Despite enjoying an impressive 14 consecutive years in the Premier League, as well as an against-all-odds Europa League runners-up place in 2010, Fulham have always been considered a relatively small club that were batting way above their average.
With no widespread fan-base and a historic old stadium that wouldn’t look out of place in League 1 football, it comes as no real surprise that the Southwest Londoners find themselves in the Championship after a disastrous relegation campaign in 2013/14.
As several sides have been banished to the second tier on English football with no real prospects of ever returning to the Premier League, can Fulham resurrect their fortunes, or is this the last we’ve seen of the plucky Cottagers in the top-flight game?
Fulham currently sit a disappointing 17th in the Championship, with 24 games gone and only 8 games won. Kit Symons’ side are closer to being relegated to League 1 than they are to returning to the big-time, but as they opened the 2014/15 campaign with five straight losses, it seems the proverbial bounce back to Premier League is a task much easier said than done.
A major issue surrounding Craven Cottage in recent years has been the club’s transfer policy and mindless spending, with the ill-fated signing of Kostas Mitroglou proving to be the most relevant case study.
The Greek striker signed for Fulham this time last year for a club record fee of £12million. Mitroglou, who gained fame for his one good performance against Manchester United in the Champions League last season, arrived at Craven Cottage injured, subsequently only made a handful of appearances for his new club, and ended up being loaned back to Olympiakos in the midst of Fulham’s relegation.
Such clueless transfer activity is also mirrored in the situation with Bryan Ruiz, who is currently on loan to PSV after costing the Cottagers £10million back in 2011. With Ross McCormack also proving a steep purchase, Fulham’s strike-force is worth nearly £30 million, yet Symons’ side still sit twiddling their thumbs in the bottom half of the Championship.
The current owner of the struggling London club, Pakistani-American billionaire Shahid Khan, must therefore take a great deal of the blame for his side’s woes. He is responsible for the ridiculous spending Fulham have taken on in recent years, and as his mismanagement of the coaching side of football ownership was clearly displayed last season, Mr. Khan really has a lot to answer for.
Martin Jol’s frankly awful start to the 2013/14 campaign perhaps justly warranted his early sacking, but the subsequent hiring of Rene Meulensteen and Felix Magath showed that all was not well behind the scenes at Fulham. Both men had little to no experience of managing in the Premier League, so to throw such poorly sourced candidates into a straight-up relegation dog-fight was nothing short of silly.
There are some signs that the glory days aren’t completely over for Fulham, though. Danish youngster, Lasse Vigen Christensen, has proved that he can be a threat in front of goal, whilst defender Dan Brown has also been making steady progress in the absence of Brede Hangeland at Craven Cottage.
Whilst some of Fulham’s players therefore offer a brighter looking future than their current situation implies, the problems surrounding the club’s questionable ownership and distinct lack of league form are simply too big to ignore at the moment. Only a clear change in direction, with a direct emphasis on signing more suitable players, can change their fortunes now, and as such a task just can’t happen overnight, perhaps promotion to the Premier League is more of a dream than a reality for Fulham at this stage in the season.