A year ago this week, Fulham pulled off the club’s biggest ever signing. Jean-Michael Seri, a player who was once linked with Barcelona and dubbed the next Xavi, signed for the Whites. More than just a brilliant centre-midfield acquisition, it instead signified something more — a broader statement of intent that Fulham would not only survive in the Premier League, but thrive.
A year later, Seri has moved to Galatasaray on loan. Fulham finished second-bottom. And supporters are left wondering how the Ivorian turned from saviour to the most disappointing signing in recent memory.
By all accounts, Seri seemed perfect for Fulham. A diminutive, but combative midfielder, he could dish out superb passes at an astoundingly accurate rate, as well as provide some tough tackling. Combined with passmaster Tom Cairney in Slavisa Jokanovic’s free-flowing side, Seri appeared set to flourish in SW6. He didn’t.
At the end of the day, Seri was so beneath everyone’s expectations that fans began turning against him en masse. When he needed to be precise, his passes were errant. When he needed to be assertive, his tackles often ended up in bookings rather than takeaways. When required to track back, he turned his jogs into leisurely strides and abdicated defensive responsibility.
Seri was terrible, and no amount of apologising could make up for the signing that destroyed Fulham hearts.
It didn’t start this way. His debut against Palace was lively enough and Seri even notably dispossessed the much larger Christian Benteke with aplomb. The best point came in Jokanovic’s only league win, a 4-2 victory over Burnley, started off by a goal-of-the-season contender by Seri. The Ivorian peeled away, arms aloft, a smile of glee. Little did we know that he would never hit such heights again.
There was a cute, scooped assist for Andre Schurrle away at Brighton, but cracks were quickly beginning to show. An inexplicable pass gifted Manchester City their opening goal at the Etihad.
With Fulham quickly entering freefall, Seri went missing. Central midfielders are meant to boss possession and constantly dictate the tempo in the middle of the park. When goings get tough, you count on your centre-mid to get the ball moving, calm down the team, and facilitate attacks. But watch most of Fulham’s matches last season, and you would be hard pressed to identify Seri’s contributions. Sure, there were notable mistakes and key giveaways, but often, the most damning indictment of Seri’s performance was that you hardly noticed he was on the pitch.
The speed of the Premier League passed him by. The strength needed to assert yourself overwhelmed him. And the worst thing was he didn’t want to be there.
More than representing a failed individual signing, Jean-Michael Seri encapsulated the Premier League mercenary, a player who was good in theory but truly saw themselves as above the level of Fulham Football Club.
A look back at the 2018 transfer saga that brought Seri to SW6 is instructive, as until the last minute, it appeared certain either Arsenal or Chelsea would snap up the Ivorian. For whatever reason, Fulham pounced, but it’s fair to say Seri thought himself a player of a higher quality, worthy of European football and not a relegation dogfight.
And when results start to slip, true fighters rise to the occasion. And from the off, Seri was never going to fight for Fulham. Towards the end of the season during Scott Parker’s late resurgence, it’s illuminating that Seri barely played.
Fulham played their best football of the season and turned their its most spirited performances with Seri looking on from the bench. There was a reason for that.
Was Seri the only player who was lazy, underperforming, and weak during the 18/19 campaign? Of course not. But what separated him from the rest of the abject bunch was the insanely high hopes the fanbase had for Seri in the summer. His failures were made all the more deflating by his glowing reputation.
Now, the midfielder will link back up with Ryan Babel in Turkey. He’ll be remembered as a disappointment beyond belief at Fulham. A player of great talent who consistently failed at every task in SW6, Jean-Michael Seri won’t be missed. But he certainly will not be forgotten anytime soon, a potent reminder of a season horribly lost to incompetence.