Will these factors see Fulham re-establish their top flight status?
12th May 2010. HSH Nordbank Arena, Hamburg. Atlético Madrid. Fulham FC. Level at the end of 90 minutes. Diego Forlán’s strike opened the scoring but 5 minutes later Fulham’s Welsh midfielder Simon Davies equalises.
116 minutes on the clock, the South-West London club 4 minutes away from penalty shoot-out and the chance of winning the UEFA Europa League. Diego Forlán, the Uruguayan who had flopped at Manchester United but resurrected his career in La Liga, broke the hearts of Fulham fans – including mine – with a deflected strike past Mark Schwarzer.
That was a good 5 years ago, oh how so much has changed in those 5 years for Fulham and its fans. That season included climbing out of the relegation zone to finish in a respectable 12th position, thrashing Juventus 4-1 and reaching the Europa League. Fast forward to 2015 and the club lay in 12th position this time in the SkyBet Football League Championship.
5 managers in those 5 years isn’t too bad a statistic. Closer inspection tells a different story. Mark Hughes brought in after Hodgson moved north to Liverpool, spent 11 months in charge before leaving. Martin Jol had the longest tenure – 2 years – before being sacked in 2013. Rene Meulensteen, the ex- Manchester United coach only lasted 17 games. Felix Magath replaced him. The German was tasked with avoiding relegation; a task too great as the club dropped ended their 13 year stay in the English top flight.
Magath lasted 7 months before he was ousted. Academy coach, Kit Symons was promoted to the role of caretaker before being made permanent. The Welshman becoming owner Shahid Khan’s fifth manager since buying the club from Mohamed Al-Fayed. He is now the latest casualty to make the fired list; 1 year and 2 months make him the longest serving manager since Mr Khan took over.
It is true to say Mr Khan’s reign as chairman has not been as fruitful as his predecessor or reached the expectations he had when buying the club. The billionaire business tycoon who owns NFL side Jacksonville Jaguars can probably be the first person to confess that his knowledge of football – the real kind – is very limited. All the changes his making to the club isn’t going to help in his quest to reach the golden land. The Barclays Premier League, the Holy Grail for fans, players, managers and chairman’s. The richest league in the world is set to become even richer now, with the new £5.1 Billion TV deal being implemented in 2016/17 season. The rewards for getting promoted this season and the next subsequent years are greater than before. To achieve his goal, results on the pitch will have to improve though.
The old guards who helped keep Fulham as a regular name in Top flight departed after their relegation to the championship. John Arne Riise, Jonny Heitinga, Brede Hangeland, Steve Sidwell, Damien Duff, Kieran Richardson, Giorgos Karagounis, Ashkan Dejagah all departed for new pastures either ashore or stayed in the Prem.
Promotion hopes were place on Ross McCormack, an £11 million capture from Leeds and championship top scorer in 2013-14 season, Bryan Ruiz, Scott Parker, Hugo Rodallega and a bunch of their young, talented players promoted to the first team; Patrick Roberts, Moussa Dembélé, Sean Kavanagh, Emerson Hyndman, George Williams, Marcus Bettinelli, Cauley Woodrow and Jack Grimmer.
A 17th place finish last season mixed with some heavy defeats; 5-1 at home to Bournemouth, 5-0 at home against Watford, 4-1 home against Brentford, 5-0 against Derby and 5-3 away to Nottingham Forest.
This season has seen an improvement in results – 4-0 home victory against rivals QPR – but a 5-2 defeat to Birmingham and 3-0 defeat at the hands of Wolves, both at Craven Cottage, is evidence the club still has a lot to do before they can be considered as serious promotion candidates.
An encouraging sight for fans is the team’s performance, especially from the younger stars. Moussa Dembélé in particular, who was recently awarded with the Football League Young Player of Month award for his 5 goals in 3 games during October. To achieve success the Whites will have to get the mix of youth and experienced right. Hopefully their young players will carry on flourishing while the older senior players, Scott Parker, Kay Voser, McCormack, new summer additions Richard Stearman and Jamie O’Hara will use their experiences and leadership skills to help the club fight for promotion.
It will take time no doubt at that, Shahid Khan and fans must be patient. Whoever takes over will have to implement their tactics and gameplay philosophy to the players, success may not come straight away and hopefully this is something Mr Khan will take into consideration before sending the new manager packing.
Stability on and off the pitch is what the club needs. The vast majority of the team has spent a full season together and will now have a greater understanding of one another. Shahid Khan needs to find manager and stick with them through thick and thin. Then maybe Fulham can make a return to the top flight amongst the best clubs in the country and the glory of European nights can make a return to Craven Cottage.
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