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Marcus Bettinelli, Stockpiling and Why a Move to Chelsea isn’t out the Realms of Possibility

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News this morning that Chelsea have bid £2.5m for Marcus Bettinelli is enough to make the blood boil if you stop and think about it.

This is yet another example of a big club using their financial weight to stockpile young talent.

There is nothing in the law book that says stockpiling is wrong. Though is it so wrong? And would Marcus Bettinelli really be better off not moving to Chelsea?

Indeed, stockpiling can actually be a clever business model. Sign young talent, develop a network of feeder clubs to which you can send young players out on loan in the knowledge they will play regularly, then either sell them on for a profit or keep the ones that develop into players for your first team.

Feeder clubs are not a new phenomenon. Arsenal, for example, had an “operational” link up with Belgian club Beveren in Arsene Wenger’s early days at the club, although that ended up with a FIFA investigation as the Parent Club is not allowed to pay the Feeder Club for the relationship. Watford, Udinese and Granada, all owned by the Pozzo family, operate within a network where players are almost interchangeable. Manchester City’s owners now own New York City FC and Melbourne City, the relationship between the clubs allowing Frank Lampard to join Manchester City prior to his move to the MLS. While Spanish clubs have second teams who play in the professional ranks.

However, it is the concept of stockpiling which is relatively new and becoming increasingly evident and potentially problematic given the money available at the top of the game.

It is a business model most successfully employed by Chelsea, the club playing the role of the villain in this current escapade.

Chelsea have a partnership with Vitesse Arnhem in the Dutch Eredivisie. The two clubs are owned by friends. This enables them to send any player they choose to the Dutch club on loan. For a small club like Vitesse, who know they will never fully challenge the likes of Ajax and PSV Eindhoven domestically, the link up guarantees them several talented young players every season at a minimal cost. For Chelsea, the players they send there get game time in a top flight league. The Vitesse squad for the upcoming season currently has four Chelsea players on loan, including Danilo Pantic, an 18 year old Serbian midfielder who signed for Chelsea yesterday.

Chelsea have also successfully developed a link up with Championship side Middlesbrough . This link up sees Chelsea send their top level prospects, the ones who are on the cusp of being Premier League ready, to play in the English second tier. That Boro are managed by Jose Mourinho’s former assistant at Real Madrid, Aitor Karanka, is no coincidence.

However, aside from the formal and informal links, Chelsea remain prolific loaners. By being a willing parent club, they will normally find a home for their players they wish to loan out. Patrick Bamford is the latest example. Signed from Nottingham Forest for £1.5m as an 18 year old, the striker has had loan spells in League One, at MK Dons, in the Championship – at Derby and then Middlesbrough, and this week signed on loan for Crystal Palace, where he will get a year’s experience in the Premier League.

In total, Chelsea currently have 30 (Yes – THIRTY) players out on loan for the upcoming season.

Their system and attitude to loanees can perhaps be summed up by their current very public pursuit of Everton defender Jon Stones. If they sign him, it’s for the first team. Everton and Barnsley have already done the hard yards and developed Stones. At over £20m, should he join, Stones is not exactly cheap.

Yet in amidst this pursuit it has gone largely unnoticed that Chelsea have in their ranks, two of the best defensive prospects in English football in Tomas Kalas and Andreas Christensen. Kalas, after two years on loan at Vitesse, has now joined Middlesbrough for the 2015/16 season. Dane Christensen has just joined Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach on loan. With the likes of Kurt Zouma already at the club, the chances of these two ever making the full squad permanently must be extremely remote.

So the question remains why do young players agree to join a club like Chelsea? For the likes of Kalas and Christensen, who have given years to Chelsea already, to see such a public pursuit of someone like Stones, it must be a bit of a kick in the face.

However, think of it like this. You are a top level prospect and Chelsea want you. It’s win: win really. You know you will be sent on loan to a good club with nearly guaranteed game time. This will then either put you in the shop window or if you are one of the chosen few, you may even make the first team.

If you stay at your original club and make it to your mid-twenties, you may not ever get the move to a big club. Your club may hold out for too high a fee or your development might stall because the environment you are in is one in which results, not development, take priority.

There is the additional risk that when you join a Chelsea or a Man City as an already established player in that competition for places is fierce. Stockpiling of these prime year players is something that really is a problem for the English game as prime talents can go to waste. Manchester City are the biggest offenders here, in that they have signed a cavalcade of established players only for those players to get lost in the system and eventually be sold at a loss to worse clubs than they left in the first place – Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair are two recent examples that spring to mind.

For players yet to reach their prime, like Kalas and Christensen, joining Chelsea as a teenager gave them a better chance of ending up at a top club than they would have had if they’d stayed at Sigma Olomouc and Brondby, and they’ve probably been paid better in the process.

