I was already 30 when I joined Fulham and still ended up making more league starts for them than any other club. It clicked because Roy Hodgson built a team of good footballers with Premier League knowhow.
One of the important signings was Damien Duff. He was also 30 when he joined from Newcastle, not a financial investment but talented and experienced. His contribution was invaluable, not least helping the younger lads in the team develop and we reached the Europa League final in his first season.
The sad irony is that Fulham wouldn’t have dreamed of signing a Damien Duff last summer. Too old, no re-sale value. And that recruitment policy is costing them, £100million spent and bottom of the table – too many players learning together and nobody to help them.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham are paying the price for neglecting key parts of the transfer market
It’s a great shame because Fulham is close to my heart. I was honoured to be Roy’s captain, his voice on the pitch because we spoke the same football language, and even after I retired as a player, they involved me in the process of appointing a new manager, though they ultimately gave it to the interim, Kit Symons.
So it’s frustrating for me to see the current structure the club is adopting and I fear for them at Liverpool on Sunday unless Slavisa Jokanovic has a tactical rethink. If they play open, with the centre halves split and full backs pushed up high, they will get destroyed on the turnover, as they were against Arsenal when they lost 5-1.
Jokanovic isn’t blameless but a failed recruitment policy has been the single biggest problem.
In my opinion, if you spend the money Fulham did, you can bring in a better selection than they managed last summer even in an era of inflated transfer fees. A manager who won promotion via the play-offs needs players in the Premier League who have been there, seen it, done it.
Fulham wouldn’t have dreamed of signing a Damien Duff last summer despite his knowhow
Fulham signed a mixture of newcomers, like Jean-Michael Seri and Luciano Vietto, or unproven, such as Calum Chambers and Aleksandar Mitrovic. They will either need time to adapt or aren’t good enough in any case. Who is there going to get the best out of Ryan Sessegnon as Gary McAllister did with a young Steven Gerrard at Liverpool?
I accept Andre Schurrle had some experience at Chelsea and he’s probably been the most effective signing so far but the others need to stand up and be counted. The injury to Alfie Mawson has been unlucky but even he got relegated last season.
Fulham aren’t the only club taking age into account when making transfers. I know Liverpool put the block on Brendan Rodgers buying Ashley Williams from Swansea a few years ago when he was in his prime. But when Liverpool buy younger, they are still able to recruit players like Sadio Mane who are tried and tested at this level.
That said, Jokanovic now has to work with what he’s got and it means being more pragmatic. Cardiff scored four goals in their first eight games – and then scored four against Fulham in 90 minutes. That tells you everything about Fulham’s defence.
The likes of Luciano Vietto (right) have struggled to make an impact so far at Fulham
It doesn’t have to be like that. You can still organise regardless of quality as Chris Hughton has got the maximum out of his squad at Brighton.
Fulham try to play what they’d see as the right way but there is nothing wrong with having a balance. There is a reason they can’t play out as well this season as they did in The Championship. Their opponents now are better, smarter and know when to press. Fulham will have less of the ball than they did last season, that makes you physically tireder. When you add on individuals freezing and making basic individual errors, you can see why they are struggling.
Ultimately, the manager usually carries the can. But as long as Fulham’s remit from the top is to prioritise value for money on every signing, it won’t work. You need a mix. In January they need to go out and sign a few Damien Duffs.
Jurgen Klopp should try to write off the Red Star Belgrade defeat as a one-off despite saying they lost their ‘mojo’. Sometimes, you just have a bad day, you can’t change the momentum and Europe is hard at the best of times.
Think about being unbeaten in the Premier League and the massive progress that has been made in 18 months. Klopp feels if Liverpool don’t win the title, it’ll be regarded from the outside as a bad season. That’s the level of expectancy he’s created and maybe the midweek loss in Serbia acts as a kick up the backside. We will see against Fulham at Anfield on Sunday.
One thing we learned, if we didn’t know it already, is how important Roberto Firmino is to this Liverpool team. He was rested on the bench and by the time he came on at half-time, Liverpool were already 2-0 down. He has done brilliantly at the club and impressed me immensely.
Liverpool’s defeat in Serbia also outlined the importance of Roberto Firmino
Firmino is technically very good but what he relies on to be at the very top of his game is being physically right because his output is enormous. He is the trigger for all the pressing and his workrate is phenomenal.
If for some reason he is having a dip, maybe because of tiredness, maybe a couple of aches and pains, you notice it. Some players can get away with it because they move the ball, Firmino is hard yards all over the place when he’s at it.
To me, he hasn’t looked quite as sharp this season, and maybe that explains why Klopp didn’t start him in midweek, to give him that little break. Funnily enough, Romelu Lukaku is a similar type I that when he drops physically, it affects his performances. When he’s at it, he’s unstoppable.
The good thing is that restoring top physical condition is the easiest thing to work on. It’ll only be temporary for Firmino and we saw in Belgrade, Liverpool are always a better team with him in it.
I was delighted to see Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson called up by England, fully deserved for his form this season. There is no reason for two of Sunday’s combatants at Anfield, Daniel Sturridge and Ryan Sessegnon, to fret about being left out.
Everyone knows Sturridge’s quality including Gareth Southgate. He doesn’t need to have him in the squad to know if he ever needs a top-class finisher who has scored goals at every level, Sturridge will be able to step in.
To call him up for friendlies and Nations League games might not be the best thing given how his body needs to be managed.
Sessegnon, the jewel in Fulham’s crown, is still only 18. What he’s achieved for someone his age is incredible. He’ll be learning enough just by playing in the Premier League every week. He shouldn’t worry about an international call-up yet. There is plenty of time and it will happen.
Fulham youngster Ryan Sessegnon is yet to receive a call-up for the England squad