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Are Fulham heading in the right direction?

There have been plenty of ups and downs since Shahid Khan took over Fulham Football Club in 2013. The relegations from the Premier League are the most obvious element of that, but there is also the ongoing debate about the club’s recruitment of players.

Fulham have become known for pretty passing game and a desire to try and dominate opponents in the quaint and historical surroundings of their unique home, Craven Cottage. Ahead of a new campaign, it is appropriate to ask whether the club is heading in the right direction.

No Fulham fan needs reminding of the glorious 2009/10 season when Roy Hodgson’s men surprised almost everyone apart from themselves by winning nineteen games in the revamped Europa League to reach the club’s first major final since 1975. The Whites might have ultimately lost in the final, heartbreakingly to Atletico Madrid, but it was unquestionably one of the finest moments in Fulham’s history. Hodgson’s shrewd recruitment, typified by the quiet acquisitions of Damien Duff and Stephen Kelly, helped a well-drilled side punch above their weight only a couple of years after pulling off a miraculous escape from relegation.

That wasn’t the only biggest loss suffered, for the fans, as Roy Hodgson left Fulham to join Liverpool after the final. It felt like a backward step when we appointed Mark Hughes who left after one season. We finally got our main target Martin Jol. It wasn’t all sweetness and light under the Dutchman, with key players like Moussa Dembele, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Zamora moving on and there was a worrying end to the 2012/2013 season where Fulham flirted with the relegation zone after appearing comfortable at the mid-point of the campaign.

That summer saw Shahid Khan purchase the club from longstanding owner Mohamed Al-Fayed for a rumoured £200m. Could this be seen as a step in the right direction? In theory, it seemed so – but in practice the first season under the new ownership was shambolic. Fulham went through three managers, with an ageing squad, and slipped out of the top flight. Mistakes by experienced managers and some missteps by the new regime saw the Whites end their thirteen-year stay in the Premier League with a bit of a whimper. The decision to appoint Magath sticks out as a mistake in retrospect, as does the splashing of cash on Kostas Mitroglou, in a desperate bid to secure the goals that might lift Fulham to safety.

Magath’s reign lurched to further disaster in the Championship, with the Whites picking up a single point from eight games seeing the German finally depart. Kit Symons steadied the ship but couldn’t translate his promotion of young talent into a serious promotion push, although even Slavisa Jokanovic was sucked into a relegation battle after he took over the reigns at the Cottage. The Serbian’s arrival was the catalyst for a change in Fulham’s fortunes as he implemented an attractive and adventurous playing style and transformed the first team’s fortunes.

Jokanovic’s side forced their way into the play-offs and were arguably unfortunate to be eliminated in two tight semi-finals with Reading. That campaign was one of the most magical years as Fulham’s style suddenly changed and Jokanovic constructed a midfield triumvirate to envy any in the division. Little did we know that the following season would be even more remarkable. Jokanovic’s charges became the Barcelona of the Championship in a wonderful 23-match unbeaten run to end the season, overcoming the disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion to triumph in the play-offs – with a wonderful win over Aston Villa at Wembley. One of the huge keys to promotion was the arrival of Aleksandar Mitrovic, whose relationship with Jokanovic proved crucial to moving to Craven Cottage, and the Serbian striker’s impact on Fulham’s fortunes can’t be overstated.

The summer that followed now looks like a missed opportunity. We can talk about how much of statement Fulham were making with the signings, there is no kidding ourselves with the signings. We thought it would work, we thought finally some real investment. We kept spending and spending until we reached just over £100 million, imagine the shock on my face when we were announcing players for £30 million. This was a step back, some fans aimed their anger towards the owners, some believed Jokanovic was to blame.

Jokanovic’s departure still remains a sticking point and the appointment of Claudio Ranieri unquestionably didn’t work. Scott Parker did remarkably well to rebuild a sense of unity around the football club and, although the football was dull and never really recaptured the heights of a marvellous early home win over Millwall, winning promotion in his first full season as a senior manager was some achievement.

