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Fulham’s Summer Shopping List – Part I: Strikers

Despite having a world class striker already at the club in Dimitar Berbatov, and a formation that usually allows for only one to be on the pitch at any one time, striker is the position which excites the imagination like no other. So here is a look at some of the front men that could or should be on Fulham’s radar this summer:

Euromillions jackpot

Alvaro Negredo

With Spanish side Sevilla suffering significant financial woes, it is widely understood around Europe that their top stars are up for grabs this summer. A particular name of interest to Fulham will be striker Alvaro Negredo. The 27 year old Spaniard scored 21 goals in La Liga last season and has been brandished with a €25m price tag as a result. Out of Fulham’s price range as it stands, Negredo is of particular interest having been a reported target back in 2009 prior to his move from Almeria to Sevilla. Should circumstances change and prices fall, chances are we could back an ambitious phone call to Spain.

Pablo Daniel Osvaldo

Another former Fulham target (a reported £10.5m bid was rejected by Espanyol prior to his move to Italy in 2011), Argentinian born Italian international Osvaldo has had something of a love hate relationship with his club Roma of late. Following a minimal substitute appearance in the Coppa Italia final loss to Lazio, Osvaldo tweeted his displeasure, telling coach Aurelio Andreazzoli to go and celebrate with the victorious archrivals, thus sealing his likely exit from the Italian capital. There will be bigger clubs than Fulham in for the striker who scored 16 Serie A goals this campaign, but with teammate Maarten Stekelenburg potentially coming to Craven Cottage stranger things have happened.

 

Roma’s Osvaldo was a Fulham target 2 years ago

 

Wilfried Bony

If you haven’t heard of Ivorian behemoth Wilfried Bony, get familiar. The 24 year old was this season’s top scorer in the Eredivisie, banging in 31 goals at better than a goal a game for unheralded Vitesse Arnhem. Fulham have reportedly scouted Bony, along with half of Europe, this season, and the player himself has signalled his intention to follow in the footsteps of compatriot Didier Drogba and move to England. This issue with Bony is price. Figures in the region of £15m have been mentioned, and it is hard to see Martin Jol splashing what would surely be his entire transfer budget on one player in a summer when we need 6 or 7. With our Dutch connections though, you can be sure Bony’s name has come up in conversation.

 

£15m man Bony was top scorer in Holland

 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Mentioning Aubameyang in this piece serves merely to acknowledge the fact he’s alive and we’d be lucky to have him. That’s where it ends. The 23 year old Gabonese forward would be the perfect fit for Martin Jol’s expansive attacking line, able to slot happily up front or on either flank. Unfortunately, following a 19 goal Ligue 1 campaign for St Etienne, Aubameyang will be coveted by all corners of Europe, literally. Samuel Eto’o wants Anzhi Makhachkala to bring him to Dagestan, while the player himself admits talking to Bayer Leverkusen and Swansea, and also claims to be on Borussia Dortmund’s list to replace Robert Lewandowski. He’s also stated a desire to play in the Champions League.

Stefan Kie?ling

The Bundesliga has proven happy hunting ground for Martin Jol in his transfer dealings of late. It is not inconceivable that we’ll be returning to Germany this summer. The first player I’d like to mention is Stefan Kie?ling, the Bayer Leverkusen German international, whose 25 goals earned him the Golden Boot in Germany’s top division this season. At 29, he’s no spring chicken, but that fits Fulham’s age profile, and is still considerably younger than outgoing Bundesliga recruit from last summer Mladen Petric. His age is also likely to prove his downfall is looking for a move to a major side, who would usually baulk at signing someone so close to 30. With teammate Andre Schurrle seemingly on his way to Chelsea, they could bulk buy boxes for the move to West London.

 

Ginczek: Unwanted by Dortmund?

