Football fans are forever pondering what the future may have held for their club. Anything from a decision in a match to a player who could have been so much more than he became in a Fulham shirt. Today we are focusing on the latter by making an up eleven because let’s face it, there are enough candidates to make an entire squad. They all have different reasons as to why we see them that way. Maybe they were a promising talent who didn’t live up to the potential, perhaps they did live up to the potential elsewhere but were sold before we could see them flourish. Maybe they were a potentially ‘outstanding signing’ but for one reason or another, it didn’t quite work out how we hoped.
Here’s my eleven of players that I find myself wondering “what might have been?” I’ve added a subs bench because there were so many, but I haven’t explained the reasons for the subs, I’ll leave you to use your imagination for them! Please share with us on social media any that have been missed out which were a ‘must’ in your team.
I’m sure there are plenty…
My team (4-3-3):
Leacock – Smalling – Christanval – Bonnissel
Holtby – – – Thomas
Brooker– – – – – – – – – – – – Fernandes
Subs: Husband, Hyndman, Andreasen, Vigen Christensen, Frei, Achampong, Mitroglou
There haven’t been many players as hard done by over the years as David Stockdale. After signing ahead of the 2008/09 season from Darlington, David must have known the sequence of events that would follow for his Fulham career as he was overshadowed through the door at Motspur Park by fellow keeper Mark Schwarzer who signed in the same transfer window. It was obvious, out of those two, who was going to be number one but in typical Stockdale fashion he took it on the chin and got his head down and remained professional.
Naturally being a backup player, he was sent out on loan every season bar the last of his six years with us to get regular football under his belt. All of which were brief spells as he was typically called back from most of them to step in for Schwarzer when injured. Stockdale rarely made a mistake or let the team down during these cameos, yet he was dropped at the earliest opportunity that Schwarzer returned to the squad, which to be fair is difficult to argue with as Schwarzer was outstanding, never the less, still very unlucky from Stockdale’s point of view. His highlight in a Fulham shirt came in one of those short stints covering for the Aussie number one, saving a Nani penalty with three minutes left on the clock and changing the momentum of the match when we drew with Manchester United at the Cottage. We went up the other end and a point was rescued with a last-minute equaliser from Brede Hangeland.
With Schwarzer moved on, we turned to Maarten Stekelenburg who spent more time on the stretcher than he did on the pitch. David was back in covering as the reality of fighting for our lives in the Premier League kicked in. Stockers was one of very few in that squad who had the right mindset, the respect and the determination needed to do everything possible for Fulham Football Club. Sadly, his teammates weren’t on the same wavelength and we went down.
Unfortunately for all of us including David, Felix Magath was given the responsibility of conducting our biggest transition in several decades. Having been the number two for so long it seems ludicrous that we let go of a keeper who was honoured to be here and even worse, let him sign for fellow championship side Brighton, who then went onto be promoted. It’s all worked out well in the end because Betts has come a long way and is one of our own, I wouldn’t have it any other way but at the time, Stockdale’s departure seemed a very odd decision.
You won’t find many Fulham fans who made the painful trip across West London with the Whites to ground share with ‘that lot’ say anything but good things about Jerome Bonnissel. It goes under the radar just how good he was because he never entertained on the hallowed turf at the Cottage but there’s no question he was a class act.
In many ways, it is a similar scenario to Mahamodou Diarra being too good yet too injury prone. But what makes this one different is that Diarra had a very good & accomplished career first with Lyon and then with the biggest club in the world, Real Madrid. He signed for us purely because he was a sicknote, not because we were at his level. Whereas Bonnissel had spells with Montpellier, Deportivo, Bordeaux and Rangers before he signed for us. All solid clubs but no world beaters in there. So, but for injuries, he could quite easily have been our number three for the next few seasons. I always felt that after Rufus left, it was a position we really struggled with. Harley, Niclas Jensen, Queudrue, Kallio, Salcido, JA Riise, Stafylidis, Garbutt… It’s only the last couple of years where we’ve done well in that department as it’s generally been a weak link in my opinion. You could even argue that it was the weakness in the Europa League team with Konchesky or perhaps with Scott Malone the season before last.
