Assessing Fulham’s transfer window

Oh boy, this is going to be a big one…

The transfer window is closed, the recruitment job (for now) is done and the business on the pitch can really start. Slavisa Jokanovic’s side has been assembled and not a single player can arrive from another club until January. Although free agents can still join, this post will look to cover every transfer dealing done by Fulham this summer as well as a depth chart by the end as we get into the marathon of the Championship.

Going in position order, Brentford’s David Button became the senior keeper to replace Wolverhampton bound Andy Lonergan to compete with Marcus Bettinelli for the number one jersey. The 27-year-old Englishman came to Fulham for an alleged £2m fee and has started well – commanding his penalty box and although his distribution has been sketchy, Button holds 3rd place in the division for accurate short passes made for a goalkeeper this season; even holding a 79% passing accuracy in the home game against Cardiff.

Our first official signing of the window saw the loan move of Michael Madl made permanent for a purported fee of £1.2m. The cool, calm and collected Austrian immediately showcased his ability in his loan spell and his permanent arrival was the perfect start to the window. The second of five defensive influxes was in the shape of likeable Belgian Denis Odoi; athletic, composed and supportive displays on top of a forever memorable piece of skill against Newcastle has seen him etched into Fulham hearts already. The Belgian was rumoured to cost around £850k and early signs suggest that he’ll be a bargain at that price. Soon after, Scott Malone joined us from Cardiff as Jazz Richards went the other way in a swap deal; the rangy former Millwall left back has impressed displaying an eagerness to support attacks coupled with a relative comfort in defensive situations. Although obviously not the perfect footballer, Malone is a full back that suits the managers’ style and that has shown in his primitive time at Fulham gaining a Man of the Match award in a game against Premier League Middlesbrough, competing for game time with 16-year-old Ryan Sessegnon.

Our fourth overall signing of the summer came as a surprise in the shape of Chelsea’ Tomas Kalas on loan, an non-speculated out-of-nowhere announcement of the 23 year old Czech international and two time Middlesbrough loanee was well received by the majority at Fulham, with the rest perhaps won over by his early performances developing a unruffled partnership with Michael Madl – and Kalas displaying a strong ability in the air for a central defender not much bigger than 6ft. Kalas is the picture of a modern centre back with his ability to bring the ball out from the back; only Michael Madl and Tom Cairney have better passing percentages than Kalas of Fulham players to have started all 5 league games. Our final defensive signing of the summer came in the shape of Icelandic warrior Ragnar Sigurdsson – sinker of England’s European Championship campaign – with his £4m fee also making him Fulham’s most expensive signing of the summer. Yet to make his debut, Sigurdsson had built a reputation for reliability in Europe winning trophies in Sweden with IFK Goteborg, in Denmark with Copenhagen and finishing fourth in Sweden with Krasnodar. One of two Fulham imports leaving the Europa League for Fulham in the second division, Sigurdsson played the whole game for Krasnodar as the Russian side went to Goodison Park in the 2014-15 edition of the trophy grinded out a 1-0 win, their only win of the group stages after 3 draws.

After failing to secure the transfer last summer, Fulham finally got their man this; in the shape of Kevin McDonald. The Scottish deep-lying playmaker finally got his move to the football club in July and has already captured Fulham hearts. His excellent range of passing, composure in possession in tight spaces, expert level of positional awareness and ability to the win back the ball has seen him early on become a lynchpin of the Fulham midfield as we look to circulate possession on top of protecting a previously fragile back four. A £1.2m man, McDonald has found his groove and will be a hugely important part of Fulham’s success this season. The core of the midfield was finalised with the addition of Celtic’s Stefan Johansen; touted early in the transfer window, it appeared that Fulham had begun to look at other targets but returned to Glasgow to make the Norwegian international the final permanent transfer of the summer. A three time Scottish Premier League winner, a former Norwegian Player of the Year and a former Scotland Players’ Player of the year and member of the 2014-15 SPL Team of the Year, Johansen left Celtic with a year to go on his contract for a crisp £2m. A hard worker, Johansen also possesses a wand of a left foot with an eye for the creative pass seeing him regular showcase a strong assist number by the end of the season. A bundle of energy, Johansen can keep up his work rate for 90 minutes, working as the legs for McDonald as the Scot sits more in midfield. I’m sure these two will quickly become the first choice partnership in central midfield, complimenting each other tremendously as we chase promotion to the Premier League.

