It’s fair to say that plenty of Fulham fans had written off Jean Michael Seri in the run-up to this season. The ‘African Xavi’ got pulses racing when the Whites beat a whole host of European sides to his signature in the summer of 2018. It felt like a statement signing as Slavisa Jokanovic’s stylish side prepared to attack the top flight, especially as Barcelona had engaged in a long pursuit of the Ivorian midfielder. He came with pedigree as his partnership with Wylien Cyprien in the outstanding Nice midfield was the envy of many top European clubs.
Sadly, we only saw glimpses of Seri’s talent at Craven Cottage. He started well under Slavisa Jokanovic scoring the pick of the goals in Fulham’s first win – an entertaining victory over Burnley, but that arguably proved the high point of a frustrating year. There were flashes of brilliance, such as the lovely flicked ball over the Brighton defence to release Andre Schurrle at the AMEX but even that glorious moment was overshadowed by Fulham’s failure to hold onto a two-goal lead on the south coast. Jokanovic’s tenure probably never recovered from that severe setback.
Seri was unsettled by it as well. His fortunes mirrored Fulham’s as he struggled to make an impression, seemingly stymied by the both the pace and the physicality of the Premier League. Plenty of observers felt the similarities between Seri and captain Tom Cairney meant they cancelled each other out in the same midfield. It didn’t help that his laidback nature saw plenty of Craven Cottage critics label him lazy. We haven’t seen anything of our big-money signing since, bar a couple of underwhelming League Cup displays, and his loan spells in Turkey and France proved pretty underwhelming. He didn’t feature in Scott Parker’s Premier League plans, but is now benefiting from a second chance under Marco Silva, who has admired Seri since he starred in the Paços de Ferreira midfield – guiding the Beavers to eighth in the 2014/2015 Primeira Liga.
Seri was heavily linked to a return to Galatasaray, where he had enjoyed working under Fatih Terim during a season-long loan spell, but he now has a shot at redemption after impressing Silva during the summer. His undoubted ability on the ball – as evidenced by his thirty caps for his country – can be a real asset in the right system and the early signs suggest that Seri could shine in the slower paced Championship. In a deep-lying midfield role that he has stepped into with the likes of Harrison Reed and Cairney unavailable, Seri has quietly orchestrated two of Fulham’s finest performances in recent years – their electric dismantling of Huddersfield and the high-tempo overrunning of Millwall last night.
He seemed to have oceans of time to dictate play at the New Den, starting a number of one-touch moves with his precise passing and perceptive switches of play. Seri has delivered a higher than 90 per cent pass completion rate in his two starts to date – the best statistics in the entire side – and showed against the Lions that he was willing to fight for possession, sticking his foot in to win the ball back on more than one occasion. The travelling fans certainly warmed to his presence and he might become something of an unlikely cult hero with a consistent run of form.
Silva’s emphatic suggestion after the final whistle that Seri is committed to Fulham and has shown no inclination to seek a move away chimes with reports that he and his family are settled in London. The head coach’s assertion that there is more to come from Fulham’s forgotten man as he gains further fitness is a pretty mouthwatering prospect. A starring role in Fulham’s promotion push might have seemed unlikely a month ago, but Seri has arguably already played himself into Silva’s strongest side. Talk about a quick turnaround – this could be his redemption season.