With news emerging that Moussa Dembele is potentially on his way to Celtic, the last flickering hopes of the Frenchman staying at Fulham are being extinguished.
Dembele is one of the best young striking prospects in Europe, and given his expired contract and the minimal compensation required to sign him, he is certainly one of the most appealing. The surprise isn’t that he’s chosen to leave Fulham, but rather that his next port of call is potentially in Scotland.
Even the most rose tinted Scottish football fan will admit their league is hardly a bastion of competitiveness. The quality level is nestled somewhere between Premier League Relegation Zone and League Two. All signs pointed to Europe’s big boys being in for Moussa, so why would he choose Celtic?
What do 19 year old players need the most? Games. Regardless of how good you think Dembele can be, he isn’t there yet. His 17 goals in 46 games last season was very impressive, but 1 goal every 2.7 games in England’s second tier is not going to get you starting up front in the increasingly rich Premier League.
Danny Ings provides a cautionary tale. The frontman joined Liverpool on a free last summer off the back of an 11 goal season in the Premier League for Burnley in a relegation season as a 22 year old, having scored 21 in the Championship the season before. Ings started only 1 of a potential 8 Premier League games for Liverpool before a ruptured cruciate ligament ended his season in October.
Ability wise, Dembele is naturally talented and physically gifted, but he is still raw and lacks composure. Game time, experience and good coaching will turn him into a star. You’d rather be 19 with his physical talent and instincts which can be coached up rather than the other way round. His next team must be a place where he can be nurtured in a competitive environment.
Former Fulham player Patrick Roberts is a shining example of what Celtic can do for you. Following his move from Fulham to Manchester City last summer, Roberts was loaned to Celtic on an 18 month deal in January having played a mere 54 minutes of competitive football at City. After arriving at Celtic, the 19 year old made 11 appearances and scored 6 goals at the tail end of the season. Imagine that opportunity extrapolated over an entire season.
Ease of competition
Why get beaten up in the dog-eat-dog Championship when you can be in Scotland, playing for a side who will probably have the title sewn up by mid-march. His competition for minutes up front will be reigning SPL player of the year Leigh Griffiths, a striker who failed to cut the mustard in England, who scored 31 goals in 34 games last season.
For Dembele, who still has much to learn to hone his raw talent, SPL defences will provide the perfect cannon fodder. Much like Roberts, game time at Celtic will directly help Dembele in respect of developing his skill levels, something that the pace and physicality of the English game often doesn’t allow. Whilst there may be a ceiling on the development you can do in the SPL if you stay too long, a year there as a soon to be 20 year old has the potential to elevate Dembele to a level he couldn’t get to at the wrong end of the Championship.
Celtic are a big club, let’s not forget that. We’re not talking about him going off to play for Inverness or St Mirren. Playing at Parkhead in front of a packed house cannot be overlooked as a major incentive for Dembele and something that should add another string to his development. With Rangers re-joining the SPL there will be some big occasions this season. Celtic also offer Dembele the chance to make his Champions League debut. Players have moved to lesser clubs for less opportunity.
What all of the above adds up to is that a move to Celtic gives Moussa Dembele the opportunity to place himself ideally in the shop window, so that when he does next move on, it will be to a team he can start for every week. Coming from the SPL will mean his transfer fee won’t be onerously large either. Is moving to Scotland a risk? Of course, clubs can often be hesitant to sign players, especially strikers, from leagues which produce inflated goal tallies (e.g. Scotland or Holland). However, Dembele clearly believes in himself and sees his next move as an opportunity to take the stage.
Whilst it might seem underwhelming, and it certainly is annoying, moving to Celtic could serve Moussa well in the long term and gives a good indication that he may have sound advisors. Most players would go to whatever side had the most glamorous name or the highest paycheck. History is littered with the faltered careers of those players.
Good luck Moussa, we’ll be watching, cheering and getting more and more bitter that we don’t have a sell on clause.
Whilst it may have nothing to do with what’s happened on the pitch, the announcement last week that influential designer Thomas Heatherwick has been commissioned to work on the Riverside Stand, is a significant one for Fulham.
The current planned Riverside Stand
Why is this significant?
