Fulham are rooted to the bottom of the Premier League, but their under-21 team are top of the table – and now the Cottagers want their youth-team talisman Muamer Tankovic to transfer some of his magic to the big stage of their relegation fight.
The 18-year-old Swede has enjoyed an excellent season in the under-21 Premier League, netting eight goals in 11 appearances despite not usually playing as an out-and-out striker.
Instead, Tankovic prefers to play in the number 10 role just behind the main forward, where his key attributes – guile, creativity and vision – are most effective. The young playmaker also possesses excellent movement, making him hard to track as he operates between the lines.
Tankovic has drawn comparisons with both Wayne Rooney and his Fulham team-mate Dimitar Berbatov: Rooney for his diminutive stature and playmaking ability in the hole, Berbatov for his composure on the ball and graceful technique.
This season, the man known as ‘The Tank’ has formed an unstoppable strike partnership with Moussa Dembele, firing Fulham to the top of the table ahead of traditional academy powerhouses like Manchester United and Arsenal.
His outstanding performances, including a hat-trick in a virtuoso display against Tottenham under-21s, have catapulted him into Rene Meulensteen’s first-team plans – and the transfer gossip columns, where Liverpool and Inter Milan have both been linked with the youngster.
Following a brief cameo against Norwich, Tankovic made his first start for the first team in the FA Cup match against Sheffield United, and was largely impressive in an underwhelming Fulham performance, producing a composed performance and supplying the assist for Hugo Rodallega’s equaliser.
However, Tankovic’s disappointing performance in the replay defeat to the Blades demonstrated the weaknesses in his game: a tendency to flit in and out of games, and an occasional inability to impose his creativity on a physical contest.
It is certainly asking a lot of the young man to rescue Fulham from their dicey predicament. But Tankovic does have a knack of seizing the moment.
In 2011, Tankovic was eager to leave his Swedish club Norrkoping to further his career, so his agent Fabio Alho set up a trial with German club Hamburg. By his own admission, Tankovic was underwhelming in training, but when given the opportunity to impress in an academy match, he responded in spectacular fashion, scoring all five goals in a Hamburg win.
Tankovic will find it a lot harder to make an instant impact in the Premier League, but with Fulham having managed just three goals in their last six league matches, his creativity could be a vital asset in the Cottagers’ relegation scrap.
Rene Meulensteen will hope the Tank is equipped with all the weapons to make sure Fulham don’t go down without a fight.
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