So that brings us back to Bettinelli. Would Marcus want to move to Chelsea? After all, this is a club that has just paid £8m for a back-up goalkeeper in Asmir Begovic, a player with 41 International caps to his name.

Indeed, Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea’s world class Number One is actually 13 days younger than Bettinelli.

Accepting that Courtois is an usual case, most goalkeepers don’t enter their prime until later in their careers, Bettinelli would likely still be signing up for a scenario in which his optimal position will be the eventual Chelsea Number 2.

Considering Bettinelli and his family have a long connection with Fulham I’d be surprised to see him go, especially if he is guaranteed to continue as our Number 1. Though if Chelsea could guarantee him a loan to a club whose defence doesn’t leak as many shots as ours he may well be tempted. There’s also no guarantee he stays as Fulham’s Number One for the entire season. Should we enter a promotion or relegation race, results become too important to carry any player if they are not pulling their own weight.

It also depends on his career goals. At 23, Bettinelli has the potential to be between the sticks for Fulham for the next decade. This comes with no guarantee that we’ll be back in the Premier League. A move to Chelsea would likely see him make the top division at some point in his career. Uncertainty and risk come in different forms.

From Fulham’s perspective, we won’t want to lose Marcus for the reason I’ve just said, he could be our goalkeeper for the next decade. However, with a good veteran now at the club in Andy Lonergan, and several talented youngsters in the pipeline in Jesse Joronen, Marek Rodak and Magnus Norman, there are other options should the transfer happen.

Stockpiling seems to be unavoidable, but if players can continue to see the benefits of a system that is not exactly secret, perhaps it is just something modern football will have to learn to live with.

COYW

The Last Word on Patrick Roberts’ Transfer to Manchester City

When Southampton sold a 17 year old Gareth Bale to Tottenham back in 2007, they received a fee of £5m up front with a further £5m in potential add-ons. Tottenham ended up settling the add-ons at only £2m due to Southampton’s cash crisis in 2008. At the time of his transfer, Bale had made 45 first team appearances scoring 5 goals, was a full international and was the reigning Football League Young Player of the Year.

On Sunday, Fulham sold 18 year old Patrick Roberts to Manchester City for a reported £5m up front with a further £6m in add-ons and a reported 20% sell on clause. Roberts’ entire Fulham career amounted to 22 appearances, of which only 3 were starts, and no goals.

Of course it is flippant to simply compare Bale’s transfer with Roberts’, not least with 8 years between them meaning the transfer market is a different place. Yet, on the face of it, this was a pretty good piece of business from Fulham, given the entirety of Roberts’ value is in his potential.

When you take into account that Roberts’ had only one year remaining on his contract and had handed in a transfer request, the transfer begins to look like quite the bounty under the circumstances.

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Ignoring the financial and logical aspects of the transfer for a moment, I am sad Roberts has gone. Like when Dimitar Berbatov or Mousa Dembele left, there is always going to be a disappointment when an entertainer leaves. The sadness of Roberts leaving is compounded as the player was genuinely home grown, having been at the club since he was 13.

Clubs like Fulham don’t often produce players with Roberts’ potential for excitement and if they do they are normally snapped up before they make the first team. For example, Roberts’ new team mate Raheem Sterling left QPR before kicking a ball at first team level.

However, truth be told, Roberts was never likely to develop into the player many of us think he can become at Fulham. Look at the best creative and attacking players in the world, how many of them became great at a non-elite club? Or at least not at a top club in any particular country? Messi has been at Barcelona since he was a boy. Ronaldo learnt his trade at Sporting Lisbon before joining Manchester United. There are countless others.

Attacking football and footballers need talent around them and space to operate in. It is a lot easier to make mistakes and get away with them when your 10 teammates are still good enough to get results. Clubs like Fulham don’t have that luxury, hence Roberts’ lack of substantial minutes last season.

He may be some way from featuring regularly for Manchester City’s first team, but in an environment where he is surrounded by world class attacking players on a daily basis, Patrick will be given every opportunity to learn and develop. At Fulham, he was already one of the most dangerous attacking players. Had he stayed this year, every appearance would have been met with increasing expectations to deliver.

There is, of course, a fear that the move to City is for the wrong reasons [money], and that he is only there to make up the homegrown quota as required for UEFA’s competitions.

The transfer is a catch 22 situation. Whilst game time at Fulham would have brought its challenges, it would at least be game time. It is not inconceivable that in four years’ time we will be reading headlines of a 22-year old Roberts moving to Sunderland, Stoke or Aston Villa having failed to make an impression on the star-ridden first team at Eastlands.

