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Where has Fulham’s Premier League return gone so wrong?

Drew Goodsell | 4 March 2019

The Cottagers returned to the top flight after Play-Off Final win

After four seasons in the Championship, Fulham returned to the big time this season through the Play-Offs.

Owner Shahid Khan promised to spend money earned through their play-off victory to improve the squad and get it ready to sustain a push for Premier League survival in their first year back.

He kept to his word and over the season has spent over £100m on transfers, but the South West London side are down in 19th, with only Huddersfield Town having a worse record and points tally. They’re 1/100 second-favourites for the drop.

So after the investment, where, how and why has it all gone so wrong for Fulham?

Poor transfer policy

Spending over £100m was always likely to be a risk, but if the club could get it right, it could have shot them up the table.

Coming from the Championship, transfers would need to have experience in the Premier League to make high transfer fees worthwhile and make it easy for those that are being signed to step in and improve the side.

Aleksander Mitrovic impressed during his first season on-loan with the Cottagers, so much so that £22m of their budget was spent on him. The Serb has proved to be one of the only decent signings they’ve made, sitting as top scorer with 10 this season, but it’s not enough to lead a fight for survival.

Other big signings included Jean Michael Seri from Nice. At a cool £18m, he came with big expectations after Fulham beat off interest from the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea to sign him. However, he’s struggled to adapt to the pace and power of the league.

Maxime Le Marchand, Joe Bryan, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Sergio Rico, Luciano Vietto. All transfers brought in either permanently or on-loan without Premier League experience.

Andre Schurrle has league-winning experience with Chelsea, and Ryan Babel came in during the January window with a bit more know-how to steady the ship, but it’s still nowhere near what’s to create a strong, experienced core.

Rash managerial changes

After sacking former manager Slavisa Jokanovic off the back of a 2-0 away defeat to league high-flyers Liverpool, Fulham needed to appoint the right manager that could lead them to Premier League survival.

They didn’t, and within hours of Jokanovic’s sacking, Claudio Ranieri was brought in on a ‘multi-year’ contract in a move owner Khan thought would keep the Cottagers up.

The issue is, Ranieri has always had a reputation during his career of being a man who liked to change things. He’s nicknamed the ‘Tinkerman’, and with good reason. If Jokanovic couldn’t work out his best squad in the time he was in charge, it would be impossible for Ranieri to find his best side and lead a charge to Premier League survival.

Adding to his troubles, he’s had to deal with training ground bust-ups. Aboubakar Kamara was sent out on loan after being arrested at the Fulham training ground following his role in a training ground scrap.

The form never picked up, and inevitably it ended up with Fulham looking for their third manager of the season following a 2-0 away defeat to relegation battlers Southampton.

Former player and assistant to Ranieri, Scott Parker has taken the reigns. His first match was tough, but his side put in a spirited performance and narrowly missed out against West London rivals Chelsea.

The signs are promising, but his job is still a really tricky one to get Fulham from a hole getting deeper and deeper every passing week.

Heightened expectations on teenager Sessegnon

After breaking through into the Fulham starting XI at the age of 16, Ryan Sessegnon quickly went on to progress as a player, and soon started attracting the interest of some of England’s elite.

In his breakthrough year in 2016-17, Sessegnon only appeared 25 times and notched five goals in that time, but in that time he managed to get his name in the PFA Championship Team of the Year, which prepared the young man for what was to come last season.

In their promotion-winning campaign, Sessegnon went on to form a formidable partnership with on-loan striker Mitrovic, with Londoner Sessegnon grabbing 15 goals that season, and going on to pick up further accolades including Championship Player and Young Player of the Season, a Player of the Month award from both the PFA and EFL, as well as becoming LFE Championship Apprentice of the Year.

He also became the first Championship player to be nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award. All these awards saw Jokanovic look to build his Fulham side around Sessegnon, and it may have been a step too far too soon for the young man.

Sessegnon struggled to adapt in the early stages of the Premier League season, and was being easily marked, run off the ball and taken advantage of defensively. It’s not fair to blame Sessegnon himself, but the coach and squad’s over-reliance on his talent didn’t help the youngster to play his game without unneeded pressure.

The signs aren’t looking good for Fulham. It’s still mathematically possible, but they’ll need a miracle at this stage. If Parker is to keep the job, he’ll need to steady the ship and figure out his best side ready for a hard slog in the 2019-20 Championship season.

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