Select Page

Fulham’s Roadmap to Regeneration: Part II – The First Team: Going, Going, Gone

With Part 1 in this series discussing the need to first sort out Fulham’s structure off the field, the next set of decisions must come about those on it. Before any transfer dealings or youth call-ups can take place to help reconstruct the first team, Fulham must first take stock and then exorcise the demons within the first team and clean house.

Read Fulham’s Roadmap to Regeneration: Part I – The Future of the Boardroom here.

Relegation is a bitter pill to swallow. For some clubs it can be particularly bad. Those clubs who carefully built teams but just don’t quite make the grade are often then broken up and pillaged for talent, setting them back in their quest for a return to the promised land.

In Fulham’s case however, relegation may be just what our squad needed. Aging, assembled on the basis of apparent short term rational and with players loyal to fallen regimes. Below is a list of the first team squad separated into three categories; those who should leave, those who could leave; and those who will leave. It would be foolhardy to assume any single member of the squad is safe. Underperformance was endemic last season and young first team players aside; places and careers are very much on the line.

For the purposes of this list, academy and other young players are left out and will be covered in the follow up article covering youth promotions; this includes Dan Burn, Alex Kacaniklic, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Larnell Cole. So here is the Fulham squad and how their futures may lie:

Should Go

Maarten Stekelenburg

The Former Dutch Number One is stuck at Craven Cottage unless someone comes in with a sensible offer. His wages will not be as high, but QPR suffered a similar situation when Julio Cesar was deemed surplus to requirements at Loftus Road last season. Having justifiably lost his place to David Stockdale and with a cavalcade of promising young goalkeepers at the club, we have likely seen the last of the goalkeeper signed by Martin Jol a year ago.

article_182569978dcb1438_1382812521_9j-4aaqsk

 

John Arne Riise

After three seasons of trying, John Arne Riise never did score that elusive goal. The Norwegian left back is a shadow of his former self and is extremely unlikely to have his contract renewed. The only place the kraken is being released is likely back in the Norwegian Tippeligaen as it’s hard to imagine a top flight club in a major European league giving John one last shot.

Fernando Amorebieta

After signing a four year contract last summer, Amorebieta came to Fulham with a reputation as a no nonsense centre back of international calibre. Unfortunately the so called “Butcher of Bilbao” has flattered to deceive with his best performances in a white shirt coming as a makeshift left back. The recent draw with Hull highlighted the best and worst of Amorebieta as he scored our second and then lost his marker to concede the heartbreaking goal that all but ended our season. A return to La Liga is a likely outcome though he would undoubtedly prove more than a match for Championship opposition.

Damien Duff

One of the few remaining survivors from Roy Hodgson’s Europa League team. Duff has had his season ruined by injury and at 35, the Irishman must call time on his top flight career in England. Performances have been wavering for several seasons and unless he gets fit and performs a Giggsesque switch to central midfield his career anywhere might be over. A faithful servant who deserved a proper farewell, Duff may get himself a swansong back home in the League of Ireland.

Darren Bent

The single worst personnel move of last season. The day Bent decided against a move to Crystal Palace was the day alarm bells rang with any Whites fan who’d watched him play for Aston Villa the year before. With a worse first touch than Stephenson’s Rocket and an uncanny ability to miss one-on-ones, the striker will not be missed in SW6. His goal against Stoke in the autumn was also responsible for the hanging chad that kept Martin Jol employed longer than he should have been. The termination of Adel Taarabt’s loan in January and the departure of Dimitar Berbatov in favour of keeping the Englishman has proved just one of many decisions regarding Bent that now seem foolish with the benefit of hindsight. His 3 league goals from 24 appearances (albeit 13 as a substitute) made up a third of our laughably poor return of 9 goals from the Berbatov, Bent and Rodallega striking triumvarate.

William Kvist

The earnest Dane was only on loan in SW6 and with our relegation his likelihood of staying is slim. He’s Mr Reliable as a midfield pivot but he is unlikely to want or suit a year in the Championship. Central midfield is a key area where we must get younger, something the Dane is unfortunately not. A return to Stuttgart is likely.

Giorgos Karagounis

At 107 Karagounis already defies the laws of human nature in still playing. I’d actually like to keep the Greek legend and feel strongly that he’s been underused this season, but our midfield must get younger and there are simply too many veteran cooks spoiling the midfield broth. Likely to retire or enjoy a highly paid trip to one of football’s new leagues in the USA or Australia.

