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Going East: Five Players Fulham Should’ve Signed From Eastern Europe

This is a guest article by Oliver Auckland, which I asked him to do after following him on the social networks for literally years. He’s become quite the connoisseur of Eastern European football so after the transfer window closed – on deadline day he gave me a very thorough overview of a young Serb we were linked with – I thought I’d hit him up to write a few words for HammyEnd. Being so ignorant of anything football east of Southend I thought this was a very interesting read, and I hope you do too. –LRCN

Having spent the past 4 years as a student living out of reach of Craven Cottage on matchdays, my viewing of games is confined to streaming via the Internet, usually with Tony Gale telling me how good Dembele is (or was). During this time, my interest in football has wandered east for a number of reasons. I won’t bore you as to those reasons but one, rather handy reason, is the difference in kick off times in Eastern Europe to the UK. It wouldn’t be uncommon for me to have watched 2-3 games of football before Fulham kicks off at 3pm, nor would it be to have watched half a dozen Russian 2nd division matches midweek which finish no later than late afternoon. As an unemployed student it’s all very convenient.
Fulham’s struggles in the league haven’t really come as a surprise due to a lack of continuity in the starting XI. To add to this madness, here are 5 realistic transfer targets from Eastern Europe & the Balkans that Jol should have been badgering MacIntosh to sign.

RW: Aras Özbiliz, FK Kuban
A product of Ajax’s youth system, Özbiliz made his club debut in November 2010 under Martin Jol. Describing him as a ‘real winger’, Jol also complimented his speed and his awareness, something which the 22 year old utilised well in his debut season in the Russian Premier League where he’s scored 7 goals in 15 games. He’s arguably been FK Kuban’s best player in what was shaping up to be their best ever season since their birth in 1928. Since the winter break, manager Yuri Krasnozhan was sacked in mysterious circumstances with the official line given by the club being ‘selection differences’. Although Özbiliz only joined in the summer for €1m, due to the chaotic state at the club, he’d be available for up for £4m and would be an ideal replacement for Duff.

CB: Eugene Khacheridi, Dynamo Kyiv
A name that might be familiar to some from recent matches against Ukraine, Eugene Khacheridi should have been a target for Jol considering Fulham’s unsuccessful attempts to lure Douglas or Forren to the Cottage. Khacheridi is comparable to –wait for it- Phillipe Senderos with his physical prowess, ability to tackle, high work rate and occasional moments of madness; The “Ukrainian Balotelli”. His ball-playing ability exceeds both Senderos and Hughes and with fine tuning could be as good as Hangeland’s. The 6 ft 6 defender is a fighter, a player who’d thrive in English football and he would have been available for up to £5m. A fallout with manager Oleg Blokhin left Khacheridi considering his options as a number of enquiries came in from abroad (including QPR surprise, surprise) and he announced in December he would leave the club only to sign a contract in early February. Although his very promising career has stalled somewhat due to injuries, he’s 25 and still has the best days ahead of him.

FW: Jonathan Cristaldo, Metalist Kharkiv
A player who Fulham sorely need as he knows where the goal is and occasionally scores a goal good enough for YouTube, the 23 year old hitman has bagged 12 goals in 19 games this season for Ukraine’s perennial underachievers. Despite being only 5’9, Cristaldo is strong on the ball, good in the air and has a level of technical brilliance that is only shared by the other imports in Ukraine. His performances in the Europa League last year were particularly impressive as Metalist reached the quarter finals. Whilst Metalist would not want to part with a player of this quality, especially after recently losing Taison to Shakhtar, the club’s problem is that they struggle with the domestic quota where no more than 7 foreigners are allowed in the XI at once, so he isn’t off limits.

