Last summer Fulham untangled themselves from the brambles of a ferociously competitive Championship season and prepared for a triumphant return to the Premier League after a four year absence.
They did so with a highly astute coach in Slavisa Jokanovic and a squad that was perfectly blended with youth and experience with plenty of quality throughout. Most of all they had two facets that are priceless to any ambitious club: momentum and togetherness. Had they kept everything exactly as is and made no signings the suspicion is that the Cottagers would likely remain a Premier League club right now.
Only they didn’t. Insecurities set in, that or impatience to quicker get where they ultimately wanted to be. In the last summer transfer window, Fulham brought in 10 new players at a combined cost of over £100m and that’s when their dream imploded.
The incoming talent – seven of which were from overseas – struggled to settle and the unforgiving top flight doesn’t offer up rehearsals. Jokanovic meanwhile struggled to find his best eleven as momentum halted and any togetherness in the camp dissipated. Their relegation was confirmed in early April but bluntly they were down from the get-go.
The three clubs that have reached the promised land this time out would do well to learn from Fulham’s mistakes and that applies mostly to Aston Villa. Why? Because the respective squads of Sheffield United and Norwich City each contain just a handful of players with Premier League experience and, with the greatest of respect, those players hardly set the division alight.
Take nothing away from how exceptional the Blades and Canaries have been this past year but you still feel they will need to add a bit more established quality to their ranks in order to survive, even thrive at the highest level.
Whereas Villa already have that top flight experience. They already have that quality. Even factoring in the recent releases of Alan Hutton and Mile Jedinak, the Villans still boast a multitude of players who have previously represented themselves well in the top tier and this number includes defensive stalwarts Neil Taylor, captain James Chester, and Ahmed Elmohamady, along with the seasoned Glenn Whelan.
As for the quality Jack Grealish obviously stands out, having easily made the Championship Team of the year through a series of outstanding individual displays. Also in that team was young striker Tammy Abraham whose 26 goals in 40 games last season proved so vital to Villa’s success.
The 21-year-old hotshot is pertinent here because he is, of course, a loanee set to return to his parent club, as too are Tyrone Mings and Axel Tuanzebe in addition to their play-off hero Anwar El Ghazi.
It is the nailing down of these four to permanent deals that should be Aston Villa’s main priority this summer and then, with the sensible recruitment of one or two new faces, the club can retain its momentum and keep the all-for-one mentality that has got them to this point.
Most importantly of all they can learn from the horrible failures of others who sailed in the same boat before them.