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.
As the transfer window drew to a close on Tuesday and it became increasingly likely that Fulham weren’t going to be signing another striker, I was probably one of the few pleased Fulham fans. Instead of a loanee coming in and taking his game time, Moussa Dembele will now get to continue in the Fulham side.
Last week’s League Cup game was something of a breakthrough for the young striker. While Man of the Match against Sheffield United went to Ryan Tunnicliffe, the undoubted star of the game’s most fascinating sub-plot was Dembele.
It was a bewildering game for the striker, and until the 94th minute it seemed like it was ‘just one of those days’ for Dembele. As the game wore on, it appeared his confidence in front of goal was getting visibly lower – each passing shot getting marginally worse. Throughout the game though, Moussa’s work rate and attitude were exemplary and he didn’t stop trying.
Whereas even a seasoned pro might be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t their day, Dembele was working as hard in the last minute as he was in the first. This was recognised by the sparse but enthusiastic crowd, who rewarded each miss with increasingly louder renditions of his name being sung in an attempt to keep his spirits up. It was truly heartening to see the crowd using its voice to pick the striker up as the game progressed. We all wanted him to score, for it was the least his endeavour deserved. His last second goal was as deserved a goal as Craven Cottage has seen in some time.
There is also the thought process with Dembele that it is just a matter of getting the first few goals under his belt before he starts to score regularly.
Former Arsenal, Barcelona and France forward Thierry Henry, who now works as a pundit for Sky Sports, spent a good portion of the transfer deadline day coverage explaining the importance of games for young strikers in particular. He was referring to Anthony Martial, the 19 year old signed by Manchester United after only 52 professional games, but the logic follows through to Dembele. Strikers are not the finished product at 19, it is important to remember that.
Dembele is currently benefiting from the injury to Matt Smith with Saturday’s game at Rotherham marking his third consecutive start.
Talk of Dembele being the next big thing might be a bit premature, with his first league goal still proving elusive. However, in 15 all-competition appearances last season Moussa only actually played 575 minutes. Hardly what you’d call consistent game time.
Given such limited playing opportunities there was a sense last season that Dembele was overthinking his chances. He was so desperate to score that it appeared to get inside his head at times. Having also been the victim of some terrific saves, such as those from Joe Murphy when we played Huddersfield a week and a half ago, Dembele’s demeanour has often screamed “what do I have to do to score”.
At this stage in his career, the answer to that question is very simple. He has to rely on instinct. His goal last week, and those he scored at the same stage of the League Cup last year against Derby, was scored when he didn’t have the time to think. It is the same with those chances he has had saved, they have nearly all been from instinctive shots or headers.
It sounds cliché, but you cannot teach instinct. Experience teaches a player what to do in different situations. It is far better for a young striker to be able to score instinctively, than the other way round. What bodes even better is that Moussa can already create chances of his own accord, processing those chances is the last missing link.
In showing that he undeniably has those goalscorers instincts, Moussa has shown he is different to our other young striker, Cauley Woodrow. Cauley is not a natural goalscorer to the same extent, but he is clever and given an opportunity to fashion a chance for himself or others and he will. It is why the two of them played so well together in youth football, they play to each other’s strengths.
Whereas in the past Moussa was, rightly or wrongly, accused of having an inferior attitude, recently he has blown that accusation out the water. His work ethic on the pitch has been very impressive.
Having developed physically quite significantly over the past year, Moussa used all of his pace and strength against Sheffield United. That in the 92nd minute he was able to take a ball down in mid-air, turn towards goal, run past a defender and get hauled down for a justified red card, shows exactly how hard he was working.
Dembele is one of the two remaining marquee young players to not sign a new contract. The other being Emerson Hyndman, the USA midfielder. However, unlike Hyndman, who has been relegated to the U21s, Dembele’s place in the starting line-up indicates there may have been a shift in his attitude off the pitch too. It may be hyperbole to suggest Dembele can be the answer to our striking problems, but the truth is he could be. He just needs the games. Getting him to sign a new contract may yet be our best piece of business even after an impressive summer.
Staying at Fulham may also yet prove to be the best option for Moussa himself. The last week of the transfer window saw Norwich have a bid of £10m rejected for Benik Afobe at Wolves. Afobe is the typical example of a striker, trapped at a big club (in his case Arsenal), only to move down to the Championship, where the game time he was given over the course of just one season allowed him to develop into an eight figure player.
Of course nothing is guaranteed and without continued hard work and game time Dembele may not progress as hoped.
Young strikers are dime a dozen and goals in youth football are no guarantee of first team success. Only a handful really make it to the top, but with his newfound place in the side Dembele has the chance to build on the green shoots of potential he showed against Sheffield United.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t have been happy with a player of Hooper’s proven calibre, but for now, I hope Dembele signs a new contract and Symons has the good sense to keep him in the team, even if it does take a few more games for him to break his league duck.
The announcement this week of contract extensions for both George Williams and Cameron Burgess, the latter of whom immediately went on loan to Scottish side Ross County, comes as most welcome news for Fulham fans.
