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Fulham’s youngsters shine at St. Andrew’s

St. Andrew’s served up a strange game and a surreal atmosphere for Fulham’s first Carabao Cup fixture of the season but Marco Silva’s young stars ensured the Cup run would continue with a composed performance in the Midlands. The Blues’ Balti pie was my highlight of what proved to be a fairly dominant but also rather uneventful visit to the city of a thousand trades.

It felt rather like another pre-season friendly with youth players and those returning to fitness feeling their way back to proper football. There was plenty of pretty passing and patient possession but plenty of chances went astray throughout a ninety minutes that was often short on quality. Although fairly few Fulham fans made the trip to Birmingham – the fact that tickets were only released on Friday meant the travelling contingent numbered three hundred – they did manage to compete with the home supporters in terms of noise, although this was largely down to the fact that two stands were entirely out of action due to stadium maintenance issues.

This created a strange once-in-a-lifetime phenonium. The typically hostile home environment became something of a smaller and yet close-quarters event, ending with the Fulham following requiring a police escort despite the substantially reduced crowd. It’s never dull in Birmingham, after all.

The best moment of the match, however, was Jay Stansfield’s delightful first goal for Fulham. The teenage striker took it brilliantly. After cutting in from the left flank, Stansfield fired the ball into the top corner of Neil Etheridge’s net past the failing limbs of three defenders from the edge of the box. What a way to get off the mark.

Every Denis Odoi touch was met by cheers and chants for our cult hero, who was rewarded with the captain’s armband. There were songs for the returning Michael Hector and, even though his name proved impossible to rhyme, it would remiss not to be remark on how seamlessly Fulham’s first Kosovan player, Adrion Pajaziti, slotted into central midfield. The travelling support grew more nervous in the final 25 minutes of the game – wary of last season’s last-minute woes under Scott Parker.

Thankfully though – as if to underline that all of that was a thing of the past – Antonee Robinson was able to slot one into the bottom left corner to secure Fulham’s safe passage into the third round of the Carabao Cup and become the eighth American to score for London’s oldest professional football club.

Au revoir, Aboubakar

So, Aboubakar Kamara’s time at Craven Cottage has come to an end. The mercurial forward has finally completed a move to Greek Super League side Aris Thessaloniki for a reported £3m. To say, the French-Mauritian striker has had a colourful period with the club would be something of an understatement. Signed with great fanfare, Kamara certainly contributed to the Whites’ two Championship promotions but I could never quite shake the feeling that he could have been something seriously special had he developed on the raw physical attributes he honed at Amiens.

When I first moved into university in the lull between England and Wales’ first and second lockdowns, a non-Fulham supporting flatmate asked me to introduce them to our squad as we watched the first game of the season. I’m not sure if I was being charitable or unkind to Kamara in responding as follows: “I don’t know whether he is brilliant or terrible. He’s like a rapidly moving wardrobe, no one can stop him. On the one hand, the defenders don’t know what he is going to do next, which can be exhilarating to watch. However, it often feels like he too doesn’t know exactly what he is going to do next.”

One of his final passages of play in a Fulham shirt against Middlesbrough summed Kamara up for me. Sent in on search of a late winner after the disappointment of Marc Bola’s second half equaliser, Kamara had the perfect opportunity to put his searing pace to good use on the counter attack. But he explicably elected to turn into traffic and underhit an attempted pass to Aleksandar Mitrovic. Suddenly, a very presentable chance had evaporated – and the look on Mitrovic’s face said it all.

There are other examples – such as his last-gasp miss at Birmingham in 2019/2020 still vivid in my own mind – but Kamara did provide a fair few moments of magic. He turned a game that looked well beyond Fulham right around with a brilliant brace at Hull City and played a similar role in two comebacks against Ipswich Town and QPR, when he led the line in place of the suspended Mitrovic brilliantly. But for many the events that will define Kamara’s Craven Cottage career occurred during Fulham’s excruciating relegation from the top flight in 2018/2019.

The first cracks appeared in the final days of 2018, during one of only three wins under Claudio Ranieri. Mitrovic won the Whites a penalty ten minutes from time in a pivotal basement battle against Huddersfield but Kamara, the club’s top scorer at the time, wrestled the ball from the Serb striker’s arms and refused his teammates’ pleas to return it. His tame spot-kick was saved – and although Mitrovic spared his blushes with a memorable stoppage time winner – Ranieri memorably told a post-match television interview that he was so angry with Kamara that he ‘wanted to kill him’.

The situation escalated off the field in the weeks afterwards. Mitrovic, who had given a far kinder answer to Kamara’s predicament by recalling his own penalty woes in a similar incident earlier in his own career at Newcastle, was less than impressed by Kamara’s incessant chattering during a yoga session and told him to ‘shut up’. The press gleefully reported the subsequent ‘violent altercation’ between the pair. In late January, Kamara was arrested on suspicion of actual bodily harm and criminal damage at Motspur Park after attempting to discuss his future with the Fulham hierarchy and was shipped out to Yeni Malatyaspor on loan.

