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A Guide to Fulham’s Homegrown Talent 2013-14

Following interviews with manager Martin Jol on the official website, and owner Shahid Khan on CottageTalk on Friday, I am now increasingly confident that the final month of the transfer window will be prosperous for Fulham Football Club.

With the first team in need of several star additions to the starting line up, the near two months of transfer inactivity has given an opportunity for several of Fulham’s young players and academy graduates to shine in pre-season and possibly earn a place in the first team squad for the coming season.

So with no new signings to profile, here are a few of the Fulham youngsters that everyone should know going into the 2013 – 2014 Barclays Premier League season.

Buomesca Tue Na Bangna (“Mesca”)

20-year-old Guinea-Bissau born Portuguese youth international winger Mesca is the most exciting of a crop of young players about to break into the first team squad. Having been released from Chelsea’s academy as an 18 year old, Mesca joined Fulham in August 2011 and has been on a fast climb ever since. A starring member of the victorious 2012 Premier Academy league Champions Under-18 side, he was promptly promoted to first team camp last pre-season where a goal in a 4-0 win over Nice proved a memorable highlight. Unfortunately a knee injury prevented him from making his much anticipated competitive first team debut last season, but with the incumbent Alex Kacaniklic currently injured, Mesca is slated to potentially open the season starting on the left. A fast, creative left winger, Mesca could soon be a shining crown jewel to have come from within our system.

Mesca

 

Jack Grimmer

19 year old Scotland youth international Grimmer is another currently enjoying first team training as our second choice right back. He joined the Whites back in January 2012 having already made his professional debut with Aberdeen aged just 16. A versatile defender who can play centre half, right back or in midfield, Grimmer is a vocal leader on the pitch. His Scottish twang was noticeably audible from the stands as Fulham’s outstanding player in the 2012 Premier Academy League Final. Having led the Under-19s to Dallas Cup glory and made the bench for the FA Cup game at Blackpool last term, Grimmer will hopefully make the first team squad on a more regular basis as back up to Sascha Reither this season. Full international honours should also be in the offing in the not so distant future.

 

Chris David

Much talked about Dutch midfielder Chris David joined the Whites last January following a somewhat protracted move from Bryan Ruiz’s old club FC Twente in the Netherlands. The 20 year old was supposedly the brightest spark in Twente’s youth set up and hopes are sky high for him to develop into a top class attacking midfielder. Trips to both Costa Rica and Austria with the first team show how highly he is rated by Martin Jol, though he will likely start the season playing for Kit Symonds’ Under-21 side. With a few impressive cameos in pre-season and a few more once the season starts, don’t be surprised to see Chris David in the first team fringes come the second half of the season.

Mesca, Tankovic and David on preseason tour

 

Marcello Trotta

One of the better known players to have come out of the Academy in recent seasons, Italian striker Trotta deserves to be given his chance at senior level this season. Successful loan spells at Wycombe in 2012 and Brentford in 2013 have proven 20-year-old Trotta is capable of scoring goals in senior football. Questions about his attitude prevailed after his taken-against-orders missed penalty cost Brentford promotion to the Championship, but the confidence shown, and humility learnt, will hopefully blend together to help Marcello develop into the top class striker many, including myself, believe he can become. Martin Jol has spoken of his desire to strengthen up front, so chances might be limited, but he is currently the most natural born poacher in the entire squad.

Trotta scoring against Chelsea last season

 

Muamer Tankovic

Whether we see 18-year-old Swede Tankovic in the first team this season is unknown, with a full year of development squad football and a possible loan spell more likely. A versatile forward player, Muamer arrived at Fulham as a 16 year old from IFK Norrkoping in 2011, and has shone for the Under-18s in a Number 10 role and up front. A starring member of last May’s second successive Barclays Premier League Under-18 championship winning side, Tankovic’s physical development is such that he could be ready for senior football sooner rather than later. A loan to the Championship like Alex Kacaniklic’s to Watford in 2012 would probably be the best move all round.

