The pressure is mounting on Slavisa, and all Fulham fans want for Christmas is three points (or a plan B)

On paper, November seemed to treat Fulham well. With the club picking up 7 points from the four fixtures, but things don’t appear to be so rosy as some would believe.

It’s safe to say, Fulham had a slow start to the month after being outplayed throughout the game against Wolves, and then a poor second half against Derby County, cost Fulham a much-needed three points.  Although, wins followed against Sheffield United and Milwall, performances often fell below expectations of the fans, and team selections have asked more questions than they have answered.

For example, in the Derby game Fulham looked the better side for the first 45 minutes, and despite Cairney only being around 70% fit, he looked to be back to his best, and it was clear to see how much impact he has on this Fulham side. But, after the break Derby came out as a team with a purpose, constantly pressing and posing the bigger threat in front of goal.

That pressing game was always going to reap reward for Rowett’s men, as Fulham were caught playing the ball out from the back, and before you knew it, Lawrence had put Vydra through one-on-one and Derby had equalised. Some may argue that a point against Derby County is a good result, considering the quality that they possess in their squad, but it’s disappointing as it seems to be the same mistakes costing us goals, time and time again.

I understand that Slavisa Jokanovic wants his side to play the ball out of the back, and stick to the methods he has ingrained in his players, but there is a time and a place for those methods, and his plans need to be much more flexible depending on the game outcome.

Yes, Fulham have probably played their most attractive football under the Serbian, but there simply isn’t a plan B, and that’s something that I’ve discussed all season. Last season it worked well, because teams simply didn’t expect that from us, and we pressed much higher up the pitch and therefore, the possession style of play that we grew accustom to worked well. But, it’s a different situation this year, our opponents know exactly what we want to do, pushing us further back towards our own goal, and this is when mistakes happen. Often, we see Button playing it short across his own goal, or to a defender under pressure 15-20 yards away from his goal. This seems to end in some panic while we have possession, allowing the opposition to push more players up the field and apply pressure, forcing a misplaced pass, and leaving Button exposed. You only have to take a look back at a number of goals this season to see that our persistence to play out from the back has cost us a number of goals, let alone the amount of points we have lost from winning positions.

This goes back to not having a plan B, and I think Slavisa and his staff are in a lucky position at the moment, considering there are very few managers available to put his role at risk.

Despite, last year’s season being our best in a while, Slavisa’s persistence and ignorance of a backup plan has cost Fulham far too many points at this stage of the season. Sometimes teams have to play longer and that’s not a bad thing, after all, points aren’t awarded for style – Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City are a great example for that, but they are in the play-off spots and Fulham are not.

Even the best footballing sides have a tendency to go long when needed, just to reset the state of play, forcing the opponent to track backwards, allowing your team-mates to push further up the pitch into a safer position, preventing the defenders from having to play risky passes across the face of their own goal. Relieving the pressure by playing longer, can help players regain their position and it also creates opportunities for winning the second ball further up the pitch, switching the pressure onto the opponent. But, this is something Fulham simply haven’t done all season, and while playing a target man would benefit this, Fulham could choose to start a diminutive forward like Floyd Ayite or Neeskens Kebano, but press higher up the pitch, forcing the errors on their opponents, something Fulham done more of last season.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s easier to say than do, but it’s not like the players would have to learn a new system or position – it’s just simply doing the basics right and clearing their lines if under pressure, rather than trying to play their way out of trouble.

The importance of changing the system and philosophy of the side is growing every week. Especially when you realise that Fulham hadn’t kept a clean sheet in thirteen games prior to their 1-0 victory over Millwall; and for a side that is targeting promotion this season, that’s simply unacceptable.

Time is no longer on our side, and we’re no longer discussing the first five games of the season. We’re approaching Christmas and Fulham sit 15th, 9 points behind the play-off positions, with just five games left of the calendar year.

There has been a positive this month and that comes in the shape of Ryan Sessegnon. The youngster capped a tremendous performance at Bramall Lane by scoring a hat-trick. A performance that settles the argument that he should play further forward on a more regular basis. For his age, Sessegnon is probably the best youngster we’ve had at the club in a number of years, and despite being asked to play at left-back, he is much more naturally suited to playing on the left-side of a front three. Considering we still have Denis Odoi and have signed Rafa Soares on loan this season – a player with a £15m buy-out option in his deal – it baffles me that Sessegnon is still asked to play in a back four and this is something that has to change. Despite, Ryan only being seventeen and still considered a raw product by some fans, he’s been our brightest spark going forward and with our other forwards failing to hit the target, there’s no reason why Sessegnon shouldn’t be the first name on the team-sheet in attack.

Thankfully, Sessegnon signed a new contract this summer, but don’t be surprised if a number of Premier League clubs look to buy him in January. While, I think the chances of Sessegnon leaving Fulham this season are small, there will be interest and media stories of a big money transfer for him. But, his future at Fulham depends on the club turning the results around, because if Fulham can develop their position alongside Sessegnon, he would have no reason to leave as we could potentially offer Premier League football and game-time, something that is a high priority at this stage of his career.

Personally, I think the club would only sell if an offer of £30m or more was officially submitted, but I don’t think he would leave if Fulham were in a stronger position come the new year. If Fulham could close the gap on the play-offs, get Tom Cairney back to full fitness and become more ruthless at defending leads, it would fill the youngster with confidence that this is a club moving in the right direction. If the remaining 2017 fixtures end in disappointment then he may believe the grass is greener on the other side, and weigh up his options. For now, I’m trying to remain positive and I’m still hoping that Fulham have a strong end to the year to keep our hopes of promotion alive.

