So, Aleksandar Mitrovic has gone. The King of the Cottage has ceded his claim, as our Super Serb has swanned off into the sun and sand of Saudi.
It’s a sad ending to what was whirlwind few years on the banks of the River Thames, but there is very little time for mourning at Fulham after the devastation rained upon us by those pesky Bees from Kew Bridge.
The weekend’s derby defeat was brutal in more ways than one. Not only did it feel like the closing of an era at the Cottage, but it reminded us too just how fragile survival can be in the Premier League.
From the jubilation of last season’s relatively serene league campaign, it does not take long for cracks to appear.
As mentioned on the Thursday Club Season Preview show, standing still is going backwards, and this league is unforgiving and brutal. Fulham have to reset fast, and sort out a number of issues in this squad. Marco Silva said at the weekend he needed four or five more players, and there is suddenly money in the kitty to play with – nearly £50m more than there was before the weekend.
So how do you reinvest that fee to augment the squad, as well as replacing Fulham’s talisman? Well, I have some thoughts.
Vangelis Pavlidis, AZ Alkmaar, 24
The first port of call on any article talking about Mitrovic’s departure is going to be replacing Mitrovic – and it’s clearly not an easy job. The club signed Raúl Jimenez this summer from Wolverhampton Wanderers, but his first few weeks in the job have suggested further reinforcement is needed to replace our former number nine.
Fulham once before signed a Greek striker to replace a larger-than-life figure at the Cottage, and it was an unmitigated disaster; but plenty would suggest that Pavlidis is no Mitroglou. The 24-year-old has been somewhat of a slow burner; his youth career was exceptional enough in Germany to earn him a temporary spell on the books at Borussia Dortmund, but they opted not to make the deal permanent.Embed from Getty Images
Instead, a 20-year-old Pavlidis moved to the Dutch Eredivisie, joining Willem II, initially on loan, before completing a permanent deal in 2019. He scored 33 times in 82 appearances for a relatively average Willem side, before making another step up to join AZ Alkmaar, where he’s netted 47 times in all competitions in just 91 appearances, coming across two seasons.
That appearance total in itself is impressive, but Pavlidis has excelled at AZ under Pascal Jansen’s leadership. Standing at 6’1, he’s useful at using his big frame to win aerial duels, and while he’s no Olympic sprinter, he’s quicker than Mitrovic across the turf.
A small comparative graph from the Twenty3 Toolbox based on some of Mitrovic’s biggest strengths throws up some impressive figures, although they should be adjusted for given that the Eredivisie is not as challenging a league as the Premier League.
It’s an impressive resumé, even with that adjustment considered. Linked with Aston Villa, RC Lens, AS Roma and Borussia Mönchengladbach in this window, Pavlidis is starting to attract covetous looks from teams across Europe either in continental competition or looking to return to that level.
His performances in the Europa Conference League last season would have been a factor in that. Notching four goals in six appearances across the knockout stages, Pavlidis was on the mark in both legs against Lazio and twice against Anderlecht as AZ reached the semi-finals.
With two years left on his contract, AZ could look to cash in on a player they paid just €2.5m for in 2021, and the working assumption is that Pavlidis would be available for around the £20m mark.
Mitrovic’s fire might have gone out in SW6, but Vangelis has chariots full of the stuff…
Kyle Walker-Peters, Southampton, 26
Arsenal’s reported interest in KWP might muddy the waters on this one a little bit, but Fulham’s interest in the summer will be no coincidence to anybody paying attention to what Fulham need from a full-back.
Competent on both sides of the defensive line, Walker-Peters is a really strong one-on-one defender, with an ability to get forward and overlap his winger when the time is right. He’s a good carrier of the ball down the flank, has an innate sense of timing in terms of his offensive exchanges around the opposition box, and draws fouls well in dangerous areas.Embed from Getty Images
Calm and consistent in terms of his defending, KWP makes the right decision a lot of the time in both phases of the game, and in admitting earlier this summer he wants to be playing in the Premier League, Fulham might be an offer that he feels is too good to turn down.
While Southampton were originally hopeful of a £20m fee, various suitors earlier this summer felt that a deal could be done closer to the £15m mark, which would represent strong value for money on a player with heaps of experience in the English top flight.
Zeno Debast, RSC Anderlecht, 19
Even before Issa Diop’s performance against Brentford, Fulham will feel the club is one centre-back short right now, unless there’s a dramatic turnaround in the situation regarding Tosin Adarabioyo’s future.