Lasse Vigen Chrisensen

Similarly to Tankovic, 18-year-old Danish central midfielder Christensen is unlikely to force his way into the first team just yet. He did however, feature in the opening fixture in Costa Rica, showing hopes are high for the former FC Midtylland player who arrived at Fulham in January 2012. The club website cites him as “bold and creative in possession” and he shone as a cultured deep lying central playmaker when I saw him last. A year learning his craft from the likes of Giorgos Karagounis in first team training could have Christensen first team ready next summer, if not sooner.

Christensen and Tankovic training with the first team in Costa Rica

 

The Under 18s / Under 21s

Besides those profiled above, there are numerous other players lighting up the Under 21s and Under 18s who could well see first team action in the future, its just unlikely to be this coming season. There are other, good players I wont have mentioned below, but the entire Fulham youth set up is prospering and will hopefully supply players to the first team for years to come.

Goalkeeper

Neil Etheridge is the star pupil in the goalkeeping ranks. The Philippines international has been capped a staggering 40 times for his country aged just 23. Having recently signed a new contract, Martin Jol has stated Etheridge has the potential to be a future Fulham Number 1 and spent the majority of last season as back up to now departed Mark Schwarzer. Hopefully Neil is given a loan spell in the Championship or an overseas top flight this season to get some regular match practice under his belt. Highly rated Marcus Bettinelli travelled with the first team to Austria, while Jesse Joronen, Max Oberschmidtn Magnus Norman and Marek Rodak are all highly rated within the system. Slovakian Rodak in particular starring for the Under 18s towards the latter part of last term.

Defence

Centrally, two players stand out for me. 17-year-old Northern Irishman Liam Donnelly showed the maturity, calmness and positional sense of countryman and fellow centre half Aaron Hughes in the winning Under 18 team back in May. His central defensive partner that day was that statuesque Stephen Arthurworry whose size alone should guarantee a decent professional future, an adept passing range akin to that of first team skipper Brede Hangeland will likely ensure it. Mention must go as well to on loan Dan Burn. Having scored the goal that got Yeovil promoted from League 1 in May, 21 year old Burn will spend the entirety of this campaign playing under Lee Clarke at Birmingham City in the Championship. With both Hughes and Philippe Senderos having contracts that expire in 2014, don’t be surprised to see Burn playing games alongside Amorebieta or Hangeland in a year’s time. Sierra Leone born Irish youth international Noe Baba and Scotland’s Cameron Burgess are also highly rated.

Midfield

18-year-old Frenchman Ange-Freddy Plumain signed from RC Lens last month amid somewhat of a cloud of confusion after the French club released a statement saying they thought he was still under contract to them. Regardless, Plumain is an exciting prospect who can play on the wing or up front and stated he chose Fulham as the club best suited to further his development, and will expect to play a full season in the Under 21s despite having featured 22 times for Lens’ first team last term. German midfielder Ronny Minkwitz saw his development slow down in the last 12 months after previously captaining the Under 18s and will have a make or brake 2013/14. The same can be said of Australian winger Ryan Williams who starts the season on loan at Oxford United and home grown prospect Charles Banya who made a Premier League substitutes bench at Stoke last November. The two gems at Under 18 level are 17 year olds Emerson Hyndman and Patrick Roberts. American playmaker Hyndman still has some physical development to go but his reading of the game and distribution skill show sizable natural talent. Winger Roberts is fast making a name for himself on both the domestic and international stages, and is included in the latest England Under 17 squad. Finally, a word on Josh Pritchard who is currently halfway through the season at Tromso in Norway’s top flight where he is playing regularly in an under publicised loan spell.

Forwards

Anyone who saw the Under 18s tear Reading apart in May will be well aware of the following two players. Englishman Cauley Woodrow and Frenchman Moussa Dembele will both have successful senior careers unless they waylay their development with a false career move. Woodrow is, and I hate to use this phrase, a typical English centre forward; think a young Teddy Sheringham with long blonde hair. Equally adept at playing the hard yards with his back to goal as he is poaching in front of it, with the right development and appropriate loan spells, Woodrow could, and should, one day successfully wear the white of the Fulham first team. Frenchman Dembele on the other hand is a natural headline maker. His quite brilliant hat-trick in the Academy final was as good as any forward his age (then 16) could have scored. Having turned 17 and signed professional papers, there is a real chance that in Dembele, we have a player who could one day be worth the £15m his namesake was sold to Tottenham for. Thankfully, with a professional contract bearing his name, that development will be at Fulham. Former MK Dons youngster George Williams will get his chance to lead the Under 18s this term, while Dino Islamovic is another Swede looking to impress in the Under 21s.