Kostas Mitroglou

The great eight figured white elephant. Signed for a record figure (which was hopefully conditional and in instalments), the supposedly prolific Greek striker was signed to score the goals to keep us up. Unfortunately he arrived injured and unfit and has failed to start but a single game in Fulham’s colours. With a Magath pre-season under his belt and a ban on Dominos Pizza he could obliterate the Championship, but high wages mean he is likely to be more burden than bonus. Perhaps a loan to a top flight club would keep him in our ranks should we ascend back to the top flight, but the chances of Mitroglou being here come September seem very unlikely.

Kostas-Mitroglou-Fulham_3096154

 

Elsad Zverotic

The rare spotted Zverotic is a little seen species of Montenegrin utility footballer found mostly on substitutes benches and training fields. After a year of absenteeism and fleeting gusts of averageness (see his cameo start against Crystal Palace on the final day) when he has appeared, our Montenegro international is likely to depart somewhere if we can find a taker [note that it says taker not buyer].

Derek Boateng

The even rarer spotted Boateng of the Derek variety arrived at Fulham after a near two year courtship only to be discarded almost as soon as he arrived. Failure to make the grade under three juxtaposed managers tells a story in itself. Failure to agree a January loan suggests Boateng will want a club who promise to play him next season. With an FFC career totaling 5 appearances that club is highly unlikely to be Fulham.

Bryan Ruiz

12 months is such a long time in football. When Shahid Khan bought Fulham last July, the first team were on tour in Bryan’s home country of Costa Rica. The captain of his national team, he has been on loan at PSV Eindhoven since January and has the opportunity to re-enter English football’s consciousness in Brazil this summer. If nothing else, I’d like Bryan to stay a Fulham player until after the World Cup. Eye-catching performances in England’s group would be both enjoyable to watch and financially beneficial to the Motspur Park coffers. Bryan is the Margaret Thatcher of Fulham players; half the fans seemed to love him and his superb technical abilities, while the other half loathed his perceived weakness and lack of workrate. Undoubtedly gifted, a long term career in England is not overly likely and a return to Europe must surely be on the cards. With a better supporting cast Bryan may yet prove some of his doubters wrong, there’s just very little chance of it being at Fulham.

Could Go

Sascha Riether

The German has suffered from the sophomore blues this season after converting his successful loan spell into a permanent transfer from FC Koln last summer. As he was a near ever present in our defence, it is impossible to ignore Riether’s role in making our defence the worst in the country and the second worst the Premier League has ever seen. Jack Grimmer and Josh Passley wait in the wings for their chance to replace the likable German, and after being dropped for the final two matches of the season, Felix Magath may sanction a return to Germany for the defender.

Steve Sidwell

The likely recipient of player of the season award after proving our top scorer with 8 goals (let’s just forget the first 10 games when he was scapegoated after some woeful displays), there would be few fans who would begrudge Sidwell the chance to keep his top flight career alive. Aside from the positive’s Sidwell also committed the second most fouls of any player in the Premiership this term. Out of contract and as one of the few players who showed any fight, Sidwell would be a good player for several of the bottom rung Premier League teams looking for experience. I’d like him to stay as an experienced head in a young squad but our midfield needs a new look, not to mention a better passing range, and if that means starting from scratch without Sidwell it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

article-2619333-1D8B609F00000578-829_634x449

 

Scott Parker

We should have let Parker go to QPR. Every Fulham fan could see we needed to spend proper money on a central midfielder last year, but instead we signed a 33 (now 34) year old with nagging injury worries in the downslope of his career on a three year contract. While the papers eulogised about their Scotty, there was a mild trepidation amongst the fans cautious that we beat a team in a lower division to his signing. However, like Sidwell, Parker is one of the few battlers we have, and entering the dog-eat-dog Championship, this should not be forgotten. A near sure fire bet to stay with Fulham because of his contract length, keeping the former England captain would be no bad thing. However, if we have learned only one thing from this season, it is that he and Sidwell must NEVER EVER play in the same team.

Kieran Richardson

Like Sidwell above, Richardson is a player who has gone from scapegoat to solidarity. Richardson’s problems at Fulham have been caused primarily by apparent ability to play several positions. When played consistently and correctly at his best position of left midfield, he has been one of the few bright spots in this team. A good fit for a Championship promotion push, Richardson may get offers to stay at Premier League level, however, if he’s willing to stay, he’d be one of the few names on my “to keep” list.

Hugo Rodallega

If you’d have asked any fan 10 games ago whether Hugo should stay in the event of relegation the answer would have been overwhelmingly more negative than it is now. Having scored at Villa and versus Norwich there was a sense that Hugo really was worth his place. At Championship level that may well be true, but there are still many lingering doubts over Rodallega. His athleticism would be of benefit next season but he isn’t good enough technically or instinctive enough to instill any level of confidence that he’d be the 20-goal striker we need up top next season. Personally I’d be loathed to see him stay and block the progress of our young bucks up front. However, he’s ours to keep unless anyone comes in for him and personally I’d remove his Premier League wages from the bill should the opportunity arise.