However, Roberts was not guaranteed game time even if he stayed. As alluded to earlier, Fulham do not have the luxury of being able to carry players simply to aid their development. In the marathon Championship season every point and every game count. Players need to perform or they won’t play. This mantra, like it or not, was why Kit Symons chose to leave Patrick on the bench more often than not last season.

It is easy to get emotional over the transfer of a home grown player of Roberts’ talent. He was so exciting when he did get the odd 5 minutes, that it was easy to want more. The few minutes when Roberts, Christensen, Woodrow and McCormack were on the field together were some of the most exciting we saw all season.

Indeed I was told about halfway through last season that Roberts himself was growing frustrated and wanted more game time. That this was followed by an allusion that he would look to leave if it wasn’t forthcoming was no real surprise.

Whilst I do subscribe to the theory that he was under-used and thus his exit was somewhat expedited, I find it hard to really blame anyone. Had he played more, there is no guarantee he wouldn’t have been sold, and the impact of more minutes on his price could have gone either way.

Our league position was so precarious last season that playing someone of Roberts’ inexperience and stature would have constituted a risk that perhaps wasn’t worth taking. On the rare occasion that he did start, his impact was marginal.

Given that we survived and have now received a transfer windfall regardless, the whole situation is hard to criticise. It is merely disappointing that we didn’t get to see more of Patrick before he left, even if they could only have been cameo appearances.

In the academy system Fulham are attempting to develop, there will probably need to be a significant sale every summer. Funds can then be appropriated to the academy to enable the ongoing development of players and also be used to strengthen the first team with battle ready players from elsewhere.

What happens next will be crucial for the likes of Emerson Hyndman, Moussa Dembele and Lasse Vigen Christensen. If the money received enables greater resolve to be applied to the stance on these players should suitors come calling then Roberts’ departure may have served the greater good. After all, no one prospect is greater than the club.

Should we return to the Premier League, then there is also a greater prospect we can retain our best young players.

For now, I wish Roberts well in his next chapter. We can all look on proudly as he develops, my hope being that Manchester City allow him to do so. It’d be nice to see that sell on clause grow too.

COYW

P.s Fulham today released a fascinating video interview with Mike Rigg explaining youth development and by inference the Roberts transfer. It’s must watch stuff and can be viewed here

Buy High and Sell Low: The Economics of Fulham’s Relegation

The drawbridge is about to rise and another transfer window set to close. With that in mind, a quote in Felix Magath’s latest letter where he claims Fulham were quoted £12m for a Championship goalkeeper has left me wondering why Fulham seem to have so much trouble when it comes to selling players? We either seem to give them away on the cheap or can’t sell them at all?

This might actually be a false assumption. When it comes to transfers, appearances can be deceiving and reports in the press can be highly deceiving. Comparing one deal to another is a fool’s errand at the best of times, let alone without the full facts to play with. Seeing one well respected journalist tweet a comparison between the transfers of Ross McCormack and Xabi Alonso today shows the ease at which transfer stories can be manipulated and misinterpreted.

However, one undeniable fact is that, on the face of it, Fulham have for a while now, appeared to under-value our players when it comes time to show them the exit. Felix Magath’s £12m goalkeeper claim comes in stark contrast to the sale of David Stockdale to Brighton for a paltry £1m. Bryan Ruiz reportedly has a £3m price tag around his neck despite costing £11m and starring at the World Cup, while Kostas Mitroglou seems to have been linked to every team in Europe with nobody yet willing to pay us what we paid for him seven months ago.

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So why then, do Fulham appear to come off on the bad end of these deals?

Communication (or-lack thereof)

Under the club’s current communications regime it is safe to say there has been a reluctance to share information. We may have actually profited on some deals, but Fulham could have sold Ashkan Dejagah to Qatari side Al Arabi for half of Doha and 50,000 barrels of crude oil and we’d still be told it was an undisclosed fee. The need-to-know basis on which information has been shared with fans and journalists over the past few years has restricted the flow of facts to the very minimum. This has led to rampant speculation amongst fans and a need to get information from other sources for journalists. Hence the talk of Ross McCormack’s fee being £11m coming from the Massimo Cellino spin machine at Leeds. With no retort from Fulham is it any wonder we’ve been the butt of so many ill-fated comparisons so far this summer.

*Of course there must be reason to Fulham’s methods, indeed one can’t help but think this week’s tub-thumping bout of verbal mud-slinging between Felix Magath, Shahid Khan and former owner Mohamad Al-Fayed has come about thanks to an apparent bypass of the club communication team. Although, while the public blame game has now turned somewhat unsavoury, it is at least nice to see Fulham actually make the papers. With perpetual undisclosed fees and player quotes normally coming straight from watered-down club website PR puff pieces this change of tact is at least a tiny bit refreshing.

