The news that Tom Cairney had signed a long-term contract extension at Fulham was greeted with unbridled joy amongst the Fulham faithful immediately after the deal was announced last night. Not only does it put to an end the rumours of ‘bigger’ clubs circling around the Fulham captain – remember the panic about his supposed move to West Ham in January – but it represents conclusive proof that the club’s classiest midfielder believes in Fulham’s vision and, given the length of the contract, could see him end his playing days at Craven Cottage.
Over the past three years, Cairney has been one of the most consistent performers in the Championship. His ability to dictate the game from midfield has improved markedly since Slavisa Jokanovic took the helm and build his attack-minded 4-3-3 around Cairney’s precise passing and vision. He always said he wanted to take Fulham back to the top flight and, given his struggles with injury earlier in the season, it was fitting that his superbly-taken goal at Wembley secured promotion to the Premier League. His emotional television interview after the final whistle – when he talked from the heart about his love for the club and his honesty about the pain that persistent knee problem has put him through – showed just how much it meant to a man, who has publicly said that his time at Fulham has been the best period of his career to date.
It is no surprise that Cairney’s excellent form has seen him recalled to the Scotland squad – his absence for so long was mystifying. The midfielder has also matured as a man in his three years at Motspur Park and, although not a conventional leader, you can see that the captaincy, handed to him after the retirement of Scott Parker, has also aided his considerable development. Cairney might not bawl encouragement at his team-mates and there are very histrionics that otherwise seem commonplace in the modern game, but he certainly leads by example on the field.
Fulham fans don’t need reminding of his importance to this particular side, which looked pedestrian and lifeless at times when he was absent early in the last campaign. The Whites perked up almost immediately after his return, winning at Ipswich, and his impact as a substitute against Bolton and Preston North End – both home games were Fulham were staring down the barrel of disappointing defeats – was considerable. Cairney now has a platform to showcase his talents in the top flight and, through his loyalty, has only cemented his position as a cult hero at Craven Cottage.
Some fans have voiced their anxiety at the lack of numbers through the door this summer, especially given the slender nature of the first-team squad at present and the enormity of the challenge ahead of the team this term. The Fulham hierarchy prefer to do their business privately and patiently, away from the tabloid headlines and the sensationalism of Sky Sports News, and securing the future of their most important performers seems a perfectly sensible approach. Indeed, given what Cairney has already delivered in his time with the club, it is arguable whether Fulham will do a more impressive piece of business all summer.