It seems rather churlish to feel annoyed after two narrow defeats in the last two games considering how well Fulham have done this season. Most of us would have taken merely being above the relegation zone at this stage of the campaign when we were awaiting our return to the top flight in the summer, so to be in the top half – and even discussed as possible contenders for European qualification – shows just how well Marco Silva has done. But, after dominating for long periods of a tight London derby against Tottenham last night and coming away with nothing thanks to bit of brilliance from Harry Kane, I am wondering what the Whites’ ceiling would be in the top flight.
The historical parallel between what Silva has achieved already would probably be found with the man who collected his Forever Fulham award at half time last night. Roy Hodgson is a bona fide Fulham legend: having rescued the club from almost certain relegation in 2008, registered our highest ever top flight finish just a season later and, of course, taken the Whites all the way to a Europa League final. Those successes still seem surreal when you are writing about them fifteen years later. Hodgson did benefit from taking over at a club that had firmly established itself in the Premier League, even if that security was jeopardised by Lawrie Sanchez’s shambolic stewardship.
There are other impediments that make how well Fulham have attacked the Premier League this term even more impressive. Financial Fair Play puts a straitjacket on but the elite sides these days – Fulham are still suffering from the scattergun spending post-2018 promotion – and the shrewd summer acquisitions must mean that there is little headroom to splash the cash in January. Even the club’s two domestic loan spots are occupied, which makes bringing in the reinforcements necessary to sustain a genuine push for continental qualification all the more difficult. It will likely need to be one in, one out in January, which as Silva has suggested himself, isn’t the worst way of operating as the winter window is the toughest period to make sensible spending decisions.
The big plus for Fulham is that, for the first time in a while, it looks as though we do not need to a bewildering amount of business to avoid going down. That, in itself, shows just how successful this season has already been. Silva has got the Whites punching way above their weight with a squad that is still lacking in a number of positions. Fulham will likely be looking to recruit a new centre back at the close of this campaign, especially if Tosin Adarabioyo wants to leave the Cottage. The head coach is desperately seeking a right back to compete with Kenny Tete having been distinctly unimpressed with Kevin Mbabu, and Fulham definitely need cover for Joao Palhinha and Harrison Reed as well as a different type of striker to Aleksandar Mitrovic and even Carlos Vincius.
In time, upgrades would be required in a number of other positions as well – and that is why the construction, and ultimate commercial success of the Riverside Stand, will be a gamechanger for Fulham. Matchday and non-matchday activities will bring in revenue that should both reduce the exorbitant amounts of money that Shahid Khan has to put it every year to make the club a going concern and also alter that pesky FFP position. That will take a while to filter through to first-team signings – and standing still in the top flight simply isn’t an option.
Silva has put the building blocks in place to achieve something special on the banks of the River Thames. Arguably, the biggest January signing Fulham could make would be to tie down the Portuguese coach to a long-term contract. He is bound to be on the radar of the big clubs for the many managerial jobs that will be vacant come the close season. Silva and Fulham feel like a perfect fit. That he hasn’t sought to adjust his attacking principles even as Fulham went from Championship champions back to the big league was commendable – and it is time for him to be rewarded by the club’s hierarchy.
That contract extension will also illustrate that Fulham mean business. They have driven a hard bargain in terms of holding on their key players – with Aleksandar Mitrovic on a big contract that will prove impossible to better at this point. The renewal of contracts has even filtered down to the younger groups post the academy reorganisation; it was refreshing to see both Ollie O’Neill and Luke Harris commit to new deals in the summer despite frenzied interest from elsewhere. Once the key men are all in place, Fulham can start building for the future. At the moment, it feels like the top half of the table is a realistic aim – especially as the top four appear to operate on a different stratosphere. But, with Silva at the helm longer-term and the Khan family’s generous support, the Whites might even set their sights higher.
Don’t be too disheartened by the last couple of defeats. This very likeable Fulham side have shown character as well as guile and will bounce back from such dispiriting setbacks. Whisper it quietly, the future is bright – it’s black and white.