So, with the Festival of Football a little over a week old, Ben Jarman dives in to footballs biggest tournament to do a little window shopping. With a little over three weeks left after the end of the tournament before the transfer window closes, it’s time to delve into the World Cup to identify some targets that Fulham could realistically add to their squad come the Premier League opener against Crystal Palace.
Fabian Schar – Switzerland
Despite a disastrous season with Deportivo La Coruna, Fabian Schar stepped up when it mattered for Switzerland in their opening match against World Cup favourites Brazil. Hailed as the ‘next big thing’ when he left Basel back in 2015, his subsequent moves to Hoffenheim and the aforementioned Galicians haven’t worked out as expected. In fact, both have been a complete failure. Perhaps feeling more comfortable in Swiss settings, Schar certainly stood out in Russia by keeping the mercurial duo of Neymar and Gabriel Jesus quiet.
His impeccable presence in the air and ability to tackle on the ground stood out as he was head and shoulders, quite literally, above the rest. His ball playing ability did leave something to be desired at points, as did his positioning, but the most exciting prospect here is his €4M buy-out clause after Deportivo were relegated last season. As with Tim Ream, Fulham fans know not to write of a centre-back too soon.
Nicolas Tagliafico – Argentina
Dubbed the ‘New Javier Zanetti’ in his native Argentina, Tagliafico earned only his fourth cap in the Group C opener against Iceland and showed a level of maturity that went some way to demonstrating why. Unlike modern fullbacks, Tagliafico isn’t lightning quick and focused on pushing up as high as possible, he is cut from a different cloth, much like Zanetti. His performance against Iceland showed a composure on the ball that some of his midfield colleagues severely lacked and this surely would have been aided by his first full season with Ajax Amsterdam.
Although only 25, the Argentine found himself moving to Europe at a comparatively old age compared to his fellow South Americans, but has impressed greatly with Ajax. Demonstrating lung-busting stamina and an endeavour that is to admired, Tagliafico also stands out with his remarkable technique and his ability to play with his head up. His ability to play through the thirds with great intelligence makes him stand out in a pool of full-backs that are comparatively weak in his World Cup squad. Should Fulham not re-sign Matt Targett, Nicolas Tagliafico would be a more than adequate replacement and a strong-enough link to let Ryan Sessegnon roam free.
Hiroki Sakai – Japan
Despite playing against 10-man Colombia, Sakai really stood out for the Blue Samurai in their 1-0 win over Los Cafeteros. Another one of the Japanese squad who has made their way in to Europe via Germany, Sakai demonstrated considerable qualities against Colombia and caught the eye with a handful of lung-busting runs that ended with either a cross of good quality, hitting the bye-line or recycling the ball intelligently to stretch his opponents further.
His understanding with right-winger Haraguchi was particularly impressive, and his willingness to overlap was encouraging for a Japanese team who has struggled with creativity in the past. Some avid watched of European football would have noticed Sakai’s wonderful consistency across an impressive season as his Marseille team reached the Europa League final and finished 4th in Ligue 1. Whilst standing tall for a right-back at six foot, Sakai does possess decent pace, but will struggle to match that of Cyrus Christie or Ryan Fredericks. His consistency and all-round play makes this man from the Land of the Rising Sun stand out.
Hector Herrera – Mexico
So many superlatives can be used for Mexico’s wonderful and deserved victory over World Champions Germany, and Herrera continues to play a vital role in their midfield. Herrera has plied his trade with Porto for the past 5 years, captaining them to the title in his last. A wonderfully energetic midfielder with a good eye for a pass, Herrera has been a lynch-pin for both club and country in a slightly more advanced midfield role – the Johansen role, you might say.
Herrera’s development over the past two seasons has seen him discover a creative side to his game and it was his vision that sprung Mexico on the counter so often and effectively against the Germans. At 28, Herrera may be slightly older than the age desired by Fulham, but would make a fantastic addition to midfield that must show discipline and creativity in equal measure in a tough first season.
Hakim Ziyech – Morocco
The jewel in the crown of both Morocco and Ajax, Ziyech has put his bad-boy days behind him to lead his nation to Russia after his most outstanding season to date. Capable of playing in a variety of roles across the front four, but also deployed in deeper roles throughout the season, Ziyech has found himself developing at a hugely impressive rate. His ability to drive the ball forward in tight areas showed in their show down with Iran, and an unfortunate own-goal meant that Morocco picked up succumbed to a defeat.
Rangy, tall and athletic, Ziyech is difficult to shift off the ball and that statement does not cover his incredible technique with the ball. Ziyech is one of the gifted playmakers who seems to be able to run quicker with the ball than without it. As Fulham enter the season with a big question mark over their right side, the Dutch-Moroccan could be a great fit, although surely destined for bigger things and has been linked with various Serie A clubs.
Pione Sisto – Denmark
Football Manager fans will recognise this name, but those who weren’t aware of Sisto will be now after his eye-catching display against Peru. Although consistently inconsistent for Celta Vigo this season, as the Galicians sauntered their way through a season that ranged from the impeccably superb to the downright ridiculous, Sisto was at the heart of all that was good for Celta. A winger capable of playing on either side, Sisto possesses lightning pace and wonderful ball control at high speeds.
His ability to cut in when given space is impressive, although his shooting does resemble Sone Aluko’s at times. In a Danish side that had their backs to the wall for large periods of the game, Sisto used his pace effectively to relieve pressure and to find space to recycle the ball. His astronomical rise from Ugandan refugee to Football Manager sensation, and now a World Cup winger has been nothing short of a fairytale. Fulham fans will see Sisto in some capacity this summer as the Whites host Celta Vigo at Craven Cottage.
Stay tuned for more World Cup Watch next week.