The change of system from Slavisa Jokanovic came clear early on in pre-season; a switch to a 4231 with Sone Aluko, a free transfer from Hull, taking up a role as more of a second striker than an attacking midfielder – a role that lets him support the striker and roam. He’s shown on many an occasion already this season that if you let him turn and run at you, he’ll fly past – you get to tight? He’ll knock the ball past you and go around you that way. Aluko’s proved himself to be a talented footballer in this division; raising questions of just why he didn’t get much game time at Hull. The addition of Aluko’s pace was improved upon with the arrival of sub £2m man Floyd Ayite from France. The Togo International immediately looked at home on the left for Fulham with his blistering speed being accompanied welcomingly by his work rate in helping out his full back defensively. Our strength in depth was highlighted when Ayite missed the game at Blackburn but we’ll get into the depth soon enough. As the sole pure winger at the football club, Ayite’s role within the squad becomes even more important with his direct running and all round wing play.

The depth for the three positions behind the striker was the main focus of August with three of the six signings that month covering those positions. The first of which was Spaniard Jozabed who arrived from Rayo Vallecano after Fulham triggered his €4m release clause. Arriving as the highest scoring midfielder in La Liga last season, Jozabed drew interest from Liga clubs but it was Fulham that secured his signature in although his one main cameo came in the Capital One Cup, he showcased a lovely technical ability. As he gets fitter, we should see more of the first Spaniard in Fulham’s history as he arrived without any form of pre-season. Also joining the Fulham ranks was Congolese attacking midfielder, Neeskens Kebano, who arrived from Genk for £3.8m. Making his debut in the win against Blackburn, Kebano was unlucky not to pick up the Man of the Match award after being involved from the start following just one training session. The exciting and explosive midfielder looked an absolute livewire on his debut for Fulham and as the second to leave Europa League football for England and the second division, his pedigree is enough to be excited by. The last attacking midfielder to join the club was another on loan from Chelsea in Lucas Piazon. The exciting Brazilian (another nationality first) spent last year at Reading and should provide nice depth for the football club with his capability to play left, right or behind the striker.

The final addition for Fulham of the transfer window was minutes before it “slammed shut,” Fulham’s search for a striker to replace the goals of Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele came in the shape of Derby’s Chris Martin. The physical presence and linkman arrived initially on loan with an option to make permanent, and the deal in theory makes perfect sense for Fulham. Experienced in leading the line, Martin at times was left isolated at Derby last season, but with Fulham’s 4231 and getting players around the striker, Martin should see increased service, more chances and more time on the ball. With extra support from second striker Aluko and build up play featuring crosses (99 attempted in 5 matches according to WhoScored statistics) from the wide positions – Martin’s history suggests he’ll gobble up quality service. Martin possesses the ability to hold and play reminiscent of a Bobby Zamora; acting as the linkman for the entire attack before getting into the box and holding a highlight reel of dominant headers and poachers finishes. The glue of the attack, Martin was the perfect way to round up the transfer window as undefeated Fulham look to be promoted in their third season in the Championship.

So with the transfer window well and truly rounded up, it seems apt to create a depth chart for the season ahead. Using Slavisa’s 4231, the below image should highlight just how strong we are looking this season with all of the different options at Jokanovic’s disposal… I’m looking forward to this season as it really gets started. “I have no time to dream.” Well Slavisa, we all are dreaming and we are all behind you.

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 14.35.45

The state of affairs as kick off approaches

After Saturday’s lovely pre-season friendly against Palace, mostly thanks to the rain staying away and a warm enough overcast afternoon at the Cottage – it brought realisation just how close to the new season we really are; aided by kicking off with a Friday night fixture. As with most (if not all) football clubs, Fulham’s transfer business isn’t complete before the first game of the season, but the signs suggest progress has been made. This post (I don’t like calling them articles) will try to address exactly where we are ahead of this Newcastle game and what is afterwards.

