The fourth and final step on the roadmap to Fulham’s regeneration will be the targeted acquisition of a select few players who can complement those left in place and promoted from the academy.
With our relegation, our list and spectrum from which to select those targets will have shifted. We are unlikely to be able to attract players from Europe’s top leagues for a year of battling in England’s second tier.
Instead, our options will be closer to home. Whilst we may not necessarily have the ability to get players to drop a tier, the Football League pyramid regularly produces players of a good enough calibre to be perfect for a promotion campaign. Indeed some football league experience would not go amiss in what is likely to be a young and foreign dominated squad left in place.
We should capitalise on our stature as a club that will have us leading the pack when it comes to attracting talent to move up the tiers of English football. All told though, with known transfer hound Felix Magath at the helm, Fulham’s scouts and chequebook will likely be travelling far and wide this summer.
However, without the encyclopedic knowledge to match our German manager, here are a few names from within the Football League to whom Fulham could look this summer:
At present, Fulham look reasonably well stocked up front. However, much depends on the fate of Kostas Mitroglou. If the Greek shines at the world cup and earns a move away from SW6 our front line will have a gaping hole. With Hugo Rodallega’s scoring record questionable and Marcello Trotta reported to have handed in a transfer request, to ask teenagers Moussa Dembele and Cauley Woodrow to score 40 goals between them is simply too much. QPR’s signing of Charlie Austin a year ago showed the value of adding a proven goalscorer at Championship level. Fulham’s name did not come up in discussions of where Bournemouth’s Lewis Grabban would end up despite interest from fellow relegated teams Norwich and Cardiff and the 22 goal striker is now heading for Carrow Road. Regardless, there are several strikers who would significantly improve our arsenal up front were they to join.
Blackburn hitman Rhodes has been on most potential target lists since before he left Huddersfield two years ago. At 24, he is entering his peak years and is likely desperate for a crack at the big time. After a season in which he scored 25 goals, Norwich were reported to be looking at the Scotland international before signing Grabban this week. Blackburn’s obscene demands for an eight figure price tag may mean Rhodes doesn’t get a move away from Ewood Park, but should he do so, Fulham would be well advised to be at the head of the queue for the prolific hitman.
Another Scot, Leeds’ McCormack has dominated the Championship scoring charts since his Cardiff days. At 27 he is entering the last few years he’s got to get to the highest level. With our finest in-house striking talent in their teens, securing a goalscorer with experience would be no bad thing. Leeds’ new owner, flamboyant Italian Massimo Cellino, this week claimed Newcastle had a bid for the striker turned down, however, the Tyneside club say otherwise and Cellino could just be trying to drum up interest in the forward who scored 28 times last season. Another 27 year old worth monitoring is Brighton’s Leandro Ulloa, who reportedly came close to joining Crystal Palace in January.
25-year-old Deeney is an intriguing possibility. He’s a big burly proper striker that can do big proper striker things like push defenders out the way for fun. He can however, also score goals at Championship level with quite some frequency. 24 goals was an impressive tally for the Englishman last season in a Watford team who never really got going following their playoff final defeat the season before. Watford’s owners the Pozzo family are well known dealmakers so any Watford player is likely available at the right price and Deeney could be a decent alternative to the more expensive options named above.
Dropping a division further makes finding the diamond in the rough that bit harder. Undeniably the best talent at that level either achieved promotion, such as our own Marcello Trotta, or was simply former Championship players on the downslope of their careers. Exceptions to the rule can be found and one such talent is Coventry striker Callum Wilson. The 22 year old scored 22 goals last season for a team playing their home games in the wrong town. Wolves, Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth have already been linked with the forward whom Coventry want to build their team around. Peterborough’s Britt Assombalonga is another young forward who will be keen to go up a division but his failure to assert himself at Watford before his drop to League One will worry any potential suitors. Finally, Chelsea and England Under 21 striker Patrick Bamford set the world alight on loan at MK Dons, but was out of the Derby team for the playoff final. Were Fulham to look to a loanee, Bamford has shown significant promise of top level potential and Fulham could prove a perfect step up.
