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The end of one of the most exhausting Fulham seasons in living memory is finally upon us. The summer, such as it is, can’t come soon enough. The Whites have long been resigned to an immediate return to the Championship, another rebuild and – potentially – a period of introspection about why they’ve proven quite so unsuccessful about bridging the gap to the English top flight.

I’ve spoken to, heard and read plenty of Fulham fans saying just how disconnected they feel from the club currently. There are a number of reasons for that of course. The first has to be the unique circumstances in which we have lived through the past couple of years. For many, a trip to Craven Cottage was so much more than a game of football – a shared experience passed down through families, living vicariously through our footballing heroes helps as a form of escapism after the working week. For some of us, just a visit to the club’s historic home – unique in English football – is quite a tonic. When the opportunity to share that experience is removed, then disenchantment will understandably follow. It just isn’t the same watching on television.

What we’ve watched also has to have played a part. Fulham haven’t been good enough over the course of a chastening season. They looked like relegation fodder when the Premier League season kicked off, hopelessly undermanned in defence, and whilst belated recruitment made the team more competitive, Scott Parker’s side were just not able to make the most of many a crucial moment. They went down with a whimper rather than a fight – and nobody was able to argue about it being an injustice.

Blame will be apportioned in plenty of directions. Parker, himself, remains a novice manager and the bald facts of his Premier League record make for grim reading. His football, never adventurous even in the Championship, was risk-averse and designed to ensure his side didn’t lose games: far too often Fulham looked content to try and stay in matches rather than win them. The collapse over the last ten games was alarming. It was almost like Fulham were trapped in a total tailspin. You’d like to give a young manager learning his trade more time to succeed, but some of his selections (or non-selections in the case of Aleksandar Mitrovic) become more baffling the longer the season went on. There’s no doubt that his attacking tactical approach could do with some work – nine home goals all season, a Premier League record, is shambolic.

The club also have to ask some serious questions about how well they prepared Parker for the task ahead: staying up as a side promoted through the play-offs is a tall order (as we’ve already experienced) and the squad assembled for the start of the season was patently not good enough. Tony Khan’s role as director of football should rightly some under scrutiny given the ignominy of this relegation and the fact that Fulham’s position this summer is so similar to 2019. A surfeit of loan players heading back to their parent clubs on completion of an underwhelming season and, perhaps most galling of all, plenty of others loaned out with their own futures up in the air. That’s before we discuss whether the pathway from the academy into the first team remains fully open. Why did it take so long for us to see Fabio Carvalho, for instance?

The template for the summer has largely been set already. Fulham have the makings of a strong Championship side when you consider that the likes of Rodak, Tete, Bryan, Robinson, Kongolo, Adarabioyo, Reed, Onomah, Decordova-Reid and Cairney are likely to be around. The club has to take a decision about how to build the rest of the squad – and how many of the academy’s promising starlets are able to progress. The work of Malcolm Elias, Huw Jennings and Steve Wigley in honing the next generation of first-team players has borne significant fruit – and the route to sustainability has to be to offer some of these youngsters a chance in the first-team. Financial fair play considerations alone will rule out a spending splurge.

Lots of football clubs and coaches spend a lot of time talking about identity these days. I genuinely couldn’t spell out what Fulham’s looks like. That needs to change – and quick. It’s far more important than protecting a few egos. The Motspur Park academy is one of the British game’s best resources. It is high time that Fulham utilised it fully – the rewards could be rich.