It did not capture headlines like some other transfers in the January window, however Fulham’s club-record signing of Kostas Mitroglou is intriguing nonetheless.
Branded as immature and a loose cannon in a career that has had more than a couple of setbacks, Greek striker Mitroglou has set Europe alight with a fantastic season thus far. Having fired Greece to the World Cup and also Olympiacos to the top of the Greek Super League and to the Round of 16 of the Champions League, the 25-year-old is having a career-defining season. Mitroglou was watched closely by a number of Europe's elite, including Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool, Inter and Arsenal, with Gunners boss Arsene Wenger dubbing him "a true finisher". However, it is Fulham who surprisingly won the race.
The £11m deal to take Mitroglou to Craven Cottage at first glance is shocking from all sides. Fulham on the one hand have the worst defensive record in the Premier League, so perhaps money should have been spent bolstering their shaky rearguard. Olympiacos are selling a crowd favourite who certainly would have given the club a better chance for success in their upcoming Champions League Round of 16 clash with Manchester United. Mitroglou too seemed to have many potential suitors, so why pick a relegation-threatened side like Fulham?
Only the involved parties know the exact answers to these questions, but through some logical speculation it is easy to see how the move is beneficial to all involved. Though Fulham are shipping goals left and right, their attack are not breaking any records either. Midfielder Steve Sidwell has been a particularly solid Premier League player his whole career, but when his seven goals top the club scoring charts, that is the sign of a problem.
Costa Rica forward Bryan Ruiz was surprisingly sent to PSV Eindhoven in a loan deal, while American striker Clint Dempsey has returned to his old stomping ground – but only for two months, and he has been in the midst of a dip in form for some time.
Olympiacos meanwhile are strolling through the Greek Super League without a real challenge. When injury robbed them of Mitroglou for nearly two months it didn’t affect them at all, their depth and quality a level above every team in the Greek top flight; the Piraeus giants are also showing their ability to evolve as time passes. Olympiacos can be deemed a selling club too nowadays as every season seems to show them selling one or two stars.
In the past few years they have sold players to Roma, Genoa, Everton, Galatasaray and Benfica amongst others. The Piraeus outfit have shown an uncanny ability to rebuild by bringing new players in. For instance, Nelson Valdes has already been snapped up as a replacement for Mitroglou. Critics of the sale have argued they could have waited until the summer to sell their prized possession though, as Mitroglou’s stock may have risen further with a positive World Cup. Things can change fast in football however and Olympiacos will deem the money received for Mitroglou as good enough to do the deal.
While playing for Fulham will not be the dream of every aspiring star, the London club represent a fantastic opportunity for the player. For starters, Fulham made a concrete deal even though bigger clubs were looking at Mitroglou; signing the Greek international was a risk Fulham were willing to take. For Mitroglou meanwhile, the presence of fellow Greek Giorgos Karagounis will surely help in becoming accustomed to life in English football. But more than that, Mitroglou will be given ample playing time by manager Rene Meulensteen, something that he would not be guaranteed if Liverpool, Arsenal or Newcastle had come calling.
At 25, the striker still has time to make another move in his career. If things with Fulham work out, then there will be an opportunity to sign another contract or move to an even bigger club. Fulham may indeed be a stepping stone for something else for the player, while the expectations at Craven Cottage will also be manageable, initially meaning he will be tasked with scoring the goals needed to get the side out of the relegation places. Mitroglou is no stranger to pressure having played for Olympiacos, who are expected to win the domestic double every season.
What Do Fulham Get?
What is £11m buying Shahid Khan’s club? Firstly, the Cottagers are purchasing a player in the best form of his career. The statistics say it all with regard to Mitroglou’s goal glut this season. Six goals for the Greek national team since August and 17 goals for Olympiacos (in all competitions), which included a hat-trick against Anderlecht in the Champions League back in October, becoming the first Greek player to ever achieve that feat in Europe’s premier club competition.
While his talent has been undeniable, even from his youth football days in Germany where his family moved to following Mitroglou’s birth in Kavala, Greece, he has struggled to become the main man for Olympiacos: Though he was at the club from the age of 19, only this season had the player popularly known as ‘Mitrogoal’ been an undisputed first-choice striker.
In Ernesto Valverde’s two spells with Olympiacos (2008-2009 and 2010-2012), Mitroglou was part of the squad, however he was not the preferred pick to play in the Spanish boss’ favoured lone striker spot. Instead the likes of Darko Kovacevic and Refik Djebbour were usually selected. Some observers questioned Mitroglou’s work rate and commitment at training.
Certainly there has been a maturation process that has taken place since those days. The growing up however did not occur solely at Olympiacos, but rather in two loan spells that seemed to change the way Mitroglou went about his job. The first loan was at Panionios in 2011 where Mitroglou played half a season chalking up eight goals, a satisfactory return. Just when his confidence was growing the player was sent on another loan, this time to Atromitos. There, under the guidance of former Blackburn Rovers player Giorgos Donis, Mitroglou thrived once again. He scored 19 goals in all competitions and the belief was that he was ready to claim a spot at Olympiacos.
Last season, Mitroglou enjoyed a fine season with the Piraeus giants, scoring 20 goals in all competitions in just over 40 matches. It was the season that he needed to affirm his status as the club’s top striker, especially with Djebbour’s departure from the club.
As he has shown in the last two seasons for Olympiacos and most recently the Greek national team, Mitroglou is a striker with great potential and many positive characteristics. The former Borussia Monchengladbach product is a good hold-up player, but more than merely that, Mitroglou is a skilled footballer and his combination play is strong. Another defining characteristic is Mitroglou’s close control and one on one play; he has the ability to get past defenders with surprising finesse for a big man. What Fulham really now have is an individual who can score in a variety of ways. Equally at home at scoring with either foot and with his head, what separates Mitroglou from others is the coolness of his finishing. His range is also impressive as he is able to score from distance as well as finish in the box.
Certainly Mitroglou has much to prove with this move. There will be pressure to live up to his transfer fee, the most ever spent on a Greek player. Whether he will be able to handle the speed and power of the Premier League remains to be seen as the Greek Super League is nowhere near as competitive.
Fulham have got their man. Some supporters cannot believe the player has been signed. The jury may still be out if this was money well spent, but the indications are that this a deal that could yield much success for the English side and Greece’s top player.
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