 

Daniel Ginczek

The second German on this list is a little more obscure. Daniel Ginczek, the Borussia Dortmund youngster, scored 18 goals from 31 appearances on loan at St Pauli in the German second division last season. At 22, he looks to be on his way out of Dortmund this summer, but has insisted his immediate future lies in Germany. Still, should Fulham be looking to get younger, as we hope they are, a striker who can learn from, and then replace, Berbatov would seem to be the order of the day, and Ginczek fits that bill nicely.

Collecting the Airmiles

Fulham need to get smarter in the transfer window. Instead of signing a player from an established league an inflated mark-up, it is high time our scouts started ensuring we skipped the middle man and sign players straight from source. In the youth ranks, this is already taking place, with youngsters from countries such as Israel, Scotland, Slovakia, France, Sweden and Denmark already lighting a path to senior football. One such league that could benefit Fulham at First Team level is the Danish SuperLiga. With strong rumours in January suggesting Fulham heavily scouted FC Nordsjaelland centre half Jores Okore, there is a decent chance our scouts have seen the following two players in action.

Simon Makienok

22 year old Brondby hitman Simon Makienok has taken Denmark by the scruff of the neck in recent months. Scoring 15 goals in 30 appearances with 4 assists, making up a whopping 38% of his team’s goals, Makienok was one of the few bright sparks in a disappointing season for Brondby. Seemingly ready for a step up, Makienok could be worth a punt with a major outlay unlikely to be required to tempt him away from the western Copenhagen suburbs.

 

Brondby hitmat Simon Makienok

 

Andreas Cornelius

Slightly more heralded than Makienok, FC Copenhagen striker Andreas Cornelius is probably the hottest property in Scandinavia. Coming off a season where he scored 18 goals as the club from the capital regained the league crown, the 20 year old is likely to be a target for many of Europe’s premier mid-table clubs. Similarly named Nicklas Helenius from Aalborg has reportedly been scouted by several English clubs, FFC amongst them, with 16 goals, from a role largely as a second striker, unlikely to have harmed his reputation. Elsewhere in Scandinavia, Zden?k Ondrášek, the former Czech Under-21 striker was last season’s top scorer in Norway, where he plies his trade for Tromso, the team with which Fulham have a feeder club style agreement. Partizan Belgrade’s Serbian starlet Lazar Markovic is another off radar talent; the £6m rated 19 year old is a reported target for Chelsea but is represented by the same agency as Fulham January almost signing Nikola Maksimovic, whose move from Red Star Belgrade fell through because of a work permit issue.

Home truths

Domestic transfers can often be as hit and miss as the as obscure, pluck from nowhere foreign import variety. Success elsewhere is no guarantee of replication. Experience of British football does however, provide for the benefit of minimal physical transition – for despite his lack of finishing ability, you cannot argue against Hugo Rodallega’s physical ability and effort levels, which are unquestionably superb. Clint Dempsey on the other hand took a full year to develop the physical attributes to allow for his natural ability to show through. There are several strikers plying their trades on these fair shores, that I have no doubt will have crossed the radar of the men with the money at Motspur Park.

 

We should have signed Jordan Rhodes last summer

 

Jordan Rhodes

A player we should have signed last summer in my mind. The criminally high price offered by Blackburn’s clueless owners Venky’s annoyingly raised the bar for what Huddlesfield could demand for the Premiership calibre hitman. 28 goals in the Championship followed 39 in League One the previous season. The biggest hurdle to signing Rhodes will be Rovers’ insistence on recouping their sizeable outlay from last summer. Rhodes deserves his shot at the Premier League, compared to some of the cheap imports that litter top flight squads, another season in the Championship would prove unjust for the best striker in English football outside the top division.