Fulham’s Riverside Stand plans were hatched in the period before Shahid Khan bought the club. By appointing a design and architectural practice of the stature of Heatherwick Studios to enhance the plans is a statement of intent. If Khan is to spend money developing the Riverside Stand, it appears he’s going to make it stand out.
Who is Thomas Heatherwick?
Heatherwick himself is arguably been one of the most influential figures in London’s recent design history. His rise to household name came when he was commissioned to design the London 2012 Olympic cauldron, but he is also responsible for the new Routemaster bus as well as the somewhat controversial “Garden Bridge” which is to be built over the Thames. Heatherwick Studio is his London based architectural and design company that do everything from design household objects to large scale architectural projects.
Khan has an existing relationship with global stadium architectural mega-firm Populous . That he has chosen Heatherwick for the Riverside Stand project at Craven Cottage suggests this isn’t simply a matter of stadium principal architecture. Heatherwick is a designer and his and Heatherwick Studio’s role will probably be a hybrid one, taking the existing plans and enhancing the design into something of higher creative value.
Do Heatherwick Studio have experience of Stadia?
No, but everyone has to start somewhere. As I’ve already said, this is unlikely to be a full scale architectural project. Planning permission is already in place and the club has applied to commence preliminary works this summer.
What can we expect?
My guess is that this project will likely focus on the exterior of the stand in some capacity. Looking at Heatherwick Studio’s previous work and considering Craven Cottage’s unique Thames side location and I would imagine this project will see the exterior design and cladding of the new Riverside Stand evolve into something designed with a link to the natural environment in mind. For inspiration, a link to Heatherwick Studios current large scale projects can be found here.
Why does architecture and design matter here?
Architecture and design are subjective; one person’s gem is another’s carbuncle. However, buildings that are architecturally significant [be they gem or carbuncle] have immeasurably higher profiles than those buildings that sit in architectural anonymity. With a higher profile comes more opportunity. Part of any plan to develop the Riverside Stand is making it a 7 day a week, 365 days a year income generator. The gravitas attached to Thomas Heatherwick’s name and the potential for a statement piece of architecture or design means that the new stand may become anything from a high end events venue to tourist attraction. A few pounds spent now on improving and signifying the design of the stand may make the project more financially viable in the long term. With Archibald Leach on one side and Thomas Heatherwick on the other, Craven Cottage will be arguably the most architecturally significant stadium in the country.
Does Shahid Khan have a track record of doing things like this?
Yes. EverBankField, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars, is partway through a series of large scale alterations and developments across a range of functions all designed to increase revenue streams. These include those to improve the fan experience, such as building one of the largest video screens in the world at an estimated cost of $50m and developing the first swimming pool from which you can watch a live NFL game, major improvements to corporate facilities and a masterplan to develop an amphitheatre concert venue adjacent to the stadium. What the Jaguars and Fulham have in common is a lack of an overwhelming fan base, and Khan appears to believe in using the stadium itself as a way of getting people through the turnstiles.
What does this do for the development timetable of the Riverside Stand?
This is the ‘Million Pound Question’ and it’s hard to say as we really have no idea the extent of Heatherwick Studios involvement. Amending the design in any capacity is hardly going to speed up the process, so the question becomes one of how long will the project be delayed?
The first thing Fulham must do is commence the implementation works for the existing planning application. “Implementing” is the act of materially commencing the development stated in the actual planning permission. As soon as enough work has been done for the local authority to consider a development to have begun, and thus implemented, the planning permission can no longer expire.
If Fulham do not commence implementation works before the date 3 years after planning permission was granted, the permission would expire and the application process would have to start from scratch.
Will Fulham need to get a new planning permission?
Once a scheme is implemented, it is possible to amend the design of a development to a degree. There are two forms of amendment that Fulham could choose: a Non-Material amendment or a Minor Material amendment.
A Non-Material amendment is one that is “wholly acceptable, uncontroversial and of very little impact” and can include changes to the design of a building. These are essentially formalities to get approved via a simple form being submitted to the local authority. The timetable for a decision by the council is 28 days.
A Minor Material amendment is more significant than a Non-Material amendment but not significant enough that the description of the development changes as a result. A Minor Material amendment is treated as a new planning permission though and as such has a lengthier due diligence process.