Selling at the wrong time

Part of the blame for Fulham having to sell low is that we’re currently obvious sellers. Having been relegated and left with disillusioned players, Fulham’s negotiation poker face has been turned into a blank stare. When buyers know you want to sell, there is no incentive to pay fair value, let alone over-pay. The transfer window system has made the entire business of negotiating player movement one giant game of chicken. Unfortunately for us it is usually the party in the more eager position that blinks first. Fulham have been panic buyers in previous windows and are facing the prospect of being panic sellers on Monday.

An example is Bryan Ruiz in whom Fulham have a player they do not wish to keep, and one who himself does not wish to stay. With a year left on his contract, Bryan currently resembles a used car, if he stays at the club a minute past the transfer deadline, his value will plummet below its already deflated asking price.

Bryan Ruiz

Selling the wrong stock

Of course you can’t sell what you don’t have. Unless Alistair Mackintosh is sat at Motspur Park practicing his best Jordan Belfort impression, there is little chance of him conjuring up any miracle transfer fees. Of the playing staff from last season there was barely a player of decent value amongst them. Most were old and suffering from a decline in performance even Mohamed Al-Fayed’s ‘peppermints’ would have struggled to fix. The younger ones were nearly all played sparingly or out-of-position by Fulham’s cavalcade of different managers, diminishing any prospect of generating future hope value.

Those that did command fees on departure mostly left under the aforementioned iron curtain of undisclosed ambiguity, such as Kasami and Dejagah. Others, like Stockdale, were reportedly sold disaffected and un-wanted. It’s the exact method Roy Hodgson used so brilliantly to acquire the likes of Etuhu and Murphy for us in exchange for little more than a few grains of sand.

The outward transfer of Kerim Frei in 2012 was a prime example on the face of it. Our brightest academy prospect at the time, he left for Besiktas under-valued and over-weight. Players must be nurtured in order to yield magic beans come transfer windows and up till now the pressures of Premier League football have prevented that from truly taking place.

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One look at Southampton this summer though and we can see where Fulham might be in a few years in terms of transfer fees received. There is little to suggest that the likes of Roberts, Woodrow, Dembele, Hyndman, Bettinelli and Burgess don’t have the talent to emulate the Lallana, Shaw, Forster, Chambers and Schneiderlin’s of the world in years to come. Given the right environment and regular game time these players could command significant fees in the future. Of course not every young player has the potential to be bought for £20m but it’s amazing the value that big clubs will place of young players who have actually played.

Negotiation

Alistair Mackintosh has always had a good reputation when it comes to negotiating. There often seemed a “take it or leave it” hard-line stance to our negotiations. We rarely usurped other teams when buying, and when we wanted rid of players we sold them with little fuss and fanfare. The Jol years slowly seemed to change that though and the now infamous Dembele & Dempsey summer was particular disastrous. The Belgian’s release clause was set at the frustratingly realistic sum of £15m, while we were surreptitiously held to ransom by a wantaway Dempsey. Of course, none of us know whether Mousa’s release clause was a condition of his transfer from AZ Alkmaar in the first place, but it was hard not to feel as if a part of Fulham’s soul got burned that fateful August week in 2012.

Whether you bear in mind the fact he largely dealt himself the hand in front of him, considering what he had to work with our CEO did actually do quite well to get any return on some transfers. Getting Monaco and Valencia to absorb the contracts of Dimitar Berbatov and Philippe Senderos felt a bit like giving a piece of rubbish to someone else to put in the bin. That both players are actually now playing at a higher level above and beyond their performances for Fulham is more a testament to our lack of decent coaching and management than anyone’s negotiation skill.

Ashkan Dejagah was sold almost immediately following a stellar World Cup and you rather feel we missed a trick not selling Bryan from a beachside cabana in Brazil while his stock was at its highest in July.

Currency

There is one other factor making sales difficult, foreign exchange. The British Pound is incredibly strong at present. The value of £1 Sterling has risen 10 cents from €1.16 to €1.26 in last year.

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If you consider Bryan Ruiz’s reported asking price of £3m, currency fluctuations over the past 12 months would mean an increases cost of £300,000 (or €380,000) for a continental European buyer. If we also consider that Ruiz is likely to command anywhere up to £40,000 a week, currency movement alone has increased his wage by £208,000 a year (€262,000). Over the course of a four year contract that’s an additional £1,150,000 in total cost for a European team looking to buy Bryan. If you consider then that the majority of our more expensive players would be targets for clubs in the Eurozone (as opposed to domestic £GBP sales) and combine that with players’ ages, contract length and desire to leave along with our position as known sellers, the only realistic outcome is that asking prices become reduced.

Similarly, why would a club like Werder Bremen who are struggling financially mess around structuring a transfer deal in multiple currencies when they have the option not to?

