Jack Stroudley rates all the signings from a memorable Premier League campaign.
It’s that time of the year again. Fulham have had a season to remember; a top half finish and a record-breaking number of wins during a Premier League campaign. The squad seemed well equipped when we gained promotion last season, but needed a mixture of Premier League quality, experience, and overall squad depth. We made 13 signings over the course of this season; some were hits and some were most definitely… misses. As it’s become a yearly tradition, I will be grading each of these signings to see how well we fared in the transfer market during a successful Premier League campaign.
When Fulham gained promotion to the Premier League, the question marks once again rose about the quality of Marek Rodak as well as back-up keeper Paulo Gazzaniga. Two years ago, Scott Parker rolled the dice, bringing in Alphonse Areola from PSG and while we were inevitably relegated, the Frenchman certainly helped the cause. This time, Marco Silva took the punt and landed on an out-of-sorts Bernd Leno from Arsenal.
The German moved across London for a deal worth up to £8 million. Despite having limited minutes at Arsenal, Leno found is feet quickly and has proved to be a fantastic asset for Fulham. Leno has the second best save percentage in the Premier League (77.1%) and has saved a ludicrous 13 shots from inside the six-yard area. Leno’s importance to Fulham’s overall league position cannot be underestimated, and if it wasn’t for a certain midfielder (who we will get onto later) he would be my signing of the season, and for an initial £3 million he has proved to be a bargain.
Continuing on the theme of Premier League experience, Issa Diop signed for Fulham for £15 million in August, and despite West Ham fans laughing at his signing back in the summer, they’ve certainly been proved wrong. It didn’t start swimmingly for the Frenchman, who put in a performance to forget away to Crawley in the Carabao Cup.
Since then, Diop has played 25 times in the Premier League and has built decent partnerships with both Tosin and Tim Ream. Diop’s limitations on the ball is the only concerning part of his game. He has proven to be a more than adequate Premier League defender, averaging 0.75 blocks per 90. Issa’s only 26 as well, so he’ll continue to improve for Fulham throughout his five-year contract. A smart signing that has worked out well for all parties.
When signing Mbabu back in July, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a very smart piece of business. A 28 year old with pedigree in European football for a cut-price of £5 million had all the makings to provide Kenny Tete with good competition. Those thoughts seemed to make sense in August when he provided the assist for Mitrovic’s winner against Brentford. Since then though, it’s been a season to forget for Mbabu.
Racking up just 144 minutes of Premier League football throughout the first half of the season, the Swiss defender was sent on loan to former club Servette and has played 15 times since joining in January. At the time of writing, Servette currently sit in second place, and while he may have found his feet in Switzerland, this signing has to go down as a flop. You’d imagine he’ll move on permanently in the summer.
Coming into the opening game of the season, Fulham had two fit central defenders and were crying out for reinforcements. Just one day before our opener against Liverpool, Shane Duffy came through the door on an initial season-long loan from Brighton. The signing was met with a lot of confusion and concern amongst Fulham fans that we were falling into old habits.
In the end, Duffy turned out to be signed purely for depth, with his most memorable performance coming in an FA Cup replay against Sunderland back in February. The Irish defender’s loan was made permanent in order to bring in another Premier League defender on loan (who we’ll get to later). It’s hard to be overly positive about this one; he has earned cult hero status among some Fulham fans, and while he has served his purpose as a rotation player. He hasn’t set the world alight, and once again probably won’t be a Fulham player next season.
Similarly to Kevin Mbabu, Kurzawa’s signing sparked some excitement back on deadline day. His loan move from PSG made sense to provide cover for Antonee Robinson and his pedigree in European football should’ve put him in good stead.
Sadly for Layvin, the move just didn’t work for him. Just 135 minutes of Premier League football was met with a ruptured knee ligament back in March, which ruled him out for the remainder of the season. To be fair to Kurzawa, he played a key part in the early stages of our FA Cup run, bagging two goals and an assist in three games and because of that he will get a better grade than Mbabu. Sadly for him though it just hasn’t worked out.
Crikey, we signed a few forgettable defenders this season! The final defender on this list is Cedric Soares, a man who was linked with a loan move from Arsenal for the duration of the January transfer window. Eventually, the deal came into fruition on deadline day. I remember writing an article for Fulhamish at the time stating that I wasn’t too convinced by this signing and I feel like that statement ended up being correct.
The Portuguese right-back has played 198 minutes of Premier League football for Fulham and hasn’t done too much at all. With Mbabu leaving for Switzerland, we needed rotation in that position and while on paper the move made sense, and Marco did dabble in the Cedric experiment, like other players it just hasn’t clicked.
In July, I had the pleasure of heading out to Lisbon to watch Fulham’s pre-season friendly against Estoril. During that time, we spoke to a few locals who bumped into us wearing Fulham shirts and every person raved about the signing of Palhinha – it didn’t take long to see why. At just £20 milion, Palhinha has proven not just to be Fulham’s signing of the season, but potentially the best signing in the league!