Diop has credit in the bank from last season, but he will need competition and his clanger that gifted Yoane Wissa the opener is a stark reminder that complacency in terms of positional security helps nobody. An option that the Whites should be looking at is Anderlecht’s Zeno Debast.
At just 19 years of age, Debast is a full Belgian international, has been to a World Cup, and has racked up nearly 60 first team appearances for Anderlecht. It’s an incredibly impressive resumé for a youngster, who was given his first team debut by the man many in Belgium hope that he will emulate – Vincent Kompany.
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez was effusive in his praise after handing Debast his first international cap, stating that “This was one of the most impressive debuts in recent years for Belgium. I enjoyed it. I saw a young guy with a lot of self-confidence, but also a lot of desire to learn.”
Debast is a wonderful progressor of the ball, with an inch-perfect ability to launch cross-field diagonals – something that Tosin in particular has impressed with down the years – but also is strong in the air and has strong recovery speed.
He still needs time to fill out completely in terms of his frame, but there is undoubtedly potential to become a complete centre-back in Debast. His Anderlecht contract runs until 2025, but it’s thought that the club would be willing to allow him to move on should the right offer come in. A £10m bid ought to at least pique interest.
André Almeida, Valencia CF, 23
I’ve been banging this drum for a little while, but then again, I think André Almeida has all the tools to kick on and become one of the best central midfielders in the world, so I’m going to keep at it. A tempo controller in the middle of the park with a glorious passing range, almost perfect press resistance and a good engine to match, the fact nobody has snapped him up this summer continues to confound me.
Almeida started his career at Vítoria in Portugal, making his breakout at just 19 years of age when he started 21 times in the Portuguese top flight. A second good season followed, and Valencia snapped him up last summer to replace the outgoing Carlos Soler in the middle of the park, for a fee of around €8m.Embed from Getty Images
It’s his ability to retain the ball that’s so impressive, however. His dribbling success rate was sixth in Europe’s top five leagues for midfielders under the age of 23 last season – with the names ahead of him including the likes of Jude Bellingham and Pedri, some of the most valuable players on the planet.
His passing success rate is also exceptional, and not just because he recycles possession. Almeida’s vision and ability to split defences open was one of the few bright sparks in a poor Valencia season last year. The fact that his numbers and performances have stood up in that season is just further evidence of a real diamond in the midst of the Mestalla madness.
It’s not all just offensive work either, because Almeida isn’t afraid to get stuck in. His defensive numbers are not dissimilar to Harrison Reed’s – actually outranking Fulham’s diminutive number six for defensive duels attempted and won, although the Portuguese youngster trails behind in terms of interceptions.Embed from Getty Images
While Ruben Baraja seems to have steadied the ship, Los Che remain on financially unstable ground, and despite the fact they’ll want to hold on to their star names, the pickup of Pepelu from crosstown rivals Levante and a crippling monetary situation means the right offer would almost certainly be accepted.
With Fulham under Portuguese direction in Marco Silva and a good core of Lusophone players in the squad, it might well be a move that appeals to Almeida. Recent leaks have suggested that a fee of around £25m might be enough to move the needle. It would be a sound investment.
Riccardo Orsolini, Bologna, 26
This one’s been linked in the Italian press, but it makes total sense. Fulham are still shy on creative wing options, even with the addition of Adama Traore (and potentially Callum Hudson-Odoi), and Orsolini has been a star performer for Bologna for a number of seasons now.
The Italian has notched 46 goals and 25 assists in 184 games for the Rossoblu, but just as importantly, he’s been a key cog in Bologna’s team in various different guises. Given the keys to the creative engine of the team, Orsolini stepped time and time again up at the Dall’Ara, and was subject to interest in a €70m return to Juventus a few years back.Embed from Getty Images
His importance to this Bologna side was re-affirmed by that valuation, but the circumstances are very different now. Orsolini has one year left on his contract and earlier in the transfer window deals were being discussed around the €10-12m mark.
Most adept at cutting in off the right wing to unleash with his left foot, Orsolini found his best form again last season, scoring 11 times in 32 Serie A appearances as Bologna surged up the league table under Thiago Motta, but his exit has looked more likely than not across the course of the summer.
And, for the sake of our sanity, he takes a mean spot kick.
The Mitrovic five
So, there you have it. Five signings, for a grand total of around £80m. With nearly £50m of that coming through the bank for Aleksandar Mitrovic, and another fee of around £10m seemingly likely for a departing Tosin, it would be a squad refresh without blowing the doors out of Fulham’s working budget.