This season can so far be best described as a voyage of discovery. We are in a new league, with new players and a new manager against new opposition in new stadiums set amid a background of new, ever changing expectations. There have been some new lows and a few new highs (who knew a 3-3 draw at Rotherham could mean so much!). Are we getting promoted this season? No we’re not. Are Kit’s substitutions and tactics sometimes frustrating? Yes they are. Do we need to panic buy this month? Absolutely not.
Of course, should the right player who could help bring this club forward for the future become available, then of course we should move to bring them in. However, for the first transfer window in recent memory, it is not the potential incomings that are bothering me.
Fulham’s best hope of sustainably rebuilding and re-establishing ourselves a division up is to keep and develop our talented young players. In truth, expectations on most of these youngsters are so high, that even if half of them come close to reaching their full potential, we would have a side more than capable of reaching, and staying in the Premier League.
Our goal for now is staying in the Championship with enough time to spare so that the young players can get progressively more game time as the season comes to a close. At the moment, too many of the youngsters’ development is being restricted to 5 minutes off the substitutes bench because the senior players aren’t getting the job done and games can’t be risked.
The most fun time to watch Fulham is if we are winning and somehow we end up with Christensen, Woodrow, Roberts and Williams all on the pitch together. But we have a risk averse manager and are not, unfortunately, often in a position for such frivolity.
The problem though, and this is the perennial conundrum with player development, is that many of the young players simply aren’t ready to play 90 minutes week in week out. Yet in order to develop to a point where they are ready, they must play games. It is a catch 22 scenario. You see why Kit Symons, a manager who himself is learning his craft, is almost on a hiding to nothing?
Let’s look at the players individually; of the homegrown young players, the only ones who have really stepped up this season are Lasse Vigen Christensen, Marcus Bettinelli and Jack Grimmer. It is of no coincidence that these are the ones for whom game time has been the most consistent. None were in the side at the start of the season but all will be mainstays for years to come as long as they don’t leave. Christensen is the particular standout and the Danish Energizer Bunny’s form has seen him linked with Aston Villa in the tabloids. In years to come he shall surely play at a higher level but for now, the best place for him is being the first name on the Fulham team sheet.
Grimmer is a particularly interesting case study. In and around the squad under Martin Jol because of a dearth of right backs, he was sent out on loan last season to Port Vale where he excelled. This season he was sent out again, to League Two table toppers Shrewsbury Town, where he once more excelled. He was recalled to Fulham after goal machine Tim Hoogland suffered a hernia. After struggling to adapt in his first few games, Grimmer has noticeably stepped up in recent weeks. Each passing game is evidently having a positive effect on both his confidence and his abilities. The particularly adept way he marshalled Bakary Sako of Wolves in the FA Cup a fortnight ago was telling considering Sako had run riot on us back in August. If he continues at this rate, Jack will be in the Scotland squad before the year is out.
Why then, have these three particularly stepped up? It is not a matter of loan experience, for Christensen has none at all and he is our best player, Ross McCormack aside. Age, and more specifically, maturity, might hold the key. For George Williams, Patrick Roberts, Emerson Hyndman and Moussa Dembele, all of whom have shown glimpses of what their future holds, this season may have simply come a year too soon.
Williams and Roberts are both exceptional and exciting attacking talents. Williams has several full Wales caps to his name and Roberts is the golden child. Yet neither is quite ready to take the league by storm. When you consider they were playing in the FA Youth Cup less than a year ago, is that really surprising? When given starts, both players have bright spells but appear to go missing for long spells. As explosive attackers, their strengths are about taking defenders on. You simply cannot do that for 90 minutes.
Roberts in particular still has a lot to learn about the nuances of 90 minutes at senior level. Yet at the moment, his development is not going as fast as we’d like because he only really gets on for a few minutes at a time, if he’s lucky. Hyndman benefits from being a part of the US Youth National Team set up with additional games and training camps. Others, like Roberts, Williams and Dembele appear to need a more structured development plan. Not 90 minutes every week, but consistent and increasing game time off the bench.
For the young attackers, the maturity and composure required to develop into regular starters will only come with regular game time. However, this cannot be at the expense of the team whilst they are still developing. It is all very well and good learning when to shoot, but we must stay up, so some of those shots need to go in, hence the catch-22.
Dembele, for example, appears to have an issue with his composure. If he acts on instinct, and instinct alone, he is as lethal as he was at junior level [see the Derby cup defeat where he scored 2]. Yet if he has time to think, he has not yet played enough games and scored enough goals at this level to know the correct decision to make. He will only get this experience by playing games, something he is not, and will not do as our 4th choice centre forward.
We could send him on loan, but as Huw Jennings has said, not every player has the personality for a loan spell some are better suited to staying under the watchful eyes of their existing coaches. We also won’t send anyone on loan unless there is a realistic chance they will play regularly. With Fulham traditionally wanting (if not always successfully) to play a certain way, and with the young players bread in our youth sides to play passing football, would a loan in the rough ‘em tough ‘em lower leagues really do them any good? It is why defenders and goalkeepers often get loaned, but we have been hesitant to send out our creative players.
There are other players whose development is coming along nicely. Cauley Woodrow for example is progressing into a very good player. As the 3rd choice striker he has had semi regular game time this season to go with his loan at Southend last year. He has all the technical attributes to succeed, and given experience and some physical enhancements that come with age, strength and speed etc, he is well on course.