Progress in personnel:

Whilst trying to hold back excitement for the foreign boys I’ve seen nothing more than the odd YouTube compilation, it does appear that we’re going into this season with a better, more balanced team with more depth and exciting options. After securing the permanent deal of Michael Madl fairly early on, Fulham have gone and brought in Floyd Ayite, Sone Aluko and Tomas Kalas who all seemingly wander straight into Slavisa Jokanovic’s starting eleven. The versatile Denis Odoi appears to be starting the season at right back after the unfortunate news that Ryan Fredericks is out for the start of the season, which potentially leaves an opening for Scott Malone. David Button is rated very highly in the division and will potentially be an upgrade upon academy product Marcus Bettinelli and certainly one over Andy Lonergan. Whilst Kevin McDonald, a player described by Richard Stearman to be ‘probably the best passer of a ball, I’ve played with’ as well as praising his positional sense in midfield and his presence in the dressing room; McDonald appears to move into the deep lying playmaker role in a 4231.

What’s missing?

When you theorise Fulham’s best eleven with Jokanovic’s pre-season in mind, there’s certainly two gaps which cry the loudest: central midfield and striker. Firstly, whilst Scott Parker was impressive in the closing stages of last season, it would be irresponsible of a football club aiming for promotion to be happy with a near 36 year old as a starting central midfielder. As a supporting depth player? Brilliant, Scott Parker is a great leader and still has the quality for spurts of 20 minutes to help hold out results be a massive gain over Championship rivals. We do however need to upgrade our starting slot and after watching closely against Palace, I do feel like Kevin McDonald could do with some legs around him to hide his quite sluggish movement/running in defence. I think straight away to a Danny Drinkwater type player who had gas in the tank to go for 90 minutes and longer on a weekly basis, but still possess’ the technical ability to dominate football matches and continue circulation of possession. We’ve been linked (albeit not recently) to Thomas Delaney in this window and possibly the imminent arrival of Eddy Silvestre could help but it’s difficult to know.

Ross McCormack’s future has been the main reason for Fulham to be in the papers since January and that rollercoaster seems finally to have come to an end with a likely move to Norwich on the cards. Fulham now need a striker that works for Jokanovic; and in the 4231 system worked on all pre-season, that’s a well-rounded forward who will press the opposition intelligently, hold the ball for supporting runners and most importantly put the ball in the goal himself. Tom Cairney, Sone Aluko and Floyd Ayite are all capable of chipping in respectively but finding that 20 goal a season forward could well be the cherry on top. Fulham could well be adding Montpellier’s Steve Mounie to the squad in this window; that combined with a loan move for a James Wilson or Patrick Bamford with give our strike force a much needed boost of quality and competition.

On top of these two vital gaps there are a couple more things we could do with addressing. One of which a more physical and imposing central defender, there will be sides and strikers in this division that will try to bully us particularly with two centre backs (Madl and Kalas) where neither of which are over 6ft. The presence of a ‘monster’ to aid the defence in these dodgy situations would certainly be beneficial. As well, competition in the wide areas would be much welcome; with Tom Cairney currently occupying the right flank, Sone Aluko in the hole and Floyd Ayite on the left; the squad depth appears to be Lasse Vigen Christensen and beyond that moving a defender – whether that’s Scott Malone, Sean Kavanagh, Denis Odoi or Ryan Fredericks – out of their normal position. A player like Ben Marshall would be ideal, somebody who in any of the positions behind the striker and his recent experience at a right back could provide attacking tendencies if we were to move to a wing back system.

The shape:

As hinted in this post, Slavisa Jokanovic has set up his side to play 4231 with Sone Aluko revealing that they’ve worked on that one system and the details that come with it. Many of us pondered whether we’d build to play with 3 at the back and wing backs as our Serbian Head Coach largely utilised taking Watford into the Premier League; Slavisa also has admitted an admiration of Barcelona, his early matches at Fulham applying a 433 with Ross McCormack pushing left or even just one of McCormack or Moussa Dembele in the starting team.

The team is certainly taking shape with Kevin McDonald looking at ease already with the deep lying role in midfield as it seems Fulham will take a while longer getting the right partner in for him. We’ve already brushed upon the three that will play behind a lone striker – Cairney floating from the right (perfect for an overlapping full back) with Sone Aluko utilising his pace, direct running, scoring instincts and eye for a pass in the hole with the lightening quick Floyd Ayite on the left hand side.