Adam Le Fondre

When I tweeted an idea of picking up ALF from relegated Reading following their unceremonious manhandling of us at the Cottage in April, I was met with a barrage of negative comments. Prejudice no doubt stemming from Le Fondre’s years spent climbing the domestic footballing pyramid. 12 goals in the Premier League, 8 of which came off the bench, could lead to Le Fondre being just what Fulham need from a striker this summer – someone to come off the bench late to complement or replace Berbatov. We’ve also not had a proficient substitute counter attacker since Erik Nevland retired. Le Fondre’s relatively cheap price tag would also free up major capital for the central midfielder we more urgently need.

 

Adam Le Fondre scored at Craven Cottage in April

 

Should relegated or almost relegated players be your cup of tea, we could do a lot worse than stealing Loic Remy from QPR, the Frenchman proving a rare bright spot in an otherwise catastrophic failure of a season at Loftus Road, or indeed long term press hang up Darren Bent, whose undeniable poaching ability would not go amiss.

Gary Hooper

The final profile on my list is that of Loughton born Hooper. At 25, he’s entering his prime years stuck in exile at Celtic where he can collect league titles ad nauseam should he wish. My guess though, is that he isn’t satisfied. Like several other Celtic players, he rebuffed offers to come south in January with the lure of Celtic’s last 16 Champions League tie with Juventus too good to ignore. With dreams of Eurpoean glory long gone the way of competition in the SPL, it’s time Hooper returned to England. As a back up for Berbatov, Hooper could provide the finisher we’ve lacked since Clint moved to Spurs. Elsewhere, Manchester City’s forgotten wunderkind John Guidetti could well look to leave Eastlands following an injury hit spell for their Under 21s, but 20 goals in 23 appearances on loan at Feyenoord in 2012 indicate this youngster has what it takes.

There you have it. That’s my take on the European striker market this summer. There are obviously a thousand and one names I haven’t mentioned, but hopefully this gave you a flavour of what’s out there.

COYW

Ambition

Human nature is to be ambitious; we all want to be the best we can be, and to make the most success out of those abilities. The grassy knoll of human ambition is one that we all strive to climb but its as easy to climb to far, as it is to refuse to climb it at all. One thing’s for certain, if you go to far, there can be a heck of a fall.

If that’s all a bit existential, lets bring it back on topic, in the week that our neighbours from Shepherd’s Bush finally saw the deathnail in the Premiership survival hopes, the blurred lines between genuine ambition and over-ambition have never been clearer. The lure of Italian, Indian, Malaysian and Formula One funded cash under the heralded title, ambition, has led Queens Park Rangers on a journey that their Four Year Plan could never have envisaged, yet was all too obvious.

 

The difference between ambition and greed?

 

Having bought their way up from the dog eat dog championship, they sought to buy themselves into mid-table in the top flight. It lured Mark Hughes and his mercenary army for hire in 2011, then players swapped the likes of Marseille, Inter Milan and Real Madrid for Loftus Road, before finally Harry Redknapp turned down Ukrainian petrodollars for a shot at fulfilling QPR’s ambition. Look where it’s got them, an away trip to Doncaster next season. I’m led to wonder if Loic Remy, Julio Cesar and Esteban Granero have ever heard of Doncaster?

At Fulham, we always seem to understand the level of our ambitions. Even after that mesmeric run to Hamburg, when it would have been easy to get carried away, we have stayed true to who we are, building brick by brick and appreciating that finishing tenth is a good ambition for a club of our resources.

As another season draws to a close though, I ask, are we ambitious enough? This is something of an esoteric question as I am quite happy with the club’s on and off field performance in recent years, as I’m sure every level headed fan, player and director would be.

However, for another 12 months, we will go trophyless and Wembley appearanceless, we still have a middling to poor away record and we have had a season of overall slumber. But here’s that question again. Would wishing anything more than this be over-ambitious?

Let’s face it, you name me a mid table club who sells their two best players in the last three days of the summer window and really pushes on the next year. Heck, compared to the pre Roy days of relegation dodging, our rise has been somewhat Napoleonic in its brevity.