Hat-trick hero Dembele back in May

 

Last Word

This coming season is a big one for several recent academy and development squad products. The case of the missing Kerim Frei must be answered after injury halted the development of our “next Messi” (as some were calling him after some stellar early performances) and time is ripe for him to show his face again. Midfielder Pajtim Kasami impressed on loan at Luzern last spring and has been one of the stars of pre-season. Defender Matthew Briggs must be hoping he gets his chance at left back and will fight John Arne Riise all season for the spot, though many, myself included, feel he has the ability and skill set to one day progress further up the pitch.

COYWs

Jol lauds special team effort

Martin Jol praised a superb team effort after Fulham moved closer to Premier League with a narrow win against Stoke at Craven Cottage.

The Fulham manager singled out the work rate of central midfield pairing Steve Sidwell and Giorgos Karagounis, who was preferred to loan signings Emmanuel Frimpong and Urby Emmanuelson, as being as just as crucial to Fulham’s victory as Dimitar Berbatov’s sumptuous first half volley or Mark Schwarzer’s vital penalty save after the break.

I think it was a team effort. If you look at the midfield –  Steve Sidwell and Giorgos Karagounis – you saw the work rate and the work effort, because we have a problem with their style. It was a team effort but a couple of players made the difference today. Mark Schwarzer made it our day because we may have lost two points again if the penalty kick had gone in.

Schwarzer made three great saves. In the first half from Walters when they got in behind our defence, then when Philippe Senderos tried to hold off his man – that was a great save – and, of course, the penalty.

Jol revealed that Berbatov’s sprint towards the Fulham bench after his vicious volley had found the top corner was provoked by his own insistence that the Bulgarian striker had hardly scored any volleys since signing for the club from Manchester United at the end of the summer transfer window.

Dimitar always scores between 15 and 25 goals [a season] so it would be silly to think that he can’t score 15 to 20 goals for us – that is what I always have in mind. His goal was a good one but I can remember him scoring a lot of great goals. I said a couple of months ago that he never scored from volleys anymore, that is why he came up to me! It’s the first goal he’s scored from a volley [for Fulham] and in the past he did that all the time. He tried to prove a point because he’s a good sport. We’ve got other players who can make a difference but he and Mark certainly made a difference today.

Jol believes his side were good value for a victory that, ahead of the afternoon kick-offs, lifted Fulham up to eleventh in the table.

Overall, if you saw the first half, I think we were the better team. But it’s always difficult against them. They changed their system, they put all these big guys up front, they play this style and it was not easy for us. We should have scored a second goal and we didn’t, so in the end they could have punished us for the fact we only scored one goal. But, of course, we’ve got Mark Schwarzer who saved the game and the three points for us.

It’s about players. If you’ve got good football players, they can pass it around. Giorgos, for example, in the first half – he made the difference for us in midfield. That is what I knew, and that is what he showed. Of course we’ve got good players but sometimes you need to play ugly against teams like Stoke to get results and to earn the right to play your own football, and I think in the first half we did that.

The Dutch coach was delighted that his side have managed to pick up a couple of crucial home victories since Christmas that could set them up for a concerted assault on the top half as the season draws to a close.

I felt before the game that we had a few vital games this year. West Ham United was one of them, Newcastle United was one of them, and Norwich City last time – because we could have been dragged into a situation with five or six other clubs. Now we are surrounded by Sunderland, Stoke – who are having a very good season – West Ham, who were flying and are now below us. So I think these points are vital to us.