It is cheaper for European countries to sign players from areas where the Euro is the stronger currency. It is perhaps then no surprise that we discover Werder Bremen’s biggest transfer outlay this summer has been €1m on Argentinean defender Santiago Garcia from Chilean club Rangers Talca. The Euro has risen almost 20% against the Chilean Peso in the past year. As Garcia was signed at a pre-agreed price following a loan spell, were the fee agreed in Pesos at the start of the deal, he would have been €200,000 cheaper at the end of his loan deal than at the start. Though that transfer was likely hedged against currency movement, the point still stands that it will always be easier to import to a strong currency than export to places with a weaker currency.

Relativity

The final point is that relative value is generated in each particular market. This is not necessarily a currency point and more a multi-layered question as to a player’s style, experience and perceived compatibility to a particular league. Does a £1,000,000 fee in England for one player equate to a €1,000,000 fee or a €1,260,000 fee for an identical player in Europe? Is it a question of currency or relativity? With the in-built wealth present in the English game, it is inherently a question of relativity.

The highest transfer fee paid domestically in England this summer was the £30m paid by Manchester United for teenage left back Luke Shaw from Southampton. The biggest domestic fee in Germany on the other hand was the €14m paid by Bayer Leverkusen for Hamburg attacking midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu. The highest fee in Italy was €22m, paid by Roma for Argentinean winger Juan Iturrbe from Hellas Verona, however, Hellas themselves had simultaneously exorcised a €15m purchase option in Iturrbe’s loan from Porto in order to cash in on a player who had taken immediately to Serie A. The Iturrbe deal aside, the next highest domestic fees in Italy were the equal €5.5m deals Lazio completed for Dusan Basta and Marco Parolo respectively, while the highest in Spain was the €20m Barcelona paid Valencia for experienced French centre half Jeremy Mathieu.

Would any of those transfer fees have been as high if there were only foreign clubs in for the players? Maybe as each players value comes as a result of supply and demand, but as long as there’s a player who’s a proven commodity in any particular league, demand for signature will always be higher. This explains the Ross McCormack price as he is worth more to a team in the Championship, where he is proven, than a team in the Premiership where he’d present a risk.

The magnitude of those domestic European deals serves to reinforce the assertion that the intrinsic value held within the English game places it at a premium above its European rivals. For a smaller club like Fulham looking to the European markets to sell, this premium can make it incredibly difficult to sell unless our expectations of fees received come down.

When you put all these together, perhaps it’s little wonder that Fulham haven’t been able to cash in this summer.

COYW

Finding Value: Did the Eredivisie give us false expectations of Bryan Ruiz?

There are clichés abound as to January being the hardest time for a football club to get value for money in the transfer market. Fulham are in particular need of a trip to the transfer supermarket this January and we are all well aware of the constraints on budget a team in our position face when entering such a market.

The question with transfer targets then becomes which players can Fulham sign within budget at a price that can be considered worth the value that has to be paid.

With the enigmatic talent that is the Bryan Ruiz experience set to complete his loan move away from Fulham to Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, I asked myself this question; why is it that players, attackers in particular, from the Eredivisie seem so hit and miss in England’s top flight?

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There are many factors as to why a player succeeds, not least their physical attributes, but is it possible that the league a player comes to the Premier League from can play a role in their success once they get there?

Perhaps strikers who score goals in a league where it is statistically easier to score goals should come with a warning label. The Eredivisie averages nearly a goal a game more than France’s top division for example. So should the price paid for 20 goals in Holland equal the price paid for 20 goals in France?

Should it be then that clubs like Fulham look to sign players who excel in the opposite trait to the league they play in. Surely a striker who scores goals in a league where goals are hard to come by must have more about him than a striker scoring goals for fun in a league where defending is at a premium.

Simultaneously, would a defender who excels above and beyond his peers in a division such as the Eredivisie be worth more than a defender in a league where attacking is at a premium?

Take 7 major European leagues; Barclays Premier League (England), Eredivisie (Netherlands), Serie A (Italy), La Liga (Spain), Bundesliga (Germany), Ligue 1 (France), The Championship (England)

Here are there stats for goals scored in the 2013/14 season up to last weekend:

  Goals Scored Number of Matches Average Goals Per Game
Premier League

533

200

2.67

Eredivisie

557

162

3.44

Serie A

495

180

2.75

La Liga

524

180

2.91

Bundesliga

486

153

3.18

Ligue 1

461

190

2.43

Championship

724

28

2.51

 

On the basis of these statistics, Ligue 1, France’s top division, and The Championship, the second tier of English football, are the hardest to score in. Holland’s Eredivisie and the German Bundesliga are the easiest. What the stats cannot explain, at least at this level, is whether the results are as a result of good defending or profligate striking or vice versa.