To conclude, I think Slavisa’s position will start to come under threat as we approach 2018 if the results don’t pick up, because I think his honeymoon period from last year has come to an end.

Furthermore, I think December will be the month where we see if Slavisa is the right man for the long-term future at the club, as we can’t carry on the inconsistencies this season has shown. But, that isn’t going to be easy and he has to find the right solution sooner rather than later, because out of the five games that remain, we still have to play the likes of Sunderland, Cardiff and Hull City, all of which that can beat anyone in this division on their day.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a season so far, and although it’s been disappointing for the fans so far, I’m remaining positive and hoping that we can still make a push for the play-offs this season.

Thank you ever so much for your ongoing support and taking the time to read the article.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me on Twitter – @ABronsSmith it’d be great to hear from you!

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Time for Fulham to stand up and be counted.

In last month’s article, I stated that Fulham should take a minimum of nine points from our October fixtures, but we only got two.

A lot has happened since the last Craven Corner post, and it feels weird to be deflated as a Fulham fan, especially after a decent return of points in September.

On paper, October should have allowed the team to continue its momentum, and pick up at least six to nine points and continue their efforts for a promotion place.  With games against Villa, Preston, Bolton and Bristol it’s gutting to look back at the games this month and realise that we only collected two points, and we left it late to secure those too!

So what’s happened? Where’s it all gone wrong?

Well, it’s safe to say that Fulham have struggled with fitness this year, with the absence of Tom Cairney and even though he was reintroduced in recent games, it’s clear to see he’s not up to speed just yet.

But, we can’t pin all our misfortune on the absence of our captain, because we’ve got a very capable squad, and one player doesn’t make a team.

Last year’s success was built on the midfield trio of Tom Cairney, Kevin McDonald and Stefan Johansen, with the full-backs Ryan Sessegnon and Ryan Fredericks overlapping on the counter. This year, we simply haven’t seen that in action.

Despite, Johansen’s goals winning us points this year, he still hasn’t hit the heights of last season and at times has looked passive in the centre of the park. While it may be harsh to say, his goals have probably kept him in the side, when some may have questioned his involvement. McDonald, has been instrumental though, and realistically it could be a good idea to let him captain the side, taking off any pressure from Cairney as he returns from fitness. Although McDonald has been his usual self, unfortunately he hasn’t had the same contribution from team-mates, and time after time the back four have been torn apart by poor positioning or a simple through ball, which could easily be prevented.

Not only that, but we’ve been a blunt sword in attack this year too. Despite spending the best part of £14m on two strikers this summer, Rui Fonte and Aboubakar Kamara haven’t lived up to their price-tags. While, you can argue that Fonte has been played out of position on a number of occasions, it’s clear that a lot of people were short-sighted by his goal-return last year, rather than look at his career-wide contribution, which is far from what you’d expect from a striker for 9m. Kamara on the other hand, is still incredibly raw and I think he probably has more potential out of the two. Not only is he younger, but he hasn’t played at this level yet, and over time with some coaching I think the club can mould him into a decent forward. But, in the mean-time we simply do not have the forward needed to lead the line and be successful. Even though Chris Martin was a tool off the pitch, he was the perfect forward for us in terms of what he offered to the side.

While Kamara thrives from getting in behind the defenders, we need a focal point in attack where the ball can stick, and sadly Fonte has struggled to offer that, and it’s no surprise that we gone sideways when in the final third, or even backwards due to the lack of options. Despite having the attacking threats we have in Yohan Mollo, Neeskens Kebano, Sheyi Ojo, Floyd Ayite etc, their pace is nullified if we play against a team that sits deep, and it’s games like that where we need a target man, to play to and hold the ball up.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we need to play hoof-ball tactics and bring in the likes of Sam Allardyce, but I think Jokanovic needs to invest a lot of time into a plan-B for Fulham, because we simply don’t have it at the moment. Sadly, style doesn’t win any points at the end of the day and for a long time I’ve been writing about the need to win ‘ugly’ in this division if you want to get promoted.

While, it’s great to see a side play the ‘pretty’ or ‘tiki-taka’ style, teams in this division know exactly what Fulham are going to attempt to do, and in all honesty a well-disciplined team will easily nullify anything Fulham try to do.

This is why we’ve dropped points against the likes of Bristol City, Bolton Wanderers & Burton this year. There’s many ways a side can win ‘ugly’ and it doesn’t mean a complete re-shuffle of players, but more a change in attitude from the manager and the players on the pitch.

This means applying more pressure, and not being afraid to play more direct, should that mean earlier crosses, playing straight into the striker and shooting on sight, rather than taking the time to take ten or so passes around the 18-yard box, waiting for a small gap to open to thread an eye of the needle pass to create a chance.

Our forwards need to start creating a presence about them too. Look at the likes of Troy Deeney – not the most talented of forwards, and you wouldn’t see him doing tricks and flicks, but he’s one of the most feared forwards in the Premier League, simply because he causes troubles with his positioning and strength for centre-backs. He’s an outlet and always an option in attack to hit long or short, and with the right players close to him for knock-downs, Watford have been successful this year, and they play ‘attractive’ football while doing it. Something that Fulham need to start doing, and while Fonte and Kamara may not have shown that side of their game yet, it’s down to Jokanovic and his coaching team to be flexible with the resources he has and create a plan-b or a killer instinct in this side.

There’s no questioning the player’s talent in this side, but at the moment our side resembles a Lamborghini with flat tires – it looks good, but not getting anyway fast at all.

Address the lack of a plan-B and this season can still be a success.

Considering we’re only four points off the play-offs currently (this really is a bizarre season) there’s still plenty to play for, and if we can have a strong run until Christmas, then there’s no reason why we can’t still finish in the top six this season.

