There are many areas in which the takeover of Turkish TV magnate Acun Ilcali has seen significant improvements at Hull City since its completion in January.
Financial transparency, a clear plan moving forward and promises of a five-star, all expenses paid for holiday in Turkey for 500 fans to name just a few, but the calibre of players the club have shown interest in so far this summer, particularly in midfield, is perhaps the most exciting.
Considering that this time last year, the highlights of Hull’s midfield exploits in the transfer window were Portsmouth’s Andy Cannon and a 34-year-old Tom Huddlestone, it’s safe to say that strong interest in three midfielders with double digits for international caps and equally esteemed club careers is evidence that the club is looking to reinstate themselves at the right end of the Championship table as soon as possible.
In Fenerbahce’s Ozan Tufan, Hatayspor’s Adama Traore and Jean Michael Seri, who starred in Fulham’s recent promotion from the Championship, Ilcali’s short-term intentions are clear.
These potential signings, on the surface, would undoubtedly send a message to the rest of the league that they are ready to compete, but how successfully would this trio function as a unit in black and amber?
It’s a question asked by Hull fans since the rumours arose and with good reason. There are variables that could quite easily see these transfers go wrong, and equally, some that may well form a promotion-winning midfield. Let’s figure out which side the coin is likely to land on, analysing each player and their chances of success in East Yorkshire one by one.
At 27 years of age, with 65 caps for Turkey under his belt and arguably his prime years to come, the move for Tufan has unsurprisingly being met with the most intrigue. Although, having fallen out of favour at Fenerbahce in 2021 before an uninspiring Premier League loan spell at Watford, his stock has decreased somewhat over the past year.
For the Tigers, this presents an outstanding opportunity on paper, but with a few causes for concern upon further investigation. To get a more accurate picture of the player, it is worth going back to the 2020/21 season – when he featured 37 times in the Super Lig – and comparing to Greg Docherty, who he is most similar to in the Hull squad.
To compare with Docherty’s 2021/22 campaign, the stats according to Wyscout are strikingly similar. Per 90 (Tufan/Docherty), they averaged 3.9/4.0 interceptions, 1.6/1.6 loose balls won, 7.4/7.6 opposition half recoveries, 63%/63% of defensive duels won, 1.5/1.6 dribbles, 5.0/3.2 successful passes to final third and 7.8/6.2 forward passes.
In playing style, Tufan and Docherty are both effective at harrying opponents to retain possession, showing great speed over short distances and defensive positioning to press players quickly when they receive the ball. This tenacity and drive also sees them carry the ball well over long distances, even with immediate pressure from multiple defenders.
A slight yet crucial difference in their ability is, in fact, formed out of a weakness. It is the point at which the ball needs to be released where they both tend to go wrong. This can be after a 40-yard dribble where they struggle to sort their feet out, and a lack of technique and composure can be to their detriment when receiving possession in crowded areas or passing long-range.
Tufan struggles with this in transition, often rushing a pass or playing the ball blindly with a man on his back. But when he reaches the final third, he’s a lot more refined in his forward passing when he isn’t running at speed, and he’s especially good at engineering half a yard from a standing start to release a pass or a trademark long shot.
It is those attributes in particular that should benefit Hull. This is a team that almost always attacks from the flanks, with the majority of their shots coming from players cutting in from the channels or getting on the end of crosses, so some firepower in central areas is much needed. These thoughts are echoed by the Fenerbahce fans, as Mert Varvil of Fenerbahce International says:
“When he plays his good games, he is such a good box-to-box midfielder, like a glue between defence and attack. Lots of running and a cracker of a long shot on him. We could always count on him during the difficult moments in big games. He loves to go forward when he has the chance and either create or score.”
A promising appraisal, but it is the caveat of ‘when he plays his good games’ that also stands out as something to be wary of. Fenerbahce International‘s Emir Yaran admits:
“When his performance was at a peak, he was amazing and I believe if he wants to get back in form he can be a starter [for Fenerbahce] again as he has got the potential. However, he does have problems with fitness and discipline and he hasn’t overcome this fully despite it being his seventh year at the club.”
The Turkish international is definitely an improvement on the likes of Docherty and George Moncur who offer similar attributes in a midfield three, and he would be crucial in helping Hull to build from deep, progress through the middle third centrally and provide precision and speed of thought in the final third.
Much like Docherty, he has a lot of energy in reserve when fully fit. This often sees him come into his own past the hour mark, accelerating past markers further forward if his team is chasing a lead or dropping deep when protecting a lead and pouncing upon loose passes as opponents tire. This then gives him more time to carry the ball in space and use possession more effectively.
In summary, it’s the type of signing which could either bring with it tons of output and quality superior to the Championship standard or a handful of substitute appearances, there’s no in between. It would be understandable if Tufan was at the top of the list of targets for many Hull fans, but he’s isn’t the midfielder that manager Shota Arveladze is most in need of.
In an article I wrote at the start of the year on Allahyar Sayyadmanesh – another imminent addition for Hull City on a permanent deal following a successful loan spell – one of the main weaknesses of this team that I picked out was their inability to progress the ball through the middle third. This was a continued pattern through the remainder of the season.
Essentially, in games where the opposition would flood wide areas, doubling up on star man Keane Lewis-Potter, the Tigers would have no option but to hit hopeful passes to a striker who was often isolated.
This was because they didn’t have the technical ability to break the lines through midfield and stretch the opposition vertically. Instead, they were far too compact which made it easy for teams to negate progression through the centre. In Mali international Adama Traore, Hull have found a mould of player that could be the answer to those problems.