Brede Hangeland

Club Captain Brede is on the “could go” list here because that is exactly what could happen. All signs point to loyalty from our Norwegian centre half but with only a year left to run on his contract and his top flight level ability becoming increasingly fleeting, there may be a last hurrah for Hangeland elsewhere. In truth, were Brede to leave would the team suffer a great deal? At Premier League level no, his performances have been on the decline ever since that fateful Sunderland sending off in 2012. However, at Championship level we would be foolish to write off such a canny and physically imposing centre back. At 272 appearances he is also the most experienced Fulham player by some way, such a link to the club’s history deserves not to be ignored. Unfortunately, any partnership with Dan Burn may be doomed with them both being natural left sided centre backs, and Hangeland’s displacement to the right side resulted in showed discomfort when paired with both Amorebieta and Burn last season.

David Stockdale

The goalkeeper is only on this list out of bountiful dedication to include every senior squad member. Likely to be set in stone as Fulham’s Number One come August having already displaced Maarten Stekelenburg from the team under Felix Magath. Promotion experience on loan at Hull in 2013 suggests Stockdale is the perfect man to guard our sticks next season.

Pajtim Kasami

The 21-year old Swiss midfielder has proved something of a quandary this season. Promoted to the first team out of the blue by Martin Jol at the start of the season, Kasami scored our first goal of the campaign at Sunderland. His goal of the season contender at Crystal Palace in October is one of the few highlights from the season just gone. All told though Kasami never reached those heights again. Despite making 35 appearances in all competitions he never nailed down a consistent starting spot and found himself used in a variety of positions. With grand ambitions fuelled by agent Mino Raiola and a recent call up to Switzerland’s full squad it remains to be seen whether Kasami will still be here in September. Somehow I doubt it, but being left out of Switzerland’s World Cup squad but be a reality check and given a regular position in the middle of the park, Kasami could be a key piece in our potential resurgence.

Likely to Go but would like to stay

Lewis Holtby

Zero percent chance Holtby stays. Lewis was evidently a class above Fulham technically when he arrived, but he never really performed to his best while he was here. Played out of position at times, he also contracted Fulhamitis with his set piece delivery, often failing to beat the first man. Loved having him for 6 months and will monitor his progress proudly, but he never set the world on fire in the white of Fulham. Returns to Spurs and will likely get a chance under their to be named new boss.

Ashkan Dejagah

One of the players of our season since Herr Magath’s arrival. Dejagah would be a remarkable asset a division down and may opt to stay under Felix’s tutelage safe in the knowledge he’ll keep his Iranian national team berth from a lower tier. However, if I was a Bundesliga club looking for a good squad player I’d be on the phone to Motspur Park as soon as the season ends.

john_heitingaProfile

 

John Heitinga

A superb signing since arriving on a 6-month deal from Everton. I would absolutely love Heitinga to stay in SW6 but in his search for 100 Netherlands caps that seems unlikely. His wages will be above Championship level and he could probably walk into any Eredivisie side. Don’t count out a return to first club Ajax for the excellent defender.

Mahamadou Diarra

Not your everyday number 9, but squad number aside, Diarra did everything we could have hoped and expected of a veteran midfielder returning from long term injury. His calm head would be a welcome addition to a Championship squad. No he wouldn’t play every game, but his experience and talent would go a long way to keeping our squad balanced. He may feel a debt to FFC after the injury support, but out of contract, retirement or a return to the less strenuous confines of French football may suit the venerable Malian.

So there you have it. When all is said and done, Fulham need to have completely cleaned house before any incoming transfers or youth promotions can take place. We need to know who will be staying, who will be going and what positions need filling. After the worst season in a generation, this is a squad that deserves to be torn apart so that the club can start again.

It would be unfair to place sky-high expectations on the young players, who are either in the squad already or soon to be, but the fact is, they deserve their shot at glory. The majority of the list above has more than had their day in the sun and it is time for them and the club to move on. With Felix Magath at the helm, it looks like that is what we are about to do.

Fulham Summer Transfer Targets Part 2 – Central Midfield

It’s been a tremendous start to the transfer window at Craven Cottage. We have our new starting goalkeeper in Maarten Stekelenburg and a new starting centre back in Fernando Amorebieta, while Derek Boateng has joined to provide much needed central midfield depth and Sascha Riether has completed his permanent transfer at right back. The benefit of getting all this shopping done early in the window, more time to focus on what we really need; a new midfield maestro.