Finally, there has been some changes off the field too, with the news breaking that Craig Kline has left the club. Craig Kline became a name involved in most people’s rants over the last few summers and is now no longer involved with the football club.

This is interesting, as I know a lot of the fans were saying it provides Slavisa Jokanovic with the full control ‘he needs’ in January, but it is understood that James Lovell will step up to work in a similar role to Kline for the time being. Lovell has been at the club for a number of years, and has been heavily involved with the match and player analysis, as well as the club’s scouting process. Lovell was also part of the analyst team at Wolves during their promotion campaign in 2008/2009, so will be a lot more familiar with the nature of this division. Fingers crossed, he can work more successfully with Slavisa Jokanovic and his team in a working environment, as I know I’m not the only one that got a bit tired of Jokanovic’s little digs at Kline during the summer interviews, mainly as it gave the media a story to string about complete unrest every 2-3 weeks.

But, as I mentioned before, we can still turn this season around but it’s time for Slavisa Jokanovic and his team to step up and really prove their worth. They are unable to live off the successes of last season, and with fan and club expectations increased this year, time is running out on discovering a plan B.

I’m still going to remain optimistic about our season as it still is very early in our season, but these are the moments where both our players and managerial team earn their money and prove the talent and quality that they possess.

Thank you ever so much for reading, and continuing to support The Craven Corner.

You can always contact me on Twitter – @ABronsSmith.

Keep smiling!   

 

Despite the slow start, Fulham fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about this season.

At the start of the month, the fans would have feared the September fixtures, but after 11 points from the 6 fixtures, Fulham are starting to move on up.

It’s been a slow start to the season for Jokanovic’s Fulham this year, and that’s mainly due to the absence of key players, with Tom Cairney still missing. Despite the slow start, a strong September has pushed Fulham back up to tenth, just three points away from the play-offs.

Personally, I think we’re in a surprisingly good position at this stage of the season, as a lot of the teams above us which occupy the promotion spots, won’t be there in May. Even though Cardiff and Sheffield United have been impressive in the opening eleven games, I don’t believe that they have the strength in depth as some other teams do in this division, and if you compare our position to the other ‘favourites’ for promotion this season, we look much healthier. (Notice how far Reading have fallen after a big summer, and rumours that Jaap Stam may be fired – It’s okay, you can admit it…. it feels good to see them in 20th).

Even though it’s not been the best start for Fulham, it’s good to see the side grinding out results even when we are not in top form, and that was obvious against QPR on Friday.

While, derby games are always unpredictable, I was surprised to see our side sit so deep against QPR. It allowed QPR to really put pressure on our back line when they were in possession and there was far too many passes that were knocked across our own area from a goal kick. Luckily, the defenders didn’t give the ball away, but one mistake and Button would have had to deal with a one on one opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that by sitting deep, it brings the QPR back-line further up the field and then the likes of Ojo and Mollo can use the space behind on the counter. But, I would have liked to have seen a more direct approach at times from Fulham, or even push further up the pitch to relieve some pressure that was on us throughout the game.

Friday’s game was a strange one though, as I didn’t expect Sheyi Ojo to retain his place in the side, especially after Kebano scored against Forest, but Jokanovic kept his faith in the Liverpool loanee.

After watching Ojo’s performances this season, I don’t think he’s warranted a starting spot over the options that we have out-wide, and I still think he’s a bit too raw for this level and will need a lot of coaching to improve. There’s no denying that he’s a talented footballer and his physical attributes are an asset to any side, but there’s too many times this season he hasn’t got his head up and picked out the pass in the final third, and when you spend £9m on a striker like Fonte, you have to make sure he’s getting service from the wingers selected.

Unfortunately, Ojo was stretched off the field on Friday with a dislocated shoulder, which was sad to see. He chose to join Fulham over many other clubs, so to see him side-lined for three months when he was just getting started is a shame. On the other hand, I think he will then need more time after his injury to earn his spot back in the side, and having to work hard to force his way back into the side in the new year, will be a good experience for him. Especially, when he is up against the likes of Neeskens Kebano, Yohan Mollo, Ryan Sessegnon, Jordan Graham, Floyd Ayite & Lucas Piazon – all of which possess a lot of quality. But, for now – I hope Sheyi makes a swift and full recovery!

As for the other winger Yohan Mollo, it was a pleasure to see him starting for the club, after a series of impressive cameo’s from the bench. Even though he didn’t see enough of the ball during his time on the pitch, it’s clear that he is here to prove a point after a bit of journeyman-like few years at different clubs. The former Nancy star, looks a handful and you can clearly see that he has played a lot higher level than the Championship as his decision making and creativity is very impressive. Despite, the early high praise for Mollo, I still think there’s more to come from him.

As he continues to settle and gets a solid run in the starting eleven, I think he’ll become a key asset for us this season and his performances will only get better.

There was also another new-boy this month who stood out from the crowd, and that was forward, Aboubakar Kamara. The French forward, managed to score in back to back games against Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough, and his performances started to show glimpses of what he is truly capable of. In August, the former Amiens man looked very rash with his decision making and control of the ball; but after notching his first goal for the club, he is starting to show signs of improvement. It was gutting to see him pick up a light injury against Nottingham Forest, but once he recovers, he will provide the much needed competition for Rui Fonte, who still needs to settle himself.

As for October, Fulham have four winnable fixtures, with the hardest challenge coming away to Aston Villa on the 21st. While, an away day at Villa Park has many good memories, any side Steve Bruce manages is incredibly tough to break down, and with their recruitment over the summer, Villa possess one of the strongest squads in the league.

