I was thinking about the ongoing uncertainty regarding Brede Hangeland when I mulled over where Fulham are as a club at the moment this morning.
On the face of it, there’s a very good case to be made for the position that we are in the strongest position we’ve ever been in. Certainly, in terms of results, Fulham have never been higher. Seventh in the league last season was an unbelievable achievement, particularly when we came perilously close to dropping out of the Premier League altogether the previous year. Qualification for Europe should feasibly give us the opportunity to kick on away from any relegation struggles for the forseeable future. Participation in the Europa League makes Fulham, situated in a desirable part of London, an attractive proposition for potential signings and, factor in our well-respected manager, and we seem like a club on the up.
All that depends on the club capitalising on our success. This is where the question marks are. All the indications coming out of Motspur Park (and there are far fewer than in the Coleman days; Roy runs a much tighter ship) are that the club will not be making signings purely with Europe in mind. The league remains the bread and butter and that’s what everybody is focussed on. That is fine to a point but I’m reminded of the last time we qualified for Europe.
Then we had a highly regarded manager and had just come off a buoyant return to the top flight having gone all the way to the FA Cup semi-finals. Our Interto Cup odyssey ended in thrilling fashion with a brilliant win over Bologna at Loftus Road and the Whites were in Europe. This was a golden opportunity to build on our wafer-thin squad but the battles being fought in the boardroom were political rather than footballing ones. Tigana was upset with the imposition of Franco Baresi and the Italian making several signings, while the club’s directors were later shown to be embroiled in the shameful Fulham River Projects episode. Tigana won the battle with Baresi but lost the war and we barely escaped with our Premiership lives.
Although we splashed out in a big way on Andy Johnson last summer, the figures quoted for him (and Diomansy Kamara the previous year, for what it’s worth) in the press are wildly inaccurate. It’s been a while since the heady days of big spending down by the Thames. When the likes of Edwin van der Sar, Steed Malbranque and John Collins joined in the wake of our stunning promotion from Division One, it felt like Fulham were really going places.
In the past, we’ve been all too easily characterised as a selling club. One by one, our best players continue their careers elsewhere. Louis Saha and Edwin van der Sar went to Manchester United, Steve Finnan went on to win a European Cup with Liverpool, Sean Davis and Steed Malbranque headed north to Tottenham and Jimmy Bullard obviously thought he was furthering his career when he completed that bizarre transfer to Hull. Obviously, if Hangeland were to leave it would only serve to reinforce the view that Fulham are simply a small, selling club punching above our weight.
This isn’t to say that we should go splashing the cash like crazy this summer. Sensible recruitment is of course the best policy. But, with the wages being thrown around by the likes of Manchester City, Premier League football will become even less of a level playing field in the years to come. We must take the chance to compete while we can or risk being left behind.