Fulham and the 25 man squad

Richard is away and I feel a little like the neighbour who has promised to take the milk in and feed the fish but then decided to use the oven to bake a cake. Hopefully the cakes worth eating and I’ve not made too much mess in the kitchen.

This season sees the introduction of the new 25 man squad rule implemented as a first step towards reducing squad sizes and increasing the number of home grown players at the top level. This excellent article on TwoHundredPercent examines what this means for the Premier League and got me thinking about how the rule would affect Fulham in the coming season.

TwoHundredPercent suggest that the rule will have little impact. Initially this certainly seems to be true and very few teams will have to make serious changes to ensure their squads conform to the new regulations. Looking at our current team we have exactly 25 players over 21 of which 13 can be considered home grown. This is consistent with most of the Premier League. Only three teams (Bolton Wanderers, Manchester City & Wolverhampton Wanderers) have squads bigger than 25 and only one team (Liverpool) have more that 17 players not considered home grown.

This is no accident. You can be sure the Premier League studied the existing team squads very closely before ratifying any changes to the rules. A home grown player is considered any player who spends three seasons, up to and including the season when they turn 21, registered to an English or Welsh club, regardless of their nationality. For Fulham this means Nigerian international Dickson Etuhu qualifies alongside his English, Irish and Welsh teammates.

Clubs will also be allowed to supplement their squad with an unlimited number of players under the age of 21. The Premier League’s definition of “Under 21” is a player born on or after 1st January 1989. This is of more value to the big teams and means the richest clubs can continue to stockpile the very best youngsters.

The squads won’t even take effect from the beginning of the season. The first deadline for naming 25 man squads is 1700 BST on 1st September (24 hours after end of August transfer window). This is good news for Fulham as, thanks to the delays in sorting out our manager, we’re likely to be conducting our business right up to the very last minute.

Changes can be made only during transfer windows, although in exceptional circumstances (e.g. goalkeeping injury crisis) moves could be allowed. Players named in the squad who are subsequently loaned to Football League clubs cannot be replaced, but can regain their spot on return to parent club. Finally the rules apply only to Premier League matches, so any non-registered squad members who we retain would be eligible to feature in the FA Cup or League Cup.

There’s plenty of room for manoeuvre then with our current squad. The table below shows our existing 25 senior pros and highlights those who are home grown (HG) or not. I’ve also listed the current contract periods (thanks to White Noise at Friends of Fulham for a lot of this information). NB: I’ve seen no confirmation of either but Gera must surely have had a 2 year extension activated to take him through to 2012, and Simon Davies was hopeful of agreeing his own extension prior to the Europa League semi-final.

No.	Nation	Pos	Name					Contract
1 	Australia 	GK 	Mark Schwarzer		Not	Final Year
2 	R.Ireland 	DF 	Stephen Kelly		HG	2012
3 	England 	DF 	Paul Konchesky		HG	Final Year
4 	Ghana 	DF 	John Pantsil			Not	Final Year
5 	Norway 	DF 	Brede Hangeland		Not	2013
6 	N.Ireland 	DF 	Chris Baird			HG	Final Year
8 	England 	FW 	Andy Johnson		HG	2012
11 	Hungary 	MF 	Zoltán Gera			Not	Final Year/2012
12 	England 	GK 	David Stockdale		HG	2013
13 	England 	MF 	Danny Murphy		HG	Final Year
15 	Senegal 	FW 	Diomansy Kamara		Not	Final Year
16 	R.O.I		MF 	Damien Duff			HG	2012
17 	Norway 	MF 	Bjørn Helge Riise		Not	2012
18 	N.Ireland 	DF 	Aaron Hughes		HG	2013
19 	Switz. 	GK 	Pascal Zuberbühler	Not	2011
20 	Nigeria 	MF 	Dickson Etuhu		HG	Final Year
21 	U.S.A 	FW 	Eddie Johnson		Not	Final Year
22 	Sweden 	DF 	Fredrik Stoor		Not	2012
23 	U.S.A	 	MF 	Clint Dempsey		Not	2013
25 	England 	FW 	Bobby Zamora		HG	2012
27 	England 	MF 	Jonathan Greening	HG 	2012
29 	Wales 	MF 	Simon Davies		HG 	2010 ?
34 	SouthAfrica MF 	Kagisho Dikgacoi		Not	Final Year
35 	Sweden 	FW 	David Elm			Not	2012
— 	Switzerland DF 	Philippe Senderos		Not	2013

Of the players with reasonable contract periods Hangeland and Dempsey seem the most likely to attract bidders. Having shown ambition in our choice of manager it would be a shame to lose any of our best performers now. Hangeland seems to be a man who knows his own mind and has been quoted as saying he would like to stay. If Roy comes knocking though I wonder if he could turn down the chance to play for Liverpool. Dempsey may also consider that this is his best chance to move up a level. If nothing else his agent is looking to capitalise on his current status. Should either go we would undoubtedly miss them but should at least recieve a decent transfer fee.

Mark Schwarzer has been heavily linked with a move to Arsenal. £2.5 Million is a good return on a 37 year old who we signed for free but we’d need to spend a lot more than that to find someone genuinely capable of replacing him. The arrival of Hughes may be enough to convince big Mark to stay but if he does leave we must hope to attract a quality replacement. The talk has been of Robert Green or Joe Hart which says a lot about our clubs current standing in the top flight.

Frederik Stoor has another two seasons on his contract but seems a prime candidate to depart. No doubt he sees Hughes arrival as a second chance but he may not have much time to impress. John Paintsil has rather wonderfully dismissed reports linking him with a move to West Brom and I would expect Hughes to be keen to tie down our Ghanaian hero to a extended contract.

Two more hot candidates to move on are Diomansy Kamara and Eddie Johnson. Both are in their final year and have not been involved in regular first team football at Fulham for some time. I suspect our attack to be the main focus for Hughes in the next few weeks. With Andy Johnson looking like a long term injury concern it will be a priority to find someone to support Bobby Zamora. AJ may even find himself out of the initial 25.

Assuming Hughes brings in 4 or 5 new players there may well be a couple of last seasons key contributors missing out. There are a number of players in their final year and not all of them will be highly sort after, however well they performed under Hodgson. I’ve stared at that list for so long now an image is burnt into my eyes. It’s not easy picking who else to leave out. Kelly, Greening, Dikachoi or Elm? Maybe (super utility man) Baird, (captain) Murphy or (heaven forbid) Simon Davies?

A lot will depend on who we bring in of course. Whilst the 25 man squad may not radically change English football it will certainly introduce a new set of problems for a manager to come to terms with.