It is said that a week is a long time in football, and the last week at Fulham has certainly proven this statement to be true. In the space of the last 7 days, we, as fans, and as a club, have been on a rollercoaster of excitement and hyperbole that is only now beginning to plateau into something of a bed of regularity.
Our story here begins a little over a week ago upon the breaking of news that our beloved, now former, Chairman Mohamed Al-Fayed was in the process of selling the club to a mysterious unnamed American. What ensued was three days of absolute radio silence from all parties. The presence of water tight legal non-disclosure agreements having something to do with this I’m guessing.
Inside the heads of fans, ideas whirled and sizzled for the latter half of the week. Was it true? If it was true, what would the new owner be like?
With the rumour first surfacing on an internet messageboard two days before the papers got the story, I think there were more than a few fans seriously doubting whether it was indeed happening. That most the newspapers ran the same story incorrectly categorising all three new summer arrivals as free transfers just added to the vision that the popular press give little time to researching and fact-checking stories about Fulham.
Then, at 9.15pm on Friday, the news broke for definite. Mohamed Al-Fayed, stalwart owner of Fulham Football Club for the past 16 years was selling up, with the moustachioed billionaire owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Shahid Khan, to be our new owner.
There is not a lot a can say about Mr Khan that you’ve not already heard, read or seen. His story has been well told over the past week; born in Pakistan, he moved to Illinois, USA aged 16 and has gone on to found and run one of the most successful automotive parts suppliers in North America. A keen sports fan, Shahid Khan attempted to purchase the St Louis Rams before finally landing himself a National Football League franchise when he purchased the Jacksonville Jaguars for the princely sum of approximately $500m in 2011. Biography over.
Following the announcement confirming the change appearing on the club’s website on Friday evening, a press conference was scheduled for Saturday lunchtime at Craven Cottage. From the realm of rumour to putting a face to camera within 24 hours was, it has to be said, superb media work from the Fulham press team. Weeks of uncertainty could have caused serious ructions within the fanbase, whereas, almost universally, the feelings towards the takeover have been positive from the Fulham Faithful.
The downside of such a quick turnaround is that it has been hard for us all to adequately look back at the remarkable 16 year journey Mr Al-Fayed took us on. The excitement of looking forward to the Shahid Khan era has simply been too alluring this week. In truth it still is, with Martin Jol meeting Shahid Khan this week so we are told, perhaps we only have a little bit longer to wait before our summer transfer window can kick back into gear having been previously stalled for what are now obvious reasons.
I’d like to take this opportunity to personally thank Mohamed Al-Fayed and wish him all the best for the future. As the only Fulham chairman I’ve ever had the fortune of supporting FFC under, he was quite simply the best Chairman we could have asked for. Sensible and outrageous in equal measure, Mr Al-Fayed came to resemble Fulham itself. From the statue that shall not be named to the superb one of Johnny Haynes, the club would not be what it is without 16 years of determined leadership, vision and financing from Mohamed Al-Fayed. For this, and much much more, Thank You Mo.
The press conference on Saturday was itself akin to theatre. In the way that only Chairman Mo could, he turned up to welcome Shahid Khan wearing an oversized fake moustache (which, note to club, should be given away to all at the Arsenal game!) to replicate our new owners remarkable trademark facial hair.
The answers delivered to the press were clearly calculated, as you’d expect after a debt free £200m transaction. They were also though very comforting. If Mo has chosen this man to be his successor, then we owe him at least a chance to show why. It has however, not become a question of owing Mr Khan a chance, the nature and content of the rhetoric spoken has led most fans to embrace our owner with open arms.
Whilst all of this was going on, Martin Jol was on a plane to Costa Rica with our first team squad seemingly none the wiser. What marvellous timing. The distraction of a change of ownership can often derail footballing preparations. The Costa Rica trip, planned presumably months ago, has provided a superb escape for our players and management to bond and physically prepare for the rigours of a new league season with the nagging backdrop of questions about off field matters left some 3,000 miles away back in South West London.
The Costa Rica tour has also provided Fulham with an opportunity to explore a football mad Latin American country unopposed. While all our domestic and European rivals are sweating in the humid well-trodden streets of the likes of Bangkok, Jakarta and Nagoya, Fulham have had San Jose to themselves. Fulham’s friendly matches have been against opposition of a higher calibre than the “All-Star” South East Asian XI’s put together to face certain other teams on their travels. Yes, Costa Rica’s national team players are off at the Gold Cup, but Cartagines and Alajuelense have provided decent opponents for our opening preseason gambit, with Deportivo Saprissa still to come.
The use of Costa Rica’s national team facilities and national stadium has added quality to this adventurous backdrop, while the tropical humidity is likely to be such that you’d be hard pushed to see even a dedicated cupcake aficionado fail to lose a few pounds after a few days of activity, let alone a squad of some of the fittest footballers on the planet working hard to get into game ready condition.
Then there is the x factor reason for our trip west. Bryan Ruiz. Fulham’s new number 10 [after an offseason change in number from 11] is Costa Rican, and the best one at that. The trip to his homeland was a two way stroke of genius. Use Bryan’s commercial popularity to sell brand Fulham, whilst simultaneously giving our leading creative asset the best possible preparations going into a season where his form could well dictate our level of success.
Bryan has scored two goals in two games; the third goal in Sunday’s 3-0 win over C. S. Cartagines and a very well taken third in Wednesday’s 3-1 win over his old club L. D. Alajuelense in tropical downpour conditions.
The trip has served to bring the new acquisitions and various youngsters into the first team fold, with the likes of Mesca, Pajtim Kasami and Derek Boateng particularly impressing alongside establish talent such as Dimitar Berbatov.
The week is yet to reach its conclusions though, with manager Martin Jol, team captain Brede Hangeland, ceo Alistair Mackintosh and new owner Shahid Khan to hold a press conference in Jacksonville later this evening. Presumably not to unveil anything or anyone major, this will likely be an introduction of Fulham to Khan’s US sports marketplace.
Following the weekend’s friendly with Saprissa, Fulham will finally return home, and hopefully, the transfer window can open at Motspur Park. For while this week has felt like a summer, there is still time left for Fulham to get the chequebook out and improve a squad in need of reinforcements. Time is beginning to get away from us. While the veil of secrecy shrouded over the takeover enabled it to be completed within an incredibly short timeframe, it also appears to have hamstrung the pursuit of on-field talent over the past month and a half.
This will only prove an issue if Martin Jol’s chief targets have already gone elsewhere. For everyone’s sake let’s hope this is not the case. Time is of the essence.