The problem with writing a scouting report on possible midfielders is that there’s just so many out there. Finding a gifted Premiership central midfielder can be a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. Midfielders can be scouted at length, yet until they get their chance in the middle of a Premiership pitch it is hard to know how they’ll fare.

Marcel Gecov was an emerging star at the European Under 21 championships in 2011 yet he failed to last a year in England. At the other end of the spectrum, Mousa Dembele was signed as a young, lively and somewhat raw winger, yet has gone on to become one of the league’s best and most dynamic central midfielders, and the one we’re still trying to replace.

So here below are a few of the midfielders who could potentially help solve our problems in the middle of the park:

Vive La France

Whether it’s the 3 Michelin starred gastronomic temples of Paris or the wine aisles of Carrefour in Calais, our Gallic neighbours seem to produce something for everyone and its no different when it comes to midfielders.

Étienne Capoue

A move for Toulouse midfielder Capoue is not out of the question for Fulham this summer. The 24 year old is represented by Martin Jol’s agent Mino Raiola, who has a history of doing business with Fulham over Jol’s tenure. With 6 French caps to his name, Capoue is a lung-busting midfielder who scored 7 goals in Ligue 1 last season; previously linked to Arsenal, he had formed an intimidating partnership with Moussa Sissoko before his move to Newcastle in January. A price-tag of over £10m would likely be required to bring Capoue from France but he’d be the perfect addition to the Whites midfield this off-season. Not the creative tour de force we’re after, but St Etienne’s Joshua Guilavogui is another Ligue 1 player to watch, the 22 year old was an ever present in Les Verts run to a Europa League spot.

Toulouse midfield Capoue is destined for big things

Younes Belhanda

23 year old Morocco international Belhanda is undoubtedly one of the brightest young creative talents in all of Europe. Having helped Montpellier to their maiden domestic crown in 2012, he scored 10 and assisted 5 in a stuttering campaign for the reigning French champions this season. Linked heavily to Turkey, the playmaker has spoken of a desire to move to England, with Aston Villa surprisingly the first team to make their move. A hefty eight-figure fee would probably be required, but Belhanda would be just the player to provide the spark we need. Teammate at Montpellier Remy Cabella would be a cheaper but similarly creative option, at 23, he scored 7 with 7 assists last season, and has racked up an impressive 17 caps for the French Under-21 side. Lille’s highly rated 26 year old Dimitri Payet has been linked, along with Paris St Germain’s Clement Chantome.

Cabella and Belhanda – Premeirship bound?

Adel Taarabt

Like Belhanda, Taarabt is a fellow Moroccan international; unlike Belhanda, Taarabt has swathes of experience in English football, having left Lens as a teenager. Taarabt is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, he has an ego the size of Shepherds Bush (and the bus it takes to get there), but his talent is undeniable. 5 goals and 5 assists, including both goals in the December victory over Fulham, is a good return from QPR’s dismal season, not least because despot former manager Mark Hughes refused to use his best creative asset for most of the season prior to his dismissal. Whether you love him or hate him, Taarabt would be a talented addition to our midfield. Besides, when Berbatov’s around, everybody, even Taarabt, might keep his ego in check. Teammate Alejandro Faurlin suffered the ignominy of being relegated with 2 teams last season (having spent the latter half on loan at Palermo) despite himself being a classy link player and the key to QPR’s promotion and subsequent survival in their first season up.

Morgan Amalfitano

Heavily linked with a loan switch to Craven Cottage in the first weeks of the transfer window, Marseille’s Morgan Amalfitano could well be on his was to South West 6. At 28 he’s no spring chicken, but his ability to play both centrally and on the right flank could provide some much needed depth and versatility. Undoubtedly talented (he’s better than his brother Romain at Newcastle), whether he’s the star we’re after or a potential squad player would remain to be seen. Lyon’s Clement Grenier would be such a star, but at 22 he’s likely destined for higher pastures.

The Netherlands

Oranje arrival?

Adam Maher

At 19, AZ prodigy Maher is currently being seen starring for the Netherlands in the European Under-21 championships. A centre mid who likes to attack, he our fits the job description almost to the word. 7 goals and 6 assists in the Eredivisie last season is some return for a youngster playing his first full season. Fulham Under-21 midfielder Chris David was signed in the Maher mold back in January, but having a pair of up and coming Dutch talents would be to nobody’s angst, although calling Maher up and coming is selling his vast talent short. Seeing as Mousa Dembele came from AZ, another raid on Alkmaar would be just fine. Norwegian playmaker Markus Henriksen is another AZ player who could prove a possible Premier League target over the coming seasons.

