Yes, I heard that. It would obviously be a step higher, and that has always been my goal. I did well last season when I was not injured, through many matches for Fulham. So why not step higher?
Why not indeed? You can look at this a couple of ways: one, footballers are too dull and never say anything noteworthy, so Dembele is to be applauded for answering a question (in this case about the very real interest from Spurs) honestly. Two, what kind of an idiot says something like this, knowing full well how it will be interpreted and the furore that will undoubtedly follow?
I suspect it doesn’t really matter which (if either) is true. There can be few footballers who aren’t thinking about the sort of career they want to compile and where they’d like to do this, and the act of putting these plans into public words doesn’t mean he’s any less keen on playing for Fulham. (If anything the opposite will be true: if he wants the big move he has to play well for us.)
But it still feels a bit off. Andrew Johnson has also been speaking about his situation in the press, and it seems possible that he may be on his way sooner rather than later. The matter is more urgent for AJ, there being less time remaining on his contract. So it’s a different kettle of fish, not least because the players are at differing points on their respective career arcs: Johnson, briefly rejuvenated and healthy (in a more attacking team), has certainly timed his run of form well, but Fulham would probably be wise to take any sensible offer for him and thank him for all he’s done. If anything AJ’s probably talking to the press because he actually wants to stay, but is finding it hard to get a satisfactory deal done (footballers don’t need money, but the status of a certain wage level (relative to peers) must be important). And he’s right: he probably does only have one more Premier League contract in him, so it does make sense to get a deal that he’s satisfied with.
Dembele’s circumstances are very different. His disappearance would be a huge shame, not least because he hasn’t yet turned the corner from promise to performance. He’s certainly showing everything you’d want from a youngish flair player (arguably too old to be a future superstar; bang on track to be a good Premier League contributor for a serious team), but were he to leave soon, what would his Fulham career amount to? Some fun dribbles, a handful of handy goals, and that wonder run against Spurs. He didn’t cost us all that much and we’d make a tidy profit on him, but really, it doesn’t feel like time for him to go. Chris Smalling went at the right time for him and for us, Steed Malbranque went (almost calamitously) too soon (for everyone), Louis Saha’s situation was complicated but at least had put together a hell of a CV while a Fulham player. Dembele? Not yet, no.
I think he’s at least a year ahead of himself. Finish this season well, play a starring role next season, then fine, off you go to a real big club (preferably having signed a contract extension with Fulham in the interim). Now? Too soon. He’s not the player he needs to be and the team hasn’t had value from him yet. Let’s hope we don’t get an offer we can’t refuse in January (part of a Modric domino effect?), because he’s the kind of player we need to build around, not sell to Spurs. Sell him to City when he’s won us the FA Cup in 2013 or something.