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Fulham Academy Where Are They Now Part One: The Ones Who Got Away

Former Fulham Academy striker Marcello Trotta this week signed for Italian Serie A side Sassuolo. Whilst being pleased for Marcello and in some ways feeling vindicated having always been in the pro-Trotta camp, it’s hard not to look on with a touch of remorse at what might have been had he stayed at Fulham.

So it got me thinking, who else has left the academy under the cover of darkness only to go on and have their name in lights elsewhere? Who are the ones that got away?

The long and short of it is that there aren’t very many. As an fascinating long read article from the Guardian’s Barney Ronay illustrated this week, the life of a Premier League Academy graduate is often one of hardship, with a very small percentage actually making it to top level football. For every success story, there are countless more failures.

In truth, Fulham’s academy only began to resemble a genuine source of senior players following Huw Jennings arrival at Fulham in December 2008. Success was only beginning to be noticeable in 2011 when our Under 18s made the Barclays Premier Academy League Final for the first time. Many of the most promising Academy players developed under Jennings’ tenure are only now finding their opportunities in the senior game, be it at Fulham or elsewhere.

In the years before Jennings arrived at Motspur Park, Fulham’s academy was not the glittering Category 1 talent factory it is today (ok ever so slight over exaggeration), it was more of a hotchpotch of local ‘talent’ and random cherry picked foreigners as Fulham sought to keep up with the ever younger and ever geographically expanding Premier League talent arms race.

In looking into the ones that got away, I’m not talking about those that broke into the first team and quickly got sold for a profit. The tales of Chris Smalling, Patrick Roberts and Kerim Frei are well known. Who though are the gems that got away?

Marcello Trotta
Now 23, Marcello Trotta was signed by Serie A side US Sassuolo this week for a reported fee of £2m from Avellino. The striker had been at Avellino, in Italy’s second tier, for a year having left Fulham quietly last January. Trotta had 8 goals and 5 assists in Serie B this season prompting Sassuolo to snap up the Italy Under 21 international with bigger clubs reported to be looking on as well. Trotta’s time at Fulham was defined by a lack of opportunities. Despite scoring 56 goals in the 4 and a half seasons he was in England across various competitions, a succession of Fulham managers refused to give him a chance. He performed well during three loan spells in the football league (at Wycombe and twice at Brentford) but never got his chance at Craven Cottage. He was a natural predator in front of goal and his continued rise through the ranks in his homeland will be closely watched by Fulham fans with perhaps the biggest sense of “what if” out of all the players on this list.

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Karim Laribi
The diminutive left midfielder arrived at Fulham from Inter Milan in 2007 as one of the first wave of foreign prospects brought to the club. After signing a one year deal with Fulham in 2008 he left under the radar a year later. Following a move to Sicilian side Palermo and several loan spells, he earned a move to then Serie B side Sassuolo. He has subsequently built a solid foundation to his career at Sassuolo, having earnt promotion to Serie A with them. Now 24, he spent last season on loan at Bologna in Serie A before returning to Sassuolo this season where he’s been in and out of the side. Laribi arrived at Fulham at the same time as another Italian, Luca Moscatiello, who now plies his trade in the 4th tier of Swiss football.

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Muamer Tankovic
Swedish forward Tankovic was the first high profile Fulham prospects to leave the club once we got relegated. He had several fleeting chances in the Fulham first team in our relegation season, most notably as a lone striker away at Manchester United, but he did not renew his contract and joined Dutch Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar following our relegation. Tankovic enjoyed a large amount of game time in his first season in Holland but has found himself in and out the AZ side in his second season and has made only 10 league appearances this term. Tankovic’s lightweight frame and finesse style would not have suited the Championship but he remains a player remorseful eyes will track from SW6 as his career develops.

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Danny Hoesen

Forward Hoesen left Fulham in one of the more bizarre transfers in recent memory, signing for Dutch giants and well known talent factory Ajax straight from the Fulham reserves. What did they see that we didn’t? Having played in the Champions League for Ajax, Hoesen’s meteoric rise somewhat stalled when he was deemed surplus to requirements and loaned to Greek side PAOK. He now appears to have found his level, featuring 14 times this season for Dutch Eredivisie side FC Groningen.

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Neil Etheridge

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Goalkeeper Etheridge’s time at Fulham will be remembered for two things; conceding the 2 goals that knocked us out the Europa League at home to OB Odense in his only first team appearance, and having the most twitter followers at the club owing to his superstardom in the Philippines, where he’s goalkeeper for the national team. Goalkeeper progression is a hard conundrum for many clubs and Etheridge fell on the wrong side of history at Fulham. After several loan spells he was released 18 months ago once he became too old to feature regularly for the Academy and U21 sides. Having spent last season at Oldham and Charlton, Etheridge was picked up by Walsall on a free transfer. In a move that now resembles a masterstroke, Etheridge is the first choice keeper for the Saddlers having kept 8 clean sheets this season in League One. He’s also only conceded 20 goals in 22 games. With goalkeepers typically improving with age, Etheridge, at age 25 would appear to have a very bright future ahead of him. Another goalkeeper from the Fulham academy making a name for himself is Wes Foderingham, now first choice at Scottish giants Rangers.