Leroy Fer

Twente’s combative midfielder Fer was a failed medical away from signing for David Moyes’ Everton in January. 23 league appearances for the Enschede club with a last injury lay off back in November suggest such troubles are behind him. Despite the spell on the sidelines, he netted 5 times with 4 further assists last season, and scored the winner for Holland off the bench in their Euro Under 21 opener v Germany, as well as a follow up in the next game. Feyenoord duo Jordy Clasie and Tonny Vilhena would also be worthy additions, and two players very much to watch out for.

Kevin Strootman

The break the bank option from the Netherlands, PSV Eindhoven’s Strootman is a future world-class talent. Signed from Utrecht with similarly gifted wideman Dries Mertens (a player destined for superstardom who scored 16 and assisted on 17 from left wing last season) Strootman is a centre mid with that perfect blend of defensive steel and attacking instinct. 6 goals and 10 assists for the 23 year old quantifies his undoubted talent. Ajax captain Siem De Jong would be another welcome addition from the Eredivisie as erstwhile wunderkind and now superstar Christian Eriksen is surely well above our reach and off to one of Europe’s elite clubs from the Dutch capital.

Big money man Strootman

Junior Malanda

Not exactly Dutch, but short of dedicating a whole segment to the Belgian Pro League, Junior Malanda had to fit in somewhere. The young powerhouse was heavily linked with Fulham in January when he and his team, Zulte Waregem were both largely unheralded. Having now played 39 times in a season where Zulte achieved their highest ever finish, coming second to Anderlecht on the last day of the season, Malanda will now be a tad more expensive. A box-to-box athlete of some prowess, Malanda would be a welcome addition. William Vainquer of Standard Liege has also been linked.

Southern Europe

Antonio Candreva

Candreva is a bona fide talent who’s star lit up Lazio’s run to the Coppa Italia. His cross in the final provided the assist for Senad Lulic’s winner. At 26, Candreva is in his prime and could star for Fulham on the right wing or as a central midfielder. He scored 7 and assisted on 13 last season. A complicated co-ownership situation with Udinese mean a transfer would be virtually impossible, though he’s a player to watch nonetheless. Cagliari’s Belgian international Radja Nainggolan is another to be linked with a move to Fulham, as is 22 year old Romanian Adrian Stoian, who is currently co-owned by Roma and Chievo.

A bit of Roman style?

Beñat Exterberria

Real Betis’ 26 year old Basque maestro Beñat had a breakout season in Spain last year. Teammate Jose Canas, Sevilla’s Jesus Navas and Celta’s Iago Aspas have already sealed moves to England, so there is no reason Beñat could not follow suit. He’s a deadball wizard who scored 4 and with 7 assists for Seville’s second club last season. Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic and Gary Medel could also be available following their parent club’s financial woes.

Raul Garcia

26 year old Atletico Madrid midfielder Raul Garcia has been linked to Fulham several times in recent transfer windows. The Spaniard, who has one year left on his contract at the Vicente Calderon, would likely cost somewhere between £5m – £10m should he fancy the move to West London. He would also become the latest opponent from our 2010 run to the Europa League Final to join Fulham, having played all 120 minutes in the final (not that we’d hold that against him!).

Europa League winner 🙁

Selçuk Inan

28 year old Galatasaray vice captain Selçuk was linked to Fulham in the early days of this window around the time Gala showed interest in Kerim Frei. There is little chance of Fulham securing the popular set piece specialist from the Turkish capital, but at 28 he’d provide an experience edge to Fulham’s creative core.

Northern and Eastern Europe

Keisuke Honda

Japanese midfield magician Keisuke Honda currently plies his trade with CSKA Moscow, however the gifted 26 year old is a free agent at the conclusion of this Russian season in December. Linked heavily with Liverpool, Honda would be open for a switch to the Premier League and his contract situation will make him more financially available. A true star should he follow in Junichi Inamoto’s footsteps and move to Craven Cottage. Another non European option could be St Gallen’s 27 year old Argentine Ezequiel Scarione, who scored a hefty 21 goals from midfield to lead the Swiss league last season.

Honda – The Impossible Dream

Magnus Wolf Eikrem

Yes, its true, part of the reason anyone wants to sign Molde midfielder Eikrem is the fact he’s named Wolf. However, the former Manchester United youngster is one of the brightest talents to emerge from the Norwegian Tippeligaen in recent years. Out of contract in December, the midfielder, who can operate centrally or on the right, has a cultured nature about his play, and could follow former teammate Vegard Forren (now of Southampton) in moving to England. Several of Germany’s top clubs are already sniffing around this talented 22 year old.