If there are no ulterior motives from Shahid Khan (such as deliberately delaying the development) Fulham will likely hope to take the route of a Non-Material Amendment. However, given ambiguous nature of Fulham’s announcement of Heatherwick Studios involvement, anything is possible and a complete redesign and planning application can’t be ruled out.
Under either planning amendment route, the design of the Riverside Stand can be amended but the specific details such as the height, capacity and footprint must stay the same or close to the same or the matter will become far more complicated. In particular, the club will not want to alter anything which would fall under the Port of London Authority’s jurisdiction for river works given it has taken nearly 3 years to get the licences in place for the current planning permission.
So what are the key dates?
Fulham have been working towards performing implementation works this summer. That is unlikely to change as these need to be done to prevent the existing planning permission falling away.
The club’s previously stated timetable – to commence the full redevelopment in May 2017 – could still happen, although this may now be delayed depending on the scale of any design changes.
For now, fans will have to take the club at their word, both on intentions and timing. The lack of any clear detail in the club’s Heatherwick announcement does means that all we can do is speculate.
The Fulham Supporters Trust will be meeting with the club’s CEO Alistair Mackintosh on Tuesday 10th May, and subject to any further announcements in the interim, this should give fans the first opportunity to understand more. You can join the Fulham Supporters Trust here to receive minutes of the upcoming meeting with the club.
Whilst the first part of this where are they now special looked at those more successful graduates of the Fulham Academy, in this article we explore those players whose careers didn’t quite reach where they were hoped.
In both the pre and post Huw Jennings arrival eras Fulham’s Academy looked both locally and further afield for talent. Here are some of the more spectacularly obscure turns that Academy players careers took after leaving Motspur Park.
The commanding Ivorian centre back arrived at Fulham in 2009 from the same Abidjan football academy in the Ivory Coast that produced the likes of Aruna Lindane, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue. He impressed enough to earn a two year scholarship and was captain of the Fulham U18 side that lost to Everton in the first of the three consecutive Premier Academy League Finals. However, after moving on a free to Lorient when his scholarship ended at 23, Toure is now without a club having left the French side last summer.
Christian Marquez Sanchez
After the success of Cesc Fabregas coming through Arsenal’s academy, it seemed like everyone wanted their own Spanish youngster. Fulham’s was centre back Christian Marquez Sanchez. Another member of that first U18 final side in 2011, Marquez Sanchez left Fulham’s academy to sign for rich Spanish La Liga side Malaga. Unfortunately for Marquez, he failed to break into the first team and after spells with Malaga’s B side and Cordoba’s B side he joined Cadiz on a free transfer last summer. After featuring sparingly for their B side he last week signed Gimnastic de Tarragona in the second division but was immediately assigned to their reserve team CF Pobla de Manumet who play in Spain’s 3rd tier.
German midfielder Minkwitz was captain of the side that won the first of back-to-back Premier Academy Leagues in 2012. My own prediction that he’d be promoted to the first team and progress to the professional ranks while learning off Danny Murphy was sadly wrong. Having joined Fulham from German side VFB Stuttgart he failed to make the cut in England, Minkwitz was released by Fulham and eventually signed for Swiss second division side FC Wohlen where he has featured intermittently.
King Osei Gyan
Ghanaian midfielder King Osei Gyan was part of the great Fulham Germinal Beerschot experiment along with countryman Daniel Owusu. As anyone that played Championship Manager over the past 15 years or so will know, Belgian feeder clubs are the quickest way of getting players who wouldn’t get a work permit to play in England a European passport. The two Ghanaian midfielders joined Fulham from Ghana’s Right To Dream Academy and were immediately sent to Belgian minnows Germinal Beerschot as part of a feeder agreement. Unfortunately for both players, neither made it to Fulham. Owusu ended up signing for Finnish second tier side AC Oulu and after winning their player of the season in 2013 signed for Belgian 3rd division side KFC Turnhout. Gyan left Belgium after two seasons, signing for Viking Stavangar in Norway. Most recently he was at Swedish second tier side Halmstads but injury ended his 2015 season prematurely and he left Halmstads at the end of the last Swedish season. More recently he has been spending time back at the Right to Dream Academy and last week hosted former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at the academy.
