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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

Under 18’s hit Middlesbrough for Six

Fulham’s Under 18 side returned to Motspur Park for the first time since October for a match against winless Middlesbrough. The away side may have been buoyed however by the absence of Fulham top scorer Cauley Woodrow, with George Williams getting a chance up front, pairing Muamer Tankovic. Max Oberschmidt returned in goal with a defence of Donnelly (fresh from his outing for the Northern Ireland Under 21 side in the week), Arthurworrey (who skippered the side on the day), Burgess and Evans. In midfield the yin and yang pairing of Hyndman and Sambou were sandwiched by Della Verde and Roberts.

The slippery conditions paired with both teams eagerness meant the game took a while to find some flow and rhythm with Jones firing wide for Boro and Donnelly’s early foray ending with a sliced shot on his weaker left foot. It didn’t take much  longer for Fulham to take the game by the scruff of the neck and they were the first to settle into some possession, resulting in a Della Verde strike that took a knock on the way through resulting in a corner. That in-swinging corner was met by the unmarked Tankovic to nod home from inside the six yard box, a rare headed goal for the Swede.

Fulham 1 Middlesbrough 0

From that point forward, Fulham completely dominated the ball and had Middlesbrough chasing shadows for the remainder, with Fulham’s tika-taka football leaving the Boro midfield 5 dazzled and resulting in huge gaps between striker Fewster and his teammates. That’s about all there is to say from a Middlesbrough point of view for a while.

Neat and patient work in the Boro third allowed chances for Williams, Donnelly and Tankovic before the latter latched onto a through ball from Hyndman drawing the keeper out. The striker chipped over the keeper but was caught on the follow through and a penalty was awarded. Tankovic himself stepped up in Woodrow’s absence and fired the spot kick into the bottom left corner, the keeper Montgomery diving the right way but in reality having no chance.

Fulham 2 Middlesbrough 0

Those two early goals forced Middlesbrough back into their shells and deeper into their own half, allowing Fulham ample time to play and create as they wished, with the away side only breaking with long high balls which caused Arthurworrey and Burgess no trouble. One break however, that wasn’t just lumped aimlessly forward resulted in a corner. Unfortunately for them when Fulham cleared via a neat diagonal ball from Burgess to Roberts, the young Englishman was allowed space to gather speed and dip inside his full back (who he had beaten 3 or 4 times already) and unleash a delightful curling effort into the far corner. A majestic finish

Fulham 3 Middlesbrough 0

There were further chances for Roberts who fired over with his right, Burgess who headed over from a corner and a bit of a scramble that Montgomery eventually managed to get within his grips. The away side were really hanging on towards the break, though had Morris controlled better from a rare break and diagonal ball, Oberschmidt could have found himself in no mans land and no longer in possession of a clean sheet. That summed up Boro’s attacks for the day, when they did get them the passes were either poor or the players were so isolated there was never any chance of a consolation.

HALF TIME : Fulham 3 Middlesbrough 0

Middlesbrough came out for the second half in an even more withdrawn 4-5-1 with Fewster cutting a lonely figure between our two giant centre backs. The deeper setting only encouraged Fulham to start playing their football higher and closer to the Boro box and it didn’t take long for the wall to crumble. Della Verde’s one-two with Tankovic, the return a lovely back-heel, successfully diverted a number of Boro players allowing Della Verde to slide through to Williams who nicked the ball in front of the oncoming keeper and was caught for Fulham’s second penalty on the day. Tankovic stepped up again and as was his confidence he chipped the ball down the middle to complete his hat-trick for the day.

Fulham 4 Middlesbrough 0

Della Verde and Williams were next to step up, the latter just pulling his left footed shot wide of the post after a neat Tankovic through ball. Sambou was then withdrawn, making way for Tom Richards who went to left mid pushing Della Verde inside and adding yet more attacking flair to that Fulham centre with Hyndman already opening up Boro and dictating our attacking dominance. Not long after Della Verde moved to the centre had he latched onto a Williams cut back to make it 5 – 0, finishing high into the far corner with his left foot.

Fulham 5 Middlesbrough 0

Fulham made the two remaining subs with a Tankovic effort after a neat turn sandwiched in-between, O’Reilly for Burgess and O’Halloran for Donnelly. O’Reilly slotted in at centre back, Richards dropped into right back with O’Halloran taking his place on the left wing.

These changes allowed Boro a chance to break up the home sides rhythm but the breaks they created continued to be broken up or wasted with the Fulham goal nearing. They then replaced O’Neill and McCarthy with Garrity and Armstrong. These changes did allow Fewster to drop into midfield and try to galvanise the team to salvage at least some pride, though his efforts were in vein and Fulham swept in a 6th. Not before Della Verde was booked for simulation, or more likely over enthusiasm in what could have been a third penalty for Fulham. From where I was standing it looked like the referee had done the away side a favour.

The sixth came again from Williams driving to the byline, this time he fired across for the onrushing Roberts to grab his second with a finish from close range.

Fulham 6 Middlesbrough 0

Williams himself couldn’t cap an energetic display with a goal as he steered one just wide from O’Halloran’s cross, the young lad maybe trying too hard to get that goal when given the chance in his favoured position. Tankovic just about had time to force a good save from Montgomery low down at his near post before the referee called time on an impressive display, albeit against a team bereft of quality.

On a day when most Fulham players sparkled, Tankovic just nicks man of the match for me from Hyndman. The American dictated the majority of our attacking play but the hat-trick hero takes the gong with his own build up play and energetic enthusiasm causing Boro problems on a day they’d like to forget.

Fulham : Oberschmidt; Donnelly (O’Halloran), Arthurworrey (c), Burgess (O’Reilly), Evans; Roberts, Sambou (Richards), Hyndman, Della Verde; Williams, Tankovic

not used : Norman (GK) who was in goal for the under 16’s

Middlesbrough : Montgomery; Coleby, Tinkler, Weledsi, Kitching; O’Neill (Garrity), Morris, Griffiths, Jones, McCarthy (Armstrong); Fewster

not used : Bland (GK)

 

A last congratulations to Chelsea under 18’s who are now uncatchable in the National Group 3 and remain the only unbeaten side at this level, though a visit to Motspur Park still awaits where Fulham may very well need something to continue on to the Elite Group.

 

Highlights of this match can be found here : http://www.fulhamfc.com/news/2012/november/19/u18s-boro-highlights

Fulham Premier Academy League Champions Photos

Congratulations to the Fulham Under 18s, who this afternoon won the Premier Academy League with a 2-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers at Craven Cottage.

A full match report will appear on HammyEnd in due course, but in the meantime, here are some photos I took at the match.

COYWs

The teams walk out in front of the Johnny Haynes Stand's roof redevelopment

Pre-match huddle

O'Connell is booked for a foul on Ryan Williams

Captain Ronnie Minkwitz

The excellent Jack Grimmer

Sean Kavanagh's free kick hits the post

Manager Kit Symons

Celebrating Cauley Woodrow's opener

Ryan Williams, Cauley Woodrow and Mesca celebrate the first goal

Celebrating Ryan Williams' goal

O'Sullivan after being sent off

Full time

Champions

Champions

Post match interview for the skipper