The move that settled Saturday’s sedate showdown with Charlton Athletic might have mesmerised Craven Cottage but the two protagonists have been doing it for years. Playing in Fulham’s youth sides together, Tyrese Francois has been finding Fabio Carvalho with such frequency that their understanding borders on the telepathic. The lithe midfielder has only remained under the radar due to a wretched run of injuries, but the lad who swapped Sydney for south west London at just thirteen to chase his dream is on now on the cusp of claiming a spot in Marco Silva’s starting line-up.
Silva himself isn’t surprised. He’s watched Francois train ferociously in his three weeks at Motspur Park – ‘improving every day’. The 20 year-old has long learned to better people’s first impressions as many a sceptic has suggested his slender build wouldn’t be suited to the rough and tumble of senior football, especially in England. He has always seen Andreas Iniesta, another whose size was supposed to count against him after his academy days, as the player to base his own game on. Gadually, the Campbelltown boy has added steel to his silky skills to prove he can mix it in the engine room and his strong pre-season gives Silva a serious selection dilemma ahead of Sunday’s opening test against Middlesbrough.
Francois has always been highly-rated in the leafy new Malden superb where Fulham’s academy quietly goes about the business of moulding young footballers. He was voted the inaugural winner of the Johnny Haynes player of the year award, named after Fulham’s finest ever player by the Fulham Supporters’ Trust to give the club’s emerging talent deserved recognition, in 2019 and made his senior debut as a substitute against Southampton in the League Cup. A knee problem hampered his immediate hopes of building on his first taste of professional football and, after a hamstring injury prevented him from building on an encouraging cameo against Sheffield Wednesday last season, it would have been easy to be downhearted. But Francois through himself into his recovery on both occasions – showing just how adept he is at dealing with adversity – and returned to bolster the under 23s through a tricky spell before making his Premier League bow against Newcastle on the final day.
His original summer aims centred around the Olympics, but the midfielder was omitted from the Olyroos final squad – the latest in a series of international setbacks that seem particularly puzzling. But that deflating decision has swiftly rebounded to Francois’ advantage, affording him an opportunity to catch the new Fulham head coach’s eye as Silva sized up his midfield options after succeeding Scott Parker. His energetic displays in a succession of training matches played behind closed doors showed that his drive and dynamism made him a plausible replacement for Stefan Johansen in the centre of the park – something he demonstrated conclusively against Charlton at the weekend. His timing is almost as impeccable as one of those middle distance runners bursting away from the pack as they turn into the home straight in Tokyo.
There have been plenty of covetous glances from elsewhere as Francois flourished in the Fulham youth set up. Crystal Palace and Celtic sent scouts to monitor his progress, whilst Valencia made a concerted effort to sneak him off to Spain two years ago. His technical ability has never been in doubt. He’ll dart around of crowded spaces barely breaking sweat and he displayed his tantalising touch when bringing down a high ball against Nigel Adkins’ men with the air of Berbatov. His reading of the game and eye for a pass make him an ideal fit in the sort of Silva system Frankie discussed yesterday, but he can also break the lines himself with strong shuttle running.
The ongoing uncertainty over three more established Fulham midfielders gives Francois a real shot at nailing down a starting berth. Tom Cairney’s knee contains to be a cause for concern and he won’t be able to start the season either as a number ten or in the deeper role he has also occupied in recent years. Harrison Reed, the regular deep-lying midfielder, was rested for the past two friendlies in the hope that he would be back for Middlesbrough and there’s still a question mark over whether Andre Frank Anguissa, who did take on Charlton, will be around after the transfer window. Francois has another week to remind Silva of his qualities at close quarters – and based on how he has thrived since saying so long to the Sydney suburbs, you wouldn’t bet against him taking it.