Scott Parker opted to reintegrate him into the senior squad upon Kamara’s return from Turkey, but he never successfully nailed down a spot in the starting line-up. Now, the time has come to say goodbye to the colourful forward – whose eccentric social media posts and eye-catching fashion tastes certainly enlivened our Fulham existence. ‘The beast, as Aris have dubbed him, heads off to Greece to start a new adventure soon to be replaced in SW6 by Brazilian youngster, Rodrigo Muniz.

It’s fair to say that Kamara’s time with Fulham divided the fanbase. What are your thoughts on his Craven Cottage career?

What should Fulham fans expect from a Marco Silva side

This afternoon marks the Fulham faithful’s first chance to see what Marco Silva is all about at close quarters. There’s been plenty of discussion since the Portuguese head coach’s appointment about his preferred systems and how they might dovetail with the resources at his disposal, but all the summer planning has taken place behind closed doors to date. A London derby with League One Charlton Athletic in front of fans at Craven Cottage will give us our first glimpse of Silva’s new charges and an early indication of what to expect this season.

Since the confirmation that Silva would succeed Scott Parker in the Cottage hot seat, there’s been the return of something approaching a feelgood factor – something only intensified by swift moves in the transfer market, which mark a departure from previous seasons. I have may be caught up in the frenzy myself, tipping the Whites to win the Championship, in the new football predictions game, Leagues Apart, a lockdown project from two Fulham fans.

There are solid grounds for optimism that go beyond blind faith though. Silva has previously led a side from the second tier into the top flight, when he revived the fortunes of Estoril in his first managerial job – and went on to guide them to European football. The attractive style Silva favours stands in stark contrast to the slow and slovenly football under Parker and, if he follows the blueprint implemented at his previous clubs, the new boss will demand high and frequent pressing, with a swift transition from defence to attack with vertical possession producing pacey attacks.

When he was with Watford, Silva switched between a 4-3-3 formation and the 4-2-3-1 depending on the opposition. He may well do something similar at Craven Cottage – especially given the volatility of the Championship – and the main point of difference will be how to deploy Fulham’s key creative force. That won’t be Tom Cairney for the first few weeks of the season at last, but it could yet be young Fabio Carvalho, who has seen plenty of game time during pre-season.

At Vicarage Road, Tom Cleverley was either deployed on the right of a midfield trio in a 4-3-3 and given license to float into the space ahead or as a traditional number ten. That afforded the Hornets more defensive durability and it was interesting that Silva selected Cleverly for such a role ahead of Roberto Pereira even though the Argentine was a far better passer. Cleverley got the nod because of his tigerish tackling and boundless energy, which suggests Harrison Reed could quickly become a Silva favourite.

Watford vs Burnley Preview: Where to Watch, Live Stream, Kick Off Time &  Team News | 90min

The rest of his Watford midfield saw two box-to-box midfielders in the shape of Abdoulaye Doucoure and Ettiene Capoue paired together, with Nat Chalobah rotated into the starting line-up every so often. Silva’s central midfielders were instructed to hit long passes, drive towards the area – both with and without the ball – and not be afraid to strike from distance. That attacking license was married with a commitment to winning the ball back and cover plenty of ground, allowing the more creative elements in the Watford side to come to the fore.

Silva’s midfield set up at Goodison Park, after his acrimonious decamping to Merseyside, was modelled on the same principles. Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlein were the shuttling central midfielders and you would assume that Fulham will operate with a double pivot that sits deep in possession before making late runs to support an attack out wide, with the number ten acting as the prompt for swift switches of play from flank to flank.

Up front, Silva’s sides have regularly utilised a target man, whose disruptive qualities could afford create more room for the wide men to roam infield. Cenk Tosun would regularly drop deep to suck defenders higher up the pitch, creating the space for the likes of Richarlison and Theo Walcott to exploit effectively. A second plan saw Tosun making a succession of horizontal runs across the area, opening up space for the number ten – usually Gylfi Sigurdsson – to attack and making Tosun a considerable aerial threat from Walcott’s crosses. That tactic appears tailor-made for Fulham, with Aleksandar Mitrovic an obvious target for the likes of Joe Bryan and Kenny Tete, and any attempt to nullify the Serbian striker might surrender space to the likes of Cairney, Wilson and maybe Bobby Decordova-Reid.