Adrian Leijer
The story of Australian centre back Leijer is not so much that of “the one who got away” but rather “the one who got away and made a nice career for himself but it was still probably best for both parties that he left”. Having signed as a 21-year-old next big thing from Melbourne Victory, Leijer returned to Australia two years later having failed to make the grade in England. He went on to play more than 100 times in the Australian A-League and captained the Victory to A-League glory. He now plies his trade in China’s top division for Chongqing Lifan.

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Stefano Okaka
The final name on my list is not an academy player, nor someone who was ever a permanent Fulham player. Stefano Okaka Chuka spent the second half of Fulham’s Europa League Final season on loan at Craven Cottage from AS Roma. Having become known to Fulham fans after he scored for Roma against Fulham earlier in the season, Okaka played a sparing role as Fulham stumbled along to the end of the league season whilst eyes and minds were focussed on Thursday nights. He had raw skills but lacked the composure to make a real difference in front of goal. 5 years later and Okaka has matured into a very talented forward. Having left Roma, Okaka had spells at Parma, La Spezia and Sampdoria before a £2m move to RSC Anderlecht sought to revive his career in the summer. He’s gone on to make quite the impression in Belgium having scored 9 goals in 21 appearances so far this season, including the winner against Tottenham in the Europa League.

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Juries Still Out

Three more on whom the jury is still out are Chris David, Jonathan Buatu and Omri Altman, who now play for Go Ahead Eagles (Dutch 1sttier), Waasland-Beveren (Belgian 1st tier) and Hapoel Tel Aviv (Israeli 1st tier) respectively. 22 year old Angola international centre back Buatu in particular is one player whom I expect will make the transition back to a top league at some point before too long. Chris David, he of the much potential and Premier League wonder goal, is a perfect example of what can go wrong. Many people, myself included, expected him to be one of the stars of our Championship campaign last season. However, after falling out with management he was loaned to former club FC Twente (for whom he ended up playing in the reserves) before being released last summer.

Part Two tomorrow will look at those players who maybe didn’t quite end up where they wanted.

A Guide to Fulham’s Homegrown Talent 2013-14

Following interviews with manager Martin Jol on the official website, and owner Shahid Khan on CottageTalk on Friday, I am now increasingly confident that the final month of the transfer window will be prosperous for Fulham Football Club.

With the first team in need of several star additions to the starting line up, the near two months of transfer inactivity has given an opportunity for several of Fulham’s young players and academy graduates to shine in pre-season and possibly earn a place in the first team squad for the coming season.

So with no new signings to profile, here are a few of the Fulham youngsters that everyone should know going into the 2013 – 2014 Barclays Premier League season.

Buomesca Tue Na Bangna (“Mesca”)

20-year-old Guinea-Bissau born Portuguese youth international winger Mesca is the most exciting of a crop of young players about to break into the first team squad. Having been released from Chelsea’s academy as an 18 year old, Mesca joined Fulham in August 2011 and has been on a fast climb ever since. A starring member of the victorious 2012 Premier Academy league Champions Under-18 side, he was promptly promoted to first team camp last pre-season where a goal in a 4-0 win over Nice proved a memorable highlight. Unfortunately a knee injury prevented him from making his much anticipated competitive first team debut last season, but with the incumbent Alex Kacaniklic currently injured, Mesca is slated to potentially open the season starting on the left. A fast, creative left winger, Mesca could soon be a shining crown jewel to have come from within our system.

Mesca

 

Jack Grimmer

19 year old Scotland youth international Grimmer is another currently enjoying first team training as our second choice right back. He joined the Whites back in January 2012 having already made his professional debut with Aberdeen aged just 16. A versatile defender who can play centre half, right back or in midfield, Grimmer is a vocal leader on the pitch. His Scottish twang was noticeably audible from the stands as Fulham’s outstanding player in the 2012 Premier Academy League Final. Having led the Under-19s to Dallas Cup glory and made the bench for the FA Cup game at Blackpool last term, Grimmer will hopefully make the first team squad on a more regular basis as back up to Sascha Reither this season. Full international honours should also be in the offing in the not so distant future.