If, however, for the sake of argument, we assume the hypothesis is correct, and strikers who excel in a league in which it is traditionally hard to score are more likely to have success in England, should Fulham be looking to France for a new goalscorer?

If we exclude all players from mega-rich sides Paris St Germain and AS Monaco from discussion as there is as much chance of a player leaving those for Fulham as there is Darren Bent being World Cup Golden Boot, here is a comparison of two players Fulham could consider if trawling the French transfermarche:

Age Height Weight Goals Shots per goal Dispossessed per game
Player A 28 1.86m 84kg 9 5 0.7
Player B 22 1.75m 73kg 9 5 1.7

 

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Player A is Andre-Pierre Gignac. The Marseille forward will be well known to Fulham fans after a move to South West London fell through for the Frenchman at the eleventh hour in 2011. Having scored 9 times in the league this season Gignac has shown a propensity to score for an underperforming team. His statistic that shines out is his strength in possession, as shown by an impressively low 0.7 dispossessions per game. This ability to hold up the ball would suit Fulham’s 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formations, which at present lack any semblance of a target man to lead the line.

Player B is Alexandre Lacazette. At 22 the Olympique Lyonnais forward is 6 years younger than Gignac. Statistically, these two forwards have identical success rates of one goal every five shots. In comparison, incumbent Fulham striker Dimitar Berbatov averages a goal every 8.25 shots this season. Lacazette’s age would likely render him more expensive than Gignac as would Lyon’s infamous stance on selling young stars.

However, which of the two would be more suited to the Premier League, and Fulham in particular?

Gignac, at 6 foot plus and 10 kilos heavier may be more attuned to the immediate physical demands of being a lone target man in English football. Being dispossessed 1 time less per game also indicates Gignac has an ability to hold up the ball, a characteristic long missed by Fulham following the departures of Bobby Zamora and Pavel Pogrebnyak some time ago.

Age Height Weight Goals Shots per goal Dispossessed per game
Player C 21 1.84m 82kg 11 4.5 3.3

 

Now consider the case of Player C, Vincent Aboubakar of Lorient. At 1.84m and 82kg, Aboubakar is a similar physical specimen to Gignac, and at only 21 he also has the opportunity to improve his physical stature. His goal stats are impressive in what has been a breakout season following his move from Valenciennes in the summer. However, the Cameroon international also shows signs of rawness, his dispossessed statistics indicate a man who’s yet to fully learn his craft.

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So which then of the three players would you want Fulham to look at? Name recognition would suggest it be Gignac. The statistics back that up, but would a 21 year old with near identical, if not better, numbers from a lesser fancied club not be the better value signing?

Simultaneously if we look at The Championship where it also proves difficult to score relative to the Premier League.  Compare the following two strikers:

Age Height Weight Goals Shots per goal Dispossessed per game
Jordan Rhodes 23 1.85m 71kg 16 4.3 0.8
Danny Ings 21 1.78m 73kg 16 4.9 2.6

 

The two hottest striking prospects in the Championship, Rhodes and Ings will both surely end up in the Premier League one day, should that be with Fulham?

On the basis of the above statistics, Rhodes might just be the answer. The Blackburn striker has age on his side and has the physical attributes required to succeed in the physically demanding Premier League. His ability to hold up the ball is impressive, but what is remarkable is his conversion rate. At 4.3 shots per goal it is nearly twice as good as that of the aforementioned Berbatov.

Jordan Rhodes

Unfortunately when it comes to finding value, The Championship is not a good marketplace. English, or Scottish as would be the case with Rhodes, young talent is vastly overvalued when compared to its continental rivals. It is the so-called British tax.

There is also the difference in quality of leagues that needs to be taken into account. Both Ligue 1 and The Championship are of a lesser quality than the Premier League. However, Fulham’s relative stature and size of transfer war chest (or transfer piggy bank if you will) means targeting players from the other major European leagues in Germany, Spain or Italy becomes more difficult.

With there needing to be a focus on recruiting players in form and in their prime, there has to be a new found focus on value for Fulham’s transfer activity. There should be no more scatter-gunning of aging former names with no sell on value from the substitutes bench of other clubs from the major leagues. Scouting must get clever.

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There is of course another reality, that there are still strikers in Holland worth paying for, where the increased price still results in value for the purchaser. Alfred Finnbogason’s 17 goals in 15 league games at a goal every 4.05 shots will make him a much sought after commodity. Are his chances easier though? What would Gignac, Rhodes or Berbatov do if they were playing for Heerenveen?

We’ll probably never know, but it is time Fulham did something to shake up the system. From start to back the team isn’t working. Defence is the major problem.

