My off-season plan

One if the questions that always vexes me is why football teams need to constantly spend money. It sometimes feels as if it’s done for the sake of it.

European clubs think so, too. I recently read an interview with WBA Chairman Jeremy Peace, who had spoken to clubs on the continent. A common response was: “We cannot understand what is going on when we deal with England. The clubs there pay top price, they don’t really check what they are buying.”

Transfers for transfers sake.

It’s been said that a failure to invest has doomed Fulham, and surely this is true, but I don’t know that this is quite it. I suspect that a failure to invest in a timely fashion is more appropriate: Fulham allowed a core to age together, then failed to integrate younger players. Correction: they did have Dembele and Dempsey, both of whom were the right age and extremely useful, but lost them both.

Bryan Ruiz was the right type of signing but perhaps the wrong type of player. As was pointed out in the comments (about Mitroglou), imagine if we’d spent £12m on a holding midfielder at some point.

I wonder if this means the end of the ‘settled side’.

It doesn’t feel like it should do. It wasn’t long ago that we ran out:

Schwarzer, Paintsil, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky, Murphy, Etuhu, Davies, Duff, Gera, Zamora, or variations on same involving Dempsey, Johnson, etc.

When we had this settled side, spending was really around the edges, filling in squad gaps, etc.

There was a part of “Nowhere Men” by Michael Calvin where the Everton war room was described, in which every position had a current incumbent and a list of players who might be playing in that position, now, or down the line, in the club, or outside it.

There doesn’t seem to have been much succession planning at Fulham. Which leaves us where we are now.

We need to keep an eye on what we have and what we’re bringing in. I mentioned Stockdale and Stekelenberg, replacing a 6/10 goalkeeper with another 6/10 goalkeeper for £4m. That can’t happen.

So while we might not think the likes of Trotta or Rodallega are quite the answer up front, what is the cost of an improvement? If we’re just bringing in someone else who plays at about this level then is there any point in making the change? The fact is that most players available to us will be at about this level. So unless we see traits that we currently lack – pace, for instance – then there’s not much point in buying a forward unless it’s a demonstrably better forward.

With that in mind:

Next season we have the following prospective starting XI:

Stockdale
Right back
Burn
Centre back
Left back
Midfielder
Parker
Kacaniklic
Richardson
Dejagah
Rodallega

We also have the likes of Ryan Tunnicliffe and Cauley Woodrow available to us.

Parker is in the team because we’re paying him a lot of money for a lot of time and I can’t see anyone taking him off us. The remainder I think will stay with us and are probably of an alright standard. Reading between the lines it feels like Hangeland’s had enough. Sidwell might get premier league offers and can’t really be part of the same midfield as Parker.

So if this is the functional XI then you have to have a good think about what will happen next.

Immediate needs: a centre-back, two full-backs
Would also be good: a centre-midfielder

That’s really not too bad. We’ve been linked with West Brom’s Billy Jones already, and that’s just the sort of signing that’ll be okay for us. Jones can play right back or left back, and is pretty good at it. But the thing is, players like Jones are relatively common and don’t cost much.

Brentford won’t want to sell them, but players like Jake Bidwell and Adam Forshaw are young and were voted into the League One team of the year at left back and in midfield. Honestly, I don’t know these players from Adam, but we have the financial clout to make this kind of move, to go for young players who we can then leave in the position until such a point as they outgrow us or we have a better idea. (and the better idea is likely to materliase in 3 years or so when our age group players become viable options).

What I’m trying to get at is that the challenge ahead probably isn’t nearly as tricky as I first thought.

The plan:

Lose high earning over-30s

Quickly identify four players in the important positions noted above and bring them in asap to ease the transition, e.g. in early July, not late September.

If we keep Parker or Sidwell then the midfielder should be young (or promote Chris David because the cost of acquiring someone demonstrably better is prohibitive given the quality of what we’ll receive).

If we keep only Burn the centre-back should be experienced.

Both full-backs should probably be of the Jones profile: not young, not old, serviceable but probably disposable. The likes of Stephen Kelly were ideal here. That’s the kind of player we need.

That’s it. If necessary, spend big money on the centre-back. If necessary, work the Premier League loan-wire for squad players.

