Fulham losing Ross McCormack was a blessing in disguise. So would selling Tom Cairney be all that bad?

When Fulham sold Ross McCormack to Aston Villa in the summer of 2016, the furore among fans was understandable.

The striker, with 38 league goals in two seasons at Craven Cottage, had twice been critical in saving the club from relegation to the third tier.

His strikes were regular, timely and on many occasions, simply sublime.

With him and Moussa Dembélé forming a lethal partnership in 2015/16, goals and entertainment became the only undoubtable commodity in a season of severe uncertainty.

And so we mourned his loss and posed serious questions to those in charge. Where’s the ambition? Why can’t we keep our best players? What, exactly, does the future hold?

Fulham Ross McCormack

The answer to the latter, of course, was as surprising as it was joyful. Not perfect – perfection would have been beating Reading and making Wembley – but nonetheless a journey of extreme fun.

Slaviša Jokanović has done so well to morph the team at his disposal into one that is truly revered among Championship counterparts. He did so with a vision – one which centred around attractive, possession-based football.

A vision that, ultimately, didn’t need Ross McCormack.

It didn’t require one extraordinarily prolific striker – it certainly didn’t need two. With Fulham this season – showing such grit, desire and determination – it was clear that the whole had become greater than the sum of its parts.

And so, as the vultures circle around Tom Cairney, we have to ask again – is losing our best player all that bad?

I say best player because, quite palpably, Cairney is the one to make this team tick. That might seem at odds with the idea that this season’s successes were down more to teamwork than individual triumph, but it’s true.

One look at his stats – a 92.6% passing success rate, 10 assists, 2.6 key passes per game – says all you need. One look at his performances this season – his consistency, his genius, his vision – says even more.

He has become a creative lynchpin for this team, buoyed, I’m sure, by the captain’s armband and the infinite faith shown in his talents by Jokanović.

Is he replaceable? Sure. Any player, up to the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, are replaceable in their own right.

But in the context of Fulham, our reliance on his style of play and his centrality to everything positive we do, I’d argue perhaps not.

Don’t get me wrong – if a club like Newcastle United step in and throw upwards of £15 million at the 26 year-old, owner Shahid Khan may be tempted to accept.

And, for all the stick that has been thrown the way of Khan over the last few years, it’d be hard to hold him personally accountable. We’d surely reinvest – maybe we’ll even find that stellar striker we’ve been craving in the absence of Chris Martin’s willingness to really try.

But would it be the same? It’s hard to envision a Fulham team, now, without Cairney as its beating heart.

Whether he is willing to stay, whether Khan is willing to sell, who knows?

What’s certain is that losing Cairney won’t be like losing McCormack. Selling our star striker freed up our system, allowed us to play more dictatorially and, in many ways, propelled us forward this season.

Selling our captain this year, I fear, would do quite the opposite.


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