Bonnissel oozed class and what made him so noticeable to me was his defensive awareness when reading the game and his composure on the ball. I vividly remember being up at Old Trafford defending our lead in the first half when 1-0 up (eventually winning 3-1) A cross came over to the far post and under pressure from several United players, he didn’t panic or head it behind. He calmly chested it back to the keeper even though there were only 2 or 3 yards between them & no margin for error. Nobody in the ground was expecting it because normally when bottom half sides are under the cosh they panic but not the Frenchman. Ironically, he went off injured in that game and that just about sums him up. Just 16 appearances in two years for Fulham although it felt like more because each one was a joy to watch and it’s rare that you will say that about a left back.
Christanval was another class act. Again, very similar to Diarra but what holds a question mark over ‘Phil’ is that his injuries prevented him from ever fulfilling the career his talents deserved. Signed by Chris Coleman, Christanval predominantly played at centre-half but did slot into a holding midfield role when called upon. Another player that the crowd developed a soft spot for because it was very noticeable that this guy was once good enough for Barcelona. I remember when I was a teenager playing manager games on the computer in the early noughties, Phillippe Christanval was playing for Barcelona and at a young age was regarded as a player with a big future in the game. It’s just sad that injuries prevented him ever doing much for any of his clubs especially us. Another player who had the technique, the composure and awareness of the game. He read it so well and seemed to be one step in front of the rest.
It must be so hard coming back from injury several times and just breaking down again. Sadly, this is what happened to Christanval whose only downfall in a Fulham shirt was that he couldn’t do it more often. Just 40 appearances in 3 seasons, that’s not enough football and the club had no choice but to part ways with him effectively ending the Frenchman’s career. In 2002 he was part of the French World Cup squad and with Barcelona, Monaco and Marseilles joining Fulham on his CV it’s clear to see that this guy had all the talent in the world, he just didn’t have the luck needed for a long-serving career.
This is clutching at straws a little because Smalling has been neither a player that has disappointed with his career nor was he ever given enough games to be considered in the same league as Hangeland and Hughes. But one thing is for certain, maybe Smalling appears average amongst his peers for Manchester United and England but Fulham even when reaching the Europa League final was a long way off that standard anyway. So, there’s no denying that he would have gone onto be a solid player for us in years to come.
When given the opportunity particularly in the earlier stages of the Europa League I felt he always held his own and gave a good account of himself. However, I don’t think there can be any regrets about the fact that he didn’t stay with us for too long, £12 million at the time seemed a no-brainer particularly when he could remain with us for the rest of the season on loan. It’s a ‘what could have been’ moment because the legendary partnership of H&H was bang in it’s prime reaching the Europa League Final, but it was clear from their ages that we would need to start considering the future in a couple of seasons. Chris Smalling wasn’t around to rectify this dilemma when it surfaced and although I feel Phillippe Senderos is treated terribly by Fulham fans who have exaggerated just how bad he was (my opinion of course), he certainly wasn’t Chris Smalling. So, for the sake of cashing in on £12 million, we lost the opportunity to keep our back line fresh and strong whilst not weakening it.
As a kid, Leacock was considered the future Rio Ferdinand which gives you an idea of how highly regarded he was. With the departure of Steve Finnan and an injury to Moritz Volz, Leacock was brought in and given the opportunity to make a claim for the right-back slot in 2003. An opportunity that I felt he grabbed with both hands.
He was raw yet promising and was convincing enough to allow Chris Coleman to keep him in the side for four consecutive games. A run which was set to continue and was only cut short when Dean tore ligaments in his knee during the pre-match warm-up at Old Trafford. A day Leacock will want to forget which typically turned out to be a day Fulham fans wouldn’t as we went onto win (1)v(3). That’s how quickly an opportunity can be taken away from you, all it takes is one injury at the wrong time and if someone else takes their chance then you’re back where you started. This injury kept him out for the rest of the season but despite that, Fulham offered him a new deal until the summer of 2006 because he was worth persevering with.
