Fulham director of football Tony Khan says he won’t be splashing the cash this summer and backs his squad, with a few sensible additions, to be strong enough to stay in the Premier League.
Khan, speaking in an interview with the Times‘ football correspondent Alyson Rudd, feels that some of the additions made over the course of this past season will prove pivotal in the months ahead. He also says that the club’s statistically-based transfer model will remain in place, praising manager Scott Parker’s ‘proactive’ approach to recruitment and rules out a Craven Cottage return for Tottenham winger Ryan Sessegnon.
Following Fulham’s dramatic play-off final win over Brentford in extra time last week, Parker was quick to admit the club needed to learn lessons from their last promotion, when a summer of free spending disrupted the harmony of a tight-knit dressing room. Khan feels Fulham’s decisions to trigger the options to turn loan deals for Bobby Decordova-Reid, Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro leave the club handily placed – even though there is only a month to go until the start of the new season.
“We won’t spend £100m again, I don’t think we need to. The best players we bought are still with us. I feel better about the club, it’s not as if we have to build again. I have already exercised most of options on loan payers and I expect the squad to look very similar to the one that got promoted.”
“The investment we made was a big reason we got promoted. I hope we can be more competitive this time. We spent on the future. I am very happy with the players I bought in the summer of 2018. If we didn’t have camaraderie then, we have it now. We didn’t stay up but Mitro and Bryan were key to us getting back up.”
Khan highlights the importance of signing Michael Hector from Chelsea, a deal that was completed last summer, even if a delay in processing the paperwork following Sessegnon’s switch to Spurs meant the commanding centre half couldn’t actually make his debut until January.
“I needed to get that deal across the line. I didn’t have the money to make the bid until right before the deadline. I’d really wanted Michael the whole season but because of FFP I had to be careful. I spoke to Marina [Granovskaia, the Chelsea director] and told her we’d try to get the paperwork done before the deadline, but we weren’t able to.”
“I couldn’t get past this thought: ‘what if Michael makes a huge difference and we fall just short?,’ then I’ll always wonder what would have happened if we had been able to get him in sooner. A part of me was very scared we’d fall short at the end. I knew he was going to be an important player, but I didn’t feel comfortable paying the fee until Ryan’s deal had balanced the books.”
Khan also revealed that both Andre-Franck Zambo Anguissa and Jean Michael Seri, big money signings last year who spent this season on loan at foreign clubs, will return to Fulham for pre-season and could play a part in the Whites’ Premier League campaign.
“I love both players. The plan now is for them both to return to train with us in a couple of weeks. If the right bid came in, I’d have to consider it but right now they’re aiming to come back to Fulham. Zambo is under contract for three more years and I believe in him. They like him a lot in Spain. Nobody is going to get Frank cheap. He’s a great asset.”
The Fulham vice-chairman also revealed that a lengthy Zoom call with Parker before the play-off final largely focused on how to use Aboubakar Kamara in the absence of Aleksandar Mitrovic, who was recovering from an untimely hamstring injury.
“The call was about tactics and players and how to deploy them. A lot of it was about Abou, who played as a striker in France and was a striker when he signed for Fulham and then we fell into this dilemma when we signed Mitrovic and we started playing him on the wrong. One thing we talked about at length was Abou and Scott agreed with me and he used Abou as a striker. He was one of our heroes at Wembley.”
Khan described Fulham’s ‘two-boxes’ ticked approach to recruitment as ‘collaborative’ and insisted that it would remain in place.
“The process is not changing. Of all the managers we have had, Scott is the most proactive about coming to meetings. It is a collaborative process and Scott has a lot of input. If I send him a long list of players, he researches them all.”
He also confirmed that Fulham were keen to activate the £8m clause in Harrison Reid’s loan deal that would secure a permanent move for the combative midfielder from Southampton. Such was Reed’s influence in the midfielder over the second half of the season that the news will be warmly welcomed by the Fulham faithful.
“I’m working on it. I have an option to buy and I think he does want to stay.”
Khan bluntly shut down any prospect of Sessegnon, who broke into the Fulham first team as a teenager to such dramatic effect, returning to his boyhood club,
“I am not interested. Ryan already played for us in the Premier League and he didn’t do enough to keep us in there. We get two [Premier League] loans and I can’t be in the business of developing other people’s players when they don’t have time to play them. In my statistical system, I actually rated Josh [Onomah] equally with Sessegnon.”