The following campaign was always going to be complicated with the impact of coronavirus meaning the shrinking of the close season and a short timeframe in which to strengthen the squad before both the beginning of the Premier League campaign and the closure of the transfer window. The initial faith in the stalwarts who had secured promotion seemed misplaced and, although the likes of Alphonse Areola and Joachim Andersen were undoubted successes alongside permanent acquisition Harrison Reed, Fulham ultimately went down limply having given themselves a shot at salvation with two wins on Merseyside.

A third relegation clearly hinted at a sense of complacency amongst the club’s hierarchy with the same mistakes recurring once again and the lack of a long-term strategy. Are Fulham heading in the right direction? You’d have to say no on the balance of recent seasons. The new Riverside Stand could eventually prove to be a real boon, but the club are still wrestling with the financial impact of that disastrous 2018 summer splurge.

I firmly believe something needs to change. The Khans business interests are firmly established but they leave the key players too stretched – looking after the Jacksonville Jaquars, All Elite Wrestling and our beloved club. If Fulham remains a business investment, it should be subject to the same scrutiny as any other – and blaming successive managers seems to miss the point. Marco Silva might prove to be a fantastic appointment, but he can’t be asked to work with one hand behind his back.

Al-Fayed on why Fulham were relegated

 

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Terrible performances, no structure, no consistency and too much activity in terms of new managers have all been put down as reasons for Fulham’s relegation this year, but one Mohamed Al Fayed has had a different idea. Our charismatic former owner says that he warned Shahid Khan not to get rid of his Michael Jackson statue from outside of the Cottage or else he would, “pay in blood”.

“Big mistake, but anyway, he has paid for it now. He has been relegated,” said Al Fayed at the National Football Museum where the infamous statue now has it’s home. You can watch the rest of the short interview here. I have to say, I miss Al Fayed. What a character!

 

A vote of thanks for Mark Collins

With an ownership change of the magnitude that Fulham announced at the weekend, departures from the boardroom were inevitable. The behind-the-scenes running of a professional football club isn’t something that most fans see – and certainly doesn’t attract as much media interest as the arrival of a new centre forward – but it is critically important. In Fulham’s case, the club simply wouldn’t have had thirteen successive seasons in the top flight without the careful stewardship of those on the board.

Mark Collins isn’t a name that many will know, but his role in the initial Al-Fayed takeover of the club when Fulham were celebrating leaving the Football League basement in 1997 was crucial. A Fulham fan through and through, Collins has been an integral part of the running of the club as well as an approachable board member and a reassuring presence at Mohamed Al Fayed’s side as the new era became far more successful than many had dared to dream.

It remains to be seen how the new Khan regime will shape up but, as Companies House records his departure from the board of directors, I felt it appropriate to offer sincere thanks for Collins’ hard work, enthusiasm and contribution to a quite incredible journey.

Al Fayed, Thank You For Everything

Mohamed Al Fayed as owner of Fulham is all I have ever known. I started supporting shortly after he purchased the club (coincidentally), and being a 6 year old didn’t know what to expect. But really, I don’t think anyone could have expected what would go on to transpire over the next 16 years, and I don’t think words can quite describe how Al Fayed has impacted this club – so I expect this to be short – but I don’t think they are necessary either. Quite simply, Al Fayed has taken Fulham Football Club on the most amazing journey. From the bottom of the bottom to European finals, Premier League football, the creme de la creme of  footballing talent on the pitch of Craven Cottage every week, it’s unbelievable, it really is, and all while keeping the integrity of the club intact. It’s not been completely smooth – there was a time when it looked as if we’d never return to the Cottage, and Lawrie Sanchez was an unmitigated disaster – but we can, at this point, forgive him for that. The scale of the journey MAF and Fulham have been on together is simply staggering.