Right now, however, I would like to state that for as enjoyable as it is, I would like next season to be about more than simply watching Dimitar Berbatov play. Our Bulgarian talisman has been the recurring constant in the theme of this season. Whether it be his soo ften-mesmeric skills, or listening to another so-called “expert” misanalyse him as lazy. Even daring to make the phone call to his agent to sign him in the first place was ambitious. But there’s been little else of late.

 

Next season needs to be about more than just Berbatov, on and off the field.

 

Ambition and Dimitar Berbatov go hand in hand though. The “Keep Calm and Pass Me the Ball” shirt is the perfect example. We only have one more shot at making the most of Dimitar’s monumental talent, the second year of his two year contract. We have to help him help us to push on next season. He needs a supporting cast. Watching Daniel Day-Lewis play Abraham Lincoln in a home movie is unlikely to win him an Oscar, for that he needs a supporting cast and director to all work as one.

We reached 40 points in Mid-April, and let’s face it, that’s not bad. But what happened to those incremental increases? If you look back and view this season as a complete picture, we’ve done ok considering. Injuries, badly timed suspensions and yes, those damn sales in August, have all gone against us, and yet we should hopefully end comfortably mid-table when all is said and done. But is wishing for a few Berbatov calibre complimentary pieces being over-ambitious?

The most frustrating thing is that unlike QPR, who were never even remotely the sum of their parts, at times this year, Martin Jol has gelled Fulham into a very attractive, skilful and tactically astute bunch, but there has been little to no consistency.

This is not a season review, the season still has three games to go. A club bigger than our own could well join Reading and QPR in the Championship next season with Newcastle and Villa still amongst the quagmire.

There have been highlights this year. Along with Dimitar Berbatov, the play of Sascha Reither in particular, but also the likes of Giorgios Karagounis and since January, Mark Schwarzer, have been particularly pleasing. Urby Emmanuelson and Eyong Enoh joined on loan and have showed flashes of quality to light keep alight the embers of ambition in all of us.

Lets just hope that we all manage to keep the ambition in balance in our heads. As fans it is unreasonable for us to get all miserable and sulky if the club isn’t over ambitious. It’s ok if we aren’t in on signing Falcao or Cavani, but perhaps if we ever sing “attack, attack, attack” at our players, we’ll know we have a problem.

For all our sake though, lets hope Fulham take every effort towards the goal of collective improvement this summer, even if it is baby step by baby step.

COYW

The Morning After

Well that was…exhausting. Happy Day After Deadline Day everyone. It sort of feels like Boxing Day doesn’t it, the festivities are over and you now get to play with your new toys. After the drama of last night though, it kind of feels like that time you got given a playstation but without the games you specifically wanted and asked for.

That’s enough of the metaphor’s for now, but in truth, the passing of last night’s transfer deadline has left something of a disappointed feeling in the pit of the stomach of most connected with Fulham Football Club.

That is not to say yesterday was a bad day. Quite far from it. The signing of Manchester United’s former Premier League Golden Boot winner and seven time Bulgarian Footballer of the Year, Dimitar Berbatov, marked yesterday as one of the finest in our clubs transfer history. Alongside George Best and Edwin van der Sar, this could well be one of the highest profile signings ever at Craven Cottage.

Fulham's New Number 9

That overall feeling of being somewhat underwhelmed comes from the fact that on deadline day, minutes seem like hours and hours seem like weeks. The announcement of Berbatov was made at 3.30pm. That left seven and a half hours to do something about our depleted midfield corps.

At that stage there was a huge sense of optimism about the day. We’d already signed former Premier League winner Kieran Richardson from Sunderland reportedly for around the £2m mark. A bargain for such a useful and versatile left footed squad player in my book.

Alongside Richardson though, there were many names being mentioned as potential midfield targets. With Danny Murphy having left back in June, Dickson Etuhu earlier this month and Moussa Dembele earlier this week, surely the club had a plethora of central midfielders ready to sign on the dotted line?