Others like Sean Kavanagh have been a pleasant surprise, and will only benefit from continued interaction with the first team. While others, such as Dan Burn, seem to have stagnated. In Burn’s case, his decline has allowed for Shaun Hutchinson to emerge out of the shadow of his early struggles. At centre back though, we still have Cameron Burgess and Liam Donnelly in the ranks, even if they’ve been lost in the system for the last few months.
There is no formula for successfully developing young players. Between Symons and academy director Huw Jennings, we have the staff in place to practice the alchemy required to strike the right balance with our youngsters, but it remains a crucial and fragile process. The loss of Steve Wigley to Nottingham Forest has clearly hindered the Academy, as has the loss of the majority of their players to the first team where we are seeing several years graduates all at once.
While most successful teams might carry one, two or even three young players in their regular squad, Fulham have gone Full Boyle and flooded the team with them. Coupled with the fact we have the likes of Alex Kacaniklic, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Shaun Hutchinson and Kostas Stafylidis, all of whom are still relatively inexperienced, no wonder there has been a heavy burden on the senior players.
So this January, instead of bringing in yet more new faces, I would like to see Fulham concentrate on doing whatever can be done to further progress the players we do have. Securing them on new contracts, like with Williams and Burgess, is the place to start. It both engenders confidence in the player and provides us with a level of security should the vultures begin to circle.
Our best hope long term is to keep this young squad together and to make sure they progress and develop. If we do, it will be a better investment than any signing could be.
Oh and can Chris David be allowed back in?
Round Three on the Roadmap to Regeneration is by far the most exciting one for Fulham Football Club and its fans. Having first determined exactly who will be making decisions and followed that up by deciding which of the first team should be let go, the next step will be to decide which of the club’s talented young players are to be promoted to regular first team duty.
Read Fulham’s Roadmap to Regeration: Part I – The Future of The Boardroom.
Read Fulham’s Roadmap to Regeration: Part II – The First Team: Going, Going Gone.
Through relegation Fulham now have an unexpected opportunity to take what has been created at academy level and develop something great. Instead of muddling year-to-year survival in the Premier League where out young players either got their opportunities to develop elsewhere or not at all, we are now in a situation where to not give them their opportunity would be tantamount to stupidity.
Fulham must build upon the wealth of talent that has been amassed at youth level. By ridding the squad of the obstructing deadwood at senior level, Fulham have the opportunity to unleash what is potentially the most talented crop of young players the club has ever seen.
Of course, it is easy to get carried away when discussing the Fulham academy. Long starved of home-grown success, we have been blessed with a burgeoning academy in recent years. The last four seasons have seen Fulham reach the Final of the Under-18 Premier League three times, winning it twice and then followed that up this past season by reaching the final of the FA Youth Cup for the first time ever, narrowly missing out on the title after to Chelsea 7-6 on aggregate.
Such sustained success at youth level can raise expectations amongst fans to an almost unhealthy level. Whilst relegation will mean many of the players listed below do get regular game opportunities, we as fans must remember they are young professionals, learning their craft and continuing their development. They will make mistakes, but by giving them a chance, some of them could become great.
We have more youth players seemingly involved in their national team set ups than at any time in the past and had double digit first team debuts last season. Huw Jennings and Malcolm Elias have done an exemplary job in building the academy from a virtual standing start, while the coaching of the now departed Steve Wigley and Under-21 boss Kit Symons has proven exemplary.
Trophy success or near success is all well and good, but the role of a flourishing academy is principally to provide players who can eventually feature for the first team. We have at our disposal a set of young players with tenacity and ferocious hunger to succeed that was sadly lacking from many of our so-called experienced professionals last season.
Cautionary footnote aside, this really is a fascinating and promising once in a generation wave of youth promotions in prospect. Here is a selection of our youth players who are likely to and deserve a chance in or around the first team next season.
At 22, centre back Burn is no stranger to first team football. A successful season at League One with Yeovil, which resulted in promotion in 2013, was followed with a six-month spell at Birmingham City for the first half last season. Having made 28 appearances for Lee Clark’s side, the defender was called back to Fulham by then manager Rene Meulensteen in January. Burn proceeded to make his debut against Norwich in the FA Cup two days later and went on to make 10 further First Team appearances, mostly under Meulensteen. The natural heir to Brede Hangeland at the left side of our centre half pairing, Burn’s aerial prowess is no secret, but he has shown deft touch and a propensity to get forward on occasion. Positional awareness and turning circle must continue to improve but regardless, Burn is a natural fit to start every game in the Championship and is on his way to becoming a classy top-flight defender.
Fulham First Team Appearances: 11
Likely role next season: Starting XI
Swedish International Kacaniklic is not a youngster who can technically be promoted to the first team, but he can be used a lot better. At 22, he has somewhat been a victim of his own success, in that he broke into the team as a 19-year old alongside Kerim Frei and never quite nailed down a starting spot from the outset. Most often used as a left midfielder, Kacaniklic’s main problem is his delivery. He has a superb ability to get into the right position but his final ball, both in decision and execution has so often lacked the necessary quality. In the cutthroat world of Premier League football this has seen him yo-yoing in and out of the side. He made 29 appearances in all competitions last season. Having succeeded on loan at Watford as a teenager, Kacaniklic has already proven a good Championship operator, and should he stay in Fulham’s colours he could and should be a key part of a promotion challenging side next season.