But, with games against Preston North End, Bolton Wanderers & Bristol City all in October, I don’t see why Jokanovic’s men can’t take a minimum of nine points from their next four league fixtures.

That may sound too ambitious or optimistic, and no disrespect to the sides we’ll face this month, but if we are serious about promotion this campaign, then we need to take maximum points from those games. Especially when November starts with back to back games against Wolves and Derby, two incredibly hard games against sides that will be in the top six come next summer.

But, on the other hand, I can’t see any reason why Fulham fans shouldn’t be optimistic about this season, especially when we should see the return of Tom Cairney back by the end of October, and with TC in our side, Fulham shouldn’t fear anyone in this division.

Although Oli Norwood has done a great job in deputising for Captain Cairney, there ain’t nobody, like Tom Cairney.

Thank you ever so much for reading, and if you have any feedback, please don’t hesitate to contact me on Twitter – @ABronsSmith

 

After a successful summer transfer window, the future is bright for Fulham.

As the summer draws to a close, Fulham can finally focus on matters on the pitch, rather than the rumour mill that forever spins during the summer months.

Upon reflection, it’s been a successful summer for the club and despite the Twitter rumours climaxing this year, I think the business by the board has been top class.

Following the successes of last season, it was paramount to keep the foundation in place, and to build upon it this year. Therefore, signing Ryan Sessegnon, Tom Cairney and Marcus Bettinelli to new deals and bringing Tomas Kalas and Lucas Piazon back to the club, the spine of the side remained intact. Pricing the likes of Brighton and Nottingham Forest out of the market for Kevin McDonald also lowered any threat of losing the key trio in the centre of the park – the engine to our success last season.

By doing this, the club have managed to keep the star players together ahead of the upcoming campaign, despite losing Scott Malone & Sone Aluko in this window. Even though, Malone and Aluko departed this summer, the club have achieved a tremendous amount of money for the players – especially the £7.5m for Aluko.  Although I was a big fan of Sone, £7.5m is crazy money for his services, and while he may be a gent off the pitch, and a fairly decent Championship player, he wasn’t clinical enough in the final third for that sort of money. Not to mention, that both players were signed on a free transfer last year, so over £10m in sales from them two alone, nearly funded our entire summer spend. Not bad at all!

In fact, if you take the fees for Lasse, Burgess, Jozabed, Adeniran and Stearman too, Fulham probably broke even or marginally made a profit on this summer’s dealings, which is outstanding considering our squad looks stronger in depth this year. Being able to demand the fees that we did for the departures, has been a relief as a Fulham fan, as time after time again I’ve felt we’ve rarely let a player go for an acceptable fee in the past, so seeing the board standing firm other valuations is a relief, and steers us away from another FFP embargo.

Even though, our best signings this summer were contracts for TC and Sess, it must also be noted that the board cancelled a deal to allow Denis Odoi leave the club in the early days of the window, and that’s proved to be a master-stroke. Despite, a return to Belgium on the cards for Odoi, Fulham quickly pulled out of a deal with Genk, and Odoi has since gone from strength to strength, and now providing Jokanovic with another option in the heart of defence. While, some fans may have wanted another centre back to sign this summer, the emergence of Odoi as cover for right-back and centre back, fills any void we may be missing, and with Ream and Kalas forming a strong partnership, I’m not as worried as some others about our options. Lastly, Marcelo Djalo was arguably Man of the Match for his appearance in the cup game against Wycombe, so once he settles I’m sure he will be able to step up when called upon.

There were calls for the board to make a ‘marquee signing’ in the last few days of the window, but I don’t necessarily think we needed much more in the final few days of the window. While there was talk of £15m move for Dwight Gayle, I couldn’t have faith in that rumour especially as he is approaching 28 years of age. Although, Sky Sports ran the story, many other outlets reported that the club had denied any bid or interest – and with Matt Smith denying the rumours on the radio about a TC and Gayle swap deal, I doubt there was much to it anyway.
Although Gayle would have provided us with another option upfront, I don’t think we needed him in all honesty. Fifteen million would have been a risk as he would have to have another twenty goal season for the club to get any profit the following summer should he be sold if we got promoted and I can’t see anyone offering close to £20m for him, now or in 18 months time. Plus, we had already spent £15m on two strikers this summer in Rui Fonte, and Aboubakar Kamara. While, Fonte and Kamara provide two different options up front, signing Yohan Mollo and Jordan Graham gives us further options out wide, allowing Ayite and Kebano to play more centrally when required without weakening our wide options, so maybe a striker wasn’t needed after all.

There were Twitter rumours of a move for Fernando Forestieri and Jota, but both of those were quickly crushed and proved to be non-starters – and would we have really needed them for rumoured fees? It would have been close to 20m to sign both, and considering our squad depth this season, I think it’s best to save any left-over funds for January to reinvest should we need to spend mid-season to cover any injuries we may pick up.

As for Deadline Day signings, Graham and Mollo, I’m quietly excited about their arrivals if I’m honest. Graham is incredibly highly rated by Wolves fans, and stats-wise, is an impressive performer at Championship level. While, Mollo is a bizarre character to say the least. Arguably tipped for big things during his time at Nancy and early days at Saint-Etienne, but has struggled to settle at any club since. Only 28, and on a deal which could see him here for the next two years, his versatility to play on either side of midfield, will provide Jokanovic with more options for the upcoming season. A player with a lot to prove and a chance to rejuvenate his career, and I hope he makes the most of his time at the club.

