where the media repartee comes in. Were West Ham really upset that Meulensteen spoke of Morrison because it destabilised the player, or were they livid that the knowledge he wanted to leave made him cheaper?
The gulf between planning and execution gets exponentially wider in January. There will be a library’s worth of stories we don’t know. Players Fulham wanted to sign or came close to signing. In the past month there have been reminders that Fulham have in the past tried and come close to signing Alvaro Negredo and Andre Pierre Gignac only for deals to fall through for one reason or another. Indeed it was widely reported last January whilst he was still a Roma player that Maarten Stekelenburg got as far as Heathrow airport before being told Roma had decided against selling him to Fulham.
Then there are those who did join as the end-of-transfer window back-up plans, the likes of Orlando Sa, Eyong Enoh and David Elm. We will have to wait a few more days for the results of this month of mystery deal making to reveal themselves. Its often what’s not told, those stories of business left unfinished, that would truly capture our imagination.
Unfortunately though, it is those stories that have an official ending that matter. Who will have their photograph taken holding a pristine new white shirt before February 1st? We’ll just have to wait a little longer to find out.