The centre of defence seems agreed upon, Michael Madl and Tomas Kalas as it stands, will enter the new season as the starting centre back pair – a welcome bit of stability in the back line. There are still some question marks in the full back area that hasn’t been helped by the aforementioned injury to Ryan Fredericks. It appears that Denis Odoi (who can also play on the left) will start at right back; this puts the starting left back against Newcastle up in the air. Whilst Scott Malone played for the U23s on Saturday for “valuable match fitness” and Tim Ream missed the final friendly with illness; it was 16-year-old Ryan Sessegnon who started in the left full back position, handling Andros Townsend with relative comfort. A start against Newcastle would make the much-hyped youngster the second youngest player ever to play a game for the football but it would be a bold decision from our ballsy Head Coach.

Despite missing the Crystal Palace match with minor knocks, it seems one of Marcus Bettinelli and David Button will start with an intriguing battle for the goalkeepers’ shirt in the upcoming season.

Whether he’s injured or not, I don’t expect to see Ross McCormack play any part against Newcastle which – as I type – leaves a battle between Cauley Woodrow and Matt Smith who are two goals apiece in official pre-season matches and five-four in Smith’s favour in all matches; both have their pros and cons but it highlights the job we need to do in replacing the goals of Ross and Moussa – the three in behind can contribute, supply and compliment the goals of a leading man. The cherry on top of our window would be finding a 20-goal striker and still have a good chunk of change out of the circa £12m from the Ross McCormack sale.

The youngsters:

Whilst the likes of Marcus Bettinelli, Jack Grimmer, Lasse Vigen Christensen and Cauley Woodrow are still young footballers in the early stages of their careers; when I say this I mean the new crop of teenagers that spent time around the first team this summer. The teenage five of Ryan Sessegnon, Tayo Edun, Dennis Adeniran, Luca De La Torre and Stephen Humphrys impressed in games against professional opposition and appeared to gain the respect of the seasoned players at the football club. Whether or not every player makes their debuts this season is unknown at this stage, but their comfort of playing and contributing their youthful quality to the team would lead to believe that they could cope if required to play and also that Jokanovic is happy to use a youngster. Eyes for this may be towards the Capital One Cup match against Leyton Orient prior to a tough away game against Preston; the tie of London’s two oldest professional football teams in the League Cup could play host to some of Fulham’s brightest young talent.

Should Fulham countenance the sale of Ross McCormack?

I wanted to get this written and published prior to the potential sale of our Scottish striker to avoid the accusations of either being against the ‘mainstream’ for the sake of it or being a shade too ‘glass half full.’ You may not like this post, you may not agree with it but everything I am about to say about the possibly departing Ross McCormack are theories, and theories of which I believe as to why Fulham can be better off without him.

Before really getting started, I want to address the theory of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias, essentially, is the development of opinions that are moulded mostly thanks existing feelings or beliefs. What I ask from you, as readers, is to remove any bias or love you have towards Ross McCormack as I address points as to why the football club can (and I believe likely would) become better for the removal of Ross McCormack.

I want to avoid the use of confirmation bias early and broadcast my appreciation of the goals he has provided which have undoubtedly led to better results and likely the avoidance of becoming a League One football club. I’m not going to sit here and deny that he has positives – his goal record since joining is very good and he has the added benefit of a striker that also builds up a nice assist number too. Are his goal-scoring exploits out of this world? Not really, and that’s part of my argument. It’s not like Ross McCormack sits on 30 goals and 10 away from his nearest competitor; his job as a striker is largely to put the ball in the back of the net and whilst he does it well, does he do it at a level which makes selling at £12m unthinkable? I think not.

The £12m spent on Ross McCormack makes him the most expensive striker of players within 5 goals of his final tally last season – beyond Abel Hernandez (signed whilst Hull were a Premier League club); his nearest competition is Andre Gray who scored more at half the price. I’m generally not too keen on Ross’ style of play and how he forces us to attack; he has no athletic or physical qualities meaning he has to play in a strike pairing to be effective – which also means forcing others out of position, like Tom Cairney to the right if playing a 442 for example.

