With news yesterday afternoon that Fulham have allegedly rejected an offer of £8m from promotion chasing Middlesbrough for striker and top scorer Ross McCormack, I pondered life without the Scot for a moment and felt that his impact and contribution could be replaced which was argued against fairly strongly (though respectfully I may add) and it inspired me to take my pen – or keyboard – to the issue.
At 29 years old and closing in on the age of 30 by the start of next season, Ross McCormack is in his peak ages and with a reputation of being one of the most clinical strikers in the division, scoring 60 goals in the last two and half seasons crossing Yorkshire and London with 19 games remaining in the current season. Alongside strong scoring statistics, McCormack has been credited with 26 assists in the same time period meaning in 117 games; Ross McCormack has scored or created 86 goals. Nobody can dispute his goal record, but this post will hopefully raise the argument that our Scotsman can be replaced.
I wanted to open this post by looking at what Ross McCormack means for team mechanics – short in stature and lacking in pace – McCormack is best suited to a strike partnership of which he’s found one with academy product Moussa Dembele that has blossomed. The Scotsman has experience life on the left flank at Cardiff and Leeds in the past years and was started there in Slavisa Jokanovic’s first match for the football club to fairly little effect against Sheffield Wednesday. This past weekend at Huddersfield, McCormack was placed as the lone striker for the first time since moving to the football club and the first time I can recall; and despite scoring the striker was quiet. GetWestLondon quoted the new Fulham manager on Monday afternoon that he “likes to play like Barcelona, but that is not an option.” Two dabbles with a 433 have perhaps foreshadowed the eventuality of Jokanovic’s vision for the football club, with a couple questions marks with regards to Ross McCormack let alone other factors. Can Ross McCormack lead an attack alone? He touched the ball 20 fewer times against Huddersfield on his own compared to the strike partnership in the previous match against Wolves. Using the same matches, McCormack’s passing accuracy dropped fairly dramatically from 79.5% in a twosome against Wolves to 42.1% against Huddersfield – the worst passing percentage of any outfield player to start a match for Fulham this season and a drop from his tidy average of 80.4%.
In that way, Ross McCormack does leave us tactically limited although statistics and performance analysis, admittedly, is from an incredibly small sample size. You could argue that rather than attempting to fit square pegs in round holes that you should mould your players into the system best suited to them – and that’s a completely valid point, however, Head Coach Slavisa Jokanovic and Chief Football Officer Mike Rigg do appear to have a 433 in mind which suggests moving on from Ross McCormack to build a team for that system and that style of play. Back to Middlesbrough’s rumoured rejected offer of £8m, presuming the Teesside football club continue their interest and raise their bid to £10m for example, could we take that money and build a team more suited to Slavisa Jokanovic’s wishes and to Fulham’s aim of Premier League promotion?
But what about a transfer embargo? Can we replace his goals this season? Both valid arguments again, Fulham are restricted to replacements in this transfer window and would be losing the joint top scorer in the division who has also been involved in the most goals in the division and potentially his strike partner Moussa Dembele too, which is another post in itself. With Middlesbrough signing Kike Sola on loan plus looking for another striker (Jordan Rhodes another potential recruitment) there has been talk that they may be willing to use their original Kike as bait to help a move. The 26-year-old Spaniard scored 10 and got 3 assists in 26 starts for Middlesbrough last season, as well as 5 goals and 1 assist in 10 starts this. Kike stands at 6ft 1 and boasts clever movement and touch – something which could see him suit a lone striker role more so than McCormack – and the goals could well come with a solid run of games and starts as former Spain U20 international fired Murcia to 4th place in the Spanish second division with 23 goals in 41 matches. If Middlesbrough wanted to make this deal extra sweet, chuck James Husband into the mix too!
I wanted to keep this as focused on Ross McCormack as possible, we could speculate on potential replacements. In our Scottish striker, we are not just looking at replacing goals and I feel he’ll at the least reach 20 goals but the chances he creates. Ross McCormack sits in 16th in the division for key passes, 38, with Tom Cairney his nearest competition at the football club with 34. Key passes is a strange statistic to work with as a key pass can include taking a met corner but my theory is to replace Ross McCormack with those that can make up his numbers, so rather than bringing in one player who can also score 20 goals and assist 10 (as form dictates he will), you bring in a striker who can score 15 and a couple of wingers who can chip in with maybe 5 goals and 10 assists each which is 35 goals from our example three forward players (Ross McCormack currently sits on 21). Of course, this relies on getting players that you could rely on contributing these figures and again it might be difficult within the January window but I have the long-term goal in mind. In 6 months time, will somebody want to give us this potential of money for a player now dauntingly close to the age of 30 with a good player in exchange?
But, if we sell Ross we will be relegated? Another fair argument, he’s an influential football who, as we’ve discussed, can score and create goals and selling him does leave us a weaker team. However, replaced adequately with loans this month and we can at the very least get by for the remainder of the season. In an ideal world, we would see the football club bring in an attacker or two whose deals could be made permanent for the corresponding season as we build a squad better suited to Jokanovic’s ‘Barcelona’ and to achieving the ultimate goal of promotion. Ultimately, I don’t think Ross McCormack leaving would decide our fate, there’s plenty of quality out there whether it’s Kike in exchange, or loan moves for the likes of Patrick Bamford or Dwight Gayle. The quality is out there to survive, with the mire of Charlton Athletic and Bolton Wanderers; you could be forgiven for presuming the relegation battle is really for that remaining spot this season and I would back us to out point MK Dons, Rotherham United and Bristol City in the last 19 matches.
I want to close this post really by stressing again that there’s life beyond Ross McCormack. Leeds United finished above us last season without McCormack and currently holds a four-point lead ahead of us as we speak. He’s a fantastic talent, it’s been a joy to watch at times but for this team to become more productive, more efficient and more of a well-oiled machine then selling Ross McCormack in a deal that suits us could be the step back to take two or three forward. A better Fulham could be one with more investment in wide areas; a better Fulham could be one with more investment in the spine of the side at centre back and defensive midfield. If this window is one in which is say goodbye to Ross McCormack, then it will be with fondness for me, but it will also be a window in which I see potential for the team to grow despite a transfer embargo.