For all I’ve written about strikers above, it is a new defence that will keep us in the Premier League. Having the worst goals against record is something to be ashamed of and is a far cry from the halcyon days of Hughes and Hangeland under Roy Hodgson.

Watching some of Jermaine Defoe’s introductory press conference at Toronto FC, CEO Tim Leiweke quoted Bobby Kennedy when he said, “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

Well, why not Fulham fans. We can survive if our club dreams to make it so. The next three weeks will be crucial. After several seasons of doing the minimum, it is time for Fulham to dare to dream. By standing and waiting for the miracle solution to present itself, we might just let it pass us by.

COYW

Athleticism and Physicality: Why Fulham Need Both

If the Pep Guardiola years at Barcelona taught the football world anything, it’s that size isn’t everything. The greatest team of the 21st Century to date was, and still is, dominated by pint sized footballing magicians such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. These three players are the exception though and not the rule.

Consider this scenario, what if there was a second player with the exact same talent of Lionel Messi, but he had the frame of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. If you put them in identical teams, over the course of a season, who would score more goals? Logic would dictate the more physically dominant of the two. However, this may not be the case, for every defender that the Zlatan type could out-jump or overpower, there is a player the Messi type could go round or out-manoeuvre. When your natural talent base is so superior to your opponents, your body type is largely irrelevant.

lionel-messi-zlatan-ibrahimovic-2009-10-25-19-11-41

Now consider this, instead of a player with the best talent in the world, what if there was a player with the talent of say, Steve Sidwell. Our very own Ginger Iniesta is experiencing something of a renaissance under Rene Meulensteen and he is certainly playing above and beyond his physical stature. However, were there a universe of infinite multiple Sidwells of different shapes and sizes all sharing the same underlying talent level, there would be an expectation that the faster and stronger incarnation would be the most successful.

The emphasis in that last statement is that it is faster and stronger, not taller and heavier, that would succeed. Being tall or heavy is no guarantee of success. But utilise physical prowess and turn it into athleticism, and there would be a correlation. Athleticism is the balance at play between multiple physical attributes not a product of any one on its own. The perfect player is strong but fast and dominant but agile. Complexities are abound and the perfect athletic player would have strength [requiring weight] but also be quick and agile [requiring lightness].

Given equal talent, the athlete will prevail.

In a sport where the margins between success and failure are often miniscule, something as simple as physical attributes must be taken into consideration when putting a team together. At the bottom end of the Premier League table, the difference in talent level between sides can often be so marginal that it will be the more athletic and fitter side that come out on top.

This was obvious with Fulham earlier this season. Fitness levels were clearly lacking and results suffered as a result. Regardless of fitness, Fulham lack athletes. We have various technically skilled and gifted footballers, but we are short on athletic prowess. It is rare for us to out-pace, out-muscle or out-jump other teams.

Of course, fitness is an attribute that can be improved and worked upon. Indeed, any look at the form of Adel Taarabt over the past few weeks would see a fitter player having more success as a result. However, given the assumption that all players receive the same level of fitness training, those players with greater physical prowess are likely to be the ones who excel athletically.

Unfortunately football doesn’t record a uniform set of athletic statistics. Short of height and weight, it is rare to see a physical or athletic characteristics charted in the public eye. This can make a lot of the analysis surrounding athleticism highly subjective from a scouting perspective. Once a club gets their hands on a player they can ProZone them till their heart’s content but until then there is a lot of guesswork and the patching together of statistical information that may or may not infer a measure of athletic performance.

6 foot 7 Brondby striker Simon Makienok is a reported transfer target

6 foot 7 Brondby striker Simon Makienok is a reported transfer target

 

American Football, where athleticism is placed at a particular premium, has a stringent set of methods for measuring the athletic ability of potential players entering the NFL. Whilst not by any means a conclusive judge of future success, the NFL pre-draft scouting combine forces players to perform a number of athletic challenges and tests which are used to define a players’ on-paper athleticism statistically. These challenges, such as a 40 yard sprint, single rep and multiple rep bench pressing and agility courses can give scouts an idea as to whether a player’s athleticism synergises with their physical characteristics. This can then be used, along with technical and talent scouting to determine whether or not a player is desired.

If we return to football, where there are no such openly available measures of athletic performance, we can look at the basic physical stats of height and weight as a crude measure of potential athleticism.

Take four clubs as an example: Fulham, Newcastle, Southampton and Swansea. Three of these sides are teams currently above us in the league to whom we should be a peer.

Let’s look statistically at the strikers, where height and strength are ever crucial in the modern game.