This was followed by a loan spell to Coventry City and upon his return, he made a handful more appearances in the 2005/06 season, but you can’t help but feel that the opportunity had come and gone for the Croydon-born lad who eventually signed for Derby County. Maybe without the injury, he would have done well for the club, it’s impossible to say now.
Fabrice was a terrific player. Exciting to watch with all the tricks and confidence a showman needs. But buried underneath the “confident” showman persona, there seemed to be a soft centre.
When it was going his way, all warm and cosy, Fernandes was a joy to watch and capable of assisting/scoring sensational goals. None more memorable than his free-kick when ‘top of the Premier League’ Manchester United met ‘top of Division One’ in the Third Round of the FA Cup. Fulham won a free-kick on the edge of the box attacking the Putney End and the French winger curled it over the wall and into the top corner for an early lead. This kind of magic was always in his locker, a big Hollywood type game and the chance to be the hero.
But it was the cold nights “up north” and the games where we had to fight for the points that let Fernandes down. One performance that sticks out in my memory is away to Burnley at Turf Moor. He came off the bench and looked disinterested and gave a weak, half-hearted performance giving the impression that he’d rather be elsewhere. This happened quite a few times when playing in “uncomfortable” circumstances. He didn’t appear to have the mental strength or the fight for promotion in all weather’s. That fixture was played on the 20th February, we lost 2-1 with a last-minute goal by Burnley to nick it. Fernandes returned to Rennes on the 1st March, just a few days after that dismal display…coincidence?
His whole career was a little bit underwhelming in the end. A decent run at Southampton followed but elsewhere he didn’t make an impact and retired at the early age of 29. It worked out well for us as we ended up with the likes of Steeeeeed Malbranque… can’t complain about that! But Fabrice had so much more to give to the game and to the club. So, despite being a big part of that promotion season, it’s such a shame that the world of football never really got to see it.
The mystery of Steven Davis… A promising young lad coming through the ranks at Aston Villa and developing into a good solid player. It seemed like a very good addition when Lawrie Sanchez used his Northern Ireland connections to bring Davis in, sadly it didn’t quite work out that way. Sanchez’ long ball approach couldn’t have been more of a contrast to the type of football suited to Davis. The ball was forever sailing over his head and he became very isolated, ineffective and redundant within the side.
This clearly unsettled the Northern Ireland International because he soon followed Sanchez out the door on loan to Rangers when Roy Hodgson took charge of the club. The loan spell seemed to spark him into life resulting in a permanent move being arranged for approximately £3 million pounds. He continued to flourish at Rangers and was very popular with their fans. His form earned him a move to the Premier League with Southampton in 2012, where he has been a regular throughout.
Should Steven Davis have stayed? Hindsight has proved that it didn’t really matter, Danny Murphy went onto doing just fine anyway but there’s no question that Davis is a good footballer and was a big disappointment at Fulham.
Brooker is the perfect example of a young lad with bags of potential that never quite adjusted to being a senior pro. A local lad born in Hammersmith, Paul came through as a trainee and broke into the first team under Micky Adams. He played in two-thirds of our promotion campaign, but most of those appearances were as sub. That pattern continued the following season as opportunities became limited for Paul due to the Al Fayed takeover and the type of quality player being introduced to the club.
If you speak to any player that was around the club at the time Brooker was coming through, I’m sure they will share the opinion that he was a very talented winger and was destined for bigger things. Fulham’s rise through the league’s played its part in preventing him having the opportunity to fulfil his potential. But it’s still a wonder why he never lived up to the expectation placed on his shoulders and more importantly “what might have been” for Paul in a Fulham shirt.
With only two appearances under Keegan, he made his loan move to Brighton a permanent one reuniting him with Micky Adams. Five years on from making his first-team debut at the club, Brooker left Fulham having made just 70 appearances, scoring 6 goals for the Whites. He played over 100 times for Brighton, scoring 18 goals but the question will always remain for the local lad who was once tipped as the future Ryan Giggs.
