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Strategic Improvements

To spend or not to spend?

Ah the eternal question facing the football fan in the summer. To be pleased with what your side has done, or to always focus on what they are yet to do.

This is the dilemma facing not just Fulham fans at the moment, but probably those inside the club as well. With a around 3 weeks remaining until another fraught summer transfer window comes to a close, it is the question that will be on all our minds for some while yet.

The dilemma permeating my Fulham obsessed brain is that while the business done so far is actually very good, it is all a little underwhelming. Adel Taarabt is a signing I championed here over a month ago, but as a loan signing with no clarity on whether there’s a purchase option, he is frankly not the marquee name a billionaire takeover should merit.

It was actually Martin Jol’s post match comments following the 1-2 defeat to Parma on Saturday that really hit a nerve. He said that should we sign no more players we would have a season exactly like the last one. Well, firstly I’d argue that is not true, as the sea of teams around us has improved markedly over the summer, and secondly, Martin’s memory must be hazy as last season was all a little too close to call relegation-wise for all of our collective hearts.

I hate to be reactionary voice in our collective quagmire of nervousness, but in these long summer months, a day without a whisper or a rumour feels like a week, and the two months between Maarten Stekelenburg’s signing and Taarabt’s unveiling felt like the Hundred Years War.

With the season mere days away, there is at least, some solace in the inactivity of other teams to counter act the schizophrenic commotion of others. Indeed, were I a Newcastle fan I would be rightfully using these pages to launch a diatribe against the ineffective and dawdling ponderousness of Joe Kinnear, whereas the casual Sunderland fan might indeed be worrying about how Paolo Di Canio will get his cavalcade of mercenaries [10 new signings and counting] to play as a team.

For a team like Fulham, the summer transfer window needs to be about strategic improvement, not wholesale changes. There is however, a balance that must be struck. Queens Park Rangers were relegated last season after signing too many of the wrong players, while Reading were relegated after signing too few of the right ones.

Following the departure of Mark Schwarzer, Fulham have signed world cup finalist Stekelenburg. This should be an upgrade with Schwarzer’s performances slowly declining, but Maarten was largely benched at Roma last season and may take a while to really show his class so the question marks will linger a little longer.

Adel Taarabt is largely a replacement for Urby Emmanuelson who spent the latter portion of last season on loan from AC Milan and only began to really show his talent towards the end of his spell in White. Derek Boateng is a replacement for Eyong Enoh, another successful loanee, whilst also absorbing some of Mahammadou Diarra’s workload. Whilst the capture of Fernando Amorebieta is impressive, the only out and out strategic upgrade, there are still both holes in the squad to fill and major pinpointed strategic upgrades necessary.

With Mladen Petric yet to be replaced and no sign of Marcello Trotta being promoted, there is a gaping hole in the strikeforce. No matter how many games Hugo Rodallega is given, there will still be a gaping hole up front until a striker of genuine quality is signed or a youngster is given a chance. When you also consider that Chris Baird and Simon Davies have left, and Stanislav Manolev has not been signed following his loan, there are still other openings in our squad to be filled, and that’s without that all important central midfield playmaker we all know is missing.

By my reckoning then, that leaves two full backs (a reserve right back and potential starter at left back), a central midfielder and a centre forward still to come in. The central midfielder and the striker both need to be of a calibre good enough to force their way into the starting line-up, as without them this summer cannot be classified as a significant period of wholesale upgrade.

All this aside, and I still have both faith and hope. Still Believe we sang. Still Believe I do.

Where Fulham are concerned, transfers are done behind closed doors. Were it not for a leak onto a QPR messageboard, there is a chance none of us would have got a sniff of the Taarabt deal until he was seen holding up the Fulham shirt. Indeed, in his interview with Sarah Brookes following his arrival, he stated that negotiations took around 3 weeks. That means for all we know, Fulham most likely have engaged their major targets already, and the future is looking brighter, even IF we just can’t see it yet. [Since I wrote this news of a possible new signing this week has broken]

There is also a larger point to be made. Shahid Khan has arrived as new owner with the well-rehearsed mantra of sustainability the central tenet of his message to supporters and journalists alike. Well, for a club like Fulham, a significant method for self-sustainability is the development of young players into saleable assets. The Udinese model of ‘develop-and-flog’ is perhaps a drastic example, but the process of scouting, signing and playing young talent can make a club a lot of money and excite the fans in one fell swoop. Constantly signing players whose value cannot possibly rise over the course of their Fulham career, or those whose value can rise, but for another parent club to benefit, shows a level of short termism that is tantamount to hypocrisy from a club preaching sustainability.

Winston Churchill said that “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”. The results of last season indicated that there was no strategy. Now is the time for Fulham to make that statement, to execute their strategy and to put in place the on-field structure that the growth and performance off it dictates. Sustainable growth though may just require some speculation.

Onto the Stadium of Light.

COYW