And so the press thought and we were led to believe. Over the course of the day, Wolfsburg’s Iranian/German Ashkan Dejagah, Dutch youth international Chris David, Belgian international Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, Spurs’ Tom Huddlestone, Stoke’s Wilson Palacios and at one stage Lyon’s Brazil international Michel Bastos were all supposedly on their way to Motspur Park. It will be interesting to see if rumours of FC Twente’s Nacer Chadli arriving on a chartered jet only to be sent home prove true.

Wow, two or three of these and we’ve done all right was the general feeling. Heck, Bastos or Chadli would have given us a star, something I think we all felt justified in wanting given the circumstances.

There was the other elephant in the room all day, well, all transfer window in truth. Clint Dempsey was leaving, wasn’t he? Where to? How Much For? And When? Unfortunately, and this might me the key to explaining our final tally, it wasn’t until late in the evening that his summer-long will he wont he saga with Liverpool was ended, by his signing for Tottenham at 10.30pm.

All of a sudden seven of those seven and a half hours had gone and we hadn’t done a single thing. Still though, there was a sense of optimism. Listen back to CottageTalk, the podcast which excellently broadcasted the last two hours of the transfer window, and you’ll here mostly jubilant Fulham fans discussing our merry future.

Iranian international Ashkan Dejagah

Then, with mere minutes of the transfer window remaining, we got word that we’d sign Dejagah, the right winger from Wolfsburg who’d been at Motspur Park all day, but that was it. Surely that had to be incorrect? Not one central midfielder? Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe had supposedly been at Motspur Park as well, so what went wrong? Maybe his club pulled out, like the Andre-Pierre Gignac scenario from last summer when Marseille pulled out at the 59th minute of the 11th hour. But know, at sometime after midnight, Everton announced his signing on loan for the season. Someone has questions to answer on this one, especially if he turns out to be just what we needed.

Chris David, a promising Dutch attacking midfielder from FC Twente was supposedly in the bag though, Sky Sports had been reporting it as done all day. The Dutch club even posted the story on their website. Again however, it seems that we were to be left frustrated, another one that just slipped away at the very end.

So while, in the emerging light of the morning after, we are left slightly unhinged at the lack of a single central midfielder or genuine midfield superstar arriving, it is important to see the overall picture. It wasn’t a bad day at all. We knew Dempsey was going, so to bolster the ranks with two midfielders (Richardson and Dejagah) and a proven goalscorer (Berbatov) is excellent business. It’s just that there is a sense that it all feels a tad unfinished.

After outlays approaching £20m last summer, Fulham made a net profit into eight figures this year. In a time when we are all aghast at QPR’s seeming financially drunk spending spree this summer, perhaps a prudent and frugal transfer window shows truly how far we’ve come as a stable top-flight club.

Never mind eh, we must be due a fun summer next year? We can spend the next 10 months dreaming how we’ll spend that Dempsey and Dembele money. Oh right, that’s not exactly how it works is it.

I think, however, in the end, it may have come down to this. Sign a new player who isn’t our number one target, or use the next four months until the January window opens to give some of our own young talent a chance to shine. The phrase, Take The Stage was used a lot in London this summer, never has it been more appropriate here too.

Alex Kacaniklic has so far taken his first team chance with both hands in Clint Dempsey’s position. Kerim Frei, Dempsey’s understudy in that position since January could well be moved to central midfield, a position that suits his skill set with a bit of physical development or they’ll both rotate on the wings to the peril of right backs up and down the land. Then there’s Pajtim Kasami, a player many fans have been clamouring for to get his big chance in his preferred central role. Well here it is. I for one think with some nurturing, Pajtim could be as good a central midfielder as anyone we were thinking of singing last night.

So it might not have been everything we wanted, but if yesterday was Christmas, we were still on Santa’s good list. Now let’s go and beat West Ham.

COYWs