It seems like Fulham summer signings are just like the proverbial London bus. You wait ages for one – and then a couple come along at once. The deal to convert Harrison Reed’s successful loan spell into a permanent deal was a long time in the works, whilst the initial loan of Mario Lemina, who was looking for a new home after falling out of favour with Ralph Hasenhüttl at St. Mary’s, came as something of a surprise but both acquisitions offer an insight into what the Fulham hierarchy are looking to do this season. With a bit of bite midfield, the aim is to make the Whites much harder to play through – something that was seemed far too easy during their last, all too brief spell in the top flight.
It is obvious that defensive additions are absolutely vital prior to the start of the season against Arsenal. The rumour mill, cranked up to well over a hundred in the past couple of weeks, has gone a bit quiet on the identities of possible centre backs and right backs, the two positions where the newly-promoted side look acutely vulnerable, but Scott Parker will be aware of precisely what his side needs to be competitive in the Premier League. Reed is arguably the most important addition of the summer – a hungry player, with a point to prove at the highest level, and someone who reads the game impeccably well, who can cover plenty of ground in the key areas of the pitch. He clearly developed an affinity with the club and his team-mates whilst on loan and the rumoured £8m fee has the potential to be something of a steal. The 25 year-old fits Parker’s system down to a tee and his knowledge of how Fulham are likely to be play will mean he’ll need next to no time to bed back in down at Motspur Park.
Lemina seems more of an educated gamble. The try before you buy option of a loan has worked well for Fulham over the past year and the Gabonese international’s ability has never been in doubt. The question, from what you gather from Southampton supporters, is about his attitude and application. He’ll want to find a new home and will also be eager to demonstrate that he belongs in the top flight, having never really built on glimmers of his class on the south coast. Fulham have a history of rehabilitating players who have gone off the boil elsewhere and making troublesome characters perform in their new colours (think just how much of a hothead Aleskandar Mitrovic was considered when he moved from St. James’ Park or what a transformation Aboubakar Kamara has undergone over the past season, for example).
Suddenly, Parker has plenty of options to pick from in midfield. Reed’s energy makes his return a popular one and Lemina will compete with the likes of Josh Onomah for a starting berth, whilst with the reported interest in Benfica’s Florentino Luis heading towards another possible loan deal and the potential return of Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, competition for places in the Fulham engine room will be fierce. That’s essential for any side and it could help transform a team who were often a little too pedestrian in possession in the Championship into a side that’s a little more dynamic both with and without the ball. Parker clearly wants his side to be streetwise and these signings should offer some more protection to a back that’s sure to face a serious examination from the off, whatever the identity of any new arrivals.
If Parker’s approach in the top flight is likely to be more cautious than that adopted by Slavisa Jokonavic then midfielders with a real work ethic are essential. We’ve seen enough of Reed’s body of work to understand what he’s about – the impish midfielder will hassle and harry from the outset to the end and he should be instructed not to give the league’s most gifted orchestrators a moment’s peace. Unlocking the class that Lemina possesses on a consistent basis might well be a tougher challenge, but both Parker and Tony Khan appear confident that he could be a good fit in SW6. The loan provides an option to buy if things go well and the man who proved pivotal a few seasons ago for Juventus might lessen Fulham’s reliance on Tom Cairney, who himself will want to show that he can do it in the top flight.
Last night’s double deal might well hasten the departure of a pair of Fulham favourites as well. Sky Sports suggested last night that the Whites are willing to listen to loan offers for Stefan Johansen and Kevin McDonald, two stalwarts of the side that earned promotion in 2018/2019. That makes sense given the lack of first-team opportunities for either last term, however good the duo are around the dressing room. Johansen created a lot of openings from scarcely little playing time and there’s no doubt he’s a quality performer in the Championship – perhaps from a more advanced role than he has been offered during Parker’s tenure to date. McDonald’s leadership qualities are well known and he’d be a smart signing for a second-tier side seeking to put together a promotion push, but a loan allows him the option of returning to Motspur Park to complete his coaching badges and perhaps join the Fulham backroom staff when he hangs up his boots. Neither were likely to see much first-team football at the highest level, something which seems even more remote when you factor in the new arrivals.