Fulham manager Martin Jol touched down at London Airport on Monday night a frustrated man after failing to pull off a sensational transfer coup.
"We've been very busy for a number of months now behind the scenes. The club doesn't like to reveal its intended targets until any deal is done. I've repeatedly dismissed names being put to me in press conferences - but it's time the fans understand the board and myself are really working overtime to bring in some new faces. But, you know, we are not Ajax Amsterdam, this is not a club like Hamburg even, so we can only do so much," Jol said.
This blog can exclusively reveal Jol and chief executive Alistair Mackintosh took a private plane from Newcastle following Fulham’s latest defeat at the weekend and headed for Spain. After months of negotiation the club felt confident their top summer transfer target was finally ready to sign on the dotted line. None other than Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.
“We exchanged postcards over the summer, then sent Lionel a copy of our ‘Goals of the Season’ video. The Argentine was changing planes at Heathrow over the summer on his way back from visiting his bank manager in Zurich, we grabbed our window of opportunity to whisk him down to the Johnny Haynes Café for a cappuccino, walk him round the ground, and prove we meant business,” said Mackintosh.
Knowing that capturing a player of Messi’s standing would send a clear message to the rest of the Premier League that for once the club was determined to take the Carling Cup seriously and make it into the 4th round, club owner and benefactor Mohammed al-Fayed sanctioned a ‘no limits’ package for the international superstar. This, we understand, included rent-free accommodation in a renovated three bedroom Feltham maisonette and unlimited use of a Toyota Yaris.
“I mean, you know…when you look around at the price you pay now in this country for petrol, I think it was a good deal. For a guy at the age he is now…the insurance premium was not so high…and only 7,000 miles on the clock. I can say, you know, I would have liked it myself,” Jol told me as he cut a disconsolate figure in the arrivals hall.
But what about the player’s wage demands – and Fulham’s long-standing policy of not paying top dollar? Mackintosh had been certain at their summer meeting this was no obstacle. “He’s a very relaxed guy. His English is not so good so I chalked a figure on the tactics board we were prepared to pay. He considered it for a while and then gave us a big grin. I took that to be a good sign.”
“Actually, added Jol, I would put it stronger than that. The guy laughed a lot. He seemed very happy with life. I remember he laughed all the way back to Heathrow in the car.”
So where now for the club with the transfer window slamming shut in less than 48 hours, and Fulham with no wins from three and just one goal to show from a pretty dismal start to the new Premier League season?
“It gives us a problem no doubt, Fulham’s new manager admitted. When we turned up in Spain to see him still run out in a Barcelona shirt I felt sick. In fact I felt really lousy all the way back on the plane, and only cheered up a little when we landed. There was a message on my mobile to say Leicester were bidding for Andy Johnston. So that’s football for you. You never know when your luck can change.”
But as to the club’s transfer strategy for this window, Mackintosh admitted it now lay in tatters. “We don’t work in a bubble down at Motspur Park, said the chief executive. Of course we’re aware of the acute need for new signings. We sense the supporters frustrations. The truth is, our international scouting network had solid undertakings from 1,792 players around the world – from some of the most respected clubs in world football – that all of them would sign for Fulham the minute we tied up the Messi deal.”
With no plan B it seems to fall back on, it could be a long hard winter for our embattled squad. Additional reporting Hola! and the lady on the Easyjet check-in desk.
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