Finally, Fulham picked up a massive three points against Ipswich who had started the season strongly last weekend, and with Tom Cairney returning back to full fitness, I don’t see why Fulham can’t push for maximum points from their next five games. Yes, that’s optimistic and very ambitious considering our slow start, but when we’re at full strength, we are arguably the best team in this division; we proved that last season by beating Huddersfield 9-1 over the course of two games, and beating Newcastle home and away.
Also, in the next 5-6 weeks, we should see Rafa Soares make his debut for the club, which will allow Ryan Sessegnon to play further forward, like he did last season with Malone. This will prove to be vital for Jokanovic and the club this season, as it will provide Sessegnon with the platform to play in his preferred position, and should he notch up a few goals this term, don’t be surprised if a few Premier League clubs look to spend £40m or more on his talent in January or next summer. By signing Rafa Soares to play left-back, and potentially allowing Sess more time further forward to shine, Sess’ development could bankroll our transfer window next summer, and that’s incredibly important – regardless of where we finish next season.

To conclude, I’m really pleased with the business this summer and it’s another successful summer under this stat-dependent system, and while it’s had its critics, the standard of player that has been signed under its implementation has been much higher than any one signed by Felix Magath or Kit Symons since we’ve been in this division – so onwards and upwards!

Let’s get behind the club, and give it everything this season – COME ON YOU WHITES! 😀

Thank you ever so much for reading. Please share this article with your friends and family, and feel free to contact me on Twitter – @ABronsSmith.

 

 

A busy end to the transfer window awaits Fulham, after an interesting start to the season.

It’s been an interesting month since my last article, and it’s safe to say a lot has happened…

First of all, the club have welcomed the signings of Oliver Norwood, Aboubakar Kamara and Ibrahima Cisse. All three signings have shown glimpses of quality in their appearances in a Fulham shirt, with Norwood playing a vital role in the games against Norwich and Reading.

Norwood was a player I was particularly interested in when the deal was announced due to his versatility and ability to play in any of the three midfield roles that Slavisa implements.

Norwood showcased that ability to deputise for any of the key midfielders, after filling in for the absent McDonald against Norwich City, and then replacing Cairney in the line-up for the second game of the season against Reading.  Personally, I think he was best suited to the deeper role that was asked of him on the opening day of the season, as his presence was noticeably missing in the second half when he was substituted for Ibrahima Cisse. While, Norwood doesn’t have the imposing structure that McDonald is blessed with, Norwood’s passing ability shone brightly, especially with the rest of the team creating space and giving the Brighton loanee time to pick out a pass and turn that Norwich defence. The signing of Norwood on loan may not have set many fans heart racing, but I’m positive his impact on our season will be huge and over-looked, but considering he’s only been with us shortly, the midfielder has really settled into the squad and philosophies, and the early signs have been nothing short of promising.

As for the other two signings in Cisse and Kamara, I’m quietly confident that they will deliver when called upon. Both players were wanted by the club in January but sadly both deals for the players fell through for different reasons.

So, it was no surprise that they did arrive this summer with Kamara arriving for a big fee, of around £5.35m, the biggest fee since McCormack I believe. His appearances against Norwich and Wycombe prove he’s got the ability to score goals at this level, despite his talent being very raw. He’s a channel runner, and his movement up front will definitely create opportunities for the side, but his decision making has a lot to be desired. But, considering the giant step up in competition he’s got to adjust too and a new country, I strongly believe that AK47 will be become a leading striker for the club.

But, as every fan will know, Fulham need another striker sooner rather than later. While, the signing of Kamara was welcomed with open arms, our only other striker on the books, Cauley Woodrow looks set to re-join Burton Albion for another season, which leaves Slavisa with very little options for that striking role. Many names have been linked and with stories of Diego Rolan joining the club still circulating, anything is possible. But, over the last 48 hours Fulham have heavily been linked with an agreement for Braga forward, Rui Fonte worth around €9m – a monstrous fee!

Even though some fans may be getting excited around the potential signing of Rui Fonte, I truly believe the excitement comes from the club willing to spend such a large sum of money on a needed forward, rather than the potential arrival of the player. The reason I say that is because, I’ve managed to watch quite a lot of the Portuguese forward in his career, and I honestly believe there are better options available than €9m for Fonte.

Especially, when you cast your mind back to our opening bid in January and the summer of around €3m – a third of what is reportedly agreed, which to me, screams desperation to get someone in at the last minute, which should frighten people rather than excite them. For me, Fonte is a player very similar to the build of former Arsenal forward, Chamakh and while he doesn’t excel at any particular aspect of the game, he’s very clumsy and has failed to be consistent over his career, despite having the opportunity at some big clubs like Sporting Lisbon, Espanyol & Benfica. Yes, Fonte had a strong season last year scoring 11 league goals for Braga, but considering the fee and the fact he has only had one strong season at senior level, this isn’t an investment that seems sensible to me – far from it! Not to mention, he’s had his fair share of injuries, making it rare for him to last a full season at any club.

When you compare the reported fee’s that were agreed for Fonte and Rolan, and then you compare the age and records of both players, Rolan looks the better deal all over – Yes, it doesn’t look like Rolan will join, but spending €9m for Fonte is ludicrous in my eyes.

Although, after I’ve said all of this, he’ll end up having an injury free season, scoring 20 goals and I’ll end up singing his name at one point – and if I’m brutally honest, I hope he proves me wrong, but for now, I’m concerned.

Another striker that Fulham were linked with was the AZ Alkmaar target man, Wout Weghorst. While the Weghorst rumours lasted about a day, it was a shame that this story never came to fruition as he would have come in at a similar price to Rolan’s £5m, and with an impressive goal-scoring record, and standing at 6’5, the Dutchman would have been the perfect alternative option for Jokanovic’s squad. He’s also a player that despite his lanky frame, is very mobile and always seems to be in the danger zone, a true finisher and if there was the ideal forward for us, I would have recommended him time after time again. A shame there was no follow up from the media on this story, but I believe he was someone to get excited about if our interest was concrete.

