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Scout’s Honour

Without any concrete first team transfer news coming in or out of Fulham at the moment, speculation becomes flight of fancy and rumour spreads like wildfire. It is the time of year when we all dream of being better, spending big and making a splash.

This year, it’s even worse. With Euro 2012 in full swing, we all become scouts, and solid transfer dealings seem to take a step back until the tournament comes towards its close. Quite right, too. If we are in talks with the star player on the hypothetical semi-finalists, why on earth would they want to talk to us now? Let alone take the famous Fulham medical.

For you and me though, it’s all good fun. It’s far rosier to assume the club’s early summer transfer passivity is due to a target’s involvement in a tournament under the eyes of the world, than the fact that the player is exorcising his demons at a beachfront bar in Marbella.

The truth of the matter, or so I hope, is that Fulham have already identified, scouted and re-scouted our key summer targets, regardless of their current whereabouts. This is, of course, not the case with every target, some of whom become available at the last minute, but the value of scouting cannot be ignored.

Newcastle’s recent handing-out of an 8-year contract to Chief Scout, Graham Carr, shows a great scout’s importance. There isn’t a manager or player in the land with an 8-year deal. For clubs like Newcastle and Fulham, who aren’t in the category of the mega-rich, but aren’t exactly short of pennies, scouting talent, for both youth and first-team alike, can hold the key to success.

Bryan Ruiz challenges Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye

For Newcastle, the signings of Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse amongst others, propelled them up the league table to echelons not usually reached without significant investment into the already-known elite of global talent.

The area in which, in the last few years, Fulham seem to have excelled, is scouting quality youth players. We saw no fewer than six first team debuts from academy products last year, of which only one, Neil Etheridge, was truly home grown. The first team has proven somewhat hit or miss. Few of us imagined the player we were getting when Moussa Dembele put pen to paper two summers ago, while some others have yet failed to set the world alight.

Three managers in three years will do that for you. The club’s scouts work of their own accord, compiling recommendations for managers to look at but, undoubtedly, managers also have tremendous say in how the lists get put together. Would Bryan Ruiz have been our top target last summer had Martin Jol, a Dutchman, not been appointed manager? Would Bjorn Helge Riise have arrived from Lillestrom had Roy Hodgson not been in charge?

Marcel Gecov - tournament purchase?

Major international tournaments bring about their own risks for scouts. To what extent is performance on this stage a true reflection of someone’s talent? I would, for example, like to know how many times Marcel Gecov was scouted prior to last summer’s Under-21 European Championships, where he excelled with the Czech Republic. I personally rate Gecov as a good Premiership prospect, but in starting only three matches last season, the suggestion is that not even Martin Jol is quite sure.

Take the current tournament in Poland and Ukraine. Players of the home nations are emotionally charged, perhaps giving the performances of their lives. Had a scout been at Tuesday’s Poland v Russia game for example, they’d be hard pressed not to add a million or two onto Kuba Blaszczykowski’s value following the Poland captain’s wonder goal.

Kuba - in the Warsaw shop window?

That being said, tournaments are also an opportunity for players to broadcast themselves to a wider audience. For a club like Fulham, having a permanent Ukraine-based scout is probably too much to ask. So players like Dnipro’s Yevhen Konoplyanka and Dynamo Kyiv’s Andriy Yarmolenko can use these games to reach the wider audience of overseas clubs. The same for Slovan Liberec right back Theodor Gebre Selasse, whose performances for the Czech Republic will likely lengthen his list of suitors.

I hope Martin Jol has his list of targets. Maybe some of them are playing in Poland and Ukraine at the moment, maybe some are currently on a beach, and maybe some of them are taking a tour of Motspur Park as we speak. If the list of names is yet to be completed though, all I hope is that we’ve really done our homework. We don’t have too large a pot of money to spend, so let us please spend it wisely.


The shape of things to come?

