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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Chelsea 0-0 Fulham: Player ratings

Fulham competed from first minute to the last at Stamford Bridge last night – and executed Martin Jol’s gameplan effortlessly. The Dutchman described the game as his ‘perfect scenario’ in his post-match Sky Sports interview and you could see what he meant. The Whites were quickly into their stride, taking advantage of the local discontent at the presence of Rafa Benitez in the home dugout, kept things tight at the back and looked dangerous on the break. So successful were Fulham that there’s more than a tinge of regret that the visitors couldn’t end their 33-year wait for a win at the Bridge.

Schwarzer: It was a measure of how surprisingly comfortable Fulham’s evening was that the Australian had very little to do. He fielded a speculative shot from Torres with consummate ease in the first half and was able to comfortably gather Ramires’ speculative stab from ten yards in the second half. The only time Schwarzer, who organised his defence expertly throughout, looked to be beaten the outstanding Aaron Hughes arrived to hook Torres’ shot clear from underneath his own bar. 7

Riether: The German’s fast becoming Fulham’s most reliable right back since Steve Finnan, even though he hasn’t yet matched compatriot Moritz Volz’s feat of scoring at Stamford Bridge. Riether was resolute in defence, seeing Eden Hazard substituted as Chelsea searched for a breakthrough, and was eager to surge forward. Had Mladen Petric not only just left the bench himself, the on-loan Cologne full-back might have made the winner. 8

Riise: Like Paul Konchesky before him, Riise will have to get over spurning a splendid chance to turn a creditable point into all three. Having galloped fully ninety yards to reach the Chelsea six-yard box, the away fans waited for Riise to finish a flowing break that began in Fulham’s own penalty area, but he failed to make a telling connection. Cech did well to save a deflected strike, but the left back’s wait for his first goal will go into a 57th game. Diligent defensively, but will wonder what could have been. 7

Hughes: Outstanding. Dependable. Flawless. Pick a glowing adjective and it will describe the Northern Irish centre back’s fautless display last night. In the absence of Brede Hangeland, Fulham’s centre halves needed to assert themselves against Fernando Torres and Hughes, for so long the unsung hero of this team, rose to the occasion. Rarely beaten in the air against a taller forward, Hughes was composed in cutting out the danger – twice blocking shots in his own box – before lunging to divert Torres’ effort to safety when it flashed worryingly across goal. 9

Senderos: The Swiss defender has a vocal band of detractors but his sins in a Fulham shirt have been difficult to identify. Having struggled on this ground in the past against Didier Drogba (who didn’t?), Senderos was exactly the physical presence Jol would have sought in the centre of his defence without Hangeland and didn’t put a foot wrong until added time, when a dreadful back header almost let in Ramires. The doubters should give Senderos, who has played two and a half games since April, credit for his part in a precious clean sheet. 7

Diarra: The Malian is such a key component of Jol’s team, with his ability to read the game, carry the ball forward and do the physical stuff, that even when he’s lacking match sharpness – as was clearly the case last night – he’s worth starting on the big nights. Diarra’s presence screening the back four denied the space Oscar and Hazard they craved, but he also forged a successful partnership with Steve Sidwell to keep the ball and dictate the tempo. Brought off as he started to tire after the hour. 7

Sidwell: It was fitting that Sidwell, who passed along the Fulham Road at the speed of a 211 on a non-matchday after a frustrating spell at Chelsea earlier in his career, produced his finest performance in a Fulham shirt at the home of his former employers. The ‘Ginger Iniesta’ scurried across midfield, timed his tackles impeccably, and was clearly up for the contest from the first whistle. He comfortably outfought Oriel Romeu and were it for not the excellence of Hughes, would have been my man of the match. 8

Duff: Restored to the starting line-up against his old club and Duff delivered exactly what you’ve come to expert: a whole-hearted effort, full of running and plenty of defensive work – none more important than when he stabbed a loose ball behind as he dropped beyond the far post. The Irish winger was offensive enough to keep Ashley Cole back in his own half for long periods, a crucial ingredient for Fulham’s success as the visitors looked to assert themselves. 7