Fulham have also been linked with Maxime Poundje and Joe Bennett as they look for a permanent replacement for Scott Malone following his summer transfer to Huddersfield Town.

Out of the two options that have been mentioned, I’d hope we manage to sign Poundje over Bennett, although I feel a deal for Bennett is more likely. Personally, I believe that Poundje is more of a natural fit to the system, as he’s very good going forward but also quite the athlete in terms of speed and build, and having another powerful presence to support the attack is something we need. On the other hand, Bennett is probably the more reliable defender, but with Jokanovic demanding his full-backs to play like second wingers for most of the game, Poundje seems the better fit. Sky have reported that a deal has been agreed for Poundje, but Twitter rumours suggest the player has already failed a medical – so we’ll see how that pans out. While, Bennett reportedly has a buy-out clause, which would mean a deal is possible this summer, but no other information has been gathered at this stage.

Finally, it seems that the club will continue to do its business late in the window, with another 3 players expected to join the club. With Lucas Piazon unfortunately picking up a serious injury last night, a replacement for him will also have to be found – although I suspect, the imminent arrival of Sheyi Ojo will fill that void. Losing Piazon is gutting, and if I’m honest, he’s hit the ground running this season and is one of the few players we have in that wide position that is very comfortable in a more central role too, so his presence will be missed! Get well soon Lucas!

Ideally, I’d like to see another centre back join the club as rumours of Michael Madl moving to Legia Warsaw have begun to gather pace, leaving Jokanovic with Djalo as the only recognised back-up option, despite Denis Odoi deputising in an unfamiliar central position against Leeds and Reading. Despite Odoi performing well at centre back, an experienced head will be welcomed, just in case Odoi is needed to play at full-back, should the squad be hit by any more unfortunate injuries/suspensions.

As for the goalkeepers, I was expecting a new number one to arrive this summer, but it’s clear that Jokanovic has faith in both his keepers, after Bettinelli has struggled for fitness and David Button has looked rejuvenated in the league after a questionable pre-season. While, another goalkeeper is on the wish-list of many fans, realistically the squad will need improvements elsewhere and with Nottingham Forest and Reading’s interest in Button cooling, it’s unlikely a new keeper will be sourced this summer.

Nevertheless, I still have faith in the club to deliver against their season aims this year and I’m confident money will be spent in the right areas to provide Jokanovic with the best platform to succeed this season.

Three games in and three points on the board isn’t a bad start considering the quality of the opposition we have played, and we’ve been without key players for those games. Once the new additions have settled and the transfer window has closed, I’m confident this season will be one to remember.

Thank you ever so much for reading and your ongoing support of The Craven Corner. Please feel free to get in touch with me on Twitter – @ABronsSmith and to share the article with fellow fans and friends.

Thank you J

 

 

 

 

‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ & Reasons to be optimistic about the first month of the Transfer Window

With the first month of the transfer window coming to an end, it seems that the opinion of the Fulham fans is divided. But, I think it has been a very successful start to the window for our club.

I can understand why many people have been upset/angry about the ‘lack’ of new signings this month, but after the season we have had our first steps in the window had to be about renewing the deals for our key players, especially with the mounting interest of other clubs. Keeping the stars whose contracts were at risk this summer was paramount to any success this summer because we couldn’t afford to build a brand new spine once again this summer.

By renewing the deals of Cairney & Sessegnon this early in the window, it removes any fear that they could leave, and eases any fears that the players we are trying to build around are staying with the club. Both the renewals for Cairney and Sessegnon are worth far more than any new signing, and with Cairney being the stand-out player in this division, and Sessegnon seen by many as the next biggest talent in English football, Fulham have already done tremendous business.

Securing both of these, it means that we go into next season, with two stars of the highest quality and should they repeat last season’s success on the pitch, the club would be in a very strong place to demand mega-money for both players, which in turn secures the long-term future of our club – something that is often over-looked but can’t be ignored due to the pressure that Financial Fair Play places on clubs in this division.

With this being our last year of the parachute payments, the club have to place smarter bets in the window, and by securing key players to new deals and taking their time to recruit the right players, we won’t be forced into selling any stars at the risk of FFP in the future, and that’s the most important aspect with the board trying to build something special – Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Furthermore, I understand the frustrations about the ‘stats’ system that is in place, and it’s generally the point that many people associate with any bad press around the club, or any suggestion that Slavisa Jokanovic may depart the club. But, if we take a step back and away from the Media garbage that is posted on a regularly basis, we should be quite thankful of the new system. It was brought in at the end of the reign of Kit Symons, and if we reviewed the transfers of the 3-4 years before it was introduced, you’d probably ask the question; why wasn’t in brought in before?

Personally, I think we are very fortunate to have an owner like Shahid Khan, he’s always invested in any manager the club has had at the helm, and provided the funds to supply them – even to the point that we broke FFP and were forced to have a transfer embargo. Owners like Khan are rare to come by, especially having an owner whose wealth continues to grow at the rate his does, meaning our club isn’t at any risk of financial crisis. You only have to look at the clubs that have fallen down the leagues over the years to realise how common that actually is – Bolton, Blackpool, Portsmouth & Blackburn spring to mind, all of which had similar stays in the Premiership, with Portsmouth & Bolton spending time in European competition too.

Therefore, it is important to be smarter under the strict guidelines of Financial Fair Play and by having a more ‘research’ based approach to the signings we do make, should put us in a stronger place in the future.