Fulham First Team Appearances: 56
Likely role next season: Starting XI or sold.
The success story of the season just gone, 19-year old Woodrow has enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom in the last six months. Having spearheaded several of the successful Under-18 campaigns, including captaining 2013’s victorious team, Cauley was rewarded with a loan spell at League Two side Southend United last autumn. In his time at Roots Hall the technical striker made 19 appearances but flattered to deceive with a meager return of just 2 goals. An example of statistics lying, Woodrow was technically superior to those around him, with the lack of goals a reflection on his difference in style to the less polished lower division. Having returned to Motspur Park after dropping out of the Southend side, Felix Magath began involving the Englishman in first team training. Woodrow would go on to make six first team appearances in the run in, including scoring his first senior Fulham goal in front of the Hammersmith End on the final day. Such is Cauley’s obvious talent, he has been rewarded with a call up to the England U21s alongside several big names up front including Saido Berahino and Danny ings. Expect Woodrow to have a big role in our future, his technical ability and first touch put the likes of Darren Bent to shame. Regular football should help enhance his ability to become a regular goalscorer like he was at youth level. He is best with his back to goal and should play with a strike partner and not as a lone frontman.
Fulham First Team Appearances: 6
Likely role next season: Starting XI
Ask anyone around the club for the past few years who the most exciting prospect in the entire academy has been and they have all unanimously said Patrick Roberts. At 17, the winger has just turned in some “remember the name” type performances for the England U17 side as they won the European Championships. A local south west Londoner, Roberts is thankfully under contract at Fulham having signed professional terms until 2016 during last season. His potential is limitless and his dynamic running style compares favourably to two other Huw Jennings discoveries, Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale. Roberts scored 14 goals in 26 appearances for the Under 18s including a spectacular goal at Stamford Bridge in the Youth Cup Final. Whilst he will eventually ply his trade at the very highest level, he must have the right environment to ensure he develops into that player. A season of regular first team football in the second tier as a 17/18 year old would be a great place to start. Should he start there, Robert’s talent is such that he is unlikely to be sat on the bench for long.
Fulham First Team Appearances: 2
Likely role next season: Squad but progressed to starting XI before Christmas.
The marmite man of our academy, Trotta was one of the first wave of young players to make it to senior football from the current crop. However, Fulham fans remain divided on whether the Italian will succeed at first team level. After two seasons on loan in League One at now Championship rivals Brentford, Trotta has proved an adept goal poacher, something Fulham have not had in abundance of late. At 21, some fans have been too quick and keen to write off Trotta and with Brentford keen to keep the Italian U21 squad member who scored 13 goals in League One last term it remains to be seen if he stays at Fulham, and after two and half seasons out on loan he may not actually know his way round Motspur Park. Word from Griffin Park is he has shown considerable development in his time there and he may well have earned his chance to finally show Craven Cottage what he can do.
Fulham First Team Appearances: 1
Likely role next season: First Team Squad / Leaves for Brentford on a permanent deal
At 17, Frenchman Dembele is the youngest of our striking trio and by far the most dynamic. Convinced to leave hometown club Paris Saint Germain as a 16-year old, Dembele made his Premier League debut at home to Everton in March and arguably should have scored in that game. Having signed a new deal during last season to ensure he remains at the club for now, Dembele, along with Roberts, has been the star of the Under-18 side. A staggering 23 goals in 17 Under-18 appearances was complemented by a further 8 goals in 9 games for the Under-21s. He has the confidence of a future superstar, and missed panenka in the Youth Cup aside, everything he tries usually comes off. He will be a star and hopefully some of his senior career will be in the white of Fulham.
Fulham First Team Appearances: 3
Likely role next season: If he isn’t poached, First Team Squad and starter by January
20-year old Scottish defender Grimmer is a player who’s shown signs of a first team future ever since he arrived from Aberdeen in January 2012. A versatile defender who can play at either centre or right back, Grimmer has developed into a senior footballer this season. His 13-appearance loan spell at Mickey Adams-managed Port Vale showed that Grimmer is already a cut above League One level. Though he’s likely to develop into a top level centre back, it is probably at right back that Grimmer gets his shot in the first team next season. Whoever wins the pre-season battle out of Grimmer and Josh Passley may end up securing the spot as their own for next season. It also won’t be long before Gordron Strachan picks up his phone for the Scottish national team.
Fulham First Team Appearances: 0
Likely role next season: Starting XI, albeit maybe not straightaway
Lasse Vigen Christensen
19-year old Dane Lasse Vigen Christensen arrived in SW6 at the same time as Grimmer in January 2012. An example of good youth recruitment, Christensen came to Fulham from little heralded FC Midtjytlland in his homeland. A classy ball playing central midfielder, Christensen made his first team debut this season and captained the Under-21s on a regular basis. He recently signed a contract until 2017 showing the club has faith in him. Had we not been relegated, he would likely have been loaned out to the Championship, so our demise may well have removed the need for a loan spell elsewhere. He is now a fixture of the Denmark Under-21 squad and is likely to continue his development into 2015 for both club and country.
