Joao Palhinha had been linked with Manchester City, Manchester United and of course Wolves; instead he is keeping Fulham up.
‘Who will be the biggest bloody bargain?’ is a question we ask every summer in our pre-season predictions and this year, there were staunch cases made for the free Christian Eriksen and the £25m Yves Bissouma. Those who picked the former over the latter are feeling a little smug right now, but the real answer in this nascent season is the £17m man at the base of Fulham’s midfield.
Had we been paying full attention to Fulham’s summer transfer business (in our defence, he was signed on the same day as Manchester City dropped over double his fee on Kalvin Phillips, who is very much not in the running for any kind of award), then most of us would not have tipped Fulham for relegation, but a fifth consecutive change in division suggested that a sixth was in the post.
While the maturity of Aleksandar Mitrovic is the most obvious upgrade in the 2022 version of a promoted Fulham side, with manager Marco Silva a close second (it’s hardly controversial to suggest that the Portuguese is somehow a better Fulham manager than Scott Parker, despite the Englishman ‘knowing the club’), new signing Joao Palhinha has been nothing short of a revelation.
Quite how Wolves missed out on a mid-range Portuguese midfielder is unclear but they must be kicking themselves as they watch Palhinha make more tackles than any other player in the Premier League this season. Hell, he’s made more tackles than any other player in Europe’s big five leagues. The man is a tackle machine.
“You can actually be tackled here, and I love it. That was one of the main things behind my decision to come here – the style of play,” said Palhinha.
“In my head, I just want to play with intensity. That’s why I like the league. In every match, everyone wants to play, but with aggression and fairness.
“That’s one of the good things. In Portugal I felt I could not be tackled. Sometimes it was difficult. Every ‘touch’ was a yellow card. Here it is completely different.”
It’s worth noting that he made those comments before a fifth yellow card in just seven games ruled him out of this weekend’s clash with Newcastle United; he will be sorely missed as the Cottagers bid to move an improbable six points clear of the nouveau riche of the Premier League. Wolves will not be the only Premier League club wondering why an established Portuguese international was allowed to join newly promoted Fulham.
It was certainly an incredibly savvy move from Fulham, who appear to have struck the right balance between Bournemouth’s lack of ambition and Nottingham Forest’s scattergun transfer approach. Five of the Fulham starters against Forest before the international break were new signings and that feels like a healthy number. Enough to raise standards without killing momentum.
Chief among the new signings to have made an impact is Palhinha; there’s a reason why the players were heard signing his name to the ‘Tequila!’ song after that victory even though Pereira’s name fits almost as well. He has been an extraordinary bargain in a position which is vital for newly promoted clubs. Just ask Thomas Frank and Christian Norgaard.
The shame for Fulham is that Palhinha’s swift adaptation to the Premier League means he is unlikely to stay in west London for long, especially as both Manchester United and Manchester City have previously shown serious interest. But even just a year should be enough to break the Fulham cycle and guarantee their first back-to-back Premier League seasons in a decade.
Who will be the biggest bloody bargain then? Joao Palhinha of course.