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Fulham return to training

Fulham players are back in training – but minus the big earners for whom the club has no future.

Maarten Stekelenburg, Kostas Mitroglou and Fernando Amorebieta were all excused first-day duty, not least because the latter is playing for Venezuela in the Copa America tournament.

Striker Mitroglou also played a full 90 minutes for his country Saturday, only to draw a blank as Greece suffered a shock 2-1 defeat by minnows Faroes Islands for the second time in European Championship qualifying

Ex-Whites loanee Kostas Stafylidis was also made to struggle in Torshavn, while Stekelenburg has been given lieu time after Monaco’s season finished later than the English Championship campaign.

The 32-year-old Dutchman was on loan there last season, and is reportedly a target for fellow countryman Ronald Koeman at Southampton, but will have his work cut out to convince the Saints supremo after featuring only four times for Monaco, the last appearance coming back in March.

Stekelenburg has two years left on his Fulham contract, as does Amorebieta. Mitroglou, the most expensive signing in Fulham history at £12 million, is there until summer 2018.

However, it is understood there is no set date for any of the trio’s return to training – if at all, while the club try to broker loans or sales.

Fulham back in training

Most of Fulham’s first-team squad are back in training at Motspur Park this morning as the club’s pre-season preparations begin in earnest. Just exactly what the summer schedule comprises of will remain a closely-guarded secret for a while, but it was good to see the enthusiasm of a broad cross-section of the squad come through on social media as they contemplated getting back to work.

For the fans, the most interesting part of the off-season occurs away from the training pitches. Discussions with agents, who is available, who’s not, the frenzied speculation of arrivals and outgoings is the talk of the silly season. It has, of course, already begun with many supporters already impatiently lambasting a lack of action on Fulham’s part, which is par for the course for this time of year. The task of rebuilding a squad – especially for the second season in a row – shouldn’t be taken lightly, but the results of last summer’s activity only underlines the fact that quantity is no substitute for quality. I’m by no means well-connected, but having had the opportunity to meet with Mike Rigg recently, I’m encouraged by his enthusiasm, diligence and drive. There’s no doubt that Fulham are working hard behind the scenes.

Whilst we all digest the latest rumours, the most crucial work will being taking place on those Motspur Park pitches. Kit Symons has stepped down from his advisory role to Chris Coleman at a time when Wales look likely to qualify for their first major championships since 1958 – principally to focus on getting things right as he approaches his first full season in charge. One of the most worrying things about our end of season form was how a team managed by an accomplished defender seemed devoid of defensive organisation and shape. I’m not expecting the reintroduction of Roy Hodgson’s rather regimented defensive drills that drove his players to distraction, but once the core fitness work has been completed, there will doubtless be a heavier focus on making Fulham tougher to play through this time around.

One of the biggest decisions will be around how Symons sets his side up. I got the impression that the rigid diamond was a way to utilise the players he had at his disposal rather than a system the manager believes in. Certainly, the emergence of the likes of Alex Kacaniklic and Patrick Roberts in the youth teams that Symons managed owed much to them having the freedom to make threatening runs from wider positions. If we are to get the best out of someone like Matt Smith, who finished the last campaign in fine fettle, the quality of service from the flanks will be critical. With the best part of nine weeks until competitive football begins, Symons will want to make Fulham’s football more confident and refined that the chaotic and frenetic stuff that characterised the closing weeks of last season.

The most exciting part of this tantalising pre-season period is seeing which members of the next generation take the opportunity to train on. The promising members of Fulham’s academy can be in doubt now that talent will recognised and improvement can take you all the way to the first team. The progression of Marcus Bettinelli and Lasse Vigen Christensen, two players who are with their national under-21 squads in the Czech Republic this week as a testament to their performances over the past year, attests to that. The eye-catching displays of Emerson Hyndman in New Zealand with the USA Under 20 side over the past fortnight also indicate that there will be plenty of competition for midfield places come August. Could the likes of Jordan Evans, Luca Della Torre or Ange-Freddy Plumain – to take just three examples – make strides forward over the next few weeks?

Early season form sets the tone for the campaign, especially in a league as unforgiving as the Championship. Fulham certainly never recovered from Felix Magath’s shambolic start last time around – and Symons will want to lay down an early marker as to his credentials. He’ll view this time as being vital in communicating his own ideas and making the changes that are necessary. The hard work starts here.

The place to find out about Fulham’s next generation

With all the talk about Fulham’s blossoming youth academy, this seems like a good time to draw the attention of our regular readers to the emergence of a new website all about the club’s youth teams.

For the past few seasons, one of the best places to keep up to date with the talent developed by Huw Jennings, Malcolm Elias, Steve Wigley and Kit Symons has been the Fulham Youth Twitter feed. Incredibly well-informed, regularly attending various games and with some sharp analysis about tactics, it remains one of the most interesting accounts to follow.

Calvin Hargreaves, the man behind all those tweets, has finally joined the blogosphere. The new Fulham Youth website is still a work in progress but there’s plenty to take a look at already. Even if the likes of Hyndman, Roberts, Woodrow and Dembele look like featuring regularly in Felix Magath’s plans this season, there are still plenty of talented youngsters across the age ranges down at Motspur Park – and the new Fulham Youth website will be the best to monitor their progress.

Police hunt Motspur Park thief

Police are still hunting for a thief who made off with £19,000 of cash and jewellery belonging to players from Pompey’s reserve team.

Fulham Football Club have promised to do all they can to catch the culprit who struck during the match in London on Tuesday night.

A bogus phsyio managed to get into the visitors’ dressing room and made off with cash, credit cards, expensive jewellery, mobile phones and designer watches.

Stars including Lomana Lualua, Manuel Fernandes and Ognjen Koroman were among 21 victims.

Head of communications at Fulham, Sarah Brookes, said: ‘We can confirm that there was an incident during the game which involved a theft from both the home and visitors dressing rooms.

‘A full investigation is currently in progress with the aid of extensive CCTV.’

The game kicked off at 7pm at Motspur Park with the man striking between 7.10pm and 7.30pm after he jumped the fence and approached a steward outside the changing rooms.

He convinced him he was Portsmouth’s physio and conned him into unlocking the dressing room door where he quickly filled up a black bag.

The thief was then seen on CCTV throwing the bag over a perimeter fence and making a call on a mobile phone.

Police think this may have been to an accomplice outside the ground.

After a few moments he jumped back over the fence and ran off.

Sergeant Simon Harding from Kingston police station, said: ‘At this time we think it is a local man but we cannot rule out the chance that it could have been a supporter travelling up with Portsmouth.

‘It was an audacious theft and one which must have been planned in advance. There is CCTV in the ground and we have him on film.

‘The ground has had minor break-ins in the past but nothing like this before.’

The stolen mobile phones and credit cards are being monitored in a hope to track the criminal.