Fulham have mishandled Patrick Roberts situation

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Ahead of Fulham's vital game with Wigan Athletic you could forgive manager Kit Symons for being slightly preoccupied with guiding the Whites away from the relegation zone. 

But away from the mire of avoiding the drop to League One Fulham face a battle to keep hold of their brightest star, England Under-19 forward Patrick Roberts.

Game time

The 18-year-old has only started two league games this season and, with recent reports linking him with Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool, Fulham fans are understandably worried about the prospect of losing the player.

The situation is made all the more difficult by the fact that Roberts only has one more year on his remaining contract, although Fulham intend to offer him a new deal to secure his long-term future.

Why all the fuss? 

Roberts has long been marked out as a player to watch, even before Felix Magath handed him his senior Fulham debut against Manchester City last season aged 17.

It was with the England junior sides that Roberts really made his mark, playing an integral role in England Under-17s 2014 European Under-17 Championship win, with three goals and four assists.

Roberts' time with the England Under-19 side has already seen him score five goals in eight appearances alongside the likes of soon-to-be Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli, Chelsea's Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Birmingham City flyer Demarai Gray.  

The left-footed forward is capable of playing on both flanks although his best position is as a playmaker, where his quick feet, dribbling ability and vision make him very difficult to mark. 

Difficult season 

When Fulham were relegated from the Premier League last season after a dreadful campaign, one of the few silver-linings would have appeared to be the increased integration of Roberts into the first-team.

These hopes were further booster on the opening game of the Championship season when Roberts came off the bench against Ipswich to set up a goal with a trademark dribble in a 2-1 defeat. 

However the season hasn't panned out as expected, despite Symons taking over from Magath as Fulham manager.  Symons hasn't been afraid to promote youth, with Cauley Woodrow, Seko Fofana, Lasse Vigen Christensen, Jack Grimmer and George Williams all given lengthy spells in the first-team throughout the season as Fulham have battled relegation. 

The same can't be said of Roberts, who has managed just three starts in all competitions, making a further 16 appearances off the bench. This is all the more disappointing given the fact he has impressed in brief cameos, leading supporters at Craven Cottage to belt his name out from the stands at home games.

The Championship is a tough and unforgiving league, and Roberts, who stands at under 5ft 6in, can be targeted for his size and relative physical weakness.

But he isn't afraid to get on the ball repeatedly and take on opposition, something that has been very rare at Fulham this season.

What next?  

While Fulham supporters would love to see Roberts sign a new long-term contract at the club and play a bigger role in the side next season if the club avoid relegation, it is by no means a certainty.

Premiership clubs are increasingly aware of the need to snap up top British talent to fulfil home-grown quotas and there are currently few better prospects in the country than Roberts.

The fact that Fulham have allowed Roberts' contract to get within a year of expiry is poor management, and the club have left themselves increasingly vulnerable to losing the player. It is going to be a nervous wait for Fulham fans to see if Roberts does sign a contract extension but if he doesn't then everyone associated with the club will be ruing not getting a proper look at a player who has the ability to go to the very top in world football. 

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