Fulham First Team Appearances: 2
Likely role next season: First Team Squad
Dutch midfielder David was one of the players you’d have thought might have left after this season in search of opportunity, however, his superb cameo and spectacular goal on the final day showed he has the talent to force himself into Felix Magath’s plans. A cultured midfielder who can play wide, in the middle or as a support striker, the coming season should provide him his chance. The key with older academy players like David will be playing games, at 21 time is not on his side development wise, but on raw talent alone, the hour showing against Crystal Palace proved he deserves a shot to mix it with the pros. Unlike David, Mesca is a midfielder who has lost his apparent First Team spot. Having made his debut under Jol at Stamford Bridge in the autumn he endured a disappointing loan spell at Crewe. A player tipped for great things, injuries have slowed his progress and it remains to be seen if he can become the player some had hoped.
Fulham First Team Appearances: 3
Likely role next season: First Team Squad, could progress to regular starter.
Under-18s captain Donnelly is an intriguing prospect at centre back. At 18, he is probably several years from becoming a first team regular, but his calm and intelligent play at the back, shown whilst he was an ever present in the FA Youth Cup run, could see him rise through the ranks faster than most. His talent has been recognized with a call up to the Senior Northern Ireland squad for their end-of-season matches in South America where he could line up alongside former Fulham men Aaron Hughes (to whom his playing style is not dissimilar) and Chris Baird. Centre back partner for the Under-18s Cameron Burgess also looks to have a bright future and both could be loaned out to League One level to gain experience this season.
Fulham First Team Appearances: 0
Likely role next season: Loan to League One
Completing the roundup of centre backs is the imposing figure of 19-year old man-mountain Stephen Arthurworry. Like his former youth team partner at the back Grimmer, Arthurworry has spent time learning his trade on loan in League One this past season. 17 appearances for a porous Tranmere defense will have provided great experience for the defender who already has the physical attributes to forge a career in the football league. As a local product of the Coombe School project, there will be a lot of proud faces if and when Arthurworry makes his first team bow, but that may not be just yet. Some more seasoning on loan would serve him well, however, injuries and transfers may predicate otherwise. He is technically out of contract this summer but it appears the club has offered him a new deal. Other defenders who may see action professionally next season could include left back Tom Richards who reportedly impressed on loan at AFC Wimbledon and Irishman Sean Kavanagh who impressed as the left back in the two Under-18 winning league sides of 2012 and 2013.
Fulham First Team Appearances: 0
Likely role next season: Loaned out to lower Championship or League One
A player not considered by many Fulham fans as one to have a significant first team impact, Williams’ impressive development whilst on loan at Oxford United has snuck somewhat under the radar. Having just signed a two year contract extension, Williams is obviously highly rated by the powers that be and looks like being one of the major benefactors of our relegation. The 20-year old Australian winger played 47 times for League Two Oxford last season and chipped in with a tidy return of 8 goals (not bad when you consider Steve Sidwell top scored with 8 for the First Team). I suspect Williams will get his opportunity to stake a claim for a First Team spot in pre-season, though much may depend on whether Ashkan Dejagah stays at the club and Pat Roberts development.
Fulham First Team Appearances: 0
Likely role next season: Potential to become regular First Team squad member
By virtue of being named in Felix Magath’s final Premier League squad of the season, 18-year old Wales Under-21 international Williams deserves a mention on this list. Having only really broken into the Under-18s this season following his arrival from MK Dons (where he scored a senior FA Cup goal aged 16), Williams’ progression is somewhat remarkable. An impressive display for Wales against England U21s last week on the left wing highlighted his potential. After 13 goals in 29 Under-18 appearances, a loan to get some senior experience is probably the first port of call but don’t be surprised to see Williams with the First Team before the season’s end. The two other young wingers to watch are Frenchman Ange-Freddy Plumain, 19, who made an impressive first team debut in the FA Cup at Sheffield United, and Larnell Cole, 21, who arrived to much fanfare from Manchester United under Rene Meulensteen, only to have injury halt any progress he was making whilst on loan at MK Dons.
Fulham First Team Appearances: 0
Likely role next season: Start on loan with a view to becoming a regular squad member.
Versatile midfielder Tunnicliffe arrived at Motspur Park along with Larnell Cole in the dying hours of transfer deadline day in January. Signed under the guidance of former coach Rene Meulensteen, Tunnicliffe saw his career prospects plummet once the Dutchman went all Kevin Keegan on Sky Sports News after Felix Magath’s appointment. After making 26 appearances in central midfield for Ipswich in the first half of the season, Tunnicliffe went on play only 8 more all season, 3 for Fulham and 5 in an aborted loan spell at Wigan. Tunnicliffe is Championship ready and has the engine and versatility to fit nicely into Felix Magath’s plans. Whether he has the quality to nail down a starting spot remains to be seen but we could no doubt see the 21-year old at any number of positions during the long season to come.
Fulham First Team Appearances: 3
Likely role next season: First Team Squad
The above list is far from exhaustive, and it is often impossible to tell who will or won’t make it. However, the promise of the Fulham youth set up is such that potential exists in abandon. Players not mentioned above include our junior goalkeeping union comprising Marcus Bettinelli, who enjoyed a successful season on loan at Accrington Stanley, Jesse Joronen, a full international with Finland, and young Slovakian Marek Rodak all of whom look to have professional careers ahead of them.