After breaking onto the scene at the U-20 World Cup in 2015, helping Mali to win a bronze medal and himself to the Adidas Golden Ball award given to the best player at the tournament – an accolade won by Paul Pogba, Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona in the past – Monaco had high hopes Traore would become a star when they paid €14 million for him that summer.
Things didn’t quite go to plan as multiple injuries hindered his growth significantly, and competition with the likes of Bernardo Silva, Joao Moutinho and Tiemoue Bakayoko made it hard to get game time when he was fit.
Alas, at 26 years old, the taste of success in Ligue 1 during the 2016/17 season and European football is now a distant memory, and three underwhelming loan spells in Portugal, Belgium and France led him to the Super Lig and Hatayspor.
Since his arrival in 2020, Traore has played more than 50 league games across two seasons in spite of some minor injuries. The playmaker has been showing glimpses of getting back to his best and would still be a huge coup for the Tigers if he can cope with the taxing Championship schedule.
Of the current Hull squad, George Honeyman is the most comparable player to Traore. Although, none of Arveladze’s men have the passing quality that he possesses. In 2021/22, Traore completed 82% of 7.3 passes to the final third compared to Honeyman’s 59% of 4.9 and 71% of 2.9 long passes next to 39% of 2.8 showcases that disparity.
It is worth mentioning that Honeyman doesn’t excel when it comes to passing, and instead offers a driving force into the box to receive crosses from wide or carry the ball and deliver himself, but Hull aren’t short of willing runners in behind or getting numbers in the box, so Traore’s incisiveness to either play directly through the lines, at range or to produce a killer pass could benefit them hugely.
Complement that with refined ball control and reliability in navigating crowded spaces, great press resistance with quick feet as well as the nous to both drop deep and move the ball with brilliant vision and patience or travel with the ball, drawing defenders and splitting them with his passing. There is a lot to like about Adama Traore.
In Docherty, Honeyman, Regan Slater and potentially Tufan, the Tigers have plenty of players who can do the hard graft and create space with their movement and energy in order to get the best out of the Malian. Along with a certain midfield general to break up play and dictate the tempo from the third, defensive midfield role, this could be a match made in heaven.
Jean Michael Seri
Whilst Traore and Tufan are both relatively unknown entities when it comes to performing at the Championship level, Jean Michael Seri is a name that fans of the division will be familiar with, and very fond of. Seri is expected to fill the hole left by the departing Richie Smallwood, playing in the least glamorous yet most important role of a midfield three.
Although the arrivals of the aforementioned pair would be likely to enhance Hull’s midfield in the areas highlighted, the gulf in class between Smallwood and Seri is undoubtedly the largest of the three comparisons.
The key issues Arveladze’s team faced with Smallwood in the side occurred when opposing players were running at him as the last line of defence before the back three.
Smallwood’s lack of pace and agility allowed the majority of players to breeze past whilst also not having to worry about him being on their tail, which gave them the freedom to drive under no pressure and cause serious problems for the Hull defence.
In this scenario, Seri’s anticipation of the danger early on and his initial positioning gives him the best chance of preventing a counter-attack.
With that being said, he does like to throw himself into tackles full throttle which can cause him to be knocked off balance by a powerful runner. But at worst, he will usually succeed in slowing an opponent down, even if that means committing a sensible foul. .
Besides that, Smallwood was good overall. He broke up play well when he could get tight to his man and kept it simple in possession, mastering the basics that his job required and was therefore dearly missed when out of action. Despite his importance, these are tasks Seri can complete without second thought, which gives time for his other strengths to be displayed.
Smallwood shows up better on defensive metrics than Seri due to the volume of encounters he faces, and though the reverse argument could be made towards Seri playing in a more dominant Fulham team, 79% of 9.4 his passes to the final third are successful in comparison to 60% of 7.3, as well as 63% of 1.6 dribbles next to 53% of 0.4, which exhibits Seri’s significantly better ball progression and comfort in possession.
Such calmness on the ball was noticed within the Fulham team. Defenders would trust Seri with the ball when he dropped into the back four to perform the quarter-back role or bring the ball into midfield before releasing.
Seri received 45 passes per 90 last season, which contrasted with Smallwood’s average of 24 can be translated to play style, but as the assigned orchestrators of their team, the Ivorian commands the ball and dictates the tempo where Smallwood tends to shy away from it and would regularly be targeted by the opposition press due to his lack of technical quality and speed of thought.
On top of that, Seri struck up a fantastic connection with Harry Wilson, who is similar to Keane Lewis-Potter in the explosive nature of his movement in behind and constant want for the ball out wide, which Seri is more than capable of maximising the potential of.
On face value, Jean Michael Seri definitely suits being the facilitator for dynamic midfield partners and an express link between defence and attack without rushing his passes.
A player who can collect the ball from defence or the ‘keeper and stretch the opposition vertically in a split second with purposeful distribution is what Hull have sorely needed. Alongside Adama Traore, a focus on building play through the centre will add another vital dimension to the team.
Ozan Tufan is more of a wildcard when it comes to technical quality, and is somewhat indispensable with Hull’s current options in the third position.
Though, he could benefit enormously from the high standards Traore and Seri will bring which will allow him to be more adventurous and affect play in areas that suit him. Not to mention he can also play on the right wing or at right back and offer similar marauding runs from the right channel.
The business being targeted under the new regime at Hull City is not only ambitious, but smart and considered at a club where such traits have long been absent.
Improving the core of the team with a dynamic range of midfield talent is merely the foundations of what promises to be an exciting summer and a team capable of pushing towards the top six.
By: Brad Jones / @bradjonessport
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Quality Sport Images / Getty Images