Premier League 2018/19: Where did it all go wrong for Fulham?
Fulham's relegation was confirmed after their 4-1 loss to Watford away at Vicarage Road. Their previous style of football and summer recruitments electrified the supporters, as they hoped of competing with Premier League's top guns. Instead, they see themselves relegated back to the Championship with 5 games left in the Premier League.
The West Londoners had a busy summer transfer window, spending well over £100m in recruiting players. The deep pockets of Fulham owner Shahid Khan were not enough to propel their first PL campaign since 2013-14, where they managed to win only 1 out of their opening 12 league outings.
Apologizing to the fans, owner Shahid Khan said:
"I am sorry that we let you down. Our goal this season was to build on what we achieved in promotion and deliver on our pledge to invest heavily in the squad, ensuring that Fulham would always compete in the Premier League and, no matter the result, never disappoint"
The disarray in which the Lilywhites find themselves in has many reasons behind it. Fulham has failed at all the levels of their hierarchy.
Non-existent recruitment blueprint
The Whites spent close to £150m buying players or loaning them this season. A total of 12 players arrived at Craven Cottage this summer, including notable names like Jean Michael-Seri, Luciano Vietto(loan), World Cup winner Andre Schurrle and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa.
Five out of the 12 players arrived on the deadline day, which meant that they had no pre-season training and acclimatizing to the tactical aspects as well as the physical demands of English Football. Their goalkeeper, Fabri, started their opening match of the season looking completely out of place and got benched.
Jean Michael Seri was Fulham's marquee signing alongside Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa. The midfield duo cost the London outfit above £55m. Both midfielders seldom looked comfortable with the pace and physicality of the Premier League. Luciano Vietto, Andre Schurrle and, Sergio Rico are some big names with an underwhelming spell this season.
It was a frantic transfer window where the board pivoted the eminent signings rather than providing a balance to the squad and addressing the weak areas. Fulham made a smart move by including a relegation clause in the players' contracts, which will shrug financial pressure off the board.
Management inexperience at the Premier League level
At the start of the season, Slavisa Jokanovic, then Fulham boss was pressed about the style of play his team would adopt for the Premier League season. The Serb tactician earned accolades for the possession-based attacking football, which his Fulham team executed successfully in the Championship.
When asked about his style of play for the top-tier football, he said, "We showed the style we want to follow. If you want me to park the bus then I believe we do not have the quality to do this. We must take risks."
Eventually, "the risks" he took proved to be fatal, as his Fulham side collected a meagre 5 points out of possible 36. The Serbian lost his job just 12 games into the season.
Slavisa was unable to seek a steady defence due to many arrivals in the summer window. He constantly tinkered with his starting line-up, especially defence, as he could not settle down to a fixed back four. Repeated changes in the line-up distorted the team, and they started to lose games in succession. Players found it difficult to find their feet in the top flight due to inadequate preparation.
Fulham gave the job to Claudio Ranieri hoping that he could shore up the defence which leaked goals. All the efforts were fruitless as the Italian tactician was sacked after 16 games in charge of the club, lasting only 106 days.
Poor attitude of players
Fulham team never showed hunger and desire to fight for their Premier League status. The prominent issue was that the players were consistently out-run and out-fought by their opponents throughout the season.
Every team which fights for their survival makes it difficult for others to break them down. Not only the top teams, but even the teams from the lower half of the table were able to run through this Fulham side. A consistent pattern developed in every Fulham game, where they started every game with high intensity and eventually lost their way. Players easily succumbed to the losing positions and did not bother to change the scoreline in their favour.
Aboubakar Kamara was constant trouble for his teammates, as he unsettled them with his antics. The Frenchman snatched a spot-kick from his strike partner Aleksander Mitrovic, which he failed to convert. Claudio Ranieri said he "wanted to kill Kamara" when asked about the fiasco.
Kamara engaged himself in a fight during a team yoga session with Aleksander Mitrovic and got arrested on suspicion of causing bodily harm and criminal damage. He was banned from the first team and trained with the U23s. The Frenchman was loaned out to the Turkish outfit Yeni Malatyaspor. His antics disturbed the harmony of the dressing room and unsettled the players.
Fulham will anticipate another summer of upheaval after a disastrous current campaign. "We will reflect, plan thoroughly and respond accordingly," said Shahid Khan after their Championship status was confirmed. Owners should chalk out a coherent plan for their future and ensure they never end up in such a mess again.