Fulham never cease to amaze me, pulling off potentially the signing of the season by persuading Lewis Holtby to join on loan on deadline day of the January Transfer Window. However, that potential soon went South just like our Premier League Status as Rene Muelensteen was sacked just a couple of weeks after Holtby’s arrival., The one manager on Earth (more than likely another planet actually) that the German Ace had previously made public that he was glad to get away from was a certain Mr Felix Magath. So, the timing of Felix coming in was shocking, to say the least. Felix had managed Holtby as a youngster in Germany and the playmaker was very aware of what his fellow countryman was capable of and having been plummeted into a relegation dogfight through a series of poor decisions on and off the pitch, this one has to be top of the list for me.
Holtby had a great attitude and was a top professional. He gave his all in the circumstances and never raised concerns that he would do a Chris Martin, the return to Spurs didn’t even come into the equation. But in interviews after the arrival of Felix, you could see the dejection on his face. He was played in all sorts of positions when it was quite clear that he was best playing behind a striker in a free role. But Magath rarely got the best out of him so it was a double whammy for the club. Not only did our best hope of rescuing our season become isolated and trapped, I felt Holtby’s initial response to the fans and his teammates showed signs that it could become a permanent move in the summer but dropping to the Championship ruined that opportunity.
Finally, thanks to goal-line technology he had a certain goal not given as it was cleared off the line at Villa Park, I was there and to this day I refuse to believe that it didn’t cross the line but pointless dwelling on it now. Oh, what might have been?!
Speak to any fan old enough to remember the heartache of the 1982/83 season and they will know who Andy Thomas is and why I have picked him. Thomas was 20 years old when he joined Fulham on loan from Oxford Utd. The inside forward made a big impression on the side and with each game he played, it became more imperative to our chances of promotion to keep him at the club for the rest of the season. Alas, playing the role of the ‘bad guy’ once more was the ever-unpopular owner that is Ernie Clay. The whole team, although, very talented consisted of youngsters brought through the ranks or were bargain basement type signings and left us with a very thin squad. In the end, Fulham decided not to keep Thomas and he returned to his parent club during the season when Fulham were flying high in the league.
As a result, the team’s form became inconsistent as they only won a handful of games before the season climax against Derby County at the Baseball Ground. Fate was still in our hands for promotion, but it should have been all over by then as we threw it away in the final few months. The controversy of how we lost that Derby game will never go away from Fulham fans memories, nor will Derby ever be forgiven for winning a football match in such distasteful circumstances. But perhaps the decision to opt against the signing of Andy Thomas made the Derby situation possible. It is far more likely that the decision to opt against the signing of the Oxford Utd loanee was costlier to that season than anything else. Fans can only think “what might have been” for that fantastic footballing side in the top division, but the opportunity passed us by.
So near yet so far for Malcolm and Fulham Football Club and you don’t get nearer than MM to being considered a local hero. Born in a house on Finlay Street just 30 seconds from the Cottage, MacDonald signed for Fulham as an 18-year-old from Tonbridge Wells. He was a signing that not only had the potential to be a real star but also carried the potential of a romantic Fulham story.
Sadly, this hope was very wide of the mark, MacDonald only stayed at Fulham for one season making a dozen or so appearances. On the pitch, he showed bags of ability and filled the crowd with a warmth and excitement of what was to come as he got older. But this future wouldn’t be played out at the Cottage because the club decided to cash in extremely early on the teenager much to the annoyance of the fans, most of whom felt it was a terrible decision for the club. MacDonald went onto have a very successful career most notably with Newcastle where he is a club legend. Now Fulham fans are left wondering if the adopted Geordie born literally a stone throw away from the pavilion in SW6 could have been our legend as a player instead.
He’s certainly up there as a “what might have been” for his spell as manager of the club in the early eighties but that’s a story for another day…