Another player who will hopefully go on to have a bright future in SW6 is 18-year old American central midfielder Emerson Hyndman. The upcoming season may be one year too soon for Hyndman to break into the first team. As a creative ball playing central midfielder, Hydnman doesn’t yet have the size required to play regularly in the centre of the park at senior level, but his talent will undoubtedly get him there sooner rather than later. Another young midfielder, Soloman Sambou is also likely to require more time and experience before securing a first team berth. English winger Lyle Della-Verde and powerful Belgian Managa Jonathan Buatu may also feature at some level.
The club has however announced that various academy graduates have been released; Matthew Briggs, 23, has suffered from both crippling injuries as well as apparent bouts of the over-confidence that seem to have similarly derailed his former roommate Kerim Frei’s promising career. Should he regain full fitness he has the natural attributes to succeed at a good level, and were he to switch positions from left back to left midfield he could capitalise on his raw talent for crossing and shooting. Unfortunately for Briggs, Fulham have now run out of patience and he will have to seek a fresh start elsewhere. Philippine international goalkeeper Neil Etheridge also leaves the club. He previously impressed on loan but with the various goalkeepers mentioned above looking so promising, it made little sense for the club to keep him. Having appeared for Tromso in the Europa League last season Wales Under-21 midfielder Josh Pritchard leaves the club in the midst of his second spell in Scandinavian football, where he is currently at Finnish side Honka alongside fellow departee Alex Brister. Others to leave SW6 include Swedish striker Dino Islamovic, German’s Max Oberschmidt and Ronny Minkwitz along with local product Charles Banya. Despite not being part of Fulham’s future hopefully each and every one of them will enjoy success in the future.
Finally, one player not mentioned either above or in the club’s released list is Swedish starlet Muamer Tankovic. Having made his Sweden debut earlier this year in a side that included his idol Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Tankovic has enjoyed a career path steeper than most mountain climbs over the past twelve months. He’s a vastly talented young player who would surely take up residence in the First XI next season were he to stay, but unlike the aforementioned Zlatan, who himself got his break into Malmo’s First Team upon their relegation to the second tier of Swedish football, it appears Tankovic is destined for pastures new. The Premier League retained list indicates the club has made Tankovic an offer to stay but the precocious teenager is out-of-contract and has signaled his intent to leave Fulham with a farewell message to fans on Instagram.
It’s been a tremendous start to the transfer window at Craven Cottage. We have our new starting goalkeeper in Maarten Stekelenburg and a new starting centre back in Fernando Amorebieta, while Derek Boateng has joined to provide much needed central midfield depth and Sascha Riether has completed his permanent transfer at right back. The benefit of getting all this shopping done early in the window, more time to focus on what we really need; a new midfield maestro.
The problem with writing a scouting report on possible midfielders is that there’s just so many out there. Finding a gifted Premiership central midfielder can be a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. Midfielders can be scouted at length, yet until they get their chance in the middle of a Premiership pitch it is hard to know how they’ll fare.
Marcel Gecov was an emerging star at the European Under 21 championships in 2011 yet he failed to last a year in England. At the other end of the spectrum, Mousa Dembele was signed as a young, lively and somewhat raw winger, yet has gone on to become one of the league’s best and most dynamic central midfielders, and the one we’re still trying to replace.
So here below are a few of the midfielders who could potentially help solve our problems in the middle of the park:
Vive La France
Whether it’s the 3 Michelin starred gastronomic temples of Paris or the wine aisles of Carrefour in Calais, our Gallic neighbours seem to produce something for everyone and its no different when it comes to midfielders.
A move for Toulouse midfielder Capoue is not out of the question for Fulham this summer. The 24 year old is represented by Martin Jol’s agent Mino Raiola, who has a history of doing business with Fulham over Jol’s tenure. With 6 French caps to his name, Capoue is a lung-busting midfielder who scored 7 goals in Ligue 1 last season; previously linked to Arsenal, he had formed an intimidating partnership with Moussa Sissoko before his move to Newcastle in January. A price-tag of over £10m would likely be required to bring Capoue from France but he’d be the perfect addition to the Whites midfield this off-season. Not the creative tour de force we’re after, but St Etienne’s Joshua Guilavogui is another Ligue 1 player to watch, the 22 year old was an ever present in Les Verts run to a Europa League spot.
Toulouse midfield Capoue is destined for big things
23 year old Morocco international Belhanda is undoubtedly one of the brightest young creative talents in all of Europe. Having helped Montpellier to their maiden domestic crown in 2012, he scored 10 and assisted 5 in a stuttering campaign for the reigning French champions this season. Linked heavily to Turkey, the playmaker has spoken of a desire to move to England, with Aston Villa surprisingly the first team to make their move. A hefty eight-figure fee would probably be required, but Belhanda would be just the player to provide the spark we need. Teammate at Montpellier Remy Cabella would be a cheaper but similarly creative option, at 23, he scored 7 with 7 assists last season, and has racked up an impressive 17 caps for the French Under-21 side. Lille’s highly rated 26 year old Dimitri Payet has been linked, along with Paris St Germain’s Clement Chantome.