Håvard Nordtveit

Like Magnus Eikrem, Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Nordtveit is one of several emerging Norwegian talents lighting up the European Under-21 championships in Israel this summer. Nordtveit is a deep lying central midfielder with a rocket shot who has English experience having spent some of his formative years in Arsenal’s academy. Unfortunately Nordtveit signed a contract extension at Gladbach in December, so any transfer would be costly, but expect to see him return to these shores someday. Teammate at Gladbach, Granit Xhaka, would likely be more available having failed to make an impact since his big money move from Basel last summer, the Swiss midfielder making just 15 Bundesliga starts last summer. Perhaps a central midfield pairing with Pajtim Kasami would push both Swiss talents to where they should be.

Stefan Johansen

Stromsgodset’s 22 year old central midfielder Johansen has shone to the fore for Norway’s exceptional Under-21 side in recent weeks. Along with international teammate and skipper Stefan Strandberg, (the Rosenborg centre back I’d fly to Motspur Park myself) Johansen is one of the premier Norwegian players still playing in his domestic league. With a contract expiring in Decemebr, I’d expect that to change once Norway’s spell in Israel comes to an end. Valarenga’s Mohammed Fellah could also be ready for the move to England. Rennes Anders Konradsen is another to watch but having only moved to France in January (as a replacement for reported near Fulham signing Yann M’Vila) he’s unlikely to move again just yet.

Yevhen Konoplyanka

Dnipro midfielder Konoplyanka is not exactly what Fulham need this summer, however, that won’t stop me singing the praises of the 23 year old. Having lit up his home tournament for Ukraine at last summer’s Euros along with Dynamo Kyiv’s Andriy Yarmolenko, it is hopefully a matter of time before we see Konoplyanka in Western Europe. He’d cost a fortune, and after the Derek Boateng saga I’d be surprised if Dnipro were too keen to speak to Alistair Mackintosh and Martin Jol again in a hurry. [N.B. latest reports suggest Konoplyanka is on the verge of an hideously over inflated petrodollar funded move to Shakhtar Donetsk] Shakhtar’s Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan is another reported Premier League target.

England

James McCarthy

Irish international midfielder McCarthy was a consistent shining light in Wigan’s turbulent season that saw them lift the cup before suffering relegation later the same week. Roberto Martinez may well look to take McCarthy with him to Everton, however should he decide to look elsewhere, there will be a not so orderly queue of Premiership teams looking to steal him away from the DW Stadium. Another relegated midfielder, Jem Karacan, deserves a second shot at the top flight following Reading’s relegation to the Championship.

Cup winner McCarthy

Tom Huddlestone

It seemed impossible to leave Spurs midfielder Huddlestone off this list. Perhaps the least glamorous of all the names, “Thud” is somehow still only 26. Persistent queries about his fitness have blighted the Nottingham born player’s career, but his most productive spell was as a youngster under Martin Jol. He’s a scorer of spectacular goals and of forty yard passes, so provided the fee wasn’t too steep, a move for Huddlestone would not seem a terrible move. Personally I’d prefer we moved for Gylfi Sigurdsson, the spectacularly talented Icelander failing to hold down a regular spot in Andre Villas-Boas’ side last season. Fulham could and should offer him a cemented starting spot and wait for the creative genius that would follow for years to come. Youngster Tom Carroll is another option with Spurs potentially willing to loan out the promising 21 year old.

The perfect signings??

Liam Bridcutt

The final profile is that of 24 year old Brighton midfielder Bridcutt. A former Chelsea trainee, Bridcutt is out of contract following Brighton’s run to the playoff semi finals. A combative all action centre midfielder, Bridcutt should be given his top flight opportunity having narrowly missed out on promotion with the south coast club. Current Chelsea academy graduate Nathanial Chalobah, who spent the season with Watford, will have potentially impressed any Fulham scouts sent to watch Matthew Briggs during his loan spell at Vicarage Road. Leicester’s Anthony Knockaert is another destined for better things, though the striker come attacking midfielder would probably benefit from another year in the Championship following his move from France last summer.

Whoever we sign, its another exciting summer in store.

COYW

Danny Murphy – My Own Tribute

Murphy gets a hug from Hodgson after Fulham won their Europa League semi-final against Hamburg

It has been a fair number of days since Danny Murphy moved from Craven Cottage on the banks of the Thames to the North West for Blackburn Rovers, so I apologise for only getting this piece up now. For the Fulham fans who read this, you will read about what I feel Danny Murphy did for our club and if you are a Blackburn fan, well you should hopefully get some insight into what you can expect to see over the next season or so. If any of you listened to the most recent Cottage Talk you will have already heard a little bit of what will be in this piece.

