Fulham’s summer transfer window of 2023 will ultimately be judged at the end of the season, but on first look it has to be considered a failure. Transfer windows are all about ending them stronger than you started, and it is difficult to argue that The Whites are stronger than they were at the end of the previous season.
Failing to replace proven goalscorer, Aleksandar Mitrovic, with an equally or at least comparably potent threat is the main shortcoming, but in other areas there appears to be a lack of depth, and perhaps more importantly, those in charge of the deals do not appear to have satisfied the desires of an ambitious head coach. I have already written about Marco Silva’s own role in the difficulty of the transfer window, but the club’s hierarchy should endeavour to give the team the best chance to achieve their goal of becoming an established Premier League outfit and entering a new season in worse shape than they ended the one before is not a proven method of achievement.
The Portuguese tactician opening the season with no contract extension is a concern. He has delivered where others have not, keeping the club in the top flight and before that, securing promotion with a Championship title rather than the stress of the playoffs. So much of what has been good in SW6 since 2021 can be attributed to Silva. Not being able to tie him down to a longer deal is another issue that the higher ups have failed to resolve.
While the introductions of Alex Iwobi, Calvin Bassey and Timothy Catsagne undeniably improve depth in their respective positions compared to last season, none of them are surefire starters. Iwobi is perhaps the most exciting of the signings, even if his price feels a little inflated considering his contract is less than a year from expiration. His ball carrying ability provides a new option in central midfield, and he may yet establish himself in the midfield three. But he has quite a job displacing Andreas Pereira and it will take a lot to dislodge Harrison Reed or the impressive Sasa Lukic. He has the potential to provide the attacking thrust that most will admit Reed often lacks, but he won’t match the Southampton academy product for defensive work rate, so it depends what Silva wants in different matches.
Iwobi has also been known to play wide, and made his breakthrough at Arsenal as a winger. But his move to more central positions has undoubtedly seen the best of him, and while he offers a lot, he isn’t a significant upgrade on the current crop. Bassey, Castagne and even Adama Traore are also improvements on those in the same roles last season, but those roles were back up options.
That being said there are few complaints with the players that have arrived at Craven Cottage this summer. The issues are centred on those who did not arrive. The window was littered with news that Fulham were closing in on deals, only for them to break down. Suggestions are that Silva was not sold on certain targets and therefore did not press ahead with them, but that doesn’t match up with the news that was coming out at the time. Silva may not have been particularly keen on Callum Hudson-Odoi, Lucas Ocampos or Demarai Gray, but he clearly wanted another winger and he didn’t get one.
There is now a gap in the squad, and if it is indeed true that the manager didn’t want those particular players, why on earth were the negotiations for them, so protracted? The mixed messages speak to a lack of joined up thinking, and whatever your perspective on the window, that has to be worrying.
There were also a number of missed opportunities. Tyler Adams is the standout. A man who put up respectable numbers, as all defensive midfielders not named Joao Palhinha trailed the Portuguese enforcer in tackles and duels, made a lot of sense. Not just as a back up, but also a potential partner for Palhinha. With the way the window ended, having Adams in the door already may have made the last 36 hours a lot less stressful. And while fans are right to rejoice at keeping the midfield tackling machine, an issue that arose last season was the lack of an alternative. That issue still exists. Palhinha’s days by The Thames appear to be numbered, so Khan will have to do a better job of replacing this star than he has the most recent one to depart.
The Cottagers also missed out on Manor Solomon. While it didn’t appear as though there was ever really any clamour for him to stay following his loan spell, the fact he was available on a free, and ultimately no one has come in in his place, feels like another mis-step. Fans were divided on Solomon by the end of last season, and understandably so. But on a free, his ability to demonstrate match-winning qualities has to be considered a good opportunity. It does feel as though the wingers currently on the books do not possess that same quality, Willian aside. And when players like Mike Tresor and the previously linked Justin Kluivert moved to Premier League rivals in affordable deals, questions have to be asked of the recruitment team once again.
But it is at the top end of the pitch where most concerns lie. New Everton striker Beto looked a fine fit to step into Mitrovic’s boots, but Fulham didn’t make a move. The Portuguese forward has looked good for The Toffees in his brief time on Merseyside, and may prove to be the clearest missed opportunity of the window. Again, it has been suggested that Silva did not push for a striker, content with what he has seen from Raul Jimenez. But clearly the club were looking at strikers, having been rejected in their approach for Brazilian forward Pedro.
At the end of the season, Tony Khan spoke effusively of backing Silva in the market and strengthening for the season ahead. At the start of the final week of the window, the head coach said he needed five more players. He got three, and his top scorer for the past two seasons has been replaced by one who has not scored a league goal since 10th March 2022.
This summers business may yet prove to be enough, but first impressions take some changing and when the window slammed shut on 1st September 2023, Fulham did not look stronger for it.