Martin Jol’s assertion – made public by a tabloid newspaper – that he might just start again with some of Fulham’s youngsters next season made a few people’s hearts flutter the other week. Club insiders have expressed frustration that their manager’s comments are regularly twisted or engineered to become a bigger story than they would otherwise have been to fit a journalist’s narrative and I’d be highly sceptical that Jol’s intention over the summer is to flog off the likes of Hangeland, Dempsey and Dembele as this report suggests.

There is, however, no denying that Jol has been given clear instructions to rebalance the squad in favour of younger players. It’s no coincidence that we’ve seen a lot of more of Matthew Briggs, Kerim Frei, Marcello Trotta and Alex Kacanaklic this term than in previous seasons. David Stockdale’s long-term contract – prior to being sent out on loan to Ipswich back in the autumn – also demonstrated that Jol sees him as the future number one, although it remains to be seen just when he will leapfrog the evergreen Mark Schwarzer in the pecking order.

Kacanaklic’s tantalising cameo against Norwich on Saturday saw the Swedish winger show promise that belied his tender age. That Jol trusted him enough to field him instead of an out-and-out striker when Pavel Pogrebnyak limped off told you plenty about his talent, but few – even those like me who have admired him from afar for a while following his fine performances in the reserves – though Kacanaklic would deliver a performance as impressive as the one that followed. It got me thinking as to what might emerge if several of the young stars blossomed into first-teamers.

If Kacanaklic’s development is mirrored by Kerim Frei, who has already showed plenty of signs of promise, then Jol might have solved Fulham’s frustrating lack of natural width at a stroke. The Swiss youth international has been far more willing to go outside the full-back in his games for the reserves in recent times and has both the ability and the confidence to run at a defender in a manner more befitting an old-fashioned winger. The pace of Frei and Kacanaklic could see them deployed as either conventional or inverted wingers and offer Jol the opportunity to play the sort of pacey, attacking football that he promised when he first replaced Mark Hughes.

Jol’s more adventurous approach has paid dividends since the turn of the year and there are plenty more talents waiting to be unleashed down at Motspur Park. We’ve seen very little of Pajtim Kasami since Boxing Day – the highly-rated Swiss teenager has largely been holding down the ‘number ten’ roll for the reserves – and awaiting another first team outing. Whether he’s fallen out of favour as a result of the penalty furore following his previous visit to Stamford Bridge is a question we’ll probably never know the answer to, but if he had then surely he’d have been more amenable to that January approach from Juventus? There have been even fewer sightings of Marcel Gecov, who looked like a credible contender to replace Danny Murphy in the few first-team outings he had been afforded.

The defence has been Fulham’s strongest suit since Roy Hodgson plugged the leaks that endangered our Premier League status at the start of his reign. The time will come when replacements will have to be drafted in for the likes of Hughes and Hangeland et al, although Fulham appear well stocked here too. The giant Dan Burn has been in imposing form for the reserves, while Jack Grimmer looks to have adapted well to life in a Fulham shirt – albeit at a more relaxed level that the first team. John Arne Riise has enjoyed a more successful second half of his first season at the club, although we’d be hoping to see a bit more of Briggs next term.

Up front, you’d think Pogrebnyak would remain first choice if he extends his short-term deal past the summer. Even should the Russian sign permanently, Jol would be likely to enter the market for another striker given that the most exciting of our young talents, Muamer Tankovic, is still some way from first-team action. Marcello Trotta, who struggled to get much of a kick for Watford in stark contrast to his stunning goalscoring efforts at Wycombe Wanderers, probably needs another year on loan somewhere. Danny Hoesen has been shortlisted for the young player of the year award after his fine season with Fortuna Sittard in the Dutch second division – and you’d expect both of those two to soon be thriving on the service provided by the likes of Kacaniklic and Frei.


Looks exciting, doesn’t it?

Gecov hopes for more games

Marcel Gecov says he is enjoying his time at Fulham but is hoping to feature more regularly in Martin Jol’s first team during 2012.