But whatever we do, don’t spend money unless it’s going to go on a player who is going to be an upgrade on what we have. Focus on making sure that the centre-back we find has pace, isn’t too old, and can work with Burn. Basically find Aaron Hughes c.2008.

Then commit to this team, promoting young stars when ready, bringing in loans as needed. That team won’t be enough to get promoted on its own, but should be more than enough to hold its own, provided it’s well coached. In a year’s time take stock, see how the plan is going, and react accordingly. Don’t rush, don’t go nuts, just build the next good Fulham team.

12 thoughts on “My off-season plan

  1. Ultimately, I think the club will end up doing something similar to what you have proposed here.

    Which will probably get people upset at the club not clearing out enough players. In the hours and days since relegation there has been much to mull about with regards to the squad next season and the temptation is to get rid of as many players as possible. But this is not a particularly viable concept and the truth is it is driven more by passion and anger than proper reflection.

    It might be stating the obvious but relegation is a step down. The squad will be probably better equipped than we think and a huge change of players is not particularly viable. This is why getting rid of the older players as a focus is so important – not only to create room for the youngsters but to limit the upheaval to a sensible amount.

    As for the signings we make, your list seems pretty comprehensive, although I think we probably should spend a bit on a good striker. But CM and the fullbacks are absolutely areas of priority

  2. I haven’t seen enough to know whether or not they are likely to become first regulars, but there is of course also Pat Roberts and Dembele Jnr, both of which have appeared over the last couple of months.

    Good analysis Rich and it does begin to look like a good(ish) team. Shame we have to keep Parker and not Sidwell, though.

  3. “I mentioned Stockdale and Stekelenberg, replacing a 6/10 goalkeeper with another 6/10 goalkeeper for £4m. That can’t happen.”

    In fairness, the idea certainly seems to have been that Stekelenburg is more of an 8/10 or 9/10 goalkeeper than a 6/10, based on his history at Ajax and the Dutch national team. I wonder whether it might have worked out that way, too, if he hadn’t gotten injured so early on and then had to deal with constant changes to the defenders in front of him. Have to imagine he’s not going to stay in England to play in the Championship. Still, I’d file this under the heading of moves that seemed to make sense at the time but worked out poorly, rather than moves that obviously made no sense at the start (see, for example, Darren Bent, who never would’ve been allowed to move from Villa to a prospective relegation rival if he had much left in the tank).

  4. Your prospective lineup terrifies me because I think you’re right about Scott Parker, and because I have a very bad feeling we’re going to re-sign Sidwell. I am very confident that we will be mid-table in the Championship if that’s our midfield pairing next year. I’m ok with pairing one of them with somebody young and sensible, but the two of them are just a mess together.

    1. In lieu of his inevitable and lucrative move to Newcastle, we should do a Kickstarter campaign to buy him Rosetta Stone French levels 1 & 2.

  5. Much has been written about our youth and some of the usual suspects are listed above, but then there are several others that either could be serviceable or remain nebulous like they currently are:

    Mesca
    Lasse Vigen Christensen
    Muamer Tanković
    Josh Passley
    Ange-Freddy Plumain
    Matty Briggs (speaking of, where is he?!?)
    Jack Grimmer

    There’s a lot of assumptions about our youth being better than our current dross; but we may need them to be more than we think.

    1. I think we actually need 2 centre and possibly 3 midfielders – depending if they keep Boateng. David may do away with the need for one, but have we seen enough to know if he’s up to it? Parker isn’t going to play Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday (8 more games in the Championship) all season long and presently our cover in the centre consists of Diarra and Karagounis, who are both old and who will presumably be allowed to go.

      I’m also not so optimistic that we’ll keep Richardson and Dejagah – Richardson has been our best player this year and is definitely Premership standard, while Dejagah will do a good job for any club who are willing to improve his fitness or to keep him on the bench as a permanent super-sub.

      1. Having finally seen David for an hour of Premier League football, we know that he is not only up to it but might have made a difference if we had played him earlier. Not just because of their goals, but he and Woodrow are surely just what we need . They combine technique, energy, robustnesness, attitude and awareness. Game looks a whole lot easier what that’s the case. Two starting places are filled next season, or at any rate ought to be.

          1. Agreed – today was actually very useful from the perspective of building for next year. Not sure I think David would have made much of a difference this season, but I’m certainly hoping he’ll be around for the next one.

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