How Fulham Went From European Finalists To League One Certainties
Where has it all gone wrong? Less than five years ago I struggled to hold back tears of pride as Fulham ran out into the Nordbank Arena to play in a Europa League final. Now I sit here admitting to myself that back-to-back relegations could become a real possibility. Capitulation of the highest order has occurred in less than two years.
Last season saw our 13-year stay in the top-flight come to a disastrous end, thanks to a campaign that rivalled voluntary euthanasia for self-destruction. We witnessed three changes in management, culminating in more titles for the managerial position than a student trying to fill up his word count. After suffering mental abuse on a weekly basis, I thought things could only improve. Oh how I was wrong.
A mass exodus ensued, as the countless number of mercenaries scarpered out of the Motspur Park exit door quicker than they had ran all season. As they looked to steal a profession elsewhere, we were left with only a handful of first-team players, as a mad German began rubbing his hands, ready to inflict his demonic ways.
To be fair to Magath, he had instilled a sense of optimism and the general consensus amongst fans was that instant promotion was viable. But like a number of bad relationships, deception is commonly found.
Pre-season helped Magath in his cunning plan to convince the Fulham faithful that he was in fact a human exerting moderate levels of sanity. This was soon to vanish as the competitive season took shape.
We saw a coat hanger arrive in the form of Adil Chihi, and a competition winner in Mark Fotheringham. The latter had been released by Notts County prior to his arrival, which evidently ticked all the boxes. Many had thought he was the club’s new groundsman who had overstayed his half-time duties, but we were to be surprised.
Despite popular opinion, I was under no illusion that the Championship would be a breeze. Many believed that our promising crop of youngsters would blitz the league, despite their lack of any experience, which was incredibly naive.
However, one point in eight games ended a reign which most would like to erase. Stories of cheese being strapped to Brede Hangeland puzzled the world and had the lactose intolerant community diving for cover as a number of revelations hit the press. With the ‘dictator’ out of the door, the only way was up.
The feel good factor temporarily returned as we appointed Under-21 boss, and Fulham man, Kit Symons, producing a somewhat positive change in fortunes. A great start to his tenure had our promotion thoughts re-entering the brain, but his inexperience was soon to take precedence.
Despite his arrival reintroducing a sense of hope around Craven Cottage, the fun train looks to have ground to a halt and emphatically derailed. Our deadly habit of flirting with relegation has resurfaced and reignited the dire displays we were so keen on nullifying. Bleak is one way to describe the circumstance, but was it always so inevitable?
Who is to blame?
For me, the blame lies in a number of places and it cannot be directed towards a sole individual.
As much as the man has done for this club - which is beyond belief - it has to be said that former owner Mohamed Al-Fayed has played his part in our downfall.
Having been the catalyst towards our meteoric rise through the leagues, our decline of late lies partly down to his lack of investment in his final years at the club. For many a transfer window, we were restricted to free transfers and short-term loan deals. This eventually left us with an ageing squad that was unable to compete in our final season in the Premier League.
Mark Hughes had stated that he left the club due to our lack of ambition, and at the time, that seemed big headed and ludicrous, but in hindsight he was 100% right. After reaching the summits of the Europa League Final, the summer window that followed was the perfect opportunity to attract a higher quality of players to the club, but we abstained and slowly started our demise.
This leads me onto another point, which revolves around the unfair criticism surrounding the input of current owner Shahid Khan. Many are under the belief that he is the sole perpetrator for the current mess we found ourselves in, but I cannot see how this can be attributed towards him.
For me, Al-Fayed knew he was selling the club at the right time, with all appearing rosy on the outside - leading to Khan buying the club - but internally the club was slowly eroding.
In no way is this a dig at Mo, as I feel like he wanted to relax, particularly at his age - but the club was left in a right old state. This put Khan in an unfortunate position as he tried all in his power to salvage our top-flight status. During his first transfer window, he splashed a hefty amount of cash towards new signings to help our survival bid and since his arrival he has invested when necessary.
It is evident that the Jacksonville Jaguars owner has limited knowledge in our world, hence why I believe many of his advisors are to blame. One of which is CEO Alistair Macintosh, who has been inept in the last couple of years.
Firstly, the signing of Kostas Mitroglou for £12million reeked of desperation, particularly with the Greek arriving injured, restricting him to a laughable three appearances during his time in SW6.
Added to the Mitroglou fiasco, we have seen our last two windows end in utter dejection. During the summer of 2014, Macintosh admitted we had brought in all targets, which is a crime against humanity if that was the case.
Of course you cannot solely blame the man for how players perform on the pitch, but when he was responsible for targeting and attracting talent to the club, you have to wonder whether he is doing his job well.
Symons is not the man
Finally, we have our current manager Kit Symons, who has seen his honeymoon period slowly crash and burn. Not only have results of late been catastrophic, so have the performances and it has filled me with little belief that he can turnaround our current rut.
Symons is demonstrating his clear lack of experience and ability to manage a first-team side. His tactics have been nothing short of puzzling at times with his unhealthy obsession of playing a diamond formation that clearly does not work. Setup is laughable at times, his in-game decisions even more so, along with leaving it until the post-match interviews to make a substitute. The combination becomes a bit too much for my small brain to handle.
It pains me to heavily criticise the man like this, as I would enjoy nothing better than an ex-Fulham player steering us to glory, but we have to be honest and realistic.
Whilst I respect the opinions of others, I find the persistent backing of his incapabilities quite odd, and would suggest that if the rose-tinted glasses were removed, it would be a different story.
I supported the campaign to give the man the job, but everybody makes mistakes. Continuity is preffered, but it is hard to see us continue to accept mediocrity of such an order. It seems as if our expectations have significantly lowered due to his affiliation with the club and that needs to change.
Whether he should be sacked is an incredibly hard question. I do not think I can struggle through another viewing like some of which I have witnessed, but reshuffling once again could provide an even worse knock-on effect.
Continuously dissecting performances has been an almighty task this season, and I see myself giving up. I just hope I do not slip into the mindset of comfortable mediocrity that others have chosen to do.
I will leave you with a map of the average position of each Fulham player in our 2-1 loss to Ipswich Town yesterday, and it will pretty much sum up what I mean.