It is hard to write something that will give a man like Danny Murphy the credit he deserves. For me, he has been the most influential player at the club for a long time, being the long standing captain on the pitch as well as being the leading man off the pitch as club captain. Not only does he have tremendous quality as a footballer, but his leadership qualities are second to none.  I will get to his leadership qualities a little bit later in this piece but for now I want to write about the he did on the pitch, what qualities do Fulham now have to replace?

Vision: Firstly, let’s talk about the exceptional vision the guy has. Sometimes his passing is just exquisite. He can completely unlock the defence with a ball that not many people would have spotted. How many times have we had a free kick and he has seen the run of perhaps Andy Johnson or Clint Dempsey and just a beautiful pass on the ground literally straight through the defence? It is something that we could miss at Fulham.

Passing: It’s all well and good having good vision, but if you can’t play the pass then that is a pretty useless quality. Murphy often has the highest rate of successful passes on the pitch throughout the matches he is involved with. His choice of pass is nearly always right and he doesn’t often misplace passes. However, there were some games this year were he gave the ball away a little more than usual but everyone can have an off game! I have noticed that any time he does give the ball away, the commentators often mention how that doesn’t happen very often! We are fortunate at Fulham to have a group of players who like to pass the ball around but it was often Murphy who finds the killer ball. This could be something that we miss next season if we don’t find a suitable replacement.

Penalties: With all the hype about English players and their penalties I thought that I had to add this one in. Danny Murphy can fairly hit a penalty. He does it with such ease, confidence and pure skill. He isn’t the sort of player to blast his penalties, nor is he one to take a stupid, funny run up (Portugal penalty takers take note!). Rather he places his penalties and often he puts the ball where the keeper is never going to get to. Who takes the penalties now? Dempsey? Dembele? Who knows?

It would be very fair to say that Murphy has been with the club through the ups and the downs. From our nail-biting, just-about-staying-up season to the dizzying heights of seventh in the top flight and then an amazing European run that ended in a very tense final. He has seen a number of managers at the club and has played under different systems but he has nearly always kept his place. His outstanding dedication and experience saw him gain the captain’s armband under Hodgson reign and he has kept it ever since whenever he played. The debate over who will succeed him as captain will be very healthy over the next few months.

It was so fitting whenever he scored that goal at Portsmouth to keep us in the league. He is a fantastic leader and has, I believe, played an important role in the development of younger players such as Kerim Frei and Alex Kacaniklic. As a hockey player, I used to always relish the chance to play along side and learn from the top players, and our younger guys at Fulham have been able to do that from Danny Murphy. The mixture of youth and experience in our side over the past year has been excited to watch and a great benefit to our club and Danny Murphy has been very important for this.

We'll all miss Danny's signature goal celebration - as well as his metronomic accuracy from the spot

I would have loved Murphy to finish his career at Fulham but he feels that he has another few years and perhaps the step down to Championship level will suit him. After all, he was starting to struggle to finish games this season due to his age. Blackburn will be hoping that he can help them get straight back up to the PL and I reckon that with his experience he will play a very important role there. I wish him all the best and I really hope that we draw Blackburn in one of the cups this year at home so that the fans can proper say bye-bye to the man who has given us so much over the past five years. I hope he returns at some stage in some sort of coaching role, but for now, we must wish him well at his new club and never forget the impact that he made at Fulham Football Club.