Our tough-tackling and hardworking Portuguese midfielder has captured the hearts of every Fulham fan. Averaging 4.26 tackles per 90 minutes puts him in the top 1% of players in Europe, the top tackler in the Premier League with 147 (47 clear of second place!) and he has even chipped in with some valuable goals throughout the season. I could write an article on this signing alone and while I want to ramble on, we’ve got more players to get through. I just hope we get to see him for at least another season.
With Nathaniel Chalobah and Josh Onomah proving that they weren’t adequate Premier League depth, improving our options in midfield was the biggest priority coming into the January transfer window. That option eventually became Sasa Lukic, who was signed from Torino on deadline day for a reported £8.8 million. It’s been difficult for the Serbian midfielder coming into a Fulham team where a midfield two of Palhinha and Reed seemed untouchable throughout the season would’ve been difficult for him. Adjusting to a new league as well couldn’t have been easy.
Lukic’s time on the pitch has been patchy since coming to Fulham, averaging just 34 minutes per appearance. During those minutes, he’s not pulled up any trees, but also hasn’t made any glaring errors. I think his time will come at Fulham; at only 26 he still has time on his side and while he hasn’t paid back the transfer fee just yet, I’m going to reserve judgement.
Andreas never really staked his claim at Manchester United, so his signing for around £10 million was certainly cause for concern. Thankfully, he has largely put those concerns to bed and has been a valuable asset to this Fulham side. His ability to press from the front has been key to the way Fulham play out of possession and his set pieces have certainly helped us. Over the course of the season, the Brazilian has picked up a respectable 10 goal contributions.
As we came into the back end of the season, the lack of depth in that ‘number 10’ role became apparent with Pereira starting to look a bit ‘leggy’ and questions started to be asked about his attacking output from open play. Sadly an injury put an end to that noise – and his season. I think that we do need additional depth in that position for next year, whether that be Luke Harris, a returning Fabio Carvalho or someone further afield. Nevertheless, I think Pereira has warmed to Fulham and now has a place he can call home, I look forward to seeing him again next season.
The former Chelsea and Arsenal player came back to London amid a lot of confusion from both Fulham fans and neutrals. But he’s silenced all of those critics with some excellent performances this season. His ability to drive with the ball and create chances out of nothing have put both him and Fulham in good stead and is another reason why we finished as high as we did.
Similarly to Pereira, Willian got 10 goal contributions, including the opener against Chelsea at Craven Cottage. There are still question marks over his future at Fulham and while he is 34, I think he still has something to offer to this Fulham side and deserves at least another season. It’s hard to argue that this free transfer hasn’t been a fantastic piece of business from Fulham.
Similarly to Kurzawa, bringing in Dan James on a loan deal made a lot of sense on paper. A player with Premier League experience coming in to provide Fulham with a different option and offer necessary cover in those attacking positions (especially with Wilson and Solomon both out for the first half of the season) seemed a smart pick-up. Sadly, bar one stand-out performance, James never took the bull by the horns.
The issue was that, stylistically, the signing didn’t really make sense. James’s best performance in a Fulham shirt was away at Everton where we played a lot more direct to him, resulting in him scoring. However, most of the time Fulham don’t play like that. Intricate passing is a key part of Fulham’s game and James’s limited technical ability doesn’t suit the way the Silva sets his sides out. I don’t think the signing of James was horrific, I just think that maybe he’s the right player at the wrong club.
This one is probably the toughest signing to decipher, Solomon came to Fulham on a deal that no one really knows the ins and outs of. The Israeli came with a lot of promise and following a lengthy spell out injured, it became apparent why. His pace and tricky off the bench was a nuisance to any side he would come up against and after scoring five games in a row, we really thought we had a quality player on our hands.
Sadly, it ended up just being a Pavel Pogrebnyak-esque purple patch . Minutes were still limited for Solomon and during those substitute appearances, questions began being asked about his attitude towards the club and while I don’t think there’s much to read into, I don’t think he will stay at Fulham next season.
With Rodrigo Muniz heading out on loan to Middlesbrough, the need for a back-up striker became quite clear and on the summer deadline day we landed on former Spurs striker Carlos Vinicius. Vinicius took a while to get going with some pretty poor performances during the opening half of the season.
He started to improve during the latter stages of the season and with Mitrovic’s suspension he proved himself to be a valuable rotation option for Marco Silva and a bit of a nuisance for defenders. The Brazilian managed to score five goals this season against the likes of Manchester City, Brentford and of course that allusive winner against Chelsea. I think that Vinicius has proven to be a useful member of this Fulham side and at 28 with him starting to reach his peak, we could still see more from him.
The final summary
Well there it is: another season in the books and a very successful one at that. Fulham have managed to solidify themselves in the Premier League and done so with some smart business, the likes of Pereira, Willian and Diop didn’t set the world alight but have been crucial cogs to this side with Leno and Palhinha stealing the headlines. There have been some misses as well though (particularly in defence) with the likes of Mbabu, Cedric and Kurzawa all failing to make an impact. We’ve got a big summer ahead of us and ensuring we build on a successful first season back will be crucial.