It also avoids, the problem of having to overhaul the squad every year due to bringing in a new manager and them wanting to bring in their own players. The club put its’ faith in Martin Jol to do that, and over the years our squad age rose, investment slowed due to MAF wanting to sell, and in reality, relegation was on the cards for a long-time, with key players not being replaced. It also left the club in an awkward place when relegated, as our players didn’t have much value, due to age and high wages, so shifting players upon relegation proved harder than first thought – limiting that immediate window of reinvestment that can be seen by other clubs, especially Aston Villa, who had £40m of talent out of loan last season.

The club then relied heavily on Felix Magath, a manager with an impressive CV but he decided to bring in players like Mark Fotheringham, Adil Chihi, Kay Voser, Nikoklay Bodurov, Gabor Kiraly & Dino Fazlic – and let’s be honest, not one of those were up to the standards of the Championship, and every one of them was a costly mistake. All of which, I’m sure wouldn’t have got the approval if they were wanted under the new transfer system.

Kit Symons was then installed and he was then backed to overhaul the squad, and he brought in players like Michael Turner, Danny Guthrie, Jamie O’Hara, Richard Lee, Jazz Richards & Ben Pringle. All of which again, no longer have a future at the club and more squad upheaval has been needed. Don’t get me wrong, there may have been one or two that have been a success, but on the whole, that system has faltered for us for a long time. While, I appreciate Khan’s reign has overseen relegation and the bad times for our club, he has continued to invest and that’s paramount, and with him finally having the right staff around the pitch and higher up in the club, we are probably in our strongest position for a number of years to move back up the leagues.

As for last summer, Slavisa Jokanovic worked closely with the system and while the media continued to pour out garbage news about him leaving, last summer was incredibly effective. The players that were brought in were either at the peak of their careers or coming into those years – where there was always going to be a return on their investment.

Even though, last year’s summer signing Jozabed didn’t settle in England, he was sold this summer at a profit, something we failed to do with any of the signings we tried to move on under previous tenures. Not only that, but Fulham are a club that are notoriously quiet and secretive about their business during the windows, so we may need to remind ourselves that if we’re not on the Sky Sports reports, then it’s probably not a bad thing – just our club keep deals under wraps until the last second, just look at Kalas’ arrival last year, that was a surprise for everyone – even the journalists! Therefore, I wouldn’t read too much into the reports about Jokanovic leaving due to this system, remember Slavisa has said before that he is happy at the club, and signed the new deal recently. If he wasn’t happy with system around him, he could have left for nothing this summer, but instead he signed a new contract to continue the project he had begun.

Furthermore, while the club have begun moving on some players, many of which will be replaced by the successes of the youth squad in terms of rotation spots, which does mean that the likes of Tayo Edun, Denis Adeniran & co will feature more for the club, especially in cup games – providing them with a pressure-free environment to develop and make a name for themselves. This is exciting, because as we saw from last year’s cup run, young stars like Edun & Adeniran proved that they could have an impact on the side and Jokanovic trusted them to do so, and with those stars in and around the squad and signing new deals we probably have more depth than first thought – although I agree, we are 3 or 4 senior signings away from a full-strength side.

But overall, the first month has been successful upon reflection. The club needed to sell players this summer to be able to re-invest like they did last summer due to FFP, and we have smashed the targets needed already. By securing £3.5m profit on Malone in just 12 months, another £4m from Jozabed plus the fees from the likes of Burgess, LVC (Sad to see move on) & Stearman, all of which will bring us close to around £9-10m from sales.

An exciting number to utilise, considering it was only Malone that has been sold who was involved on a regular basis – and while he was good going forward, defensively he had his flaws, and his transfer means we somehow got £3.5m for Jazz Richards (considering Richards and Scotty swapped clubs last summer) and who would have thought that was possible!

As for the departure of Lasse Vigen Christensen, I was a little bit gutted to see him depart but after thinking about it, it shouldn’t really take anyone by surprise. He was the only bright spark under Kit’s reign and if he had avoided the injury problems he experienced shortly after his rise to fame, it could have been a different story but since injury struck him down, he has rarely featured and edged ever closer to that exit door.

But, I do wish him all the best for the future and will keep an eye on his development and especially to see what midfield role he plays in on a regular basis, as he featured in way too many different positions during his time at the Cottage, even as left wing back at times! But thanks for the moments of magic LVC, I hope you stay clear of injury and really get that opportunity to live up to the potential you have.

Finally, with the team now returning from their pre-season tour, I’d expect the next 14 to 20 days to be really busy for Fulham, and with the way the rumours are going, it would suggest that our favourite Czech defender, Tomas Kalas is on his way back to the club – which is definitely welcomed news.

Although, I do feel that his deal will be similar to Piazon’s with Kalas signing a new deal at Chelsea before being allowed to leave on loan. Which would be a shame considering most of us were hoping a permanent deal could be agreed, but regardless I will be happy however he returns to the Cottage because he is a player of the highest quality, and his partnership with Ream really began to blossom towards the end of the season.

There are also question marks around the future of David Button, and with another poor pre-season display, his long-term future is under scrutiny. With Nottingham Forest reportedly interested in the goalkeeper, I would expect him to leave, but with Fulham still trying to sell the goalkeeper at a profit, it may be hard to find a suitor. Reading were reportedly keen on the former Brentford stopper, but after being given the valuation by the club, they decided to pursue Vito Mannone instead – but I’m glad to see that our club are demanding much higher fees for players this summer, providing us with the opportunity to re-invest and balance the books more easily.