Rodallega: An ineffectual and infuriating display from the former Latic, who failed to seize his opportunity to shine on the left flank. Used his height well against Cesar Azpilicueta but failed to attack the Spanish full-back or offer any real threat out wide. Rodallega looked slightly more dangerous when played through the middle, but even Dimitar Berbatov was perturbed by the Colombian’s enigmatic display judging by the Fulham skipper’s sixty seconds of berating him after an attack broke down in the second half. 6

Karagounis: Playing the Greek veteran at the point of Fulham’s attacking midfield triangle was a masterstroke from Jol. Karagounis ran his heart out and was far more effective than when he looked isolated as a left winger at Stoke; crucially, dropping back to form a third orthodox central midfielder when the Whites were under pressure. His pass to release Riise midway through the second half was the ball of the night and went off to a full-throated rendition of his jolly little song. 7

Berbatov: Brilliant without being devastating once again, Berbatov led the team rather than just the forward line last night. Rather like Alistair Cook, Berbatov seems to thrive on the captaincy and was a livewire throughout – completing fifteen more passes and enjoying double the number of touches as Torres, despite costing only a tenth of the Spaniard’s transfer fee. Had the assistant referee not wrongly raised his flag when the Bulgarian burst through on goal, he might have put Fulham in front. His only black mark came in injury time when his baffling decision to receive a short corner gifted Chelsea a last chance to come forward. 8

Substitutes

Baird: The Ballymena boy’s absence from the starting line-up was harsh as Baird’s arguably been Fulham’s most consistent performer since stepping into central midfield in September. Afforded a rousing reception as he replaced Diarra, ‘Bairdinho’ battered a free-kick shot at Cech but stepped seamlessly into the Malian’s role anchoring Fulham’s midfield and picked out a couple of impressive forward passes. 7

Frei: The Turkish teenager likes playing Chelsea and his fearlessness seemed to enliven Fulham as he exploded back into the first team. He dribbled away from Azpilicueta twice in two minutes, beating him on both sides, and on another evening might have won a spot-kick for the second season in succession after being caught by Ramires. Just as importantly, he showed great awareness to tee up Riise’s deflected effort, and it’s great to see such a terrific talent back in a Fulham shirt. Why didn’t Cardiff use him more during his month in the Championship? The Bluebirds’ loss is certainly Fulham’s game. 7

Petric: A late replacement for Rodallega but the Croatian striker – perhaps the most natural finisher at Motspur Park at the moment – couldn’t react quickly enough to convert the only chance that came his way when he miscontrolled Riether’s excellent cross. 6

Sidwell ‘disappointed’ with a draw

Steve Sidwell was disappointed that Fulham were unable to end record a historic first win at Arsenal after an extraordinary encounter at the Emirates Stadium this afternoon.

Martin Jol’s men trailed to goals from Oliver Giroud and Lukas Podolski inside 23 minutes but an Alex Kacaniklic header sandwiched between a Dimitar Berbatov brace incredibly saw the Cottagers come back to lead with a quarter of the game to play. Sidwell was himself perhaps fortunate to avoid a second yellow card for bringing down Santi Carzola in a dangerous position and, after Giroud’s second of the afternoon, the Whites were indebted to a superb penalty save from Mark Schwarzer that maintained parity right at the end of an absorbing afternoon.

Sidwell, who was a late inclusion against his old club after Mahamadou Diarra failed a fitness test, told the BBC:

We’re disappointed not to come away with three points, but it’s good to get a point away from home at the Emirates. I had a great upbringing and education at Arsenal, and it put me on the path to where I am now.

We found ourselves 2-0 down and felt hard done by. Then we got it back to 2-2 and were growing in confidence. We got a third goal but just couldn’t hang on. The gameplan was to get into them and don’t let them play.

We also had to defend well and keep a good shape, and we’ve done well today. We could maybe even have scored more, but it was hard work out there.

Cottage Talk previews Fulham v Arsenal

 

Last night’s Cottage Talk looked back on Fulham finally having something to celebrate in the closing stages of a game – Steve Sidwell’s equaliser against Everton last week – and previewed this afternoon’s trip to Arsenal. Regular host Russ Goldman was joined by our very own Lorcan O’Connor. You can listen to this week’s episode – ideal if you’re about to make the trip to north London – here.