Cenk Tosun - Player profile 21/22 | Transfermarkt

In common with a lot of modern sides, the full-backs became pivotal parts of Silva’s system. In many ways, the Portuguese head coach was probably a few years ahead of his time. He wanted his full-backs to recycle the ball effectively between the centre-halves and midfield but also to be prepared to surge forward at any moment to inject energy into an attack. The likes of Bryan, Robinson and Tete are physically fit enough to cover the ground but that sense of adventure can easily prove to be their downfall, as happened with Silva’s Everton side and to Slavisa Jokanovic at Fulham in the top flight. Once the fullbacks have bombed on, you become so much more susceptible to swift counterattacks.

Silva demands high intensity from his defensively-minded players, although the pressing techniques did vary from front to back. The 44 year-old is a fierce advocate of cutting out passing lanes or covering the ‘shadow’ of the opposition rather than swarming around the opponents’ key men in a manner similar to Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds. Defending from the front is important to Silva with the number ten instructed to shut down the easiest route to central midfield whilst the wingers tuck into tighter positions to restrict the full-backs.

Marco Silva confirmed as Fulham manager after turning down Fenerbahce |  Fulham | The Guardian

When the ball reaches the engine room, Silva’s midfield will press far more aggressively, with one or two players harrying the individual on the ball. Asking wingers to lead a press protects central midfielders and those at the heart of the defence from being outnumbered. There is a further safeguard against that which sees a deep-lying midfielder drop into a makeshift back three to guard against a breakaway.

We have already discussed the fallibility of the fullbacks in such a bold Silva system. That caught up with Watford in a 8-0 humbling at the hands of Manchester City two years ago. He will be keen to tighten up at set plays after his old sides were targeted consistently from free-kicks and corners, something that Fulham’s defenders have struggled with in recent seasons.

We will, of course, have to wait for the serious business to get underway but an attack spearheaded by a rejuvenated Mitrovic, who can be found by the creativity of the likes of Cairney, Carvalho and Wilson, seems mouthwatering. It looks as if Fulham will remain active in the transfer market until the closure of the window at Silva’s behest, which could make the final squad that he has to select from fairly formidable.

If you are sufficiently enthused to follow in my footsteps and tip Fulham for Championship glory, then you can make your selections at Leagues Apart. That would also have the benefit of supporting fellow Fulham fans whilst enjoying weekly challenges and your own private league. HammyEnd readers can join the league set up specifically for them by entering the code LZURC61NO – and there are plenty of prizes up for grabs here.

The lowdown on Shahid Khan’s share transfer

This afternoon saw us all learn that Fulham’s parent company, Cougar HoldCo, had written off £151 million of loans to the club by converting them into share capital. So, why has Shahid Khan capitalised Cougar HoldCo in this way, where have these loans come from and what does it mean for Fulham?

Firstly, who is Cougar HoldCo? Put simply, as the name suggests, this is the holding company set up in July 2013 through which Shahid Khan owns his shares in Fulham Football Club Limited. However, under the surface, Fulham’s ownership structure is much more complicated, with Cougar HoldCo London Limited instead its ‘ultimate parent company‘.

This is because CougarHoldCo indirectly owns Fulham Football Club Limited through Fulham Football Leisure Limited, a holding company incorporated in May 1997. This was presumably originally created by Mohamed Al-Fayed as he took over the club from Jimmy Hill and Bill Muddyman. Fulham Football Leisure Limited owns the majority of the club’s tangible fixed assets, which are defined as physical asset(s) which have a quantifiable monetary value and which is not expected to be liquidated into cash within the next 12 months. In the case of Fulham, this is likely Craven Cottage and Motspur Park, as well as any other property or equipment the club possesses.

Therefore, this limits the club’s liability should they forced to enter into receivership, safeguarding the existence of Craven Cottage and Motspur Park for the club and preventing a scenario similar to what befell Bury and Gigg Lane. This leaves Fulham Football Leisure Ltd with around £160.4 million in tangible fixed assets, whilst Fulham Football Club Ltd possesses just £1.985 million, which is the main difference between the two corporation’s balance sheets in 2019/20.

Fulham Football Leisure Ltd has therefore received the £151 million of share capital from Cougar HoldCo Ltd, keeping £54,604,676 which will presumably be invested into the ongoing Riverside redevelopment as well as the redevelopment of the old BBC Sports Complex at Motspur Park – for which further details are expected to be announced by the end of this year. The remaining £96,394,324 has therefore been injected into Fulham Football Club Ltd via share capital offset against debt.

Whilst it is unclear what this money will be used for, it means that Fulham Football Club Ltd will no longer have to make interest payments to Cougar HoldCo for the money borrowed as it has been written off into shares. It also has no change in Fulham’s ownership structure, as Shahid Khan already owns 100% of the club. In fact, loans being written off into shares is nothing new to Fulham, who have experienced this before multiple times under Shahid Khan and Mohamed Al-Fayed.