CM: Demy de Zeeuw, Anderlecht (on loan from Spartak Moscow)
A more familiar name and another player who has previously played under Martin Jol, Demy de Zeeuw has struggled to adapt to life at Spartak and was subsequently loaned out to Anderlecht on January 22nd until the end of the season with a €2m option to buy. He’s represented the Netherlands 27 times at senior level including the World Cup semi-final and has played in the Champions League. Although Fulham need a destroyer in the centre of midfield, de Zeeuw is a box-to-box player who has good awareness, something that would complement the rugged Sidwell. He’d welcome the chance to play in England as he commented that Russia was ‘quite alien’ to him in regards to culture, football and the constant flights for away games. A low-risk loan deal such as this would be ideal for the January window. Having previously been bought by Jol at Ajax, I think Jol will be regretting letting a player known to him slip under his radar.

FW & RW: Nemanja Kojic & Predrag Luka, Partizan Belgrade
In a rare double signing, Partizan Belgrade stole two of FK Rad’s best players and probably any hope that Rad had of qualifying for the Europa League. Kojic, standing at 6 ft 3, is a traditional centre forward and has been handed the no.9 shirt after a couple of very impressive seasons at Rad and for Serbia u21. Luka is a tricky right winger whose rise to fame was put on hold when he had his leg broken in 2011. Fortunately it hasn’t hampered his ability as he’s still able to beat his man with ease whilst showing off flare that you’d expect from Brazilian counterparts. I first saw both of them play when on a football filled holiday to Serbia and Luka immediately impressed me. Playing for Partizan will now offer them the opportunity to represent Serbia and the bright lights of the Champions League. Although this double deal wouldn’t have much of an impact on Fulham’s starting XI, if the club hijacked the deal then both would add to the list of youngsters who are on the verge of first team football.

Oliver Auckland

Musa’s Got Bulls In Loan Move

Confirmed transfer news from Fulham today, although this one is outbound. New Zealand youth international James Musa has joined Blue Square Bet Premier side Hereford United on loan for a month, having starred recently in U21 games. The centre half, who is also known for his versatility, will be hoping to further his development after joining Fulham following a starring Olympic campaign and successful trial. Martin Foyle, Hereford Manager, said this of his latest acquisition:

We’re delighted to bring in James, he’s a utility player who can play in a number of positions, and he will add some real competition for places to our squad.

LRCN

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

The Morning After

Well that was…exhausting. Happy Day After Deadline Day everyone. It sort of feels like Boxing Day doesn’t it, the festivities are over and you now get to play with your new toys. After the drama of last night though, it kind of feels like that time you got given a playstation but without the games you specifically wanted and asked for.

That’s enough of the metaphor’s for now, but in truth, the passing of last night’s transfer deadline has left something of a disappointed feeling in the pit of the stomach of most connected with Fulham Football Club.

That is not to say yesterday was a bad day. Quite far from it. The signing of Manchester United’s former Premier League Golden Boot winner and seven time Bulgarian Footballer of the Year, Dimitar Berbatov, marked yesterday as one of the finest in our clubs transfer history. Alongside George Best and Edwin van der Sar, this could well be one of the highest profile signings ever at Craven Cottage.

Fulham's New Number 9

That overall feeling of being somewhat underwhelmed comes from the fact that on deadline day, minutes seem like hours and hours seem like weeks. The announcement of Berbatov was made at 3.30pm. That left seven and a half hours to do something about our depleted midfield corps.

At that stage there was a huge sense of optimism about the day. We’d already signed former Premier League winner Kieran Richardson from Sunderland reportedly for around the £2m mark. A bargain for such a useful and versatile left footed squad player in my book.

Alongside Richardson though, there were many names being mentioned as potential midfield targets. With Danny Murphy having left back in June, Dickson Etuhu earlier this month and Moussa Dembele earlier this week, surely the club had a plethora of central midfielders ready to sign on the dotted line?

And so the press thought and we were led to believe. Over the course of the day, Wolfsburg’s Iranian/German Ashkan Dejagah, Dutch youth international Chris David, Belgian international Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, Spurs’ Tom Huddlestone, Stoke’s Wilson Palacios and at one stage Lyon’s Brazil international Michel Bastos were all supposedly on their way to Motspur Park. It will be interesting to see if rumours of FC Twente’s Nacer Chadli arriving on a chartered jet only to be sent home prove true.

