I’ve just spotted a piece praising Mohamed Al Fayed’s stewardship of Fulham in today’s Daily Express, extolling the virtues of his careful financial management in comparison to Queen’s Park Rangers.
Mick Dennis, one of the paper’s more cerebral correspondents, contrasts the impatience of owners at Rangers, Chelsea and at various places in the Midlands with the patience shown by Al Fayed since Fulham arrived in the top flight:
He arrived in 1997. A year earlier, Fulham had sunk to their lowest-ever ebb – seven places off the foot of the bottom division in the Football League. A succession of landlords had threatened to kick them out and merge them with other clubs but chairman Mo bought Fulham, bought the freehold of the Cottage and began funding a climb up the table.
They are now in their 12th consecutive season in the Premier League and on Saturday I watched them take a point at Norwich. It was a turgid game but John Arne Riise was immaculate at left-back, Damien Duff dominated his flank, Hugo Rodallega pulled his markers this way and that and Dimitar Berbatov ambled about embellishing events with languid skills.
Last month we learnt how much it has cost Al Fayed to finance his club’s climb through the divisions, entrench them in the top tier and fill the squad with quality players. Fulham’s annual accounts showed that Al Fayed had converted all the money owed to him by the club into shares. The loans that he thus effectively wrote off totalled £212million.
Fulham’s accounts received little attention. Instead we were engrossed by Tony Fernandes’s transfer-window spree at QPR and Roman Abramovich’s search for a manager at Chelsea.
Dennis goes on to salute Al Fayed and Fulham for questioning the merits behind the introduction of Financial Fair Play into the Premier League, arguing that Fulham’s rise up the English footballing pyramid wouldn’t have been permitted had the rules been in place fifteen years ago. That’s not a position I subscribe to – and you could argue that Fulham’s sound business management will make the club one of the long-term winners under FFP – but it’s still nice to see some praise for long-term planning instead of another sensationalist article on some aspect of the Premier League soap opera.
The piece is timely in another way too. Just this morning on one of the popular Fulham messageboards, one contributor a thread asks when we’ll stop contrasting our current status in the Premier League with where the club used to be, languishing in the lower reaches of the English game. Whilst the two positions might now be polar opposites, nobody should need reminding that it takes time to establish a club in the top flight. Success is relative – and, with the current levels of investment, seventh place is akin to winning the league. The regular turnover of managers has restricted Fulham’s progress in recent seasons – and the current incumbent is still dealing with the aftermath of losing two key players in the closing hours of the summer transfer window.
The bottom line is that patience, now such a rare commodity in modern football, will be rewarded. Fulham are suddenly standing on their own two feet in the top flight. That the club remains modest about these achievements and others is to their credit. It fits both Fulham’s traditions and a quiet confidence that has served us well over the past decade and a half. Let’s continue to build for the future and leave the attention-seeking to others.