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Fulham may have the services of an international caliber goalkeeper

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Don't tell anybody, but Fulham has a secret that could change your perspective to this weekend and the rest of the season.

Richard Heathcote
Last Saturday at the Fulham meet up in Jacksonville there was a bit of talk and head scratching in retrospect to the news that had broke just a day previous. It was then reported that Fulham would sell Keeper David Stockdale to Championship side, Brighton & Hove Albion. An odd move to be sure and for more than a few reasons.

First, it was thought that Stockdale might and probably would be the first choice keeper. Second, he was sold to former (and soon to be reacquainted) rivals fighting for EPL promotion, same as us. Third, it very much limited the pool to the unproven lot of Jesse Joronen, Marcus Bettinelli and 17-year old Marek Rodák. Not exactly the three choices one would think a serious club such as Fulham would have at its disposal going forward in a promotion battle.

Now, things slowly to light as Fulham might have a top-shelf keeper just two years removed from being heavily sought after by the likes of Champions League club Arsenal and Manchester United. The keeper has led his club to a World Cup final, and boasts a fair bit of Champions League experience. Admittedly his lack of progression in the famous European competition is what has led to him falling out of favor with his current club.

Such a CV as it would have been written could have previously thought to be impossible for Fulham in it's current situation. However, this just happens to be the current state with... Maarten Stekelenburg.

Wait!

Don't close the browser just yet. Please... you've come this far, hear me out.

You still here? Good.

Let's be real for a moment. All cards on the table after I kind of tricked you into reading this article. This is all something that could have been written had last summer happened this summer. Maarten Stekelenburg coming from AS Roma on a transfer and a shiny 4-year deal. Not last summer but this. Think about it. He shows up to lead our Whites back to the Premier League. A guy that despite battling for first team minutes would come in the Championship and be one of, if not the single best, keeper in the league.

Last year, he was touted as the heir to Mark Schwarzer's thrown in a rather formidable linage of keepers that have represented the whites from SW6. One writer even drew an interesting comparison between Stekelenburg's transfer and former Craven Cottage legend Edwin van der Sar. Which was an interesting enough until the Netherlands keeper had to be removed from the pitch at 75th minute on his debut.

Forget last season. Try and just remove all those bad thoughts for one moment. Drink a lot, if necessary. There is still the possibility of retaining that once thought lost of optimism concerning The Dutchman. Maybe, you can seek Will Smith or 'J' as they call him and he can use his fancy neuralyzer. I've always assumed it's on par with a night of hard drinking. Or maybe that's something else. Whatever let's try something here.

Before we start please let me preface all this with a bit of a disclaimer. I'm not necessarily "all in" on 'Team Stekelenburg'. Should Jesse Joronen get the nod between the posts this weekend, then cool. Whateves. I'll have faith in him that he can help us take the points necessarily and in line with a trajectory towards winning the promotion. And, really, this isn't about who should or should not be starting for the club at goal keeper. Rather it's a rather poignant, yet civil, conversation keeping an open mind about the current decision as it lies before manager Felix Magath.

I feel as though Steke' got off to a very poor start with the fan base. His signature pretty much ended up being the last domino in pushing Mark Schwarzer towards leaving the club. While that is really another discussion for another day, that changed how lot of supporters felt about him straight away. Things were only compounded by the fact that despite having a very good first game Stekelenburg would leave the pitch in the 75th minute of his debut. This played into the brittle and often injured persona that he had carried with him from Roma.

A win that was in large part due to his heroics saw much of the good will go to David Stockdale while Maarten would disappear for the next two months of the season. Returning to the club in October was harsh, as we had already seen our fortunes sink deep in the ranks with only 7 points through the first 7 games.

But thankfully another solid performance by him helped the Cottagers to another three points and people were starting to give into the idea of giving him a second chance... unfortunately this was where the true run of bad form came. A run so bad it ended the career of Martin Jol at Fulham Football Club. Six straight losses saw the organization in a tail spin and with no Baloo to take the helm things of course got weird. At least Zac Effron got the help he needed before May.