Perhaps the most obscure and bizarre Fulham academy story is that of midfielder Wayne Brown who has made a name for himself in Finland. Brown was first loaned to TPS Turku in 2009 as a 21 year old. With Roy Hodgson believing in the merit of Scandinavian football, Brown was the first of several loanees to venture north. Following his eventual release from Fulham, Brown moved to Bristol Rovers where he’d previously been on loan. From Bristol, Brown moved back to Finland and to TPS. After a year he moved to Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho (SJK) in the small city of Seinajoki. The club was only formed in 2007, but Brown helped them to their first ever Finnish League title last season.
Joe Anderson & Alex Smith et al
Domestically, there are countless Fulham prospects that’ve failed to make the grade. Indeed there are quite a few recent ex-Fulham academy players dotted around the Football League such Darren Pratley (Bolton), Josh Passley (Dagenham & Redbridge), Matt Briggs (Colchester), Rob Milsom (Notts County), Michael Timlin (Southend), Josh Pritchard (Gillingham, now unattached) and Elliot Omozusi. However, there are also those who’s rise and fall is even greater. Joe Anderson made his debut away at Manchester City and was an unused substitute on five occasions in the Europa League including at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. He now plays part time for Bromley. Alex Smith made his Fulham debut in the Premier League at home to West Brom. In the time since, he’s played for Swindon and Yeovil and recently signed a short-term deal to play for non-league Woking. Others now out of the Football League include Dean Leacock who now plays for Whitehawk in Brighton and Keanu Marsh-Brown who’s at Forest Green Rovers.
Former Fulham Academy striker Marcello Trotta this week signed for Italian Serie A side Sassuolo. Whilst being pleased for Marcello and in some ways feeling vindicated having always been in the pro-Trotta camp, it’s hard not to look on with a touch of remorse at what might have been had he stayed at Fulham.
So it got me thinking, who else has left the academy under the cover of darkness only to go on and have their name in lights elsewhere? Who are the ones that got away?
The long and short of it is that there aren’t very many. As an fascinating long read article from the Guardian’s Barney Ronay illustrated this week, the life of a Premier League Academy graduate is often one of hardship, with a very small percentage actually making it to top level football. For every success story, there are countless more failures.
In truth, Fulham’s academy only began to resemble a genuine source of senior players following Huw Jennings arrival at Fulham in December 2008. Success was only beginning to be noticeable in 2011 when our Under 18s made the Barclays Premier Academy League Final for the first time. Many of the most promising Academy players developed under Jennings’ tenure are only now finding their opportunities in the senior game, be it at Fulham or elsewhere.
In the years before Jennings arrived at Motspur Park, Fulham’s academy was not the glittering Category 1 talent factory it is today (ok ever so slight over exaggeration), it was more of a hotchpotch of local ‘talent’ and random cherry picked foreigners as Fulham sought to keep up with the ever younger and ever geographically expanding Premier League talent arms race.
In looking into the ones that got away, I’m not talking about those that broke into the first team and quickly got sold for a profit. The tales of Chris Smalling, Patrick Roberts and Kerim Frei are well known. Who though are the gems that got away?
Now 23, Marcello Trotta was signed by Serie A side US Sassuolo this week for a reported fee of £2m from Avellino. The striker had been at Avellino, in Italy’s second tier, for a year having left Fulham quietly last January. Trotta had 8 goals and 5 assists in Serie B this season prompting Sassuolo to snap up the Italy Under 21 international with bigger clubs reported to be looking on as well. Trotta’s time at Fulham was defined by a lack of opportunities. Despite scoring 56 goals in the 4 and a half seasons he was in England across various competitions, a succession of Fulham managers refused to give him a chance. He performed well during three loan spells in the football league (at Wycombe and twice at Brentford) but never got his chance at Craven Cottage. He was a natural predator in front of goal and his continued rise through the ranks in his homeland will be closely watched by Fulham fans with perhaps the biggest sense of “what if” out of all the players on this list.