Gatesy’s Premier League Roundup

So football is back! Back! Back! It’s been a long old summer but finally we once again have a focus in our dull, meaningless lives. Hurrah for the Premier League!
Fulham have a solid home record of recent seasons, we have not lost at home on the opening weekend of the Premier League season in living memory and Saturdays visitors had conceded at least a single goal on every one of their away travels last season. Three points were all but in the bag before the three o clock whistle had sounded. But that didn’t happen.
Though the visitors managed just a single shot on target during the whole 90 minutes our boys, save a few exceptions, didn’t look set to beat Shay Given had they played all night. He rightly got the man of the match award starting his first league game for 16 months. Bobby, AJ and Riise had good chances, but they were either waster or Given pulled off saves to deny us a flying start to the season proper. Still, we didn’t lose I suppose.
Last season it was Ballotelli who donned the red nose and spinning bow tie to entertain us all with his bonkers antics, and although he tried in pre-season to continue this trend, I think we may have a new court jester for this term. Enter Joey Barton. His hair may be enough, but mouthing off constantly on Twitter and causing all kinds of action of the football pitch is certainly good work in my eyes.
With everybody pretty much wanting to leave Arsenal at the moment, debutant Gervinho, and having only won two of their last 14 games it’s not exactly all Gravy at the Emirates. And a goalless bore draw at the other St James Park wont have done much to quell the shouts of a growing number of Gooners that perhaps its time Arsene Wenger moves on. It’s a Champions League qualifier for them next, imagine the turmoil should they fail to qualify with ease…
Man Yoo got the season underway by taking three points off Uncle Roy’s new lot. New Boy Ashley Young looked lively and with the help of a little deflection scored the winner at the Hawthorns. Although the visitors only officially had one shot on target in the entire match, Ben Foster managed to conceded two goals. It’s probably to be expected though bearing in mind he’s now conceded seven goals from just 11 United shots in 2011.
Kenny’s new look Liverpool shared the points with the Black Cats. Kieran Richardson gave away a controversial penalty early on to the hosts only for Suarez to blast it over the bar. He’d make amends shortly after though with his first of the season from new signing Charlie Adams cross. With a little over half an hour still on the clock the visitors drew level through Seb Larsson.
That lot down the road visited our old mates Stoke in the glorious potteries. With the new blues coach claiming the home sides “pushing and grabbing was out of this world” they returned to the capital with a point after a goaless draw with Torress starting to once again look like the player they forked over bundles of cash for last January.
The Premier League fixture computer arranged a nice bookend to the summer awithBlackburn and Wolves playing each other as the had done in the last game of last season. This time the boot was on the other foot with Wolves taking the pints winning by the odd goal in three.
The recently promoted teams had a mixed bag of results. Norwich made the trip to the DW Stadium and were rewarded with what could be a useful point come next May. Swansea had to wait until Monday evening to kick of their season with a trip to the Etihad Stadium to face Man City. All was going well for an hour, and then the blues decided they’d had enough and went up the end and scored. Four times. Still, it could have been worse. Most people would have expected this kinda result away at City. It’d be a whole different kettle of fish had you been at home and facing a bottom half side. Getting dry humped in that situation would just be embarrassing wouldn’t it.  In demand defender Tim Cahil scored the pick of the trotters four and was the only player in the top division to score from outside the box this weekend.
Still, lets look on the bright side for our neighbours. At least they managed to get that difficult home game against Bolton out of the way early on.
Next up for the Whites in the league is a Sunday trip to the Black Country to take on Wolves at Molineux where I’m sure our skipper will once again get a warm midlands welcome. Before then we entertain some Ukrainians at the Cottage in the first leg of the final qualifying round for
the Europa League on Thursday night.And if you’re interested, we currently sit mid-table. Good times.

Journey to the Centre of Fulham’s Midfield

Following the exits of Johnny Greening and Kagisho Dikgacoi from SW6 already this summer, Martin Jol has been quick to bring in a couple of younger replacement for the departed central midfielders.

Last week the Dutchman signed the Czech Under 21 defensive midfielder, Pajtim Kasami, from Palermo for about £3m and with Swiss Under 21 Gecov signing for the Whites early this month for around £700,000.  In the build up to the third round qualifier in the Europa League Jol was quoted as saying he’s got big plans for Gecov and he’ll feature heavily for us this coming season.

With Danny Murphy, Dickson Etuhu and Steve Sidwell already fighting for the two slots, there’s set to be increased competition in the centre of the field. Who will fill the spaces on the team sheet? Pretty much as soon as he walked through the doors at White Heart Lane Jol shipped Murphy off to us. While this was fantastic for us Danny probably was a little unsure as to what lie ahead for him when he was appointed as our new gaffer over the summer. However, reassurances we’re issued by the newcomer straight off the bat …

Last season, if you had the privilege of having me tell you about football and Fulham you may have discovered that I wasn’t Etuhu’s number one fan. Now, make a note of where you are when I write this but, I may have been wrong. I know any idiot can use statistics to prove their point but, according to last seasons stats by Opta, Etuhu appears to have been our best central midfielder. With more goals than Murphy, a better pass competition rate than any other player and per minute more interceptions he may be doing enough to keep his place in the centre of the park.

With Jol singing the praises of the newcomers and Murphy wanting to play as many games as he can in, what could be his final couple of seasons it’ll be good to have some contest for positions. Sidwell won’t be wanting to sit out games as he did last season during his time with today’s opponents, Villa, and Etuhu always seems eager to play.

I guess we’re but a few hours away from finding out.

Welcome back football. Never leave us again. We’ve missed you.