Cabella and Belhanda – Premeirship bound?
Like Belhanda, Taarabt is a fellow Moroccan international; unlike Belhanda, Taarabt has swathes of experience in English football, having left Lens as a teenager. Taarabt is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, he has an ego the size of Shepherds Bush (and the bus it takes to get there), but his talent is undeniable. 5 goals and 5 assists, including both goals in the December victory over Fulham, is a good return from QPR’s dismal season, not least because despot former manager Mark Hughes refused to use his best creative asset for most of the season prior to his dismissal. Whether you love him or hate him, Taarabt would be a talented addition to our midfield. Besides, when Berbatov’s around, everybody, even Taarabt, might keep his ego in check. Teammate Alejandro Faurlin suffered the ignominy of being relegated with 2 teams last season (having spent the latter half on loan at Palermo) despite himself being a classy link player and the key to QPR’s promotion and subsequent survival in their first season up.
Heavily linked with a loan switch to Craven Cottage in the first weeks of the transfer window, Marseille’s Morgan Amalfitano could well be on his was to South West 6. At 28 he’s no spring chicken, but his ability to play both centrally and on the right flank could provide some much needed depth and versatility. Undoubtedly talented (he’s better than his brother Romain at Newcastle), whether he’s the star we’re after or a potential squad player would remain to be seen. Lyon’s Clement Grenier would be such a star, but at 22 he’s likely destined for higher pastures.
At 19, AZ prodigy Maher is currently being seen starring for the Netherlands in the European Under-21 championships. A centre mid who likes to attack, he our fits the job description almost to the word. 7 goals and 6 assists in the Eredivisie last season is some return for a youngster playing his first full season. Fulham Under-21 midfielder Chris David was signed in the Maher mold back in January, but having a pair of up and coming Dutch talents would be to nobody’s angst, although calling Maher up and coming is selling his vast talent short. Seeing as Mousa Dembele came from AZ, another raid on Alkmaar would be just fine. Norwegian playmaker Markus Henriksen is another AZ player who could prove a possible Premier League target over the coming seasons.
Twente’s combative midfielder Fer was a failed medical away from signing for David Moyes’ Everton in January. 23 league appearances for the Enschede club with a last injury lay off back in November suggest such troubles are behind him. Despite the spell on the sidelines, he netted 5 times with 4 further assists last season, and scored the winner for Holland off the bench in their Euro Under 21 opener v Germany, as well as a follow up in the next game. Feyenoord duo Jordy Clasie and Tonny Vilhena would also be worthy additions, and two players very much to watch out for.
The break the bank option from the Netherlands, PSV Eindhoven’s Strootman is a future world-class talent. Signed from Utrecht with similarly gifted wideman Dries Mertens (a player destined for superstardom who scored 16 and assisted on 17 from left wing last season) Strootman is a centre mid with that perfect blend of defensive steel and attacking instinct. 6 goals and 10 assists for the 23 year old quantifies his undoubted talent. Ajax captain Siem De Jong would be another welcome addition from the Eredivisie as erstwhile wunderkind and now superstar Christian Eriksen is surely well above our reach and off to one of Europe’s elite clubs from the Dutch capital.
Big money man Strootman
Not exactly Dutch, but short of dedicating a whole segment to the Belgian Pro League, Junior Malanda had to fit in somewhere. The young powerhouse was heavily linked with Fulham in January when he and his team, Zulte Waregem were both largely unheralded. Having now played 39 times in a season where Zulte achieved their highest ever finish, coming second to Anderlecht on the last day of the season, Malanda will now be a tad more expensive. A box-to-box athlete of some prowess, Malanda would be a welcome addition. William Vainquer of Standard Liege has also been linked.
Candreva is a bona fide talent who’s star lit up Lazio’s run to the Coppa Italia. His cross in the final provided the assist for Senad Lulic’s winner. At 26, Candreva is in his prime and could star for Fulham on the right wing or as a central midfielder. He scored 7 and assisted on 13 last season. A complicated co-ownership situation with Udinese mean a transfer would be virtually impossible, though he’s a player to watch nonetheless. Cagliari’s Belgian international Radja Nainggolan is another to be linked with a move to Fulham, as is 22 year old Romanian Adrian Stoian, who is currently co-owned by Roma and Chievo.
A bit of Roman style?
Real Betis’ 26 year old Basque maestro Beñat had a breakout season in Spain last year. Teammate Jose Canas, Sevilla’s Jesus Navas and Celta’s Iago Aspas have already sealed moves to England, so there is no reason Beñat could not follow suit. He’s a deadball wizard who scored 4 and with 7 assists for Seville’s second club last season. Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic and Gary Medel could also be available following their parent club’s financial woes.
26 year old Atletico Madrid midfielder Raul Garcia has been linked to Fulham several times in recent transfer windows. The Spaniard, who has one year left on his contract at the Vicente Calderon, would likely cost somewhere between £5m – £10m should he fancy the move to West London. He would also become the latest opponent from our 2010 run to the Europa League Final to join Fulham, having played all 120 minutes in the final (not that we’d hold that against him!).
