Relegation this past May ended a 13 year stay in the Premier League for Fulham. They exceeded all expectations during that period, seemingly going from strength to strength each season. Their highlight was undoubtedly the Cottagers’ exploits in the 2009/10 Europa League, reaching the final – their first in Europe. They beat teams such as Juventus and Hamburg en route to the final, where they were narrowly beaten 2-1 in extra time by Atletico Madrid.
The year 2014 has been a nightmare one for the club, though. Relegation in May was bad enough but their first year back in the Championship for more than a decade has been fairly shambolic to say the least. The clueless Felix Magath was at the helm during their relegation and led to the club to four straight defeats at the start of the new season. He was sacked before they finally won a league game at the ninth time of asking, at Birmingham.
Until last weekend’s 5-0 home humiliation to the hands of Watford, the Lilywhites had been on a resurgence under Kit Symons – winning more than they had lost. Symons guided the club outside the relegation zone, with talks of a play-off push possible for the second half of the season.
But the recent trouncing has questioned that potential and left Fulham in a state of uncertainty in 18th. Whilst the fans obviously want the club back in the Premier League as soon as possible, they need to realise that there has to be time allowed for rebuilding.
Fulham lost a lot of players in the summer, with a number of them being experienced, key men over the years. The likes of Damien Duff, John Heitinga, John Arne Riise, Kieran Richardson, Brede Hangeland and Steve Sidwell all departed, ripping the heart and soul out of the side. The fact that most of these players had been around the Fulham set-up for years, to lose them all in the same transfer window was a massive blow and they haven’t really recovered since.
They were also left without a first choice goalkeeper, with David Stockdale and Maarten Stekelenburg leaving. Recruitment wasn’t great either, with £11 million being spent on Ross McCormack. Although McCormack has improved as of late, he certainly hasn’t been performing at the level expected for a player worth so much money. Magath would have to be blamed for much of this. His failure to replace the players lost is much to blame for Fulham’s troubled season. It seems as if current manager Kit Symons is trying to rectify the many mistakes and errors littered by Magath’s woeful rein.
Although young keeper Marcus Bettinelli is now the number one, 38-year-old Gabor Kiraly was brought in over the summer and has looked hapless at best. He has only played a handful of matches – including the defeat at the weekend where he replaced the dismissed Bettinelli – and has looked completely out of his depth, conceding five goals on three separate occasions.
With such a young and inexperienced squad, Fulham have had to rely on the three quality players they did manage to keep hold of following relegation from the Premier League. Scott Parker, Bryan Ruiz and Hugo Rodallega have certainly carried the team so far this season and have added the extra quality needed at this level. Rodallega has started to score goals on a consistent basis, with eight to his name so far.
With the club currently 10 points off a play-off spot and lacking the consistency needed in this division, it would be overly ambitious to target promotion this season. They are only four points above the relegation zone and survival should be their main aim this term. With some quality players at their disposal, Fulham should have enough to survive, or at least finish somewhere in lower mid-table with the next couple of seasons in mind for a real push for an eventual return to the Premier League.
It is obvious to suggest the club are going through a transitional phase after losing plenty of talent in the summer. A lot of rebuilding is needed and the fans need to be patient, because it could get worse before it gets better.