Classy on the continent

Perhaps it’s the fact that I wasn’t there or that the a weekend on the Côte d’Azurs till sounds supremely exotic to me. Maybe it’s the memories of how a French revolution transformed Fulham from a plodding mid-table team to one that stormed to the Premiership promised land in ten months during my teenage years. I can’t blame it on alcohol, as I can’t drink at the moment, but watching the way Fulham completely dismantled Claude Puel’s Nice, who begin their Ligue 1 campaign next weekend, last night filled me with the sort of excitement Charlie found in the chocalate factory.

It’s only pre-season and there’s an important rider to attach here. However good Fulham – and particularly Mladen Petric – have looked these summer, there are no points awarded until August 18th. The excitement of early season can soon dissipate should results leave you looking anxiously over your shoulder or a key player – like Brian McBride in 2007 – be lost to injury. But there’s definitely something building on the banks of the Thames that we’ve not seen since the Damiano, Propos and Tigana era.

Here’s what a candid Martin Jol told the July edition of Fultime about changing the pattern of play in his first year at Craven Cottage:

When I came in I knew that despite being a stylish club, at the same time we were perhaps a bit too conservative. We played in an old fashioned English way, but we had had success with that. But that wasn’t a system that I was used to. I wanted the team to become more adventurous in its approach. It was something that took a bit of time to implement too, because every time we suffered a bad resuylt or looked a bit indifferent you could sense a doubt or concern. In all honesty, the players found it tough and that was the biggest challenge – to convince them to play in a different way. I understand that, and it is something that takes time. But as I always say, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’.

People are notoriously resistant to change. As Russ Goldman has outlined here before, Jol’s tweaks to what seemed a successful side appeared initially like unecessary meddling with a winning formula. Except the innate conservatism of Roy Hodgson’s side worked whilst teams underestimated Fulham but an ageing side seemed far more predictable three years down the line. A new broom has swept away some old favourites, but Mark Hughes was similarly ruthless in sidelining both John Pantsil and Zoltan Gera.

 

Bryan Ruiz looks ready to revel in the Premier League spotlight

The change of system offers an air of the unexpected. Bryan Ruiz seems a shy, sensitive type but he’s a ridiculously gifted footballer. Remember those effortless dinks over the goalkeeper against Everton and Bolton that produced gapsps of wonderment? He’s barely been fit during his year at the club and with a full pre-season behind him as well as operating in the classical number ten position behind Petric he looks like he’s ready to leave an indellible mark on English football. His free-kick against Wycombe the other week was magnificent and effortless at the same time.

Petric's potency and playmaking ability have perked up Fulham's forward line

Petric seems a canny replacement for Pogrebnyak, who we didn’t pay a transfer fee for either. He’s been there and done it right across Europe in a variety of positions but we knew he could find the goal spectacularly before he pulled on a Fulham shirt. He’s proved it with five in five. I thought his opener at Adams’ Park was special, until the overhead kick – eeirly reminscient of Zoltan Gera’s effort which finished off Manchester United a few years back – in Nice. Petric is more than a scorer of spectacular goals – he’s a playmaker too. Take a look at the sublime through ball that released Alex Kacaniklic for the second on the stroke of half time or the impudent backheel which Mahamadou Diarra lashed home after the break.

Diarra’s decision to make his stay at the Cottage permanent probably hastened the departures of both Murphy and Dickson Etuhu. The Malian has some CV and, even as he was returning to full match sharpness, he offered tantalising glimpses of his class towards the tail end of last season. Classy on the ball and strong in the tackle you could see why Real Madrid thought he might be able to take over from Claude Makele. If Diarra stays fit and can be paired alongside Mousa Dembele, then that’s a midfield partnership with the potential to leave the pundits purring.

But perhaps the most exciting element of Jol’s vision for Fulham is the emergence of the youngsters. Kerim Frei dazzled at Kingstonian when he wasn’t really much beyond second gear and he’s clearly been working on his strength and conditioning during the close season. Whilst everyone was raving about Frei’s impact last season, the Motspur Park talent developers were taking note of Alex Kacaniklic’s progress. The Swede has shown just why Malcolm Elias was so keen to bring him down south from Melwood and both his crossing and confident finish in France underscored his further progression since that impressive introduction to the first team after his loan spell at Watford last season.

