The 200% Pre-Season Previews: Fulham
How long is a reasonable time for a club to be expected on find its feet in a new division? One year? Three years? Five years? It’s a question worth answering in the case of Fulham Football Club, because after over ten years in the Premier League, there are still some that consider this club to be interlopers in the top division, the plaything of an occasionally eccentric multi-millionaire. Football supporters are an inherently conservative bunch, and Fulham had the temerity of break through the glass ceiling that we had put in place for them. After eleven years, however, times have changed. No longer, in some respects, that quirky club with the pretty ground on the banks of the River Thames and Jimmy Hill hanging around somewhere in the background, Fulham FC has grown up, and not everybody, it sometimes seems, has even has noticed yet.
Fulham FC has, however, kept most of its charm in spite of the pace of change around it. The redevelopment of Craven Cottage has – Michael Jackson statue excepted – been more tastefully handled than that of any other club at their level in recent years, and there remains something modest about the club, an ongoing sense that for as long as the club is competing in this division and isn’t struggling too badly, all will be right with the world, and it is perhaps instructive that perhaps one of the biggest stories to have come from the club so far this summer has been the planning approval for a new stand at Craven Cottage that will increase the capacity of the ground to 30,000. Previous looks at the financial position of the club have indicated low debt but an over-reliance on the largesse of Mohammed Al Fayed, and this news is a significant step in reducing the clubs dependence upon his money and that of Premier League television contract money. Both as insurance against the possibility of relegation and UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations, this seems like a prudent approach to take.
In a summer that has seen this scenario repeated at several other clubs this summer, Fulham may end up losing a player that has come to epitomise their club in the form of Clint Dempsey, who courtship by Liverpool has been one of this summers more enduring transfer sagas and, whilst nothing is finalised at the time of writing, it probably remains as likely as not that the American international is at least nearing the end of his time at the club come to an end. In the event that he should leave the club, a gap would be left in their midfield that would prove difficult to fill. One player, however, does not make or break a club these days and Fulham should be strong enough to be able deal with that eventuality. It seems unlikely that Fulham will allow this most prized of assets to leave without a significant struggle, though, and rightly so.
Whilst the talk of Dempsey leaving the club has cooled of late, however, the loss of Danny Murphy couldn’t be avoided. At thirty-five years old, perhaps Murphys best days were behind him, but he always seemed capable of lending an air of authority to the Fulham midfield and if footballers can be measured by influence and example to other players, he will be missed this season. But his passing from Craven Cottage also hints at another reason for medium to long term reason for optimism for the clubs supporters. An academy which has category one status and has produced such bright young things as Chris Smalling, Sean Davis and Karim Frei in recent years hints at a future which has as much resting on youth as on experience. If Fulham can pluck out more gems through this academy, then the clubs upward trajectory might not, in the medium to long term, be coming to a halt just yet.
Otherwise, the clubs summer in the transfer market has been quiet, limited to Sascha Riether, Mladen Petric and Hugo Rodallega, but it is the other names that the club has been linked with which provide a little more excitement, not least Huddersfield Towns Jordan Rhodes, who has already scored seventy-one goals in just one hundred and twenty-two matches for the newly-promoted Championship club and has been turning heads for no little while, now. Other clubs are interested in him and, of course, there is an element of gamble in signing a relative youngster with no Premier League experience (and especially for the sort of money that Huddersfield are understandably holding out for), but if there has been a player in the bottom two divisions who has looked capable of making this sort of step up over the last couple of years or so, then Rhodes is probably it. At present, however, Blackburn Rovers – of all people – are said to be the favourites to capture his signature, though the extent to which we can necessarily believe the press on this sort of subject is, of course, questionable. The signing of a “proven goalscorer” – it’s a trite phrase, but it’s accurate in the case of Rhodes – might well be an extremely valuable one for Fulham for the coming season, especially if Dempsey leaves the club.
Manager Martin Jol has proved a popular choice amongst supporters and his appointment has proved to be an astute one. Sacked by Spurs with considerable haste, Jol managed Fulham to ninth place in the Premier League last season, a not inconsiderable achievement considering the resources of those around them in the table. Perhaps this is the wrong season for Fulham supporters to expect significant improvement on that performance, but another season in the upper end of the divisions mid-table cluster would provide further stability for the club ahead of the plump new television deal which kicks in next summer, with a run to latter stages of one of the domestic cups being far from beyond this team. This summer, however, Fulham feel as if they are building for the future – and that can be no bad thing in the short-termist world of modern professional football.
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