There is something unique about Al Fayed and Fulham I feel, that’s different from any other club-owner relationship, and what makes our bond so strong. He is a passionate man, eccentric, and likewise Fulham are an eccentric club. Both entities are rich in honesty and integrity, never apologising for what they are and what they represent. The money is important, of course it is, but Mohamed Al Fayed created a bond between himself and the supporters that goes far, far deeper than the disconnected, superficial sugar daddy glorification found among other clubs (like Chelsea and City). I get the sense that if their benefactors leave, they will miss the money – but we will miss the man.

Not only should we recognise what Al Fayed has done for us, but what he has left behind too. With CEO Alistair Mackintosh, the club are in safe hands. He has proved himself exceptionally competent and myself and the other members of the Fulham Supporters’ Trust were extremely encouraged by him in our meeting a few weeks ago. We are a stable Premier League club with a wise shift in focus from first team investment (which was considerable up until a couple of years ago) to focusing on youth. We are set to have an expansion of the Riverside Stand to develop our spiritual home, Craven Cottage, and with the current coaching set up and player roster there is a lot of promise there.

Al Fayed been through a lot aside since ’97 from Fulham – the death of his son, the battles with the press and Royal Family, the sale of Harrods – but all the while he has grown us in one way or another. The memories of bringing Michael Jackson on to the pitch for a Division 2 game (and then building a statue in his memory), the scarf waving, the outbursts, the We’re Not Real Madrid… Mohamed Al Fayed will be missed. Thanks for everything.

LRCN

Farewell, Al Fayed. Welcome, Khan.

Al Fayed and Khan standing on the pitch. nice moustache, Al Fayed!

 

Yesterday marked a very important transition for our club. New ownership often comes after weeks of media speculation, protests from fans and a lot of stress for both supporters and workers at the particular club. Thankfully the deal was done in Fulham style with it kept very quiet and then announced officially. We only had any inkling that something was going to happen on Wednesday and then, before we knew it, everything was done by Friday night! Apart from perhaps the Michael Jackson statue, the fans of Fulham Football Club certainly haven’t had a lot to complain about over the past 16 years since Al Fayed took the club over. He saw us through a number of promotions and has put a lot of money into the club to improve things. We have lasted in the Premier League for 12 years for a number of reasons but one of the biggest reasons was that we have had solid leadership from the very top of the club. Al Fayed was certainly charismatic and would often say exactly what he thought and I guess that gained him a lot of fans. I liked the way he ran the club as he was involved and rarely missed a home game. He had great communication with both Alistair Mackintosh, the manager, the players and the fans. Some fans have grumbled about not enough money being put in the club but I believe that Al Fayed has done more for Fulham than we can even appreciate. Business has been steady at Fulham with us spending more than £10million on very few players but we have gotten through. If I’m honest, I don’t think he could have done more for Fulham so it is probably a good time for him to sell on. The incredible thing is that new boss Shahid Khan takes over a club that is completely DEBT FREE. Not many places around the UK are in this sort of position so Al Fayed has been an outstanding business man and a guy who genuinely had Fulham in his heart. Khan has big shoes to fill. Although it is sad to see Al Fayeds’ reign come to an end, I do believe that this is a positive move for Fulham. It was always going to have to change at some stage and Al Fayed is convinced that he has found the right guy in Khan. This can only be a good thing. Khan is also no stranger to owning a sports club as he own National Football League team Jacksonville Jaguars. I hoping that he is careful if his dealing and doesn’t start to over pay players and spend ridiculous amounts on people QPR style. What we need are steady transfers and continued trust in Jol and the management team. With a change as big as this often comes a very unsettled club so Khan has to ensure that this doesn’t happen. I’m excited about what is to come at Fulham. We have a guy who seems very willing to invest in the club, we have plans for a stadium upgrade and there is a full summer to make transfers and improve the squad. All the best, Al Fayed, you have been great. Here’s to the future! COYW