It has been another disastrous season at Fulham and they aren’t fully safe from a second successive relegation.
Relegated from the Premier League only last season, the Cottagers have struggled to adapt to life in the Championship and have spent much of this campaign in the bottom half of the table.
It is not what Fulham fans have come accustom to. Prior to relegation last season, they had relatively been a solid Premier League team, which included four top half finishes in 13 seasons in the top flight.
It peaked under now England manager Roy Hodgson as he oversaw arguably the most successful season in the club’s history as they reached the Europa League final in 2010, beating teams like Hamburg, Juventus and Basel on the way only to lose to Atletico Madrid in extra-time in the final.
Under the ownership of Mohamed Al Fayed, who bought the club in 1997, Fulham went from Division Two (now League One) to the Premier League in five seasons – giving the club top-flight status for the first time since 1968.
Al Fayed sold the club for £150m to billionaire car-parts entrepreneur Shahid Khan in July 2013 but things began to go downhill.
A slow start to the season saw Martin Jol sacked in December after two and a half years at the helm only to be replaced by Rene Meulensteen, who was appointed the club’s head coach a month prior.
Meulensteen was allowed to stamp his authority on the squad in the January transfer window, including £11m on Greece striker Kostas Mitroglou – who has only played three times for Fulham since his move – but results were still poor and the Dutchman was shown the door in February.
His replacement was former Bayern Munich coach Felix Magath, a German who had a reputation as a survival specialist in the Bundesliga and known for his disciplinary methods.
But Magath could not stop the rot as the Cottagers were relegated from the Premier League after a 4-1 defeat at Stoke City.
Fulham fan Frankie Taylor believes issues from previous years contributed to the club’s demise from the Premier League:
In hindsight, we should have seen Mohamed Al Fayed’s exit coming because the money was drying up. Our transfer philosophy was just seeing out each year with ageing players on high wages who were perhaps lacking in motivation”.
We weren’t bringing in any real quality, let alone players with future selling potential, Martin Jol simply didn’t have the money available to think in the long term and provide Fulham with a future beyond each year”.
We couldn’t ‘afford’ the players that other sides were signing, which actually translates to Al Fayed not being willing to spend the money to improve the side as you don’t continue to invest in something that you no longer want.”
Magath oversaw an overhaul of the playing squad last summer – letting an alarming total of 23 players leave the club – spending an eye-watering £11m on Leeds United striker Ross McCormack and making signings that were really below the standard for the level of football; like Mark Fotheringham for example – a 30-year-old midfielder whose CV includes clubs like Notts County, Ross County, Dundee and Livingston.
Players like Bryan Ruiz and Dan Burn as well as others were banished to the development squad never to be seen in the first team under his tenure.
Stories were coming out in the press of his draconian style of management which included three training sessions in a day during pre-season.
Former defender Brede Hangeland, who was with the club for six years, claimed he was informed by email that a clause had been triggered to end his contract. Hangeland, now at Crystal Palace, took a swipe at Magath after his departure: “his main tool is to try to mentally and physically batter his players” said the Norwegian to the Daily Mail.
Life in the Championship couldn’t have got off to a worse start under Magath. The club had just one point from the first eight matches and sat at the bottom of the table. His team selections were confusing at best which led to Fulham fans creating a game on Twitter called #FelixBingo, which involved guessing who would play every week.
“It seemed to be a different name making a debut weekly.” said Frankie. “He had excellent public relation skills, he would say the right things in interviews and online to keep you onside, but at the end of the day he was poison, but maybe our football club needed a bit of poison.”
Magath was shown the door in September and even more bizarre stories appeared in the press after his departure, including telling a player to treat a leg injury by rubbing cheese on the sore area.
If any positives to come out of the Magath reign, other than how not to run a football club, is that he gave the youngsters a chance at Craven Cottage but that ultimately left the squad unbalanced.
Our summer transfer window was naive. We didn’t bring in enough Championship experienced players, as talented as our youngsters are, it’s a huge ask for them to get us promoted alongside two or three older players.
We’re up there in terms of using the most players this season, and we’ve also got one of the youngest squads in the division – the squad isn’t just inexperienced, it’s unsettled as well which has been a big feature of our failings this year.
The Fulham chairman Shahid Khan has also come in for some criticism as former owner Mohamed Al Fayed labelled Khan an “absent landlord” after he blamed Al Fayed for the club’s relegation from the Premier League.
It’s been a rocky road under the new ownership and naturally we’ve seen rookie decisions made.” said supporter Frankie.
“It felt as though the football club could run itself, we were profiting and had just clinched the highest grossing sponsorship deal in the clubs history – all we needed was investment on pitch.”
Khan turned to academy coach Kit Symons to steady the ship after Magath’s sacking and after a run of five wins in nine matches, Symons was appointed manager until the end of the season.
The former Fulham defender got the club off the bottom of the league and they now have a good chance of staying up although they aren’t out of the woods yet.
But whether Symons remains in charge next reason remains to be seen as rumours continue to circle about a change of manager at Craven Cottage at the end of the season with Brentford manager Mark Warburton and West Ham boss Sam Allardyce both linked with the job.
Off the field Fulham have appointed Mike Rigg as Chief Football Officer and the club look to be making signs of moving forward.
“Khan has begun to shown real signs of learning as we’ve moved on” said Frankie. “Firstly with appointing a five-man panel to look for the next manager (although we stuck with who was in place anyway), I think that move showed that he accepts that the club needs an “expert” to oversee the on-pitch part of the football club.
“We’ve now appointed Mike Rigg as our Chief Football Officer which is another strong looking move and he has brought in some Championship knowhow in Michael Turner, Danny Guthrie and James Husband since coming in which has made us look a better team.
“In recent weeks we’ve started grinding some points out which should see us safe. Had it not been the tremendous run of form soon after Kit Symons appointment we’d have been goners, but we’ll just about scrape another (and hopefully better) year in the Championship.”