Wow, two or three of these and we’ve done all right was the general feeling. Heck, Bastos or Chadli would have given us a star, something I think we all felt justified in wanting given the circumstances.

There was the other elephant in the room all day, well, all transfer window in truth. Clint Dempsey was leaving, wasn’t he? Where to? How Much For? And When? Unfortunately, and this might me the key to explaining our final tally, it wasn’t until late in the evening that his summer-long will he wont he saga with Liverpool was ended, by his signing for Tottenham at 10.30pm.

All of a sudden seven of those seven and a half hours had gone and we hadn’t done a single thing. Still though, there was a sense of optimism. Listen back to CottageTalk, the podcast which excellently broadcasted the last two hours of the transfer window, and you’ll here mostly jubilant Fulham fans discussing our merry future.

Iranian international Ashkan Dejagah

Then, with mere minutes of the transfer window remaining, we got word that we’d sign Dejagah, the right winger from Wolfsburg who’d been at Motspur Park all day, but that was it. Surely that had to be incorrect? Not one central midfielder? Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe had supposedly been at Motspur Park as well, so what went wrong? Maybe his club pulled out, like the Andre-Pierre Gignac scenario from last summer when Marseille pulled out at the 59th minute of the 11th hour. But know, at sometime after midnight, Everton announced his signing on loan for the season. Someone has questions to answer on this one, especially if he turns out to be just what we needed.

Chris David, a promising Dutch attacking midfielder from FC Twente was supposedly in the bag though, Sky Sports had been reporting it as done all day. The Dutch club even posted the story on their website. Again however, it seems that we were to be left frustrated, another one that just slipped away at the very end.

So while, in the emerging light of the morning after, we are left slightly unhinged at the lack of a single central midfielder or genuine midfield superstar arriving, it is important to see the overall picture. It wasn’t a bad day at all. We knew Dempsey was going, so to bolster the ranks with two midfielders (Richardson and Dejagah) and a proven goalscorer (Berbatov) is excellent business. It’s just that there is a sense that it all feels a tad unfinished.

After outlays approaching £20m last summer, Fulham made a net profit into eight figures this year. In a time when we are all aghast at QPR’s seeming financially drunk spending spree this summer, perhaps a prudent and frugal transfer window shows truly how far we’ve come as a stable top-flight club.

Never mind eh, we must be due a fun summer next year? We can spend the next 10 months dreaming how we’ll spend that Dempsey and Dembele money. Oh right, that’s not exactly how it works is it.

I think, however, in the end, it may have come down to this. Sign a new player who isn’t our number one target, or use the next four months until the January window opens to give some of our own young talent a chance to shine. The phrase, Take The Stage was used a lot in London this summer, never has it been more appropriate here too.

Alex Kacaniklic has so far taken his first team chance with both hands in Clint Dempsey’s position. Kerim Frei, Dempsey’s understudy in that position since January could well be moved to central midfield, a position that suits his skill set with a bit of physical development or they’ll both rotate on the wings to the peril of right backs up and down the land. Then there’s Pajtim Kasami, a player many fans have been clamouring for to get his big chance in his preferred central role. Well here it is. I for one think with some nurturing, Pajtim could be as good a central midfielder as anyone we were thinking of singing last night.

So it might not have been everything we wanted, but if yesterday was Christmas, we were still on Santa’s good list. Now let’s go and beat West Ham.

COYWs

Old Trafford: A sign of things to come

After a 5-0 mauling of Norwich last week, Fulham were always going to face a sterner test today than they did last week. This game was perhaps the best indicator of the season that we are to have, telling us whether Fulham would ever improve that dismal away record and how we would match up to the bigger sides. If only one thing jumped out of the performance today, it was promise. Promise that we will end that away record and promise that this will be a good season.

