For all the transfer window’s problems, the panic-buying, the extortionate transfer fees and the way it favours big clubs with large amounts of disposable capital, it has to be said that deadline day itself has become something of a spectacle, a date that football supporters up and down the country both anticipate and dread in equal measure. There is something quite enchanting about watching Jim White swell to the point of self-combustion on Sky Sports News as he screams about ‘BIG NEWS COMING OUT OF ALDERSHOT’, the sudden rush of exaggerated excitement as an anonymous ‘ITK’ posts on your club messageboard that that full back you’ve been linked with all summer is having a medical, and the terror that hits as you notice your top goalscorer is trending on Twitter; you frantically try and ascertain why, praying to God that he hasn’t been poached by your rivals.
A week ago, ‘By The River’ said that the final week of the transfer window would be a hugely important period for Fulham; with an ageing squad reduced to threadbare status thanks to a host of departures, activity in the market was essential, not just to appease supporters but also to prevent the excellent work of the previous three seasons from being unravelled. In the end, as is often the case for clubs outside of the top 6, it came down to the final day, but it has to be said that it was probably worth the wait. The £10.6m signing of Bryan Ruiz from FC Twente was without doubt the highlight, proving that the club is still able to wield some financial might when the need arises. The Costa Rican comes highly rated having been linked with both Spurs and Liverpool in recent times, and so to land him (fighting off a late poaching attempt by Newcastle) is something of a coup. His versatility means he can be used on the wing, behind the striker or up front, and his goal scoring record in the Eredivisie is phenomenal with 36 goals in 61 games for Twente. Of course, the usual reservations about signing players from Holland still apply, with the much-heralded example of Afonso Alves becoming something of a footballing cliché nowadays, but when you read comments from respected Dutch journalists ranking him alongside Luis Suarez as the two stars of the Eredivisie in recent years, it’s impossible not to get excited.
Other deadline day deals came in the form of Zdenek Grygera, the full back from Juventus, and Orlando Sa, a 23 year old Portuguese striker. Grygera is hardly the most inspiring signing of the summer, arriving with a terrible injury record over the previous two seasons and endorsements from Juve fans that were hardly ringing. In fact, a reported late bid for Alan Hutton suggests Jol has brought him in to be back up rather than a first choice for the right back spot. Nevertheless, it represents a low risk move given the lack of a transfer fee, and the club’s need for reinforcements in the right back spot were well known. It seems from the last two matches that Chris Baird has been given back the right back spot, and so I would expect Grygera to serve as back up for him. Orlando Sa is a particularly intriguing transfer that came from out of the blue in the final few hours of the transfer window. It seems that this, another free transfer, got the green light after discussions to take Andre-Pierre Gignac on loan from Marseille broke down. Sa is a target man striker and will doubtless provide the back-up for Bobby Zamora that has been lacking for as long as anyone cares to remember. Interestingly, Chelsea were interested in signing him back when Scolari was in charge, whilst his impressive scoring record for Portugal U21s (7 in 7) suggests that he’s no David Elm. In recent seasons he seems to have gone off the rails a bit, but we have seen in the past how countless players have rejuvenated their careers down at the Cottage, so this move represents a lifeline which you would hope he would be desperate to grasp. And if he doesn’t, the lack of transfer fee again means the club is unlikely to really lose out, representing another shrewd piece of business.
Looking at the squad now, it suddenly seems a whole lot stronger than a week ago, of course helped no end by managing to retain players such as Dempsey, Baird and Andy Johnson, three players who were all linked with moves towards the end of August. Two players cover every position, which is of course a bare minimum requirement for a squad trying to compete on both domestic and European fronts. What will be interesting now is how the side lines up, and how Ruiz is used; we could continue to line up in a 4-4-2 with Ruiz up alongside Zamora, but perhaps more interestingly would be a 4-2-3-1; Zamora as the spearhead target man with the three of Dempsey, Dembele and Ruiz interchanging behind. The most encouraging thing is the number of options now open to Jol; so far he’s managed to get it right off the pitch, now it’s just a question of getting it right on it.