Midfield is an area that Fulham appear well stocked to bring through players. However, like attack, our midfield lacks a particular punch and it will similarly be too much to ask of the likes of George Williams, Lasse Vigen Christensen, Pat Roberts and Chris David to achieve promotion on their own. Both for a cultured passer to provide the assists and some recognised athleticism would not go amiss and we’ll need the midfield to chip in some goals as well. Here are a few names to consider:
Derby midfielder Bryson was the standout player in an exceptional year for the Rams that ended with heartbreaking defeat in the playoff final. At 27, Bryson’s route to the top has been a long winded one, but with 16 goals and 12 assists he was a genuine contender for Championship player of the season last year. The highlight of his and Derby’s spectacular season was a hat trick in the thrashing of bitter rivals Nottingham Forest and Bryson ended the year in the Championship Team of The Year. Whether he and Derby can repeat their success will remain to be seen but his name will be on a few club’s target lists.
Like Bryson, his teammate Will Hughes was in the Championship Team of The Year but unlike Bryson, Hughes’ name has been on scouts’ lists since he was under driving age. Now aged 19, the peroxide blond central midfielder remains a reported target for clubs such as Manchester United and Liverpool. However, with Derby’s failure to gain promotion and a lack of firm offers elsewhere, a solid and sizable bid from a club like Fulham could tempt a transfer. As unlikely as it would be, a player of Hughes’ box-to-box creative talent would be perfect for our midfield.
Nottingham Forest’s Herni Lansbury has already been rumoured to be a Fulham target this summer with the Nottingham Evening Post suggesting a £5m offer was in the offing. Like Hughes, the former Arsenal man would add some much needed spark to our midfield and £5m would not be too high a price for a midfielder who gained significant honours at youth level.
One player quietly garnering significant praise over the past two seasons has been Watford utility man Ikechi Anya. Originally a right back, Anya played for Scotland as a left midfielder last week. The 26 year old ended the season with 8 assists coming largely from defence and like Troy Deeney mentioned above, would be available at the right price. Fellow Watford man Lewis McGugan is also someone I’ve thought Fulham should have had an interest in for a few years now.
Defence is an area where we will undoubtedly be looking for fresh blood. Although Dan Burn is likely etched in as a starter at centre back, who will be there alongside him is very much up for debate. With both John Heitinga, who signed for Hertha Berlin, and Brede Hangeland, who was released, formally having left in the past week, our two starting centre halves from last year’s run in are no longer at the club. John Arne Riise has said his goodbyes and there ate lingering doubts as to whether Sascha Riether and Fernando Amorebieta will be at the club next season. Academy wise, Jack Grimmer and Liam Donnelly look the likeliest to make an immediate step up but we may have interest in strengthening across the board.
The Ipswich Town left back was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year and has been linked to Fulham in the past. Left back is our weakest position in-house so we are likely to be in the market at that position. At 24, the man who got 13 assists for Ipswich is undoubtedly on the list of players being considered. Rangers’ Lee Wallace was also linked in the press this weekend.
23-year-old Bournemouth centre half Cook was probably not on many fans’ radars before being linked to Fulham in May. He made 39 appearances in a Bournemouth defence that ended last season with a positive goal difference and has also been linked to newly promoted Burnley in the past few weeks. Unlike Cook, Nottingham Forest’s Jamaal Lascelles is probably the most hyped young defender in the division and Fulham could do a lot worse than attempting to lure him south in exchange for Steve Wigley.
Sheffield United centre half Maguire impressed for the Blades when they played Fulham in the FA Cup back in January. Wolves have reportedly had two bids already rejected for the 21-year-old with a fee of £2m rumoured to be enough to prize the player away from Sheffield. He looks destined for a big future and another year in League One might not be in his best interests.
Another young defender to keep an eye on is Birmingham City’s 20-year-old American Will Packwood. A Championship Young Player of The Month last season, the centre back has already shown tremendous courage to recover from a double leg fracture suffered shortly after he arrived in the Midlands. He’s highly rated and in the signing of Foday Nabay a year ago, we’ve shown our scouts know the route to St Andrews.
Were we to need a new right back, one option could be Leeds’ Sam Byram. The 20-year-old was linked to Southampton in the event Callum Chambers moved on earlier in the year such is his potential. With in-house rookie Grimmer a natural centre back we may yet go into the market but chances are another homegrown option, Josh Passley, might get a chance first.
These are of course only a few potential options. With our extensive scouting network and a manager fond of scattergunned signings from far afield and beyond who knows what transfers lie in store. However, by adding a select band of young, talented and hungry players who can complement what we already have, we have the opportunity to create a new ethos and with it a whole new club. We must avoid the temptation to sign players who are old or out of contract. Now is not the time for mercenaries. Let’s hope this is the first year of a new Fulham in the transfer market.