The transition of loans into shares simply means that Khan has taken more risk on the club as Cougar HoldCo no longer receives preferential lender status under the football creditor rule, should the club enter administration. However, the benefit to Khan is that the club looks more attractive to lenders and potential buyers as its gearing ratio is lower, meaning that the club’s activities are funded by shareholder’s funds rather than creditors’ funds – which is why Al-Fayed wrote off Fulham’s loans prior to selling the club to the Khans in 2013.

The input of share capital set off against related debt via deed also has no impact on Fulham’s financial fair play (FFP) status, unless Shahid Khan doesn’t provide a letter detailing his ongoing financial commitment to the support of the club – something which is required by the EFL from the owners of all loss making clubs.

Making sense of Fulham’s release and retained lists

Fulham confirmed their released and retained lists on Friday night – with plenty of question marks over several of the decisions and the club’s plans for a return to the Championship in the 201/22 campaign.

Only Kevin McDonald features on the released list from the senior squad and his departure is understandable following his kidney transplant. There are several exits from the youth team set-up. Fulham have decided to release Julian Schwarzer, son of former Fulham goalkeeper Mark, whose second spell with the club has come to an end after he was brought back to Motspur Park as keeping cover. Jordan Aina, brother of Ola, has been let go after just a season with the club, whilst Martell Taylor-Crossdale, brought in from Chelsea in 2019, has formerly left the club having struggled to make an impression with the under 23s. The striker’s departure is not a surprise after he was sent back from Colchester on loan and Taylor-Crossdale spent time on trial with QPR earlier in the season.

Ryan De Havilland, a midfielder who occasionally featured at under 23 level, has also left the club after four years, whilst Luca Murphy – whose acrimonious move from Hartlepool two years ago hit the headlines – was also released. Two full backs, Lesley Duru and Jaydn Mundle-Smith are also searching for new employers and Jayden Harris also moves on after more than decade with the club.

Fulham formally confirmed that all seven loanees players have headed back to their parent clubs as expected. Lemina, Aina, Andersen and Areola made their mark whilst at the club, as regular first-team players who put in some outstanding performances, they were not enough to rescue the Whites from the drop. Lookman showed early promise, but it felt as though he wilted as the season went on. Maja returns to cash-strapped Bordeaux after an uneventful loan spell, although his debut brace at Everton did hint at real promise and that penalty at Arsenal briefly sparked hope of another great escape. Ruben Loftus-Cheek goes back to the Stamford Bridge bench, where he will still move more than he did at Craven Cottage pitch as he models for BooHooMan.

Seven players have been seen their one-year extension options activated. Tyrese Francois, the talented Australian midfielder who made his first-team debut against Southampton in 2019 and came off the bench on the final day of the season against Newcastle, is among these. Cyrus Christie will be at the Cottage for another year after spending this season on loan with Nottingham Forest and Maxime Le Marchand, who made sixteen appearances and scored three goals at Royal Antwerp in the second half of the season, is also contracted for another year.

Jerome Opoku has been rewarded for another encouraging loan spell – this time with League One Plymouth – with an extension, which may allow him to make an impression on the first team set up. Given the surfeit of centre backs now at Parker’s disposal another loan might be more likely, with a Championship destination a possibility this time. Terry Ablade has been earned an extension of his own after lively displays for the under-23 side and has been joined by the Ghanaian-American central defender Eric Ameyaw and defensive midfielder, Jonathan Page.

There was also confirmation of Tim Ream’s new deal, which the American spoke about in the run-up to his current international duty. Fulham have also agreed new terms with Marlon Fossey, the attacking right back, who has been so unlucky with serious knee injuries over the past two seasons. Luca Ashby-Hammond, the highly-rated England youth international goalkeeper, has put pen to paper on a new contract after another strong season with the under 23s, whilst older brother Taye has been offered a new deal.

Several of the club’s academy starlets have been offered new contracts. These include exciting English forward Mika Biereth, who scored 21 goals in 22 games as the under 18s retained their Premier League south title. Jean-Pierre Tiéhi, who registered ten goals in 23 games at under-23 level, is also considering a new contract. Scottish centre back pairing Connor McAvoy and Ibane Bowat, pivotal to the under 18s success this year, have been offered new deals whilst Luciano D’Auria-Henry, who stepped up to the under 23s at right back, and Idris Odutayo are also in the process of securing their futures at Motspur Park.

Finally, Fulham revealed they remain in dialogue with long-serving goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli, whose contract expires at the end of the month. You would imagine that Marek Rodak remains ahead of Bettinelli, whose loan spell with Middlesbrough ended in disappointment as he was dropped by Neil Warnock towards the end of the season, but he will always retain a place in the hearts of the Fulham faithful, especially following his exploits after coming back in the team that Slavisa Jokanovic guided to promotion.