Fulham's Seri-ous Transfer Coup
There wasn’t much doubt that Jean Michaël Seri would leave OGC Nice this summer. The club failing to qualify for European football, a year after finishing third in 2016–17. On a team level, it was hard for Nice to duplicate that kind of success. They’re fighting upstream in resources available to them, and their statistical profile in 16-17 wasn’t what you would expect from a top three side in France. Seri’s performance this past season weren’t quite up to the standards that he showed during that special season when he was one of the best players in the league, but he was still solidly above average.
All of that should’ve equated to a fairly robust market for Seri’s services, and yet it was a promoted side in Fulham that ended up with a player that frankly could’ve played for clubs that had Champions League football to look forward to in 2018-19. It’s a genuine coup for Fulham that they were able to snag someone of Seri’s quality, and offers further proof as to the sheer financial power that the PL operates at where a newly promoted club could get a player that would help almost every club in the league.
If we assume that Slaviša Jokanović continues to have Fulham operate in a similar manner that they did at the Championship, a possession-based system that produced the second highest goals in the league, tied for third in shots and second in open play shots, Seri will be a solid acquisition considering his experiences with Nice. Seri’s style of play should help Fulham’s transition into the PL as he should project as an upgrade over what they already have in the midfield department.
What made Seri such a hot name, particularly after 2016-17, was his quality as a passer. He’s someone who can break defensive lines with regularity, and not even look like he’s breaking a sweat while doing so. He’s such a good passer during buildup play and in the middle third that even if he only tops out at producing 6-8 non-penalty goals + assists over 2500+ minutes, he’ll still be an asset because he’s very helpful in getting from one zone to another before even approaching the final third. The versatility in his passing range is legitimate, and it doesn’t feel as if the ball gets stuck to his feet for longer than it should. It’s in and out in no time.
In addition to his work on the ball, he’s helpful with his off-ball movements. Sometimes, he’d be the deepest of Nice’s three-man midfield, supporting the center backs, and other times he’ll run into space further up the pitch in more dangerous areas. When he was further back, Seri helped in combination play and creating overloads so there would be an open player in proximity who could receive a pass and dribble forwards, with Adrien Tameze's mobility in particular helping with the ball carrier duties if he was the one open for the pass. Seri’s very intelligent in general when it came to finding enough space to where he can receive the ball and make his next move.
One way that I think Seri could fit in well would be incorporating plays like this to help get him into advance areas so he can work his magic. At times Fulham will have their wingers, particularly Ryan Sessegnon, come inwards while the fullbacks maintain the width. This could allow for quick combination play that allows Seri to dribble the ball into the final third uninterrupted if an opponent is sticking close to Sessegnon. Seri isn’t an amazing dribbler and he doesn't possess an elite level burst, but he’s got enough mobility to have him progress play in this manner.
If Fulham continue with having Sessegnon play more of his minutes as an attacking player versus at fullback, he'll benefit from how Seri can help get him the ball in advantageous scenarios. While many people have been excited with Sessegnon’s speed and overall athletic gifts, he also has a very good understanding of when to migrate into the penalty area to be at the receiving end of cutbacks or just scooping up the loose ball for a shooting opportunity. It’s why his shooting locations last season were so pristine for a 17-year-old attacking player. Having a midfielder behind him who is a quality passer should help with the step-up in competition, as Seri’s presence was one reason why someone like Alassane Plea turned into a solid goal scorer and shot taker over the past two seasons at Nice. Alexsander Mitrovic should also be someone that benefits for Seri's presence if he returns to Fulham, as he'll have someone who can set him up well whenever he tries to seal off his defender in the final third for layoffs or creating his own shooting opportunities.
It’s hard to see too much fault with the thinking behind Fulham’s move to get Jean Michaël Seri. Of all the teams who realistically had a shot of acquiring him, you could argue that someone like Fulham benefit the most from getting prime aged talents of Seri's caliber. With the ridiculous amount of money that’s available in the Premier League, just staying up is so financially viable for teams that it's worth it for them to push their chips on a singular talent they believe is good enough to make a difference. If Seri had gone to Arsenal for example, he certainly would've helped but it's unclear how much he would've truly pushed the needle, and he would've been another player added to the long list of guys they have who are either nearing the end of their prime years or already past it. Seri's presence at Fulham, on the other hand, should swing the percentages in a more meaningful way in terms of avoiding relegation.
Seri’s move to Fulham is reminiscent of Dimitri Payet’s transfer from Marseille to West Ham in 2015. Payet was 28 years old and had come off what was the best season of his career up to that point. He was one of the best players in Ligue 1 during 2014–15, but Marseille missing out on the Champions League meant that they had to sell him at a discount. Marseille’s loss was West Ham’s gain and Payet helped them to their best season in nearly two decades. Of course, Payet left soon after in a blaze of glory, but he did help West Ham pocket two seasons of that delicious PL TV money while the club turned a profit on Payet’s return to Marseille.
You can see how something similar could apply to Seri and Fulham. The club now have a player who most would’ve figured had the talent to play for a Champions League side. This year will be Seri’s age 27 season so he probably has roughly three seasons left of peak production in him. If perhaps Fulham keep him for two of them while and in the process maintain in the PL, there should be enough interest with Seri at 29 years old to allow them to potentially make a profit on a future transfer given how the football food chain works regarding player movement. They would’ve gotten quality midfield production while not having to worry about a major decline in performance by selling him at the right time.
Seri's move to Fulham has the potential to be one of the more astute signings you'll find from a Premier League club this summer. He's a wonderful passer who should fit in with how Fulham operate in attack in deeper areas. He'll feed their fullbacks when they make blindside runs into open space for potential crossing/cut-back opportunities, as well as directly contribute to some goals as well. His age profile also fits well with Fulham's objective of maintaining Premier League survival, and he should still carry re-sale value if Fulham are cognizant of the general aging curve and when it's time to sell. If things go according to plan, Seri and Fulham will probably be a short but fruitful marriage for both club and player.
Header image courtesy of the Press Association