The silly season is over and never has that term seemed more fitting. This summer we saw the record transfer fee rise to an astonishing £200 million, with Neymar leaving the
Fulham Barcelona style of football behind for a new chapter in Paris.
It never ceases to amaze me quite how much money clubs are willing to spend in order to fix the problems they experienced in the previous season, such as Manchester City splashing £26.5 million on Danilo, a Real Madrid reject, or Fulham spending over £5 million on Aboubakar Kamara!
But despite the chaos in the rest of the footballing world, Fulham have emerged with some excellent acquisitions whilst maintaining the core of the team that brought them close to a return to the top flight last time round. Without further ado, then, let’s take a look at the areas of the new squad that have changed.
Although Slavisa employs a heavily attacking style of play that warrants the occasional defensive error, at times last season Fulham’s defense was inexcusably poor. Whilst early days, an average of 0.85 goals a game conceded last season has been reduced to 0.6 so far this season, suggesting a slight improvement. The deal to secure Kalas on loan for a second season in succession was one of the clubs major successes this summer – his partnership with Ream flourished at points last year, particularly in the final five games of the regular season – and that partnership is only likely to improve with more minutes under their belts together.
A further impressive coup, one which we are yet to see in action on the hallowed turf of Craven Cottage, was the signing of Portuguese left back Rafa Soares from Porto. Statistically, Soares is a left back who appears to be a significant upgrade on Scott Malone, recording 28 more key passes than Fulham’s departed No3 last season, as well as creating 56 chances in comparison to Malone’s 27 and amazingly, appearing to be able to cross a football, with a crossing accuracy rate of more than 50%.
Despite this, Malone will be missed – his wonder strikes, fleeting moments of brilliance, and the worst cross that became one of the most memorable assists in Fulham’s recent history will always have a place in our hearts. Credit must also go to Huddersfield for paying a whopping £5 million mostly for a backup left back and a song!
The sales of Stearman and Cameron Burgess cleared out some of the deadwood, whilst loaning out Sigurdsson saves the club extra cash, as somewhat surprisingly he was the highest paid player at the club.
The signing of professional contracts by Ryan and Steven Sessegnon respectively show promise for the future and, in particular for our current No3, the season ahead, as Ryan’s development is likely to accelerate with further experience in a competitive football environment – his growth this season has the potential to be stratospheric. The contracts for the twins highlight our intent on becoming the best team in the league, and to build further on last seasons success – as well as a continued vision for the future of the club.
The successes in terms of defensive recruitment, however, are potentially overshadowed by the elephant in the room; the elephant we signed on the 3rd of July from CD Lugo. Marcelo Djalo remains somewhat of an unknown quanitity, but what is crystal clear is that the game in which he looked most comfortable in was against League Two opposition. Only time will tell if he can up that level.
In terms of covering the potential failings at centre back, a deadline day signing of Bjorn Engels would have been particularly satisfying, but as we now know, Dennis Odoi is waiting in the wings should he be needed as defensive cover anywhere across the back line.
Overall I score our business in defensive areas at 7.5/10.
The best midfield in the league from last season remains whole! In fact, during the window this midfield was added to, improving the strength in depth, with the signings of Ibrahima Cisse and Oliver Norwood coming in to provide some much-needed cover in case of injuries or fatigue to the starting trio.
Cairney’s new contract was undoubtedly Tony Khan and co’s finest achievement of this window. The new club captain is by a distance the best number 10 in the Championship, with his 92% pass accuracy putting him on a par with many of Europe’s elite, and the fact that the club were ready and able to resist bids such as the reputed £20 million highlights their ambition for this season.
Similarly, despite substantial interest from Nottingham Forest Kevin Macdonald remains a Fulham player, and as our most undersung and crucial player last season, he is vital to our promotion push.
Aside from player retention, the signings of Cisse and Norwood add real quality to the midfield in terms of bench strength and rotation. The latter’s experience with Brighton last season will only benefit Fulham’s young squad, while his 34 chances created in 31 appearances (mostly coming off the bench) would be handy if he could replicate (or get anywhere near) that this season. Cisse’s strength makes him the ideal replacement should Slav wish to employ a slightly more defensive approach, perhaps in the final ten minutes of a tight game.
