One of my favourite kind of pieces to write are those with a story, where you have a clear start, middle and end. In football, these are particularly satisfying especially when telling the tale of new signings or a player on excellent form playing at his peak ability. In April of 2017, I did one of these on Fulham captain Tom Cairney and it’s crazy to think of how the story has progressed in just a little over two years later. While the playoff attempt for Slavisa’s side that season was unsuccessful, Tom Cairney was made full-time captain for the ultimate success, becoming the first Fulham player to score at Wembley and lead the club back to the Premier League.
The return to the big time wasn’t quite what any of us had hoped. Tom Cairney, in particular, saw Slavisa Jokanovic, a coach he described as “giving me my best years” was sacked after a horrific start and was replaced by Claudio Ranieri, a coach who had no interests in utilising the strengths of the Fulham captain as Cairney spent a spell in and out of the side. Now under Scott Parker, a former team mate, Cairney has returned to the line up as more of a traditional no.10 in a 4231 and contributed his first goal of the season at home to Everton.
The improved mood around Craven Cottage was boosted further after the influential captain was announced to have signed an extension to his stay at Fulham. Whilst the realist will understand this new deal likely negates any relegation pay cuts and probably will make him one of the highest paid players in the Championship next season, the statement from both the club and player was much needed heading into a summer of uncertainty over the future of so many.
Fulham has become a home for the Scotland international, a club where he has played his best football, a club where he made his international debut, a club that gave him his first real taste at Premier League and a club where he became a father. And for Fulham, Tom Cairney became the identity of a footballing style, he may not be athletically blessed but Cairney is technically wonderful with the ability to thread through a perfect pass, dictate an entire game or bend in a beauty from outside the box. The feeling is very much mutual.
For Scott Parker, or whoever is in charge come July for pre-season, they will know that they will have one of the Championships best in midfield. Sure he’s likely being paid handsomely for Championship standards, but the cost to replace the impact of a Cairney would not be cheap and we should welcome the fact that he wants to stay through thick and thin.
This coming season, Cairney will likely become the first Fulham player to play on over 200 appearances since 2014 and could overtake the likes of Chris Coleman, Simon Davies, Damien Duff and Sean Davis en route what will hopefully be a quick return to the Premier League. Cairney stated he hopes to finish his career with Fulham at Craven Cottage and his current contract would take him up to the traditional 10-year testimonial game of which he’ll be 34 years old. While football is a business and things change from week-to-week let alone yearly, it’s a huge statement for Fulham FC and keeping players and people of this mould at the football club is something we should yearn for.