Then there’s Mesca, the one Chelsea let go far too soon. The 19 year-old from Guinea-Bisseau scored two and made three more as he stepped up to reserve team level last season but he’s got all the attributes to follow Frei and Kacaniklic into the first team on a regular basis. Pace, trickery and confidence are there as is a cool head in front of goal. The joy that his goal, just two minutes after replacing Damien Duff in France, brought was contagious. It’s taken hold of this correspondent – and let’s hope the rest of the Fulham faithful are feeling as optimistic after three months of the real thing.

Fulham hit Nice for four

Fulham’s fine pre-season continued with a fabulous four goal win over Nice on the Côte d’Azur this evening. The Whites’ dominant display, which included a fifth summer strike in as many friendlies for the potent Mladen Petric, augurs well for when Martin Jol’s side begin their Premier League campaign against Norwich City in a fortnight’s time.

Jol selected a strong side and their fluidity of movement and ease on the ball troubled the Ligue 1 side who seemed sluggish by comparison. The trip to the Stade du Ray was considered a stern test, with Nice due to begin their domestic season next weekend, but Fulham made the running from the outset with speedy Swede Alex Kaciniklic posing problems out wide and Bryan Ruiz looking dangerous in the hole. The pair combined with just a minute on the clock but the Costa Rican’s instinctive shot flew over the crossbar. The hosts replied with a speculative shot from Guie Guie but another astonishing finish from Petric handed Fulham the lead their early adventure merited.

Mahamadou Diarra, back in France after his four succerssful years with Lyon, started a flowing midfield move that offered Kacaniklic space to gallop into. The Swede sent over a dangerous cross but Petric’s finish – an acrobatic overheaded effort – was sensational. Following hot on the heels of a fine curler at Wycombe last week, it offered another indication that the Croatian could be an inspired signing, although he probably wouldn’t have been allowed as much and space and time in the physical confines of the Premier League.

Nice did up the ante after falling behind. Promising teenager Thimothée Kolodziejczak extended Schwarzer for the first time in the evening and skipper Didier Digard should have levelled proceedings rather than sending a header wide. The former Middlesbrough man looked as though he had nodded home an equaliser, but his flicked header was cleared off the line by Sasha Riether.

Fulham coped well enough with Nice’s spell of pressure although  Schwarzer was almost embarassed by a long-ranger from Argentinian defender Fabián Monzón, but the Whites scored a crucial second just before the break. It came courtesy of Kacaniklic, who had always looked likely to exploit a square Nice back line with his pace, and the former Liverpool winger kept his composure brilliantly to double Fulham’s lead after sprinting onto a through ball from Petric.

Jol made his first changes midway through the second half, giving Kerim Frei just over half an hour to run at the French backline and offering Stephen Kelly some more match practice after his extended break following Euro 2012. The visitors were in total command and their superiority was reflected in the scoreline when Diarra lashed home a square pass from Petric twenty minutes after the interval. Mesca added a fourth a matter of moments after he replaced Damien Duff after a fine Frei through ball had disected the Nice defence to leave Claude Puel with plenty to ponder ahead of their opening league game against AC Ajaccio next Saturday night.

OGC NICE: Delle; Palun, Pejcinovic, Kolodziejczak; Coulibaly, Traore; Bautheac, Abriel, Monzon; Guie Guie.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Riether (Kelly 59), J.A. Riise, Hughes, Hangeland; Diarra (Baird 70), Dembele (Sidwell 70); Duff (Mesca 77), Kacaniklic (Frei 59), Ruiz (Davies 70); Petric. Subs (not used): Stockdale, Grygera, Briggs, Pritchard, Trotta.

GOALS: Petric (18), Kacaniklic (45), Diarra (64), Mesca (79).

Premier Academy Champions: Match Report

For the second year in a row, Fulham hosted the Premeir Academy League Final at Craven Cottage. Last year’s group of talented youngsters that lost to Everton included Kerim Frei and Marcello Trotta, now of the First Team, and current skipper Ronnie Minkwitz, amongst others.

Having been unable to make it last year, with my father, I went along to Craven Cottage to watch this year’s final. Fulham were up against a strong Blackburn Rovers side, which had topped the likes of Liverpool and both Manchester clubs to win the Academy League Group C.