 

Chris David

Much talked about Dutch midfielder Chris David joined the Whites last January following a somewhat protracted move from Bryan Ruiz’s old club FC Twente in the Netherlands. The 20 year old was supposedly the brightest spark in Twente’s youth set up and hopes are sky high for him to develop into a top class attacking midfielder. Trips to both Costa Rica and Austria with the first team show how highly he is rated by Martin Jol, though he will likely start the season playing for Kit Symonds’ Under-21 side. With a few impressive cameos in pre-season and a few more once the season starts, don’t be surprised to see Chris David in the first team fringes come the second half of the season.

Mesca, Tankovic and David on preseason tour

 

Marcello Trotta

One of the better known players to have come out of the Academy in recent seasons, Italian striker Trotta deserves to be given his chance at senior level this season. Successful loan spells at Wycombe in 2012 and Brentford in 2013 have proven 20-year-old Trotta is capable of scoring goals in senior football. Questions about his attitude prevailed after his taken-against-orders missed penalty cost Brentford promotion to the Championship, but the confidence shown, and humility learnt, will hopefully blend together to help Marcello develop into the top class striker many, including myself, believe he can become. Martin Jol has spoken of his desire to strengthen up front, so chances might be limited, but he is currently the most natural born poacher in the entire squad.

Trotta scoring against Chelsea last season

 

Muamer Tankovic

Whether we see 18-year-old Swede Tankovic in the first team this season is unknown, with a full year of development squad football and a possible loan spell more likely. A versatile forward player, Muamer arrived at Fulham as a 16 year old from IFK Norrkoping in 2011, and has shone for the Under-18s in a Number 10 role and up front. A starring member of last May’s second successive Barclays Premier League Under-18 championship winning side, Tankovic’s physical development is such that he could be ready for senior football sooner rather than later. A loan to the Championship like Alex Kacaniklic’s to Watford in 2012 would probably be the best move all round.

Lasse Vigen Chrisensen

Similarly to Tankovic, 18-year-old Danish central midfielder Christensen is unlikely to force his way into the first team just yet. He did however, feature in the opening fixture in Costa Rica, showing hopes are high for the former FC Midtylland player who arrived at Fulham in January 2012. The club website cites him as “bold and creative in possession” and he shone as a cultured deep lying central playmaker when I saw him last. A year learning his craft from the likes of Giorgos Karagounis in first team training could have Christensen first team ready next summer, if not sooner.

Christensen and Tankovic training with the first team in Costa Rica

 

The Under 18s / Under 21s

Besides those profiled above, there are numerous other players lighting up the Under 21s and Under 18s who could well see first team action in the future, its just unlikely to be this coming season. There are other, good players I wont have mentioned below, but the entire Fulham youth set up is prospering and will hopefully supply players to the first team for years to come.

Goalkeeper

Neil Etheridge is the star pupil in the goalkeeping ranks. The Philippines international has been capped a staggering 40 times for his country aged just 23. Having recently signed a new contract, Martin Jol has stated Etheridge has the potential to be a future Fulham Number 1 and spent the majority of last season as back up to now departed Mark Schwarzer. Hopefully Neil is given a loan spell in the Championship or an overseas top flight this season to get some regular match practice under his belt. Highly rated Marcus Bettinelli travelled with the first team to Austria, while Jesse Joronen, Max Oberschmidtn Magnus Norman and Marek Rodak are all highly rated within the system. Slovakian Rodak in particular starring for the Under 18s towards the latter part of last term.

Defence

Centrally, two players stand out for me. 17-year-old Northern Irishman Liam Donnelly showed the maturity, calmness and positional sense of countryman and fellow centre half Aaron Hughes in the winning Under 18 team back in May. His central defensive partner that day was that statuesque Stephen Arthurworry whose size alone should guarantee a decent professional future, an adept passing range akin to that of first team skipper Brede Hangeland will likely ensure it. Mention must go as well to on loan Dan Burn. Having scored the goal that got Yeovil promoted from League 1 in May, 21 year old Burn will spend the entirety of this campaign playing under Lee Clarke at Birmingham City in the Championship. With both Hughes and Philippe Senderos having contracts that expire in 2014, don’t be surprised to see Burn playing games alongside Amorebieta or Hangeland in a year’s time. Sierra Leone born Irish youth international Noe Baba and Scotland’s Cameron Burgess are also highly rated.

