Barcelona’s Camp Nou and Fulham’s Craven Cottage are two of the most different stadiums in Europe’s top leagues, with the former expanding up and up towards the Catalan sky and boasting a 99,000 capacity, while the latter is tucked alongside the Thames and has a capacity of 26,000. Last summer, Jean-Michaël Seri was set to move to Barcelona and to play in Europe’s biggest arena, but one year later he has instead joined Fulham.
The saga of last summer was one of the more bizarre transfer stories of recent memory, with Barcelona having agreed a deal for the Nice midfielder, who former captain Xavi insisted had “Barcelona DNA”, only to then make a U-turn and pull out – not because of the price, but because they’d had second thoughts.
Barça president Josep Maria Bartomeu even called up his Nice counterpart Jean-Pierre Rivère to express his embarrassment at the situation, with Seri left devastated by the sudden end to this summer fling. “My dream of going to Barcelona has been broken and this, for me, is terrible,” he told Mundo Deportivo. “When I found out, I went to the offices to see the managers and I exploded.”
Whether because of this shattering of his dreams or not, the Ivory Coast international had a disappointing 2017/18, at least compared to the excellent 2016/17 which had caught Xavi and Barcelona’s attention, as well as that of several other Champions League clubs. As a result, his value has plummeted like Tesla stock after an Elon Musk tweet, and this opened the door for newly promoted Fulham to grab him on a four-year deal at a knockdown price of around £25 million – even if this was, for them, a club record fee.
So, after a roller coaster couple of years, just how good is Seri right now? And what exactly can he bring to Fulham?
One thing is for sure about Seri and it’s the fact that he is naturally talented, with the eye for a pass and the ability to execute it. The central midfielder thrives in a possession-based system, the kind which Lucien Favre implemented when he took over at Nice in the summer of 2016. Seri had arrived the summer before, after spending two and half years in Portugal with Porto and Paços de Ferreira, and the Swiss coach’s hire led to his breakout year. This shake-up of style helped Seri, whose skillset was finally on show, as if it had been there all along and was now visible under a UV light.
He started to touch the ball over 100 times per game and his numbers all rose. In 2016/17 he passed the ball 82 times per 90 minutes, compared the previous campaign’s 77, and 74 of these passes were successful, compared to 68. His number of key passes also rose, from 1.33 per game to 1.93, and his chances created increased from 1.51 per game to 2.20, while assists rose from 0.17 per game to 0.27. Given that he was already 25 years old when Favre arrived, it’s fair to think that this dramatic increase was more so down to the system change than a footballing growth spurt.
What’s interesting is that Seri’s second season under Favre saw all of above stats, except assists, rise again in the 2017/18 campaign. While anyone who watched him regularly will know that he didn’t quite possess the same sparkle as the previous year, it is true that per 90 minutes he had 89 total passes, 81 successful passes, 2.12 key passes, 2.31 chances created and 0.20 assists. Last year showed that Seri maybe doesn’t quite have what it takes to play for Barcelona, but reports of a decline akin to that of the NBA stars in Space Jam have been overstated.
In terms of what Seri will offer at Craven Cottage, he’ll fit right into Slaviša Jokanović’s passing game and has the ability to collect the ball from the centre-backs and to begin attacking moves. Seri’s average pass completion rate at Nice was 90% and, while he plays many short and simple passes, he is also prepared to take a risk. His vertical passing is exceptional and he plays several deep balls per game, almost trying to keep the opposition defence honest like an NFL quarterback.
Perhaps the only concern Fulham should have with Seri’s passing ability is the fact that his best passes at Nice came when he was afforded time and space, two things he’ll rarely get in the hustle and bustle of the Premier League.
Defensively, Seri hasn’t been as impressive as other players in his position, usually just in front of the centre-backs, which could be a concern for Fulham. In fairness, he wasn’t asked to contribute to Nice’s defensive work as much as he surely will be at a newly promoted Premier League side, so it remains to be seen how he’ll adapt to this and whether or not it will be one area of weakness in his game.
What Seri can bring to the Cottagers’ attacking game, though, is significant and he promises to be an excellent signing for them, especially at the price they paid. It may be a quarter the size of the Camp Nou, but Craven Cottage should fall in love with this player.
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