To conclude, we are still in the early stages of the transfer window, and I’m sure there will be more twists and turns between now and the end of the window, but there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic, and with the board fully aware of how important this summer is to build on last year’s achievements, I am confident that they won’t let us down. Expect us to start getting more vocal in the next 14 days about business I’d imagine, especially with the kit launches and the squad returning from their pre-season tour. Just like last summer, targets would have been identified very early on, and there would have been a number of targets lined up should moves for key targets fail to materialise. Have faith, the club is back on the way up, we have all the right people behind the scenes and with Jokanovic wanting to build something special at the club, the future is bright.

Thank you ever so much for reading (I know it’s been a long one!) – But you can always contact me on Twitter – @ABronsSmith. It’d be great to hear from you!

Please do share the article online with fellow supporters, and please feel free to contact me.

 

 

The Future is Bright, The Future is Black & White – Cairney Renewal, Djalo & More

Dreams do come true!

Fulham finally announced that club captain, Tom Cairney had signed a new deal today which will keep him at Craven Cottage until 2021, with an option to extend that for a further year.

Personally, I think this will be our best signing this summer, especially after another exceptional season for TC, in which he won Player of the Season. It’s been a terrific twelve months for Cairney as he had taken the role as Captain and lead the side to a top six finish – something many fans didn’t think would happen this time last year!

With Scott Parker announcing his retirement, Cairney stepped into the captaincy role on a full-time basis with Scott being unable to play in every game last season. In doing so, Cairney set the standards for the squad, dominating the stats with a tremendous return of goals and assists, as the club went through another transition after Slavisa Jokanovic arrived. Off the pitch, Cairney continued his success and followed in the footsteps of Scott Parker by becoming the perfect role model for the younger players and aspiring fans.

Cairney’s new deal also puts a stop to the rumours linking him with a move away from the club. After Newcastle’s reported bid of £20m being rejected by the club in January, renewing his contract will only add more value to that price-tag.

Now that Cairney has a long-term deal and has become the captain of the club during his prime years of his career, the future is once again bright and the board look set to deliver on the ambitions of keeping key players at the club.

Furthermore, Fulham have also agreed a new deal for teenage sensation, Ryan Sessegnon and his brother Stephen. A deal that I felt was always more likely than Cairney’s future, with Sessegnon developing at an alarming rate under Slavisa this term. Next season I imagine the young England star will feature more often in a left-midfield role, but with rumours linking Scott Malone with a switch to Huddersfield, maybe he will be asked to fill that role in the back four on a permanent basis. That could well be the option, and something that may appeal to the coaching staff, especially as he could operate on the left-side of a 5 man midfield should Slavisa experiment with 3 centre backs.  But renewing both Sessegnon’s and Cairney’s contracts just proves the club is moving in the right direction and even if we get one more season out of the stars, the renewed contracts will make sure that we will receive a monster transfer fee should they depart the following summer, leaving the club with the funds to find an appropriate replacement or reinvest elsewhere.

Today we were also greeted with the news that Fulham had finally completed the signing of Marcelo Djalo, a central defender from Segunda division side, CD Lugo. While the former Juventus and Real Madrid man may be an unknown quality, it is clear from his debut interview with the club that he will be involved in the first-team, as he hopes to become a permanent figure in Slavisa’s plans. That may change should Fulham make progress with their attempts to sign Chelsea defender, Tomas Kalas but with the demanding amount of fixtures Fulham have to play next season, having strength in depth is paramount to any club’s promotion attempts, so Djalo will be more than welcomed addition this summer.

As tweeted earlier today, I do expect the club to become busy in the next fortnight or so, especially with players departing. With the futures of Richard Stearman, Denis Odoi, Lasse Vigen Christensen, George Williams and even Cauley Woodrow in question, I’d expect to see progress on their departures either permanently or on loan to be arranged before the end of the month. Although, talks regarding a return to Belgium for Odoi have reportedly stalled and he could be at the club for another season, something I’d be very happy with – especially after his impressive contribution this term whenever called upon.

Other than that, Fulham obviously have a mountain to climb in securing new players, especially in the heart of the defence and their search for a leading man upfront. As mentioned before, Tomas Kalas is the key target for the club this summer after impressing at Craven Cottage last season, but we face tough competition from Hull City for his signature. While, Bordeaux forward, Diego Rolan has been reported as a key target for Slavisa Jokanovic this summer, and could be available for as little as €6m with the striker entering the last year of his contract. The longer this story progresses, the more I am getting excited and after having the pleasure watching the Uruguayan hit-man play on a number of occasions last season, I truly believe he has the qualities needed to succeed in the system that has been implemented at the club. After being linked with a €17m move to Everton last summer, it certainly looks like a profitable investment should he be a success in England, and with the forward only being 24 years of age, he matches the scouting criteria perfectly.

But, just like every target, Fulham will face competition and there is reported interest from Turkish Giants, Fenerbahce in the forward. But, just like last summer Fulham can compete with Turkish clubs when it comes to transfer signings after they beat Galatasary to the signing of Stefan Johansen last summer. With Fulham able to offer first team football and the luxury of living in the English capital, Fulham becomes a much stronger proposal despite being in the Championship still and this could be the telling factor in a number of targets, especially Rolan & Kalas.

Finally, I just wanted to thank everyone for their support and continued reading of the content that I have published since starting this blog a number of years ago. I never thought that it would have gained the popularity it has and the feedback you guys/girls have provided on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the club is moving in another direction for the match-day programme this season, and while that means the Craven Corner will not be in the programme, it will be accessible on a number of platforms. Being able to work with the club to publish the programme content has honestly been a dream come true, and I’m sure there will be more collaborations in the future.

Thank you so much for your ongoing support, and let’s hope this will be a summer to remember.

Please feel free to contact me on Twitter – @ABronsSmith and to share this article with your friends, family and fellow fans.

All the best,
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