Returning to a former club is usually an occasion to look forward to but Mark Schwarzer will feel a sense a sadness when he goes back to Craven Cottage tomorrow.
The Australian spent five happy seasons as Fulham’s first-choice goalkeeper before leaving as a free agent last summer and joining west London neighbours Chelsea.
While Schwarzer, 41, is enjoying being part of a squad challenging for the title, he is in despair at the sight of Fulham at the bottom of the table and looking strong favourites to be relegated after 13 years in the top flight.
It was not supposed to be like this. The arrival of new owner Shahid Khan, who bought the club from Mohamed Fayed last summer, inspired renewed optimism that the club were about to take a step forward in their development.
Instead, it has been a campaign of turmoil. Martin Jol was sacked as manager in December and his replacement, Rene Meulensteen, was dismissed two months later after only 13 Premier League games at the helm.
Now, former Bayern Munich coach Felix Magath is in charge and has just 11 games left to lead Fulham to safety.
As far as Schwarzer is concerned, the plight of his beloved Fulham began the moment Fayed ended his 16-year reign at the club.
He told Standard Sport: “I think a lot of people underestimated the nous that Mr Fayed had in running a football club and knowing what it takes to stay in the Premier League, what decisions to make in terms of personnel, players, coaches and everything else. He had football directors alongside him and they ran the club very, very well.
“A new guy has come in and bought the club with no experience in football whatsoever and is relying on other people to give him advice. Unfortunately for the club it hasn’t worked. This season has turned out to be a disaster.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing. When someone goes, people do think maybe it’s great to have a change and have another chairman come in with a lot of ambition. But what Mr Fayed did for the club was truly remarkable when you think about where they came from when he took over [they were in what is now League Two] to establish themselves as a top-flight team for over 10 years.
“This season there has been three managers and again that has a lot to do with the advice the chairman is getting. If you look at it, Mr Fayed and his board of directors were very astute, calm and knew what they were doing when it came to running a football club. It’s obvious to me that at the moment they are lacking in direction and knowing who is really making decisions.”
It was the decision to appoint Meulensteen as Jol’s replacement that particularly set the alarm ringing for Schwarzer. The Dutchman had forged an impressive reputation during his six years working as first-team coach at Manchester United but had experienced only brief managerial spells, at Brondby and Anzhi Makhachkala.
He was fired after a run of just three wins in 13 League games and Schwarzer added: “I was surprised he was sacked but I was surprised first and foremost when he was given the job, given the predicament they were in and the lack of experience he has of managing a football club.
“There is a very big difference between being a first-team coach and managing a football club. People underestimate how big a job that is.
“Some have said the decision to sack him was very harsh, others have said it was probably too long in the making. Only time will tell. Now they have a manager who has huge experience in Germany and tremendous success there. I know of him from my background playing in Germany [Kaiserslautern and Dynamo Dresden in the mid-nineties].
“He has got results wherever he has gone and more often than not he has made an immediate impact. He could be the right man this time. He knows how to get clubs out of trouble and is very strong willed. He has an opinion on how he wants to play, what he wants to do and how to run the club.
“If he has a bit of luck, he can perform a miracle for them.”