The diminutive left midfielder arrived at Fulham from Inter Milan in 2007 as one of the first wave of foreign prospects brought to the club. After signing a one year deal with Fulham in 2008 he left under the radar a year later. Following a move to Sicilian side Palermo and several loan spells, he earned a move to then Serie B side Sassuolo. He has subsequently built a solid foundation to his career at Sassuolo, having earnt promotion to Serie A with them. Now 24, he spent last season on loan at Bologna in Serie A before returning to Sassuolo this season where he’s been in and out of the side. Laribi arrived at Fulham at the same time as another Italian, Luca Moscatiello, who now plies his trade in the 4th tier of Swiss football.
Swedish forward Tankovic was the first high profile Fulham prospects to leave the club once we got relegated. He had several fleeting chances in the Fulham first team in our relegation season, most notably as a lone striker away at Manchester United, but he did not renew his contract and joined Dutch Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar following our relegation. Tankovic enjoyed a large amount of game time in his first season in Holland but has found himself in and out the AZ side in his second season and has made only 10 league appearances this term. Tankovic’s lightweight frame and finesse style would not have suited the Championship but he remains a player remorseful eyes will track from SW6 as his career develops.
Forward Hoesen left Fulham in one of the more bizarre transfers in recent memory, signing for Dutch giants and well known talent factory Ajax straight from the Fulham reserves. What did they see that we didn’t? Having played in the Champions League for Ajax, Hoesen’s meteoric rise somewhat stalled when he was deemed surplus to requirements and loaned to Greek side PAOK. He now appears to have found his level, featuring 14 times this season for Dutch Eredivisie side FC Groningen.
Goalkeeper Etheridge’s time at Fulham will be remembered for two things; conceding the 2 goals that knocked us out the Europa League at home to OB Odense in his only first team appearance, and having the most twitter followers at the club owing to his superstardom in the Philippines, where he’s goalkeeper for the national team. Goalkeeper progression is a hard conundrum for many clubs and Etheridge fell on the wrong side of history at Fulham. After several loan spells he was released 18 months ago once he became too old to feature regularly for the Academy and U21 sides. Having spent last season at Oldham and Charlton, Etheridge was picked up by Walsall on a free transfer. In a move that now resembles a masterstroke, Etheridge is the first choice keeper for the Saddlers having kept 8 clean sheets this season in League One. He’s also only conceded 20 goals in 22 games. With goalkeepers typically improving with age, Etheridge, at age 25 would appear to have a very bright future ahead of him. Another goalkeeper from the Fulham academy making a name for himself is Wes Foderingham, now first choice at Scottish giants Rangers.
The story of Australian centre back Leijer is not so much that of “the one who got away” but rather “the one who got away and made a nice career for himself but it was still probably best for both parties that he left”. Having signed as a 21-year-old next big thing from Melbourne Victory, Leijer returned to Australia two years later having failed to make the grade in England. He went on to play more than 100 times in the Australian A-League and captained the Victory to A-League glory. He now plies his trade in China’s top division for Chongqing Lifan.
The final name on my list is not an academy player, nor someone who was ever a permanent Fulham player. Stefano Okaka Chuka spent the second half of Fulham’s Europa League Final season on loan at Craven Cottage from AS Roma. Having become known to Fulham fans after he scored for Roma against Fulham earlier in the season, Okaka played a sparing role as Fulham stumbled along to the end of the league season whilst eyes and minds were focussed on Thursday nights. He had raw skills but lacked the composure to make a real difference in front of goal. 5 years later and Okaka has matured into a very talented forward. Having left Roma, Okaka had spells at Parma, La Spezia and Sampdoria before a £2m move to RSC Anderlecht sought to revive his career in the summer. He’s gone on to make quite the impression in Belgium having scored 9 goals in 21 appearances so far this season, including the winner against Tottenham in the Europa League.
Juries Still Out
Three more on whom the jury is still out are Chris David, Jonathan Buatu and Omri Altman, who now play for Go Ahead Eagles (Dutch 1sttier), Waasland-Beveren (Belgian 1st tier) and Hapoel Tel Aviv (Israeli 1st tier) respectively. 22 year old Angola international centre back Buatu in particular is one player whom I expect will make the transition back to a top league at some point before too long. Chris David, he of the much potential and Premier League wonder goal, is a perfect example of what can go wrong. Many people, myself included, expected him to be one of the stars of our Championship campaign last season. However, after falling out with management he was loaned to former club FC Twente (for whom he ended up playing in the reserves) before being released last summer.
