Ch…Ch…Ch…Changes?

Yesterday I wrote a fairly longish post on the UEFA cup final that I conveniently forgot to publish/save. I’ll sum it up for you though:

Blah blah blah blah blah blah Rangers, blah blah blah blah, Zenit, blah blah blah blah, Arshavin, blah blah blah Darcheville, blah blah blah blah blah blah Barack Obama, blah blah blah blah blah blah aesthetic relativism, blah blah blah blah blah abominable snowman.

Over at CCN, the Weltmeister is hoping for “tweaks” instead of wholesale squad changes. Although I have posted a couple comments over there, what’s the point of getting a house if you spend all day at your neighbors?

This season past was a strange one. The team started out brightly, but unsuccessfully, faded quickly, reached its nadir in December, then stuttered along for a few months until finally exploding at Reading:

LWLL DDDD LDD WLD LLLDLD LLLD WLL LDWLD LWLW WW

Now, I’m willing to accept that the team is not as bad as it looked in December and January, the two months in bold.

But I also don’t think that the team is as good as it looked in the famous four wins out of five run just concluded (in italics for those with difficulty remembering last weekend).

And let’s not forget, those results in December and January had just as much to do with our situation as the results in April and May. And we stayed up on a goal difference of three goals. That’s it.

So if this team has the potential to be really quite good, as we’ve seen, they also have the potential to  be pretty horrible, as we’ve also seen. And I’m betting that despite Roy Hodgson, King Among Men, next season we’ll see both.

The good news, of course, is that if survival is your goal, you only have to finish above three teams. And no team has needed forty points to survive for the last five years.

But a team can’t survive relegation battles forever, sooner or later it catches up with you. So if Fulham want to break this cycle, next year they need to claw their way up to mid-table mediocrity.

For me, a successful season would be 12-14 place, safety by March, and a decent cup-run. Do I think  that its possible? Yes. Do I think it will be easy with our squad? No. Do I sound like Donald Rumsfeld? Indeed.

Back to the question at hand. All indications point to a smallish transfer budget. With these financial restraints, no matter what we need, tweaks are going to be all we can afford. A major squad overhaul  (let’s say five plus new starters plus backups) is an expensive proposition. For 15m or so, I think we can look at two new starters, plus backups. Obviously Roy will be jettisoning some of our fringe players, but how much he can raise from sales/how much of that will go back into his transfer budget, remains to be seen.

So now that we are deep in the heart of hypothetically, if we have 15m to spend on two starters and two backups, where do we spend that money?

We need to think, what positions can we get the most bang for the buck and also what positions will our money buy us the greatest improvement on our current squad.

The first place to buy is goalkeeper. Good goalkeepers don’t grow on trees, but the position is notoriously undervalued. The fact that Craig Gordon is the British transfer record at only 9m is stunning to me. Gordon might yet be a bust, but when the Curtis Davies of the world move from West Brom to Aston Villa for 8m, something’s up. And with both Niemi and Keller getting on in years and our other options being young (Batista), or accident prone (Warner), Goalkeeper would be one position where a little bit of money could go a long way, and noticeably improve the team in the process. Then again, people have been burying Keller for years, so what do I know.

Although defenders can often be good values, I don’t think we’re going to find anything in our price range that dramatically improves the strength of that back line. If we can’t sign Stalteiri, obviously this changes, but as it is, I think we’ll be okay without a major signing. If Bocanegra and Volz go looking for first team football somewhere, we might want to spend a little bit on cover.

Midfield – The two weaknesses of Fulham’s midfield are the lack of a great option on the left wing, and the lack of a good holding midfield option. If there were someway to splice Leon Andreason’s workrate and tackling with Danny Murphy’s ball control and passing, then we’d have a great midfielder. But instead, we have two pretty decent ones. With Murphy in, the midfield is pretty lightweight (although they’ve certainly shown an ability to overcome this.) But in a passing team, a deep lying playmaker who can distribute the ball is crucial, so Leon is not a perfect option either. I think it might be possible to improve this position, although in a Moneyball world, if you want to shop on a budget you have to buy players “with warts.” So our bargain Beckenbauer may be able to hold the pall, pass with either foot, and be a shield in front of defense, but he’ll lack pace, or be homicidal. I’d still take it.

As for the left wing, naturally left footed midfielders with pace who can cross have to be one of the scarcest resources in the football universe. This market is overpriced, and I don’t think we’re going to be able to massively improve on Clint Dempsey, limited though he may be.

As for forwards, we’ve got Nevland (brilliant in cameos), Kamara (brilliant/horrific), Healy (fantastic/anonymous), McBride (legendary/old), Johnson (fast/bad) and probably some others to. Who can tell with Strikers? Any of those guys might turn out to have great seasons next year, some will have stinkers, most will probably have a little bit of both. And while I would normally warn against investing in strikers, there’s always a Roque Santa Cruz just waiting to bang in 20+ for 3.5m. Garrr!

So I’m thinking a goalkeeper, a  forward and a holding midfielder, with defensive and midfield cover, then buckle down for the relegation fight. But whatever happens, I’ll trust Roy. He may just know a little better than me. Spend wisely Roy. Spend wisely.

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