Sadly the club parted ways with Christensen, a long term servant of the club ever since his move in January 2012. To be honest, there was no real space for him in Slavisa’s system, and his form has never quite reached the heights that it did in 2014/15 when he was voted 3rd place in the Player of the Year Award.
A further departure saw Jozabed (Sanchez Ruiz) leave for Celta Vigo. There is little to comment on considering that he only made six league appearances, with all but one coming off the bench, however it is evident his full potential was never realised during his spell in London and Fulham fans should be saddened that we never saw the Spaniard in full flight, as he clearly possesses considerable talent.
Lastly, despite Piazon’s leg break, his loan will hopefully give us added fire power when he returns in the second half of the season and everyone associated with the club is praying that he will be able to build on his really positive start. As he himself puts it, he’ll be back!
Overall I would score our business regarding the midfield as a 9/10.
consistent committed, quality striker was something that Fulham fans had been craving since last season. In fact, many would argue that should we have held such an asset last year then we may have achieved promotion last time out. If we can assess a player on one performance, that against Ipswich, then it appears that we might have found that player in Rui Fonte. At Portman Road, Fonte scored his first goal for the club, linked up excellently with the wingers and midfield, and displayed a touch and footballing intelligence which appears to slot perfectly into Slavisa’s system.
Furthermore, Fonte’s statistcs from last season, particularly a 50+% shot accuracy and one in four conversion rate makes for pleasant reading for Fulham fans, in a footballing sense. Added to this, there is the praise that Fonte received from Braga fans for his link up play and work ethic(averaging 2.4 tackles per game). Fulham were able to secure a deal around the £8 million mark, and this will seem a small price to pay if Fonte is the man to lead the club back to the promised land of the Premier League.
The signing of Kamara, as it stands today, appears a poor bit of business in contrast. When you consider the board paid less for Tom Cairney then they did for a man who has so far displayed little footballing ability, the fee seems extortionate. There is plenty of hope, howerer. Last seasons record of 11 goals from 29 appearances provides some comfort, and Kamara is currently adjusting to a new city, league and team.
If Rui Fonte can help him hone his attributes and fellow French speakers Neeskens Kebano and Floyd Ayite can help Kamara to settle in, then the attributes of a top championship striker that he clearly possesses will potentially become more prominent as the season goes on, adding a different dynamic and a player who could come into his own towards the end of the season.
In Ojo, the club have gained an extremely talented youngster who again looked excellent against Ipswich and more than capable of performing at this level. As an Under-20 World Cup winner, it’s very possible that Ojo is the man who will be the one filling the shoes of the departed Sone Aluko. Aluko’s departure was disappointing to see from a fan’s perspective, due to the huge part he played in Fulham’s promotion push last season, but admittedly £7.5 million for a forward who lacks the ability to finish (only converting 7 out of 124 shots during last season) and who arrived on a free last summer, seems like a shrewd bit of business by Khan Jr.
For the overall score, I award an 8.5/10.
Dreams of Gayle, Forestieri and Jota never materialised, but the club did manage to secure two deadline day deals both of whom undoubtedly add further quality to Fulham’s already talented outfit. Yohan Mollo is a winger who can play on either side, who achieved 15 goals and 27 assists in 117 appearances during spells at Nancy and St Etienne. As he is also known for his excellent crossing ability and set piece taking, someone of Mollo’s calibre should be a natural fit into this skilful, ball-playing Fulham unit.
The second signing of the day, and the final of Fulham’s window, was Jordan Graham from Wolves. Graham is a pacey, skilful left winger with known dribbling ability and someone who Wolves fans were sad to let depart Molineux, which is a good sign. Neither of these were marquee signings but appear to be sensible and exciting acquisitions nevertheless.
All the evidence above suggests that Fulham have had a very successful transfer window and when taking a step back and looking at the window as a whole, that fact becomes ever more clear. The side have strengthened in the crucial positions we were lacking, such as at the top of the pitch; and gained strength in depth in areas which would have been weak given injuries or suspensions, such as in centre midfield.
Mostly, however, Fulham have maintained the core of the side that came so close to immortality previously, Malone and Aluko aside. It is my belief that not only do we have one of the strongest starting XIs in the league, but we now have an incredibly talented bench to boot, and this squad, if they play to their potential, is capable of winning promotion from this tough league! COYW.