Europa League winner 🙁
28 year old Galatasaray vice captain Selçuk was linked to Fulham in the early days of this window around the time Gala showed interest in Kerim Frei. There is little chance of Fulham securing the popular set piece specialist from the Turkish capital, but at 28 he’d provide an experience edge to Fulham’s creative core.
Northern and Eastern Europe
Japanese midfield magician Keisuke Honda currently plies his trade with CSKA Moscow, however the gifted 26 year old is a free agent at the conclusion of this Russian season in December. Linked heavily with Liverpool, Honda would be open for a switch to the Premier League and his contract situation will make him more financially available. A true star should he follow in Junichi Inamoto’s footsteps and move to Craven Cottage. Another non European option could be St Gallen’s 27 year old Argentine Ezequiel Scarione, who scored a hefty 21 goals from midfield to lead the Swiss league last season.
Honda – The Impossible Dream
Magnus Wolf Eikrem
Yes, its true, part of the reason anyone wants to sign Molde midfielder Eikrem is the fact he’s named Wolf. However, the former Manchester United youngster is one of the brightest talents to emerge from the Norwegian Tippeligaen in recent years. Out of contract in December, the midfielder, who can operate centrally or on the right, has a cultured nature about his play, and could follow former teammate Vegard Forren (now of Southampton) in moving to England. Several of Germany’s top clubs are already sniffing around this talented 22 year old.
Like Magnus Eikrem, Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Nordtveit is one of several emerging Norwegian talents lighting up the European Under-21 championships in Israel this summer. Nordtveit is a deep lying central midfielder with a rocket shot who has English experience having spent some of his formative years in Arsenal’s academy. Unfortunately Nordtveit signed a contract extension at Gladbach in December, so any transfer would be costly, but expect to see him return to these shores someday. Teammate at Gladbach, Granit Xhaka, would likely be more available having failed to make an impact since his big money move from Basel last summer, the Swiss midfielder making just 15 Bundesliga starts last summer. Perhaps a central midfield pairing with Pajtim Kasami would push both Swiss talents to where they should be.
Stromsgodset’s 22 year old central midfielder Johansen has shone to the fore for Norway’s exceptional Under-21 side in recent weeks. Along with international teammate and skipper Stefan Strandberg, (the Rosenborg centre back I’d fly to Motspur Park myself) Johansen is one of the premier Norwegian players still playing in his domestic league. With a contract expiring in Decemebr, I’d expect that to change once Norway’s spell in Israel comes to an end. Valarenga’s Mohammed Fellah could also be ready for the move to England. Rennes Anders Konradsen is another to watch but having only moved to France in January (as a replacement for reported near Fulham signing Yann M’Vila) he’s unlikely to move again just yet.
Dnipro midfielder Konoplyanka is not exactly what Fulham need this summer, however, that won’t stop me singing the praises of the 23 year old. Having lit up his home tournament for Ukraine at last summer’s Euros along with Dynamo Kyiv’s Andriy Yarmolenko, it is hopefully a matter of time before we see Konoplyanka in Western Europe. He’d cost a fortune, and after the Derek Boateng saga I’d be surprised if Dnipro were too keen to speak to Alistair Mackintosh and Martin Jol again in a hurry. [N.B. latest reports suggest Konoplyanka is on the verge of an hideously over inflated petrodollar funded move to Shakhtar Donetsk] Shakhtar’s Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan is another reported Premier League target.
Irish international midfielder McCarthy was a consistent shining light in Wigan’s turbulent season that saw them lift the cup before suffering relegation later the same week. Roberto Martinez may well look to take McCarthy with him to Everton, however should he decide to look elsewhere, there will be a not so orderly queue of Premiership teams looking to steal him away from the DW Stadium. Another relegated midfielder, Jem Karacan, deserves a second shot at the top flight following Reading’s relegation to the Championship.
Cup winner McCarthy
It seemed impossible to leave Spurs midfielder Huddlestone off this list. Perhaps the least glamorous of all the names, “Thud” is somehow still only 26. Persistent queries about his fitness have blighted the Nottingham born player’s career, but his most productive spell was as a youngster under Martin Jol. He’s a scorer of spectacular goals and of forty yard passes, so provided the fee wasn’t too steep, a move for Huddlestone would not seem a terrible move. Personally I’d prefer we moved for Gylfi Sigurdsson, the spectacularly talented Icelander failing to hold down a regular spot in Andre Villas-Boas’ side last season. Fulham could and should offer him a cemented starting spot and wait for the creative genius that would follow for years to come. Youngster Tom Carroll is another option with Spurs potentially willing to loan out the promising 21 year old.
The perfect signings??
The final profile is that of 24 year old Brighton midfielder Bridcutt. A former Chelsea trainee, Bridcutt is out of contract following Brighton’s run to the playoff semi finals. A combative all action centre midfielder, Bridcutt should be given his top flight opportunity having narrowly missed out on promotion with the south coast club. Current Chelsea academy graduate Nathanial Chalobah, who spent the season with Watford, will have potentially impressed any Fulham scouts sent to watch Matthew Briggs during his loan spell at Vicarage Road. Leicester’s Anthony Knockaert is another destined for better things, though the striker come attacking midfielder would probably benefit from another year in the Championship following his move from France last summer.
Whoever we sign, its another exciting summer in store.