Things were looking so promising for Fulham when the west London club won the 2018 Championship play-offs.
Slavisa Jokanovic had the Cottagers playing exciting football and Fulham had made many lists of surprise packages for the season, also being backed to finish the higher of the three newly-promoted teams.
However, throughout the season, Fulham have seen things go wrong, and while their relegation has been on the cards for some time, it was officially confirmed as they lost 4-1 to Watford on Tuesday evening.
But what exactly has gone wrong? How have Fulham turned a promising season into another relegation campaign? Read on for the six biggest mistakes the Cottagers made.
1. Going transfer crazy in the summer
Fulham came up to the Premier League with a decent enough team. Sure, players needed to be signed in certain positions, but it would not have to be drastic if Slavisa Jokanovic largely stuck with what worked.
However, almost the complete opposite happened with Fulham bringing in 12 new players in the summer transfer window – seven permanent and five on loan. Those permanent moves cost Fulham just over £100m and ranged from £30m for Jean-Michael Seri and Maxime Le Marchand to £5m for Fabri.
And while some initially saw this as a statement of intent from Fulham, that they would not be fighting relegation but striving for more, it has come back to bite them.
When signing so many players for big transfer fees, there will be demands from the fans and board that those signings start – to prove money was not wasted. This is something Jokanovic tried to do, but there was no cohesion in the squad when they were on the pitch. The teamwork Fulham had, which helped them reach the Premier League was gone.
Had Fulham been a tad more frugal with their signings in the summer, maybe we’d be talking about them pushing for a Europa League spot as Wolverhampton Wanderers are following their impressive return to the Premier League.
2. Letting Slavisa Jokanovic go
By November, things weren’t going too well for Fulham as the Cottagers sat bottom of the Premier League table with five points from their opening 12 matches.
And there’s no absolving Jokanovic of the blame, as he naively set out with the same tactics he used in the Championship, expecting the same results against some of the top teams in Europe.
But his sacking came at a strange time. Fulham were just starting to look like a competent team again, giving Liverpool a tough match despite a 2-0 defeat at Anfield. In that game, Fulham could have actually taken the lead but Aleksandar Mitrovic’s header was disallowed for a marginal offside. Liverpool scored the opener 14 seconds later.
The impressive performance had come with a more conservative 4-2-3-1 formation, packing the defence to give a ferocious attack as much trouble as possible. And surely it could have been the start of Jokanovic turning Fulham’s season around as he had turned their fortunes around en route to the Premier League.
Alas, the Serbian was sacked just days later, and Fulham took a step closer to relegation.
3. Appointing Claudio Ranieri
His announcement was dubbed “risk-free” by Fulham chairman Shahid Khan, though it was anything but.
Nobody can take Claudio Ranieri’s Premier League winners’ medal away from him, but the Italian was absolutely the wrong choice for Fulham in their hunt for safety.
Despite shocking the world with his Leicester City team in 2015/16, Ranieri’s style of football is just not cut out for the Premier League – as shown in the Foxes’ poor title defence the following season.
And in trying to make Fulham more defensively robust, Ranieri took Jokanovic’s identity away from the Cottagers, sucking everything good out of the team. He may have won his first game against Southampton, but just two further league wins followed in Ranieri’s next 15 games.
When Ranieri took charge of Fulham, they were three points off safety. By his sacking at the end of February, they were 10.
Jokanovic may have had Fulham flirting with relegation but, Ranieri pledged the club’s future to it.
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4. Ranieri’s treatment of Sessegnon
One of the many positives from Fulham’s promotion-winning campaign from the Championship last season was the role Ryan Sessegnon was having in the team.
The teenager was excellent for Fulham on the left whether playing in his preferred position further forward or as a full-back. These performances left Fulham with a tough task of keeping Sessegnon with the likes of Tottenham Hotspur reportedly interested. But keep him they did.
And while Sessegnon has struggled somewhat with the step up to the Premier League this season, under Jokanovic the teenager was getting valuable experience at the top level, completing the full 90 minutes in 10 of the opening 12 games of the season.
But this all changed under Ranieri, who wasn’t giving Sessegnon enough time on the pitch to improve, halting his development at a critical time of his career. Sessegnon’s average minutes went from 76.42 per game to a ridiculous 46.85 per game upon the switch of managers. Although this is still more than some high-level teenagers in the Premier League, it is a regression which could come back to bite Fulham in the near future.
5. Rotating their defence far too much
To some, chemistry is just something on FIFA Ultimate Team which has nothing to do with actual football, but Fulham are a key example of how important it is in the real world.
In their 33 games in the Premier League this season, Fulham have named 20 different defensive line-ups across their three managers – including goalkeepers. To add to that, Fulham have also regularly switched between back threes, back fours and back fives.
In fact, it took the Cottagers until their 12th and 13th games of the season to name the same back-line in consecutive matches. Of course, it can be tough to name the same team throughout the whole season due to injuries and players requiring rest, but 20 different defensive line-ups in 33 games is too much.
How can you expect a team fighting relegation to have any cohesion at the back if they don’t build a rapport with team-mates from playing week in, week out?
It, therefore, shouldn’t be surprising that Fulham have the worst defence in the Premier League conceding 76 goals in 33 games.
6. Seeing fans as loyal customers
This is not necessarily linked to Fulham’s relegation, but it is a mistake which highlights just how poorly the club have been run this season.
Yes, a football team needs to make money to survive and clubs receive a chunk of their income through ticket sales. And yes, there are many die hard fans who follow their team around to country week in, week out no matter what their form is. But this does not mean they can be taken advantage of.
Fulham have always been known for being a family club with a friendly atmosphere as shown by their neutral zone – whether you agree with it or not. But this season their prices have been anything but accommodating for families.
For Manchester City’s trip to Craven Cottage on Saturday, the cheapest ticket available was for £55 – causing fans to protest in the 55th minute with a banner saying enough was enough.
Though this may be something worth paying for one-time attendees, day-trippers if you will, it also risks alienating those who would look to become regulars at Craven Cottage but can’t because it’s just too much money.
Fans are important in football and Fulham are playing Russian roulette with theirs, who may decide the cost just isn’t worth it for a club in the Championship next season.