These specific items of mention all tend to be bad things. Generally speaking, bad things out weigh good things in most memories. Which is why I mentioned before hand how you should put them out of your mind. But then why did I bring it all back up? I don't know. Not a lot of foresight, would be most peoples guess. But it actually show cases my point. Stekelenburg won Squawka's Keeper of the Week award in each of his first two starts. That all gets missed amid all the bad.

When clubs win we often applaud the great attack. When clubs lose we often rip apart the goalkeeper or the defenses. This is especially true with Stekelenburg. Yes, he wore the awkward medal for worst keeper 4 of those 6 matches. But some of those things weren't his fault.

A lot of people are going to look at him and the statistics available. They'll look at his save percentage and see it's horrible. Forgetting that save percentage is an ugly and all together terrible manner in which to determine keepers productivity. The difference between him and Stockdale isn't very big. According to Squawka Stekelnburg saw 105 shots and surrendered 43 goals where Stockdale saw 103 shots and gave up 42 goals this over the course of  a very comparable 1680 to 1740 minute sample size.

But a closer look would reveal that Stekelenburg had 30 of his 43 goals (70%) come from the run of play INSIDE the 18 yard box. That's terrible. Terrible for multiple reasons. One, the defense should have never let it get that far and it speaks to how bad it really was in his time in goal. Two, a shot inside the box has more than double the probability of scoring than outside the box. Stockdale saw only 18 of his 42 come by way of high percentage areas. This to me is more troubling. Stockdale allowed more goals from places of lesser leverage.

This isn't a pick on Stockdale at the moment; merely pointing that both were equally as bad and unproductive, just in different ways. Despite the theme about Stockdale he wasn't some amazing cure to the overall problem inherent with Martin Jol's collection of old dead people. He wouldn't have saved the season had he got a couple more starts. The idea that Stockdale was any better is biased and just plain wrong.

I'm not saying there aren't knocks against the Dutchman and his game. Blood is on both sets of hands here. The 7 goals surrendered against corner kicks is not only a consistent problem from previous squads but also a legitimate concern moving forward. Especially in a physical league where you can count on plenty of dead ball moments and teams playing more direct. But Stockdale surrendered 8 goals through corners so the question should at least be wondered aloud, how much does this rest with the keeper and how much of it is system related?

Really, in an moment of pure speculation my belief to why the club sold Stockdale is that he had value. His low weekly wage and experience makes him intriguing to other clubs. Fulham preyed on that and allowed him to leave gaining a good little fee on a player that had limited worth and using those funds to get better. Sure, that doesn't sound very nice; but business rarely is nice.

I don't mean to seem ugly. Stockdale was sincerely one of the nicest fellows the club has employed the last five seasons. He went out of his way to embrace the fans and make the club look good. He has earned more than a fair shake at the first team position. That never came. I'm sad for him and yet I'm personally okay with it. I'd like to think the club has higher aspirations than him. That isn't to say Stockdale is bad but I want great.

Stekelenburg is not great. He's a player that has limited value.  He's basically Stockdale with higher wages. Sure, greater experience and a better pedigree. But that didn't help him save more shots or prevent more goals last season. Speaking strictly in terms of what we can analyze their very similar defensive keepers.

Realize that Stekelenburg is probably not in Fulham because he is determined to prove us, and our perception of him, wrong. And it's not because he 'bleeds for the badge'. It's more likely that he couldn't find that transfer that he desired. It's likely he would have been forced into taking a back-up job had he moved by to Ajax and that's probably something he's just not that interested in yet.

Shoe on the other foot; Fulham probably didn't intend to keep him. It's not as if he's still here because Alistair Mackintosh was trying to see if Magath could restore his value. He is here because the club likely couldn't find a good transfer partner. That's okay. There still exists the possibility that despite the circumstance that both could mutual benefit from his forced prolonged stay.

Maybe he regains some of that illustrious polish and he goes in the Winter transfer window or, more likely given the context and scenario, the Summer transfer window. Perhaps he could ride a feel good story about leading a club from the Championship back into the Premier League. It could happen.

The point is Fulham still--for the time being--retains a talented keeper. With an open mind maybe we can embrace a season of reclamation. Maybe.

Then, again, maybe he's gone by week's end with Fulham buying out the remaining contract years.

Who knows?