Part Two tomorrow will look at those players who maybe didn’t quite end up where they wanted.
Fulham Chairman and Owner Shahid Khan paid a visit to the club’s Motspur Park training ground earlier in the week. The visit coincided with new Head Coach Slavisa Jokanovic’s first full week in charge and gave our owner the opportunity for some face time to the new boss.
Khan’s welcome visit to London comes after a near two month period of unrest at Fulham which ended with the appointment of Jokanovic shortly after Christmas. The prolonged period of uncertainty of the change of management and the news of a transfer embargo led to many fans openly questioning Khan’s personal commitment and level of involvement in Fulham, so this visit was likely considered a necessary photo opportunity to mend a few fences.
Khan was accompanied at Motspur Park by his PR advisor, Jim Woodcock of Public Relations company FleishmanHilliard, who tweeted a picture of the visit before a video was later posted online by the club. The video it must be said did appear quite contrived given it was obvious it wasn’t exactly off the cuff but it certainly did the job from a public relations perspective.
Mr Woodcock has proven something of a good sport over the past year or so. Ever since his email got leaked on various forums, he’s been inundated with a barrage of emails from Fulham fans with no other method of sending sentiment to our owner. Anecdotally it seems he’s responded to nearly all the emails he’s received.
Public relations and image is something that Shahid (“Shad” has yet to catch on here) Khan has had a good reputation for in Jacksonville by all accounts, but less so over here amongst the Fulham community. That might not be because he’s done a lot wrong bar not being Mohamed Al-Fayed, but being an overseas based owner for whom football clearly isn’t second nature, he was fighting a tough PR battle from Day 1. Factor in the cavalcade of misery that we’ve had on the pitch since he took over and, well, you can see why he has a retained PR company.
Whether the reason for this visit was simply to get some overdue good PR or if there was some other business to attend to, having Khan at the club this week has to be viewed as a positive. Photo-op or not, for the players and managers to see the Chairman in person must be a good thing. Players are far more likely to play for an owner who cares.
It would be nice if at some point Khan would engage with the fans on more than a superficial basis. With a PR conglomerate working for him, our Shahid Khan sightings almost always come across as staged, or just a bit too perfect. He always says the right thing, and you often wonder how. Programme columns are a perfect example or where you might hear from the Chairman, but there is no guarantee that the words haven’t been vetted to ensure they don’t upset the apple cart.
With ongoing questions regarding the timeline of the Riverside Stand development, board oversight in light of the breach of Financial Fair Play regulations and the seemingly mishandled and certainly miscommunicated search for a manager, a healthy and open dialogue between the Fulham owner and the fans would only strengthen our club.
As a Director of the Fulham Supporters Trust, I would encourage Mr Khan to engage with the Supporters Trust, who already have productive monthly meetings with the CEO and other senior management of the club. However, as a fan I would just encourage more engagement with the fanbase in general. A photocall and increased visibility is certainly the first step in the right direction but the ongoing problems at Charlton show what can happen when the relationship between an absentee owner and fanbase deteriorates. We’re not at that stage, but a perilous league position always has fans wondering at the back of their mind when, not if, our owner will get bored and decide to cut his losses.
The Jokanovic appointment has given everybody associated with the club a bit of positive momentum. Despite the iffy performance last Saturday, there is an air of good feeling around the fans at Craven Cottage for the first time in months. Something that was palpable at Craven Cottage last weekend.
For our charismatic Chairman, the appointment of a new Manager has deflected attention back to the football field rather than the Boardroom. If our Chairman and his advisors are as media savvy as they should be, now is the time to press on. Khan’s visit will mean for nothing if he’s not heard or seen again until August.
On field results will of course be the first dictator of whether any positive vibes remain; but a united, healthy and engaged relationship between fanbase and ownership will go a long way.
P.s. Did anyone else notice how much longer Khan spent talking to Moussa Dembele than other players? I’m not sure how long it takes to say “How much do you want?” but it’s not that long.
P.p.s. Hopefully a trip to Jermyn Street was on his agenda. For a billionaire, his clothes could do with an upgrade.