Fulham youngster Buomesca Tue Na Banga has been dealt a massive blow after he was ruled out for at least six months with a cruciate ligament injury.
The 18-year-old burst onto the scene during pre-season and boss Martin Jol had hoped the former Chelsea winger could force his way into his first-team plans at Craven Cottage.
However, Mesca, who has been troubled by knee problems in the past, has been rocked by the news that he will be sidelined until March at the earliest.
Jol confirmed: “He has a big injury, a cruciate ligament problem, so he will be out for six months.”
Fulham manager Martin Jol believes the future is bright for young winger Buomesca Tue Na Banga.
The youngster impressed in the Under-18 side last season and has been training with the first-team during pre-season.
The Portugal Under-17 international featured in pre-season against Wycombe Wanderers and also scored in Fulham’s 4-0 win over Nice at the weekend.
Jol expects big things from the 19-year-old in the next few years, but also stressed that he’s one for the future.
He said “Mesca joined us last year from Chelsea, I believed in him and we gave him a contract.
“He started with the development squad but has trained with us quite a few times.
“He’s exciting, but don’t expect too much from him because he’s 19 and a terrific talent.”
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’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).
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.
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.
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