That takes me to my next point, Tom Cairney – our most creative player – would likely be even more influential if given runners and given the role in the team to create goal scoring opportunities and chipping in himself. If Ross McCormack cannot play as a lone striker – are we cutting off our nose to spite our face? If we accept that Ross McCormack’s goals are not out of this world, as evident by players around him in the final scoring charts (for much cheaper), would Cairney benefit more from a quicker striker – whose main priority is to score goals – for Cairney to thread balls through to? Since relegation, the thing our side has lacked has been width and pace – we now have an opportunity to address these issues under a top quality coach who had pace at his disposal as he took Watford to promotion.

I started this post over the weekend, slowly chipping away and trying to find the right wording whilst in the creative mind set, so the talk of Fulham making a big money move to sign Dwight Gayle came after the first few paragraphs were written. With what I’ve written thus far, I feel it right to say that Gayle is the perfect replacement. Despite largely being a bit part player since his move to Crystal Palace, Gayle has still showcased an ability to worry defenders with his pace and the capacity to score all types of goals. Dwight Gayle’s last (and only) stint in the Championship was a 6-month spell at Peterborough, joining from League Two and making the step up with ease, scoring 13 goals and claiming 6 assists to become the clubs’ top scorer despite relegation.

You may well read all of this and feel like I’m talking absolute nonsense, which is fine; and we’ll only ever know once (and if) it happens. I do believe that Ross McCormack, despite his goals, despite his impact and despite his help in his two years here, is a damaging player to have at the club. Not least his desperation to leave the football club in January as a so-called vice captain and key player on and off the pitch; and I haven’t even gone into detail to talk his lack of pressing from the front and making the opposition uncomfortable.

When I look at all of the evidence: his lack of athleticism, his lack of physical attributes, his goals being strong but not unreachable for somebody else, his inability to lead the line alone, his want for McCormack rather than Fulham and the potential for Fulham FC in a life post-McCormack, I see a bid of £12m absolutely acceptable at his age in a time of “thanks, but it’s not quite worked out” as we completely rebuild the playing staff with seven first teamers gone already and more likely to follow.

Theoretical Fulham team without Ross (from midfield forward):

  • Scott Parker and Thomas Delaney shielding the back four – rumours also link Fulham with the signing of Celtic midfielder Stefan Johansen.
  • Tom Cairney with the free role behind Dwight Gayle.
  • No rumours – but to help build the picture: Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Ikechi Anya to provide the width, pace, creativity and supportive firepower to Slavisa Jokanovic’s new black and white army.

Slavisa’s Fulham dream

1266

This past week we learned that Slavisa Jokanovic had returned to Motspur Park ahead of the start of pre-season “getting some work done” despite some pretty hefty graft during the close season. Looking ahead to the 2016/17 Championship season, we’ve learned about the first team releases of Shaun Hutchinson, Dan Burn, Jamie O’Hara and Alex Kacaniklic as well as the rather disappointed news that Emerson Hyndman felt his development be better in the hands of Premier League AFC Bournemouth rather than Craven Cottage. On top of these deals, Kostas Mitroglou has been sold to Benfica, Andy Lonergan has been sold to Wolves, whilst rumours circulate with regards to the sales of Fernando Amorebieta and Matt Smith as well as the unsurprisingly speculation to where Moussa Dembele will start the coming season and the continuing tales of Ross McCormack’s future. When you wrap all of this up, you can tie it up with pretty bow considering the potential sales of Maarten Stekelenburg, Jazz Richards, Nikolay Bodurov and Ben Pringle; we’re looking at a rebuild perhaps bigger than any of us anticipated.

So what does a Jokanovic team look like? To be frank, he’s not worked anywhere really long enough to do something this extensive, but by using past quotes and looking at his time at his former clubs, we can start to build an idea. With the stare of a immersed mafia boss and the rough, croaky voice that can make his English sound more broken than it actually is – his demeanour can reflect his preferred footballing style – Finnish midfielder Sakari Mattila had this to say in the early days of the Jokanovic era, “He wants us to be more aggressive when we are defending, to take and be tougher. He wants us to get in their face. He wants us to press the ball quicker.” A hardnosed Serbian, Slavisa Jokanovic yearns for fight, for intensity, for desire and although the impact of Jokanovic’s style could be seen, the players simply did not match his philosophy with results yet to come. The closest Fulham came to an ideal Jokanovic performance would likely be the win over QPR at Loftus Road where it seemed to click; the players were intense, they did fight, they created chances and they blew away their opposition with clinical and incisive attacking play.