Fulham opened the match with a crisp passing 1-2 between Petri? and Ka?anikli?, who was a delight to watch for the whole match. We went onto the front foot from the start- now how many times did you see that away last season? Ka?anikli? and Petri? then continued their winding run, which ending up with Petri? being fouled on the edge of the box. Clever ball in from the much bemoaned Ruiz, Duff loses his marker (with a bit force) and pow, its 1-0. A brilliant start, but not one that would not be carried on.

Fulham dramatically tailed off after that, sleeping at times and being forced back by a combination of a relentless United attack and poor possession play and passing by Fulham. Briggs, Ruiz, Petri? and Diarra were perhaps the worst offenders in this- they just tailed off. Then again, so did most of the Fulham team, the notable exception being the sumptuous Dembélé. Of course, Robin van Persie’s goal was something special, but the goalkeeping for United’s second was poor, as was the marking for Rafael’s header and United’s third. Things were not looking good at half time- this was the Fulham of a few seasons ago, the Fulham that looks timid and shy and wary of attacking in away matches. This is shown through the excellent player influence chalkboard that the Four Four Two “Stats Zone” app provides.

A Timid First Half

Then Fulham woke up. We came out after the break and we looked very good. We stopped playing United’s football and started to play our football.Our attacking play became more linked, our defensive play came more solid and we looked a threat, a threat that was only kept out by the excellent (well, apart from the Cross) David De Gea. Moussa Dembélé took a stranglehold on the game and tore that United defence to shreds with an excellent display that consisted of nine dribbles, three key passes, a 98% passing success rate and eighty touches. That is an excellent all round performance and one that very nearly got us that equalizer. The full backs came into their own, and a special mention for Matthew Briggs who transformed his shambles of a first half into an excellent all round full back performance, making the most tackles (5) out of any of the Fulham defence and winning the most duels over possession in defence(9). Steve Sidwell and Hugo Rodallega came on and both looked lively and got stuck in. We prevented United creating chances had they had done so freely in the first half, and closed down the wingers much better, which was just part of the change. The switch to a more narrow formation was also a key point, challenging a weak United centre back pairing and that certainly helped us to perform much better. The change in the second half performance is best shown by the second player influence chalkboard – a noticeable difference compared to a shy first half.

A Much More Dominating Second Half

One person who does deserve mention is Bryan Ruiz. Despite concerns that he was being pushed off the ball, he was very good in the second half. He made 4 key passes, got fouled twice and got disposed the same amount of times as Dembele (4). His best moment was his little dribble in front of the defence before flicking it through to Rodallega who got his shot blocked. Lots of our play came through him, and his passing options were good and it was not coincidence that with Dembélé moving further forward as the game wore on he became much better- he was simply too isolated in the first half. I felt that there was an air of him being scapegoated today, his lack of strength being the most obvious reason why people do- but that was not the case. It was a good performance in what is perhaps the trickiest role to play against a strong team.

For the last 15 minutes of the game we bullied United on their home soil. Bullied. Overall we took 16 shots, with 6 on target- superb stats for an away team at United! We put ourselves forward and weren’t scared of attacking, whilst remaining defensively strong. Our second 45 would have quite happily got a win, certainly a draw, if we had played like that in the first half. I believe that Jol can sort out this team to play like that for 90 minutes- we know they can do it.

The transfer window closes this week and Jol has already outline his want for a striker and a cm and this was illustrated today. We lacked a powerful striker that could bully a makeshift central defence. Those two additions will give us something to mix up in away games and to keep the squad on its toes- something that will lead to better away results.

The game might have been lost, but it was full of promise- promise of a dynamic attacking Fulham away side, an away side that might just change our usual poor away displays. With reinforcements coming in during this week, I am extremely hopeful of an excellent season for Fulham: perhaps their best yet.

I’d like to finish by saying well done to Fulham’s Under-18s, who hammered Wolves 7-1 today. Promising sixteen year-old Emerson Hyndmanscored a hat-trick from midfield, whilst the new Teddy Sheringham, Cauley Woodrow, scored a brace including a 30 yard screamer. Keep an eye out on those two- two excellent talents in an under 18 side filled with much promise.