The Three-Transfers Road to Improvement: Fulham
In the seventh part of my "Three Transfers" series, I will be taking a look at Roy Hodgson's Fulham. Narrowly escaping relegation last year, Fulham have achieved a level of consistency in the league this season, that has seen them finish in seventh place, which is really, the highest they could realistically aim for, given their limited resources.
As with the Everton article, it might be difficult to strengthen this side, as they look solid in most positions, and money isn't exactly available in truckloads. Here's where I feel improvements can be made.
Currently, American Clint Dempsey is being played out of position at left wing. He has been doing a decent job out there, with his tremendous work-rate and knack of getting into good goal-scoring positions.
However, I think Fulham would be better served if they had someone who can naturally take the ball down the wings and deliver good crosses like Simon Davies on the right. With Dempsey in the team, Fulham sometimes lack width, and that forces Paul Konchesky to push up in support, leaving the defence rather exposed to a quick counter-attack.
With the other option in the squad being Julian Gray, who has only made one appearance for Fulham, clearly, a natural left-winger should be near the top of Roy Hodgson's summer shopping list.
Ideally, I think Fulham should pull out all the stops in a bid to acquire Martin Petrov from Manchester City. Since he returned from injury, appearances have been few and far between, and it is still unclear if that is because he is rusty, or because he is no longer an integral part of the team.
In any case, with Manchester City probably going to buy 269 players this summer, Martin Petrov might be viewed as dispensable, and if so, Fulham would really improve their squad with the addition of an explosive and exciting player like Petrov.
If that deal doesn't work out, Fulham could set their sights a little lower and perhaps try to sign Chris Brunt. He has a good left foot, a bit of pace, and most importantly, is a hardworking creative player. Creative players are seldom hardworking, so he is a bit of a rare find.
The Fulham squad has a fair few of players in this position. Danny Murphy, Dickson Etuhu, Olivier Dacourt, and Andranik Teymourian. Out of the four players listed above, Olivier Dacourt looks like he is past his prime, while Andranik is perhaps good enough to be a substitute, but is certainly not first-team material in a side playing in European competition.
Dickson Etuhu has done well this season, adding energy and bite to a midfield that has lost Jimmy Bullard. Danny Murphy has been outstanding as usual, as the creative hub of the team, and so his place in the team should still be reserved for him, despite him being on the wrong side of thirty.
With the demands of European football next season, it would be unwise and unrealistic to rely on Murphy and Etuhu to play every three days. As such, Fulham will probably have to shop for a central midfielder to share the minutes on the pitch with the other midfielders.
With Middlesbrough being relegated, Fulham could do with one of either Didier Digard or Julio Arca. Arca is the more versatile of the two, having played at left back and left wing earlier in his career, and thus is the Argentine equivalent of Gareth Barry.
Didier Digard is a combative midfielder who is able to pick out a pass, and I think if he remained fit, Middlesbrough would not have gone down. That they had to play Matthew Bates in the centre of midfield really spoke volumes about their lack of quality in midfield, and it was no surprise that they went down.
Both of them are likely to be available for a low price, as Boro will definitely have to reduce their wage bills by selling their top earners. Personally, I think Arca will be the better signing, because of his versatility, and also because he is more inventive, meaning Fulham do not have to rely on Danny Murphy to create chances.
While Fulham have more than a few strikers, with Zamora, Johnson, Kamara, and Nevland fighting for two spots, none of them can be considered as good enough for a top six team.
In particular, Bobby Zamora has come in for criticism this season, after registering a paltry two goals for his side in an entire season. Sure, his hold-up play may be excellent, but he has also registered only two assists all season.
So he's not a creator, and he certainly isn't a scorer, but yet he's in the first team as a striker. Hold-up play is important to a team, but wouldn't it be better if Fulham got someone who can do both (hold up play, and score more than two goals a season)?
For that, I suggest Fulham consider taking Mark Viduka to Craven Cottage. Still good despite his age, he holds up the ball excellently as well, and unlike Zamora, he does not take 52 million chances before finding the net.
He is very clinical, and with his contract surely not going to be renewed by Newcastle who are struggling to keep afloat, Fulham could nip in and pinch Viduka away on a free transfer.
If that move doesn't materialise, Fulham could go for Mido. This will be a bit of a gamble, considering Mido is a striker who seems to perform based on his mood, and has been known to have an attitude problem.
On his day though, he is unbeatable in the air, and has very good technique, making him a very difficult striker to mark. With Boro being relegated, I'm sure Southgate will be willing to let him go.
Another Egyptian also springs to mind when thinking of strikers. Amr Zaki was in fantastic form for Wigan at the start of the season, and although that fizzled out after mid-season, he is undoubtedly a good player.
With Steve Bruce unwilling to make the loan deal permanent, Hodgson could perhaps take a gamble on Amr Zaki to be the man who will get him the goals.
Having done admirably to reach the Europa League, Fulham will have to be wary of letting their European commitments distract them too much from the domestic league. A deep squad will definitely help, so I think Hodgson has to address the depth of his squad as well.
If Fulham somehow manage to secure the signatures of the players listed above, I think they could be next season's Aston Villa, ie threatening to break into the top four.
This article, and more, can also be found at thetipsters, a website set up by my friend Roland and I.
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