Fulham returned to the Premier League in the summer with a young squad, an exciting manager and a war chest of funds that could finance a rebuild in tune with their new top-flight status.
Promotion to the Premier League proved to be enough of an attraction for some of Europe’s most sought-after players, and Fulham looked a club whose future achievements might even exceed those of their 2009/10 Europa League run.
In preparation for the hard realities of life in the Premier League, Slavisa Jokanovic invested the promotion prize money heavily, creating a new-look Fulham whose players’ quality matched, and sometimes even exceeded, those of their opponents.
The money spent meant Jean Seri, Aleksandr Mitrovic, Calum Chambers, Alfie Mawson and Andre Schurrle came through the door and there were many more joining them. These names boasted experience in top divisions at top clubs, with Seri supposedly scouted several times by both Barcelona and Chelsea.
Jokanovic’s footballing philosophy, executed by a more elite group of players, was deemed to be the perfect remedy for Premier League survival. This approach has so far been unfruitful, and perhaps history would have foretold this very outcome.
What we’ve seen from Fulham is not too dissimilar to anything we’ve seen before. The new money injection is always a temptation for trigger-happy managers who know that their fate at the club is solely dictated by their Premier League survival chances. So why would they not buy the best they can and give themselves the greatest chance of staying up?
As we’ve seen before, in a desperate attempt to secure Premier League safety, the wheels can come off and clubs will fall the other way, often down a division. You only have to look at local rivals QPR, whose erratic spending in the Premier League brought them little-to-no success whatsoever.
When clubs achieve promotion, the model to follow is proving to be a more calm and considered one. Bournemouth and Watford have proved that trusting in the players who get you promoted often maintains better continuity, culture and atmosphere throughout the club – a ‘live-together, die-together’ mentality. The immediate arrival of loaned players and big signings dilutes the nature of the club as the players are forced into a set-up that they’re simply not accustomed to.
Fulham took the QPR approach. Rather than trusting the young team that earned them their promotion, Jokanovic almost signed a new starting XI, and the side have looked disjointed and lacking identity ever since. Supposedly, they’re a club who play attractive football? So far this season has shown no real evidence of that.
Wednesday’s defeat at Southampton may just have confirmed Fulham’s relegation, leaving any sort of great-escape looking increasingly unlikely. The blunt reality is that the season was lost before it even started. Fulham’s young squad ruined by scattergun spending on big names and hefty price tags has dismantled the good work that led them to play-off glory.