Midfield

18-year-old Frenchman Ange-Freddy Plumain signed from RC Lens last month amid somewhat of a cloud of confusion after the French club released a statement saying they thought he was still under contract to them. Regardless, Plumain is an exciting prospect who can play on the wing or up front and stated he chose Fulham as the club best suited to further his development, and will expect to play a full season in the Under 21s despite having featured 22 times for Lens’ first team last term. German midfielder Ronny Minkwitz saw his development slow down in the last 12 months after previously captaining the Under 18s and will have a make or brake 2013/14. The same can be said of Australian winger Ryan Williams who starts the season on loan at Oxford United and home grown prospect Charles Banya who made a Premier League substitutes bench at Stoke last November. The two gems at Under 18 level are 17 year olds Emerson Hyndman and Patrick Roberts. American playmaker Hyndman still has some physical development to go but his reading of the game and distribution skill show sizable natural talent. Winger Roberts is fast making a name for himself on both the domestic and international stages, and is included in the latest England Under 17 squad. Finally, a word on Josh Pritchard who is currently halfway through the season at Tromso in Norway’s top flight where he is playing regularly in an under publicised loan spell.

Forwards

Anyone who saw the Under 18s tear Reading apart in May will be well aware of the following two players. Englishman Cauley Woodrow and Frenchman Moussa Dembele will both have successful senior careers unless they waylay their development with a false career move. Woodrow is, and I hate to use this phrase, a typical English centre forward; think a young Teddy Sheringham with long blonde hair. Equally adept at playing the hard yards with his back to goal as he is poaching in front of it, with the right development and appropriate loan spells, Woodrow could, and should, one day successfully wear the white of the Fulham first team. Frenchman Dembele on the other hand is a natural headline maker. His quite brilliant hat-trick in the Academy final was as good as any forward his age (then 16) could have scored. Having turned 17 and signed professional papers, there is a real chance that in Dembele, we have a player who could one day be worth the £15m his namesake was sold to Tottenham for. Thankfully, with a professional contract bearing his name, that development will be at Fulham. Former MK Dons youngster George Williams will get his chance to lead the Under 18s this term, while Dino Islamovic is another Swede looking to impress in the Under 21s.

Hat-trick hero Dembele back in May

 

Last Word

This coming season is a big one for several recent academy and development squad products. The case of the missing Kerim Frei must be answered after injury halted the development of our “next Messi” (as some were calling him after some stellar early performances) and time is ripe for him to show his face again. Midfielder Pajtim Kasami impressed on loan at Luzern last spring and has been one of the stars of pre-season. Defender Matthew Briggs must be hoping he gets his chance at left back and will fight John Arne Riise all season for the spot, though many, myself included, feel he has the ability and skill set to one day progress further up the pitch.

COYWs

Trotta scores again for Brentford

Marcello Trotta came off the bench to score the sixth goal of his successful loan spell at Brentford tonight as the Bees saw off Stevenage Borough at Griffin Park.

Fulham’s Italian striker, on loan at Brentford since November, replaced Paul Hayes just after the hour mark with the home side already leading through a Tom Adeyemi strike just before the interval. The 20 year-old sealed the win with a superb curler from distance four minutes from time, which helped cement Brentford’s place in the League One play-off picture.

Trotta will be hoping that his sublime finish will have done enough to secure a place in the Brentford starting line-up for Sunday’s FA Cup fourth replay at Chelsea. He has already made his mark in this season’s competition – scoring the opening goal in the original 2-2 draw at Griffin Park.

Trotta happy to extend Brentford stay

Marcello Trotta would be happy to extend his loan spell at Brentford after his goals have helped put the Bees firmly in the League One promotion picture.

The Italian youth international, although highly rated at Motspur Park, is unlikely to see much first-team action at Fulham ahead of summer arrivals Dimitar Berbatov, Mladen Petric and Hugo Rodallega. Trotta has scored three goals in seven games since making the move to Griffin Park back in November and, although his loan is due to expire later this month, he says he would be keen to continue playing first-team football.

I’m really enjoying my time here. We’re all doing our best to try and get this team to the Championship. I have scored a few goals and have provided some assists as well, so it’s good to benefit the team.

I’m due to go back later this month but I would be keen to stay on. Both clubs are speaking at the moment, so we’ll see what happens.

I haven’t spoken to Martin Jol but I know he wants his young players to be out playing games. If there’s no space at Fulham, that could be here or somewhere else as long as I play.

Jol has handed Trotta three substitutes appearances since taking over at Fulham, but the 20 year-old striker has amassed most of his playing time in loan spells with Wycombe, Watford and now Brentford.

Reserves end season in second

Marcello Trotta and Alex Smith secured the goals that ensured Fulham’s reserves finished the season in second place after they won 2-1 at West Bromwich Albion this afternoon.

The Italian teenage striker, who enjoyed a fine spell on loan at Wycombe earlier in the campaign, has been a prolific scorer for the second string this year. He put Fulham ahead with his sixth goal in a red-hot three-match scoring streak and, although did briefly bring the Baggies level, full-back Alex Smith restored Fulham’s lead in 39th minute.

The reserves finished three points ahead the southern section winners Aston Villa after an impressive closing run of seven games without defeat.