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Faltering Fulham and the fall from grace

Two promotions and two relegations in four years means Fulham are in the same place as they were in 2017/18 . But why have Fulham struggled with stability?

2018/19: Take One

When Fulham arrived back in the Premier League in 2018/19 after four years in the Championship, fans would have hoped for more than an immediate relegation back to the second tier of English football. 

A transfer window expenditure of over 100 million pounds also fuelled fans hopes of a sustained period within the Premier League.  Instead, they ended the season in nineteenth with relegation ensuing.

Fulham had signed a host of players with experience in Premier League football and the top leagues from across Europe. Alexander Mitrovic, signed from Newcastle, was an astute bit of business for 22 million pounds. A proven goal scorer in the league with Newcastle, the Serb scored 11 goals in 37 appearances with the Cottagers in 18/19.

But Mitrovic could not do it on his own. 

Joining him as a new permanent transfer was Jean Michael Seri, a 25-million-pound centre midfielder from OGC Nice. Despite his high fee, Seri struggled under the Craven Cottage lights. After 32 appearances for the club, he mustered only two assists and one goal. WhoScored.com rated him an average of 6.55 a match, far less than what fans and players expected.

Unable to impress, Scott Parker loaned him out twice in two seasons, firstly to Galatasaray in the summer of 2019 and a half season loan to Bordeaux at the start of 2021. He is currently on his final contracted year at the club and talks of an extension are few and far between.

André Frank Zambo Anguissa also joined the club for a fee around the 25-million-pound mark. His role would be to join Seri in a midfield pivot, offering dynamic ball carrying and quality in transition, as had been seen in Ligue 1. Unfortunately, an ankle injury in November derailed his season. He would not return to full fitness until mid-March, and by that time, Fulham’s fate had almost been sealed.

Fulham would learn that quality and quantity were not symbiotic characteristics. In the two summer transfer windows preceding a return to the Premier League, Fulham signed an enormous 25 players. 

2020/21: Take Two

10 new players joined the club in their 20/21 Premier League campaign. Notable loanees such as Ruben Loftus Cheek, Mario Lemina and Ademola Lookman all arrived. Despite the attacking options in Lookman, Mitrovic and second striker Bobby Decordova-Reid, Fulham’s shot conversion rested at just 4.6%. The second worst in the league that season behind Sheffield United. This was despite being twelfth in the table for shots at goal.

The three players scored a combined nine goals between them in the season. Far from the striking potency needed to retain a place in the Premier League.

Most of the loan players signed would be starting for the club throughout the season, and this caused problems for the squad. With this many new players in the squad, Fulham struggled with consistency in creativity and finishing. Similar problems have been seen in the past of the mixture of too many signings and poor player performances. Rarely can mass influxes of new signing gel successfully. Case and point, Tottenham post-Gareth Bale. 

If they are to be promoted back into the Premier League ready for the 22/23 season, Fulham could do well to make more concentrated and well-informed signings. Focusing on players with Premier League experience would be best for a side looking to the strength and depth required to remain in the top division of English football. This is especially true for Fulham, whose squad currently only has three players over the age of 30. 

Managerial merry-go-round

Back in 18/19 The chemistry of the club was failing. A dreadful start to the Premier League campaign saw Slavisa Jokanovic sacked.

Brought in to help the club was former Leicester manager and Premier League winning manager, Claudio Ranieri. An improvement in form was seen but after four straight defeats in February, Claudio Ranieri also left the club.

The managerial role would fall to then 38-year-old, Scott Parker in his first managerial position. He opened his tenure with five straight losses, taking Fulham’s overall form to nine games without a point registered. The slide towards relegation could not be evaded, with them finishing 19th.

Despite the dismal campaign endured, Parker was retained as manager. A show of faith many clubs would not have shown, for better or for worse.

An opening day loss to Barnsley aside, Fulham would successfully secure a spot in the play-offs, finishing 4th in the league and two points away from automatically promoted West Brom. Once again, they were Premier League-bound.

Fulham offered infrequently impressive performances throughout the season. Victories against Liverpool and relegation rivals Sheffield United kept hopes of a second season in the Premier League alive.

However their win against Liverpool would be their last of the season on the 7th of March. Only gathering two points out of a possible 27 in the last nine games of the season hammered the final nail into Fulham’s proverbial coffin. Their fate to be laid to rest in the Championship the next season was sealed.

Starting again

There would be no rebuild under Parker, however. He would leave his post at the end of the season, and would join Bournemouth as head coach.

Fans, however, were happy to let Scott Parker have another season at the club. He had shown his promotion-mettle the last time Fulham had been relegated. It would not have been unrealistic to expect it again.

The consistency and sustainability of a retained Scott Parker could have been something to get behind. Seeing him build a long-term philosophy at the club would have no doubt-built stability into the club. However his departure has once again thrown jeopardy over the club’s short term aspirations, and long term progress.

Enter Marco Silva. It is his first managerial role since his tenure at Everton. A spell that turned sour, and almost poisonous for its failures. He finished the 18/19 season with Everton in 8th (the same place Sam Allardyce had finished a year prior). His tenure ended with a 5-2 loss to Merseyside rivals Liverpool mid-way through the following season.

Silva comes to Fulham with something to prove. In the limited sample size gathered since the season began, he and Fulham have impressed. They currently lead the Championship table after five games. 

Marco Silva’s career does little to scream long term stability. His previous appointments in England have been short, with his longest stint at Everton lasting for a year and a half.

Fulham need a long-term plan, to get back into the Premier League and stay there. Silva’s appointment may be a turning point in his career, but how willing are the club to be that catalyst for him? At what point does a manager of promise become one that is too unreliable to trust your philosophy with?

2022/23: Take Three?

While it is still too early to make assumptions for the season, Fulham have started with good quality and work rate. Mitrovic is amongst the goals again, and younger players like Fabio Carvalho have impressed.

The recruitment of Harry Wilson has also sparked interest, for the right and wrong reasons. He marked his debut with a goal against Middlesbrough in a 1-1 draw. Despite the frustration of dropping points a game where Fulham dominated, Wilson impressed, and fans looked forward to seeing his next game against Huddersfield Town.

A resounding 1-5 win away from Fulham however was dampened by the dismissal of Harry Wilson. The kind of topsy-turvy, upside-down narrative that has shaped Fulham for too long now.

Performances have improved and goalscoring in the Championship does not appear to be a problem for Fulham so far. But the Premier League is a different animal in which Fulham have struggled to tame. 

Promotion alone however cannot be the litmus test. there are only so many times a club of Fulham’s aspirations can be promoted and relegated in such quick succession.

Long term progress will not be identified by Silva’s capacity to promote this team. It will be in the manner it is achieved, and of the business conducted once back in The Premier League (whenever that is). Only by learning from the rollercoaster last decade, can Fulham truly grow and stabilise.

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