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One Month To Go – A Pre-Season State of The Union

It is now several weeks since Shahid Khan bought Fulham from Mohamed Al-Fayed and announced his presence at the theatrically staged handover at Craven Cottage. In this time the squad have returned from a hugely successful tour of Costa Rica and departed for a week’s training camp in the Austrian mountains. There has however been no first team player movement, either in or out, and the looming season is drawing ever closer.

It is easy to be over eager in these long summer months of the transfer window. Sign this player, sign that player cry the voices, while pre-season tune up matches get analysed with the intensity of cup finals, such is the overwhelming desire for football to return to the normalcy of mid-season.

At Fulham however, those voices are not without at least some just cause. 2012/13 was a season of not much more than passable nothingness with the added bonus of Berba-vision keeping the amassed proletariat from voicing their discontent in unison.

We have seen the average age of the squad stay at a level where jokes about receding hairlines might just be a little close to home. We have also seen fan favourites and key players depart with either little warning or fanfare, and on the whole, without replacement.

Mark Schwarzer is one of those to have actually been replaced, Maarten Stekelenburg is certainly looking like a great bit of business by the club, even if it was 53 days ago. Yet the big Australian was hardly given the send off deserving of the greatest goalkeeper in Fulham’s modern history. The same could be said of Danny Murphy last summer, who the club should do well to bring back in some capacity, as well as Europa League hero Simon Davies and fan favourite Chris ‘Bairdinho’ Baird this summer.

While the signing of Dimitar Berbatov on deadline day last August appeased the sense of spiraling desperation set on by the poaching of Dembele and Dempsey, the team has never come close to recovering on the pitch in nearly a year.

It is emblematic that Steve Sidwell, has gone from 4th choice central midfielder in May 2012 to first choice now, without having materially improved his game. Sidwell also seems to have been forgiven for the mental stupidity that saw him receive back to back red cards that limited him to just 12 minutes of action in Fulham’s last 7 games of the season just gone.

Then there is the case of Fulham’s young players. Anyone who witnessed the Academy triumph to their second successive national title in May would have been elated at the quality of Fulham’s youth set up, yet there seems a great reluctance to give them a chance in senior football even in pre-season. Marcello Trotta, now third choice centre forward by default, can’t get a pre-season game ahead of the man still searching for a barn door, Hugo Rodallega, and the players Martin Jol does seem keen on, Alexander Kacaniklic, Mesca and Kerim Frei, all play the same left wing position. The halted development of Kerim Frei is just another disappointment of the last 12 months.

All this melodrama aside, the future should and could still be very bright in SW6. The behind the scenes staff at Craven Cottage does a very good job and appears to be in the Khan era management scenario. The club’s well-designed drive to self-sustainability for example is still a very worthy cause.

Progress in the current Premier League climate though will however, not come without cost. This Fulham team either needs to attempt a thorough rebuild, where the young talent is given more than one appearance in an away League Cup loss, or some bona fide star names need to come in and rejuvenate a squad which still holds enormous potential.

The course of action hinted at being taken is a mix of the two; blood the very best young players, whilst building an experienced team capable of playing exciting and attractive football. However, we are not there yet. Should players like Chris David and Pajtim Kasami, both potentially exciting, passing footballers, be the future, to see them sat on the bench time and time again is incredibly frustrating. Either sign players of a sufficient standard to grow the team, or give the guys who need to develop an arena in which to do so. Any more time treading water will lead Mr Khan’s investment to lose its value in a hurry.

I am sure the club is working hard to improve the squad. With a little over a month to go to the end of the transfer window, by September 3rd we could all be cheering an astounding past month where all our wishes came true, and with the promise of Khan’s millions to fund the manager’s target list, there is a good chance we will.

With back-to-back home friendlies before we open the season at Sunderland, it would be nice to see some development both with the players we already have, and those we need. A run out at the Cottage for the likes of David, Mesca, Frei, Trotta and Kasami will allow the fans to see what the future does hold. Like the best teams, fans want, and need, to be inspired. The takeover set the wheels in motion; the next month is the time for action.

COYWs