The Czech midfielder has made four appearances for the club since signing from Slovan Liberec for around £750,000 in the summer. The 23 year-old enjoyed an impressive debut at Chelsea in the League Cup in September but has had to wait for more first-team opportunities. He made his league debut for the Whites as a late substitute in the 1-0 win over Liverpool earlier this month.

I’ve enjoyed my time at Fulham so far but it’s been a bit difficult for me because I haven’t played too much, but I expected that at the start of my career at the club. That’s football and nobody likes it when they’re not playing but I have to be patient and wait for my chance to come.

The first half of the season has gone so quickly and it’s always difficult at the start when everything is new but now I’m really enjoying it. Hopefully there will be more opportunities for me in the New Year and during the second half of the season.

I speak with the Manager and he tells me what he wants from me. Now I need to show him in training that he can trust me on the pitch. There are a lot of experienced players ahead of me but that’s also good for me because I can learn a lot from them in training.

I’m sure we will move higher up the League over the next few months because we’re a good team with a lot of good players and experience.

Murphy faces Swansea fitness test

Danny Murphy will have a fitness test tomorrow in a bid to beat his ankle injury and captain Fulham at Swansea on Saturday.

The veteran midfielder is determined not to miss Fulham’s next fixture despite limping out of Monday’s win over Liverpool during injury-time. The 34 year-old was forced off after injuring his ankle in a late challenge and manager Martin Jol was downbeat in the post-match press conference, expecting his influential midfielder to miss at least the trip to Wales. But Murphy remains keen to keep his place in the Fulham midfield and will undergo a strenuous fitness test tomorrow afternoon.

Steve Sidwell faces another fitness test on his hernia problem, having returned from a quick visit to a specialist in Munich this week in search of a second opinion. Young Czech midfielder Marcel Gecov, who replaced Murphy against Liverpool on Monday, would be in line for a first league start alongside Dickson Etuhu, who Jol praised as one of his most consistent performers of late, if both Murphy and Sidwell were unavailable.

Jol revealed that he could include Simon Davies, who played 70 minutes for the reserves against West Brom on Tuesday, in the squad for the trip to the Liberty Stadium if the Welsh midfielder comes through tomorrow’s training session unscathed. It would an earlier than expected return to the first team for Davies, who has been out of action for four months since injuring his knee in Jol’s first game against NSI Runavik.

Fulham are likely to be without both Chris Baird and Damien Duff on Saturday, however. Baird is still set to be unavailable for personal reasons, while Duff is sidelined by the calf injury he aggravated against FC Twente last week. The Republic of Ireland international is expected to return to training next week and Swiss teenager Kerim Frei, who was on the bench against Liverpool, should feature again in the matchday 18.

Gecov wants more games

Marcel Gecov revelled in his Fulham debut at Stamford Bridge and has told a Czech media agency that he is desperate to make more appearances for the club.

The 23 year-old had to wait until last week’s Carling Cup tie to play his first game for Fulham following a switch switch from Slovan Liberec. Gecov greatly enjoyed the experience and hopes to get more opportunities in the Fulham midfield, although he recognises he may have to wait for his chance.

I must say I have not experienced many nicer moments in my career. The atmosphere and venues must charm everyone. When we were going to take a corner in the 70th minute and our fans were cheering for us I was saying to myself ‘I don’t want this moment to end’.

It is very addictive and I don’t think this (football in England) can ever become ordinary. I would like to be getting more and more chances to play with time but must stay realistic. This squad is packed with quality and a lot of lads are waiting for a chance.

Sure, it was rather a long wait but I wasn’t frustrated by any means. I just focused on giving my best in training and the manager was speaking to me often.

He kept explaining what the situation was and that my chance would come. It’s true I might have grown slightly impatient if I had to wait longer. This way, though, I’m happy to have experienced it.

The former Czech under-21 international was impressive on debut, being replaced late on by Steve Sidwell as Fulham went out on penalties. He remained on the substitutes’ bench during Saturday’s draw at West Brom, but could get a chance to shine in our Europa League group game in Odense on Thursday.