Some extended thoughts on what's going on at Fulham ...
Another one-year loan, this time for Darren Bent? It's time to ask: What is Fulham doing?
Last season was an obvious transitional one after the Dembele/Dempsey sales in August. Whether the bulk of that transfer money went to Mohamed Al Fayed (as small remuneration for converting his $200M in debt into equity, pre-sale) or is earmarked for the stadium expansion, it's understandable that it wasn't spent on players.
But now that the club appears to be embarking on another season of short-term patchwork, looking at the medium-term picture is starting to get very scary. Dimitar Berbatov, Darren Bent and Adel Taarabt all are out of contract with the club in 2014, and Fulham have only two players on the entire roster -- Maarten Stekelenberg and Fernando Amorebieta -- who are signed beyond 2015.
Two players. Total. *Shudders*
While the rise of Fulham's youth development program is extremely positive, and it appears a number of players from that pipeline will get chances in the next season or two, the hit rate on youths transitioning to first teams isn't that great. And for all of Fulham's investment in the system and the prospects they have developed and/or acquired, the club is not nurturing 20 Gideon Zelalems. If we get a handful of regulars from this pipeline, it would be a tremendous yield.
So, even if things go great with youth promotion, Fulham will still have a ton of spots on the roster to fill, whether it's through extensions for players established regulars like Bryan Ruiz or up-and-comers like Alex Kacaniklic, or whether they need to buy a number of players to supplement the youth program pipeline. It surely will be a combination of the two approaches.
Still, however Fulham wants to do this, the club is looking at an extremely significant monetary investment needed starting next summer, when the roster may be shorn of most of its top attacking options and a lot of depth (per current contract status). It's always easier to phase things in over a couple of seasons instead of doing it in a compressed timeline, which has made the club's reticence in this window to address a couple of obvious needs that much more baffling.
Martin Jol has repeatedly suggested to the media that he knows what the team needs, and he has strong targets in mind, but he doesn't have the funding. Given the above, where the club could be in a massive squeeze next summer where EVERYONE knows they need to buy players, which will drive up the ask, why are the pursestrings being choked off again this summer?
New owner Shahid Khan has publicly stressed that he trusts the existing management team to do the job, but there clearly is some mandate here to control costs. Is that because the board believes so strongly in the youth talent coming soon? Do they not believe in Martin Jol and what he's been able to do with the talent provided? Or are they really certain that Fulham can avoid relegation with a multi-year plan that's first relying on short-timers with modest association with the club, and then with an Aston Villa-style youth infusion (that almost saw the Villains relegated last season despite a top-level striker)?
I personally wouldn't make that gamble. Relegation for a club like Fulham would be a disaster, with no guarantees at all that you would make it back to the Prem anytime soon. The roster still is one of the two oldest in the league, and there is an imposing gap between where we are now and what a highly functional club will look like 2-3 years from now, with the expanded Cottage and a new generation of players.
Just making one strong permanent signing in this window, preferably a central midfielder who can advance the ball, would alleviate a large number of these concerns. The club would be less susceptible to the drop, would have an anchor established to build around, and would be one less panic buy necessary down the road.
The longer-term future for the club looks very good. I just hope management isn't taking a reckless risk in the short term that would undercut all of it.