Always with an eye on the opposition, Slavisa and his backroom staff want to make the opposing team uncomfortable. Whilst at Watford, he was quoted in a match preview as saying “We must play with the right intensity and with the right energy. If we play in this way and if we are working well on the pitch, we have the possibility to make it difficult for the other team.” To get the upper hand in a football match is half the battle, arise a personal favourite line from the Fulham manager, “football is not a game for pussies, it’s a job for real men.” This hard and serrated mentality shouldn’t been read without a want for style. Slavisa Jokanovic has previously been cited as discussing a want to “play like Barcelona” but understands it’s not always possible. At Watford he argued (probably rightly) “we have to play like Watford. It is about these players and their characteristics will determine which way we play.”

Slavisa Jokanovic now – following the previously discussed rebuild – has the opportunity to bring players in to play in the Barcelona style he desires, which undoubtedly would also feature his own aggressive and fighting spin. Fulham are Jokanovic’s 6th club since 2012 and with that, his first with the opportunity to make the entire football club his own and in his own image. With how the rumours are shaping up, it’s likely that Fulham will bring in an entire 442 and potentially more.

A fascinating and vital summer is ahead of us as Fulham supporters as a successful, hungry, determined and exciting coach leads us into our third season in the Championship. Slavisa Jokanovic has frequently utilised the word “ambition” and how we need to be more ambitious in training, in games and in recruitment. A charismatic enigma, Slavisa Jokanovic’s ambition for Fulham FC and for the Premier League could be the driving force required to take Fulham from the consistent dip over the last few years to an attractive, intense and aggressive football club on the rise.

Why Fulham’s youngsters should be so proud of their Dallas Cup achievements

stevieh

A Fulham under 19 squad jetted off for an exciting journey to Dallas to take part in a physically, mentally and technically demanding seven day tournament only knowing that they’ll play at least three excellent teams in the group stages. Drawn against Hoffenheim (the U19 Bundesliga champions in 13/14 and runners up in 14/15), the United States’ U20 set up and Mexican side Monterrey; Fulham would battle to qualify from the group as winners with draws against the Germans and Mexicans and beating the best under 20s the United States had to offer. An early blitz of Hoffenheim in the opener showed Fulham’s class, fighting back from a goal down against the US displayed the groups’ heart and the draw against Monterrey presented Fulham’s cool heads under pressure of qualification being in their own hands.

Fulham then drew Brazilian’s Fluminense in the semi-final – who had beaten 2014-15 Under 18 Premier League Champions Middlesbrough in the group stages – and the side beaten by Fulham en route to the final in 2013 would prove another tough test for our young group. However, our boys would display more of their fight, hard work and skill in grinding out a 3-2 victory to make a pleasantly unexpected final against Everton. In representing the football club excellently throughout the week, a trophy come the end of it would be nothing but a bonus – we were proud of our lads in just making it that far of the tournament peaking with a starting eleven average age of 17.8 and just the one outfielder at the 19 year old age limit.

Though I’m sure the squad will not be happy with their final performance, I’m here to stress the learning curve of the entire journey. They’ve played quality teams from around the world, experienced different styles of football and had to deal with a demanding diary that isn’t given to you at under 21, nor under 18 level – each team experienced something more comparable to the Championship schedule. The majority of our squad has minutes for the under 21s this season, so playing up an age group isn’t new, but playing up an age group against foreign competition is a valuable experience for young lads who I’m sure will have aspirations of European and International competition in their careers.

All in all, the football club was represented excellently and we saw the hard work, discipline and fight we want to see in all Fulham sides. The season is not over, the under 18s host Liverpool at Motspur Park on Saturday in the continuation of the top tier final stages of the Under 18 Premier League and a number of these players will turn out for the under 21s next Monday night at Craven Cottage against Derby – which I’m sure will be an entertaining evening of football.

We’re proud of the achievements of the young guys in Dallas, and they should look back on their time with pride – not disappointment. Your careers will not be defined by a loss to Everton; in 2014, Moussa Dembele and Lasse Vigen Christensen (amongst others) were part of a Fulham team which didn’t get out of the group.

Keep your heads up and move forwards. Come on you whites!