Another season draws to a close, and Fulham once again find themselves lolloping around in the middle of the table. The threat of relegation has never really been taken seriously at Craven Cottage this season—despite the club’s recent loss to Reading—while the promise of a European campaign to rival those during the reign of Roy Hodgson has been washed away by inconsistency.
Fulham have the building blocks, however, to gently begin to break into the higher echelons of the Premier League, and with a few more astute signings, and the accomplished stewardship of Martin Jol, I can see them finding their way to the top of a bracket containing the likes of Swansea, The Albion and West Ham.
It looks like the wily Dutch manager has already set about recruiting the players needed to forge a little more consistency within the Cottagers’ ranks. Reports this week have identified Ghanaian midfielder Derek Boateng as a potential new summers signing for the London side.
The 29-year-old, currently engaged with Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, is a character who has traipsed around many of Europe’s leagues without genuinely finding his feet.
He began his career at Liberty Professionals, the same Accra-based club that produced Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari, Asamoah Gyan and Kwadwo Asamoah. After impressing in his homeland, he made his move to Europe aged 16, when Greek side Kalamata secured his services.
After a couple of dominant years with the Black Storm, he was snapped up by national heavyweights and Athens-based giants Panathinaikos. I would argue that the move probably came a little too soon for the young man, and he struggled to adapt to the demands of such a major club and to earn himself a regular spot in the side’s midfield.
A change in management didn’t help, and after a stint with OFI Crete—where, despite injury and more bad luck, he helped the club to mid-table stability—Boateng was once again on the move. His parent club allowed a switch to Sweden, to the Allsvenskan and to Stockholm side AIK.
When he was a teenager, Middlesbrough had been keen to acquire him, but work permit issues prevented Steve McClaren’s side from closing the deal.
It was in Sweden that Boateng truly found his feet, and I would suggest became the player that we see today. Adored by supporters, the defensive midfielder overcame the club’s relegation and remained to help the national giants rediscover their spot in the Swedish top flight.
His composed performances in the heart of AIK’s midfield once more saw a bigger dog come in for his services, and in 2006, he wrenched himself away from the Venice of the North to sign for Beitar Jerusalem in Israel.
Here, Boateng tasted both Champions League action and the joys of a championship victory—helping the side to their first top-flight title in a decade.
It wasn’t long before he was off again though, and after a clutch of honour-laden years with the Menorah, he made his first foray into a major European league, with a January switch to Koln.
Once again the midfielder struggled to make an impact—and, mimicking his time in Athens—his new club didn’t hesitate to cut their losses. After only six months and ten appearances in Germany, Boateng headed back south, and to La Liga side Getafe.
In Spain, the Ghanaian excelled—his dynamism and energy complementing the technical players that surrounded him. After two successful years, and despite interest from English clubs such as Stoke City, West Bromwich, Aston Villa and Sunderland, Boateng reluctantly accepted a deal to join ambitious Ukrainian side Dnipro.
Boateng has enjoyed several years under the stewardship of Juande Ramos, and despite not yet managing to break the club’s glass ceiling of fourth place in the league, his reputation has been bolstered on the Dnieper River.
Recent reports have suggested that the time has finally come for Boateng to consummate the Premier League rumours that have long accompanied his career. It may be that he is soon exchanging the Rocket City for West London.
Fulham had initially agreed a deal to sign the player in January, a bid to bolster their options for the rest of the season. Unfortunately, once again in dispute with the officials at his club, Boateng couldn’t agree terms and the move was postponed.
In the intervening months, Boateng has fought his club at the European Court of Arbitration for Sport, in Switzerland, and, according to Sky Sports, has finally been released from his contract with Dnipro.
With the work permit issues already concluded following January’s wrangle, it appears that the only hurdle now facing Fulham is the reported interest of Greek giants Olympiakos—who also harbour desires to bring the Ghanaian midfielder back to Athens.
It appears that Thrylos might currently have the initiative; Boateng has indicated that he has a pre-contract deal in place with the club, and the suggestion is that he will honour this agreement.
With experience in multiple European leagues, at both ends of the table, Boateng is a cultured player who could still offer a lot to a Premier League midfield.
With 46 caps for the Black Stars, he is one of the squad’s more experienced campaigners, and is capable both of contributing to a side’s effort with valuable goals, or of shoring up a midfield with his intensity and energy.
There is a sense to which Boateng has never quite lived up to his immense potential; once heralded in the same class and category of Michael Essien, a combination of poor form and poor performances meant that it took the player that much longer to grace the leagues of Western Europe.
One word of caution, however, concerns the player’s age. With the likes of Brede Hangeland, Dimitar Berbatov, John Arne Riise, Damien Duff and Giorgos Karagounis among Fulham’s most influential players, I would argue that Jol should look to youth to improve the club’s fortunes.
With the aforementioned stars all coming toward the latter stages of their careers, the manager’s time, and the chairman’s money, might be better spent investing in younger stars who can buy into the ethos and direction of the club, and help the Cottagers reinvent themselves moving forward.