With Ukrainian side Dnipro standing between Fulham and the group stage of the Europa League new Cottagers manager Martin Jol is just two games away from leading his team into the same European competition that produced some of the club’s greatest moments during a run to the 2010 final. Despite having twice changed managers since then, the nucleus of that side remains intact.
Of the 14 players who featured in the 2-1 defeat to Atletico Madrid, only two are no longer at Craven Cottage, remarkable consistency for a club under new management for the second consecutive summer – a number of players have left, but the backbone of the squad remains. With Jol stepping in for Mark Hughes the Dutchman has added a number of interesting signings to a squad that finished a respectable eighth, reaching Europe again by virtue of the Fair Play League. Former Liverpool left-back John Arne Riise has returned to England from Roma, ironically filling a gap originally created by the departure of Paul Konchesky to Anfield and never adequately plugged by Hughes. Also arriving from Serie A is midfielder Pajtim Kasami, far less known than Riise but also, albeit briefly, a former Liverpool player. The 19-year-old Kasami joins Fulham from Palermo but spent a brief period on loan at Liverpool in 2008. The Macedonian-born Swiss U-21 international made 24 appearances in Palermo colours and has been praised by Jol for his versatility.
Two further signings from foreign climbs now call Fulham home, goalkeeper Csaba Somogyi and midfielder Marcel Gecov. Somogyi previously spent time on trial with Jol’s former club Ajax and has been brought to west London as cover for Mark Schwarzer, with David Stockdale gaining experience on loan at Ipswich Town, but more is expected of the 23-year-old Gecov. Jol said after the signing of Gecov that Fulham scouts spotted the player during the Czech Republic’s European U-21 Championship, particularly the match with England in which Gecov bagged two assists, and with only three natural central midfielders at the club when Jol took over – Danny Murphy, Dickson Etuhu and Steve Sidwell – bolstering that area has clearly been a priority. Kasami and Gecov join the aforementioned trio in comprising an engine room well stocked in talent if not numbers, with the likes of Clint Dempsey and Simon Davies also able to fill in centrally if needed, but Mahamadou Diarra and Thomas Hitzlsperger have also been linked.
Further possible additions have also been widely discussed, with Jol at one point in the summer saying the club needed half-a-dozen signings. The most persistent rumour has linked Robbie Keane to a reunification with Jol, his old Tottenham Hotspur manager, under whose tutelage the Ireland forward netted 58 goals between November 2004 and October 2007. Fulham’s need for an extra striker is largely down to the chronic fitness problems experienced by those already at the club last season, from Andy Johnson’s persistent knee injury to Bobby Zamora’s broken leg and the ankle injury suffered by Moussa Dembele. Rarely able to get all three of his talented strikers involved at any one time, Hughes was often frustrated that, what, on paper, would be a dangerous trio, was rarely seen in practice. The signing of Keane, if it were to happen, would help alleviate the problem. Birmingham City’s Cameron Jerome, Pablo Osvaldo of Espanyol, want-away Manchester City striker Craig Bellamy and Keane’s Spurs teammate Peter Crouch have each also been mentioned.
Whether Johnson is a Fulham player at the close of the transfer window remains to be seen, however. The former Everton and Crystal Palace striker has been strongly linked with a cross-town switch to newly promoted Queens Park Rangers, although the budgetary constraints Neil Warnock is operating under could make such a move unlikely. Having paid Everton £10.5m for Johnson’s services in 2008 Fulham have suffered somewhat diminishing returns, with 10 goals coming in Johnson’s first year in white, but only nine spread across three seasons since, including three so far already this season. Injuries have been at the root cause of such paucity, but in terms of appearances, last season was more encouraging, as Johnson played 29 games of a possible 44, including 15 league starts and 12 substitute appearances. Johnson’s history also suggests that his meagre goal return will not last – not only has he found the net regularly in the club’s embryonic European campaign, but he had scored 121 goals before moving to Fulham, and the kind of goal scoring ability needed to reach that total is not lost over night. If Johnson can be the goal scorer Jol requires, then another startling European campaign is not out of the question, with maybe the domestic form to match.
John Arne Riise DEF – Roma, undisclosed
Pajtim Kasami MID – Palermo, undisclosed
Marcel Gecov MID – Slovan Liberec, undisclosed
David Stockdale GK – Ipswich Town, loan
Pascal Zuberbuehler GK – retired
John Paintsil DEF – Leicester City, free
Jonathan Greening MID – Nottingham Forest, undisclosed
Zoltan Gera MID – West Bromwich Albion, freee
Thomas Hitzlsperger MID – free
Craig Bellamy FWD – Manchester City
Robbie Keane FWD – Tottenham Hotspur
Peter Crouch FWD – Tottenham Hotspur
Cameron Jerome FWD – Birmingham City