Team Forwards Average Height (m) Average Weight (kg) BMI (heigh/weight) League Goals 2013/14
Fulham Berbatov / Bent / Rodallega 1.83 74.67 0.0245

 

6
Newcastle Ameobi / Cisse / Remy 1.86 76.33 0.0244 10
Southampton Lambert / Rodriguez / Osvaldo 1.85 79.33 0.0233 17
Swansea Michu / Bony / Alvaro 1.85 78.67 0.0236 8

 

The statistics are for the three main forwards in each side’s case. Fulham are shown to be the worst team physically having the lowest average height and weight and the highest BMI. This translates into the lowest goals total in the league this season of the four sides. Fulham coincidentally also have the oldest striking trio at an average age of over 29, compared to the youngest, Swansea, at 26.

The argument which I am attempting to make here is that Fulham need to pay greater attention to athleticism when analysing potential transfer targets. Financially the problem is that the most talented and most athletic footballers will cost the most on the open market. For a club like Fulham, to make players affordable, there is a likely necessity to take a hit on either athleticism or talent. At the top end of the table, talent is crucial, at the bottom, where team talent levels are closer to each other, there is a need for defining athleticism.

Take some examples of individual players; Bryan Ruiz is one of the most technically gifted footballers at Fulham. He is just not athletic in the traditional sense. Were he stronger and quicker, he would have cost more than £10m and not be the subject of speculation as to an impending departure.

Clint Dempsey came to Fulham as a waif like bundle of trickery who would be pushed off the ball with the merest breath of a passing butterfly. Over the course of his Fulham career he gained an ever improving level of upper body strength which made him physically more athletic and as such, gave him the platform with which to use his skills. Were Bryan to put on half a stone of muscle, I’d wager good money on him improving his productivity.

David Elm, for those of us that remember the David Elm experience, was a technically graceful footballer. He was, however, as flat footed as a duck-billed platypus.

For a non-Fulham example, Aaron Lennon is one of the best known examples of the other side of the coin. He’s a player with electric raw pace but questionable technique but who is still good enough to play for a top 10 side. Were Lennon blessed with David Beckham’s pace, he would struggle to get in any Premier League side, however, if he had Beckham’s technical ability, he’d essentially be Gareth Bale, and be the world’s most expensive transfer.

If you look at Fulham’s current squad, there are a number of players who follow this pattern; were Hugo Rodallega blessed with Erik Nevland’s technique and talent he’d be a consistent scoring threat, simultaneously if the above-mentioned Steve Sidwell was blessed with Dickson Etuhu’s athleticism, we’d have a European calibre box to box midfielder.

Physical prowess is no guarantee of success and each position requires a different physical skill set. It’s not that we need a taller team or heavier team, but I doubt many would complain if we got stronger and faster.

Beanpole centre half Dan Burn has been recalled from loan

Beanpole centre half Dan Burn has been recalled from loan

 

While height and weight do not conclusively prove a players’ likely athleticism, they do count for one factor for certain; intimidation. Saturday’s victory against West Ham was a lot harder to secure once West Ham took off Modibo Maiga (1.85m / 76 kg) and replaced him with Carlton Cole (1.91 m / 84 kg).

While nobody is suggesting we’ll be able to afford someone with the all-around technique and athletic balance like Alvaro Negredo, the Manchester City forward who may just be the best example of the perfectly balanced striker, it would be nice to see Fulham look for players this January who can take control of games athletically. Too many of our defenders resemble statues, our midfielders get out-muscled, our-wingers outpaced and out strikers out-everythinged.

It is important that we sign good technical players who can satisfy the desired Fulham way of playing (if there is such a thing) a flowing and passing style of football. However, it is important that we look to sign athletes as well. At the moment we fail to compete physically in too many games. By adapting the scouting and transfer outlook to improve our physical and by nature our athletic presence, we would give ourselves the platform with which to let our talent win us football matches.

Lowering the squad’s average age will contribute to an increasing of fitness levels across the board, but it could be argued that age alone is not a barrier to fitness. Scott Parker is arguably the fittest player in the Fulham squad but at 33 he is also one of the oldest (and at 1.75 m he is the second shortest). Reduced stamina and diminishing physical capabilities are though a correlated result of the aging process and Parker is like Messi, Iniesta and Xavi, in that in his own way he is an exception and not the rule.

Fitness coaching must not take a back seat. While management changes have come in abundance at Motspur Park of late there has been little said with regards to fitness. A fitness coach can only work with what he has in front of him though, and Fulham must give coach Scott Miller a younger and more athletic squad.

A side cannot be all brute strength and height, but must instead be a balance of athleticism, technique and talent.

The challenge facing Fulham in the next month is to sign several players who can simultaneously improve the athleticism and fitness levels of the first team whilst lowering its average age and increasing its talent level.

Who’d be a scout eh? Or a Head Coach, Technical Director or Chief Executive for that matter?

COYW