I thought it best to let the dust settle after all the drama and emotion of deadline day. When Fulham failed to get past Reading in the play-off semi-finals last May after such an incredible end to the regular season, I felt that the team that had gloriously swept their way into the top six under Slavisa Jokanovic would gradually be broken up as a consequence. The lure of the Premier League, I pessimistically presumed, would be prove too strong to retain the likes of Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon – and maybe even the head coach himself. Tomas Kalas, so painfully penalised on that agonising night at the Madjeski Stadium, would probably find top flight football with other employers.
By the start of this season, it was clear I was wrong. Arguably, the club’s best bit of business was ensuring that both Cairney, newly established as the Fulham captain following the retirement of Scott Parker, and Sessegnon signed new deals early in the summer. Kalas and Lucas Piazon – after a certain amount of negotiation with their ‘parent’ club – opted for another year at Craven Cottage and Jokanovic, despite noises to the contrary, remained to prowl the Riverside dugout. One Twitter correspondent claimed that adding these names to any analysis of the summer transfer window imparted ‘more spin that New Labour’. I’m obviously biased there – but I think any estimation of the business Fulham have done during the summer months has to begin with the players they’ve preserved from last season because keeping the key men makes Slavisa’s job that bit easier.
Equally, there would be compelling cases for considering both Scott Malone and Sone Aluko as pivotal performers in that side. Both are plying their trade elsewhere. In Malone’s case that in the top flight with newly-promoted Huddersfield Town – with both the dream of Premier League and the value of a fee that could reach £5m proving irresistible. Malone’s move to the Terriers also opened a spot for Sessegnon at left back, even if the teenager will shortly be contesting that position with Rafa Soares. Aluko’s departure is the more arresting one, given how integral he proved to last season’s side, and Jokanovic’s very public insistence that losing the Nigerian forward would be a ‘disaster’ in pre-season. I can think of about £7.5m remains why the Serbian might now have revised his opinion.
Aluko would himself admit that he has never proven a prolific goalscorer and Fulham are, as a result of the rest of business conducted during August, now supremely well-stocked in the wide positions. Even allowing for Piazon’s prolonged spell on the sidelines, Jokanovic now has to perm two wingers from Neeskens Kebano, Floyd Ayite, Sheyi Ojo, Jordan Graham, Yohan Mollo, George Williams and possibly Ryan Sessegnon too. Kebano offered a shining example of his ability against Ipswich whilst Ojo has plenty more he can display in a Fulham shirt having turned down a surfeit of other suitors to move to London.
The acquisitions of both Graham, whose fitness problems seemed to count against him after an impressive pre-season with Wolves, and Mollo are intriguing. The latter’s spell with Zenit St. Petersburg ended both abruptly and unhappily but it shouldn’t mask the talent he oozed earlier in his Russian stay and at the start of his career with Marseilles, Nancy and the French under-21s. There’s a clearly a feisty and artful winger in there – and we’ll see whether Jokanovic can extract something extra.
Even signing eleven players over the summer does leave some question marks. With Rui Fonte limping out of the win at Portman Road and Aboubakar Kamara clearly still acclimatising to the unique demands of English football, Fulham still feel somewhat light in the striking department. Kebano and Ayite filled in admirably at the tail end of last term whilst Stevie Humphrys has been banging them in for the Under 23s, but you can see why Fulham were willing to splash the cash on Dwight Gayle. Moves for Fernando Forestieri and Jota never really materialised, but that could have the added impact of freeing up funds for January – where Fulham haven’t spent significantly since Roy Hodgson ended Brede Hangeland and Erik Nevland in 2008.
There are also worries about the strength in depth at the heart of the defence should anything happen to Kalas or Tim Ream, who has proven a revelation since returning to the starting eleven. Marcelo Djalo has yet to convince when he has had the chance, which has seen Denis Odoi switch to centre back despite being a natural full-back. The Belgian did the job brilliantly when the Whites went a man down inside 31 seconds at the Madjeski last month. Michael Madl, rumoured to have been on his way to Legia Warsaw, remains a very capable option in central defence.
The late moves for Aluko and Denis Adeniran, who Fulham lost to Everton later on Thursday evening, mean that the club’s net spend seems negligible, which should help ensure that the Whites comply with the FFP regulations put in place by the EFL. A window that delivered plenty of new signings, held onto the club’s prized assets and ensured that Fulham remained on a sustainable footing doesn’t sound so disastrous to me.