MY year at Craven Cottage didn’t work out as planned on two counts. First of all, I was taken ill in Japan in November and my trips to Craven Cottage were curtailed for a couple of months while I recovered, and then after a setback in early March, I was again prevented from returning to my seat in the Hammersmith End.
Secondly, after eagerly awaiting the new season with the prospect of a new-look Fulham making an impact in the Premier League, on the field of play it all went horribly wrong. After the first game, a 0-2 home defeat at the hands of Palace, I got into a conversation with a die-hard Fulham fan, who was disappointed that over a £ 100 million of player transfers had not yielded a bright start to the campaign. “But had you heard of the players the club bought?”, I asked. “Not really,” was his reply. “And there you have it – £ 100 million on players from where? And £ 100 million is nothing. Not today.”
Fulham did not buy wisely and neither did they manage their season well. After three managers in a season, they must now be asking themselves if they dispensed with the services of candidate number one, Slaviša Jokanović, rather too easily. He was, after all, supposed to be a man for the future and even on Chelsea’s radar. Even if he’s only a very good Championship manager, he would suit Fulham nicely in 2019-20.
But Jokanović took Fulham up in 2017-18 and was then given a dozen new players, many of whom had been selected, one assumes, by data experts rather than track-suited professionals. Did Fulham discard their promotion team unnecessarily? And where will the hired guns all be next season, one wonders? And will Fulham be able to keep their better players, now that some have had a taste of the Premier?
Already there is talk of Aleksandar Mitrović going to West Ham, to Tottenham or China. And Ryan “one of our own” Sessegnon, who didn’t quite make the impact people expected, has caught the eyes of Borusia Dortmund and Tottenham.
It became obvious early on in the season that Fulham’s new players were going to find it hard to gel. Admittedly, they played some good football at times, but defensively they were simply awful. Teams like Arsenal, Bournemouth and West Ham had it incredibly easy when they came to Craven Cottage.
When Claudio Ranieri was appointed, obviously with the hope that he could produce the sort of magic that would transform Fulham from relegation certainties, it already had the look of desperation about it. There was to be no Leicester 2.0 (it was indeed a one off) and yes, he was a nice guy. Perhaps we can go down fighting with a smile?
But that was not enough and when Scott Parker was given the poison challis, you knew the game was up. Parker, popular with the people, was the last roll of the dice – we’re down, let’s put someone in who the fans like, another “one of our own” in a way, and let’s give him the job for next season. The script is already becoming clear – Parker takes the role in the Championship, does well and is being touted as “one for the future”. And so on and so forth.
In all probability, most of Fulham’s 2018-19 signings won’t be at the club in August. It is amazing that relegated players are as quick to flee the scene of the crime they were involved in as club chairmen are to release players signed during the over-exuberance of a season in the big time. But it needn’t be all doom and gloom – Fulham will benefit from parachute payments and this will give them an advantage in the Championship, which is a fascinating division, after all.
Will I return? I will see the rest of the fixture list out and will renew my season ticket. Fulham is an excellent club, the people are civilised and the Cottage is a lovely ground to watch football. Even after a dismal season, the possibility of a promotion fight looks quite appealing. But a note to the people behind the scenes at Fulham – choose your signings carefully in 2019-20 and always on the basis of first-hand knowledge.