As fans of the First XI, the chance to go and watch this talented crop of youngsters was too good to pass up. By charging just £3 for entry, there was a good turnout, with somewhere around 1500 people attending the game. Credit to, for Danny Murphy, who had led the entire First Team Squad in requesting their morning training session be concluded in enough time for them to take their seats in the directors box at Craven Cottage to lend their support.

Motspur Park is fast becoming a production line for good young footballers. There have been six academy debuts in the First Team this season (Frei, Trotta, Etheridge, Kacaniklic, Donegan and Dalle Valle) and with Martin Jol’s stated desire to lower the average age of the squad, more can be expected next season. So, with our amateur scouting hats on, we sat down to watch what was a very entertaining match.

Fulham lined up playing 4-3-3, or rather, the 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 hybrid that has been adopted by the first team in recent weeks, with 3 central midfielders and two wide men, who can both sit back as midfielders, and attack as auxiliary forwards depending on the situation. It is intrinsic in successful clubs, that the youth teams play the same formation and football as the senior team. Whilst not quite the tika-taka football that Barcelona teach at their famous La Masia academy, manager Kit Symons has his team playing attractive fast-paced passing football that does not sit out of place with Martin Jol’s overall vision for the club.

Both teams started brightly, with highly touted £500,000 January signing, Ryan Williams, miskicking Fulham’s best early chance from twelve yards out. The lively Hugo Fernandez had the best of the early chances for Blackburn, but consistently failed to test Connor Roberts in the Fulham goal. Roberts incidentally was on the bench for Everton in last season’s final.

An all-international midfield of German, Ronnie Minkwitz, Dane, Lasse Vigen Christiansen and Israeli, Omri Altman, all looked very comfortable of the ball. Minkwitz, skipper of the team, played the Danny Murphy role at the centre of the three, linking play in an almost metronomic manner. Christiansen, playing in the Mahammadou Diarra role, played short and long passes in an intelligent and equal measure. While it was the exciting talent of Altman, playing the Moussa Dembele role of creative midfielder, who looked the most comfortable with the ball at his feet. Indeed, were it not for a good last ditch block, Altman would have scored in the second half.

Following their relegation to the Championship, Blackburn are likely to be considering several of their Under-18s for senior action sooner rather than later. In striker Curtis Haley and midfielder Raheem Hanley, they have two players to keep an eye out for. It was a mark of the fine job done by Fulham’s defence though, that these two and the ever-lively Fernandez were consistently kept at bay.

Another January signing, Jack Grimmer, fresh from first team action with Aberdeen in the Scottish Premier League, marshalled the defensive line with the experience of a wily veteran. His loud Scottish twang was audible in the stands as he constantly barked orders to right back Alex Brister. Josh Pritchard, playing centre back in the absence of injured Josh Passley, displayed some excellent passing range perhaps indicative of his usual positioning as a right back or midfielder. Irish left back Sean Kavanagh, one of the technically superior players on display, came the closest to opening the scoring in the first half, his deflected free kick ricocheting back of the outside of the post.

Kavanagh hits the post

As the first half expired, left-winger, Buomesca Tue Na Banga, or “Mesca” as he is known, flashed a shot inches wide. It was then he, and right-winger Williams, along with centre forward Cauley Woodrow, who set about making the difference in the second half. Woodrow, who’s blond hair and intelligent combative style reminds you of a Pavel Pogrebnyak, looks a fine prospect. When watching young players, work ethic, technique and footballing intelligence are all good indicators of future success, and Woodrow has all three. It was no surprise then, that it was he who opened the scoring after an hour, latching onto a superb low cross from Mesca.

As the match wore on, Mesca and Williams swapped flanks and continued to exude confidence and class, whilst possessing an unflappable willingness to run at defenders. It doesn’t matter at what level you’re playing, fast, direct running will always scare defenders. Just look at the impact Kerim Frei has had on international players like Johan Djourou and Branislav Ivanovic this season.

Mesca has lightning strapped to his boots, his pace only slightly let down by a need to improve final ball quality. Williams on the other hand looks more polished. A traditional right-winger, he has both the pace and the technical ability to deliver a cross and pass, that alone, will make him a valuable commodity going forward.

Celebrating William's goal

It was Williams, from a delightful Mesca run and cross, that showed the composure to tap home the decisive second goal ten minutes from time. Another Australian, Corey Gameiro, then replaced Woodrow, and was almost immediately rewarded with a goal; only a goal line clearance from Blackburn captain Ryan Edwards denied him.

In the closing stages, Blackburn had midfielder John O’Sullivan sent off for a second bookable offense. A shame as O’Sullivan had been one of the few Blackburn players to stay committed to the end, when others heads had dropped. Indeed, Raheem Hanley was then lucky not to pick up his own second yellow card for a foul worse than O’Sullivan’s, but by then, referee Mr Nunn perhaps felt sympathy for the Northerners, who, having lost the FA Youth Cup Final to Chelsea on Wednesday, had endured a torrid week.

As the last few minutes elapsed, Fulham kept the ball, passing well and frustrating the forlorn visitors. Fulham were champions. The final whistle blew and it became official, Fulham were the best Under-18 side in the country and a trophy was coming to the Craven Cottage cabinet.

Jack Grimmer was the first to receive his medal, smiles beaming from nearly everyone inside the stadium. Nobody wore their smile with more pride than Minkwitz; leading your men to victory is the dream, and for Ronnie, it was one that had come to reality.

Champions

To see Fulham lift a trophy is something that we all dream of. When you consider the teams entering the Premier Academy League, and the value clubs like Arsenal and Chelsea, who we beat along the way, place in their youth development systems, this triumph really is one we should be proud of.

When watching youth football, it is normally the case that one or two players stick out from the crowd as being a cut above and ready for the next step. It is a mark of the job that Kit Symons has done, that one to eleven all looked impressive, both as individuals and as a team.

That being said, there are several members of this team that can expect to receive promotion come pre-season and into next year. Despite being perhaps the hardest position to emerge in as a youngster in a man’s game, central midfielder Minkwitz looks set to have a good future and learning off Danny Murphy will do him no harm. The same for Woodrow, who I’d send to Russian lessons once a week in order for him to learn directly from Pogrebnyak on the art of leading a forward line.

Wingers Mesca and Willams are both impressive, with Mesca even being handed a squad number this season. Of the two though, I’d wager Williams will be seen first. With Frei and Alex Kacaniklic both playing on the left, Mesca will need to improve his delivery to make serious inroads.

The player that I’d promote first though, is Jack Grimmer. At centre half he belied his age. He is listed as a midfielder and reminds me of Chris Baird. The ability to learn off the likes of Baird, Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland will undoubtedly lead to good things for the Scot, who will one day surely go on to represent his nation’s senior team.

Having picked out those five players, I am not serving to refuse promotion to the others. Altman and Christiansen in particular already have quality in abundance. Given the appropriate seasoning and experience, they will one day be lead to senior professional football, I hope, at Fulham.

Yesterday was a proud day for everyone at Fulham Football Club, and special mention to Fulham Deaf FC who also won their league. With several academy products likely to be involved at White Hart Lane this afternoon in the final Premeir League match of the season, the future is most definitely White.

COYWs

Fulham Team: 1. Roberts, 2. Brister, 3. Kavanagh, 4. Christensen (15. Sambou 87 mins), 5. Grimmer, 6. Pritchard, 7. Williams (14. Banya 89 mins), 8. Minkwitz (c), 9. Woodrow (17. Gameiro 82 mins), 10. Altman, 11. Na Bangna
Subs: 14. Banya, 15. Sambou, 16. Tankovic, 17. Gameiro, 18. O’Reilly
Blackburn Team: 1. Dilo, 2. Wylie, 3. Beesley, 4. Hanley, 5. Edwards (c), 6. O’Connell, 7. Cotton (14. Cham 69 mins), 8. Lennahan (15. Boland 45 mins), 9. Haley, 10. O’Sullivan, 11. Fernandez (12. Payne 82 mins)
Subs: 12. Payne, 13. Urwin, 14. Cham, 15. Boland, 16. Mason