Fulham return to the big time but will remember the lessons of past failure

Fulham return to the big time but will remember the lessons of past failure
Fulham return to the big time but will remember the lessons of past failure

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Fulham were the cautionary tale, the example of how not to cope with promotion. They remain the only club to spend £100 million (Dh483m) in transfer fees and then go down the next season.

But failure reaped an unexpected dividend on Tuesday.

Joe Bryan, the £6m left-back who was one of the cheaper acquisitions in the 2018 spree, had not scored in two years at Craven Cottage. Then he struck twice in extra time in the play-off final at Wembley, the first with an audacious long-range free kick to catch out Brentford’s David Raya.

It transpired that Bryan represented the golden ticket and that Scott Parker, often accused of receiving the preferential treatment sometimes afforded to elite English players in management, had devised the promotion-winning strategy after spotting that Raya strayed from his line.

If Brentford were supposed to be the kings of marginal gains, Parker’s attention to detail paid a rich reward. There are times when Fulham felt inconsistent underachievers this season but Parker has always been right in giving them an ethical reset.

“What we’re trying to build is some core foundations,” he said. “If you are not building on concrete and you are building on sand it will be the rollercoaster ride.”

Despite the mixed metaphors, it means that, while history has repeated itself in one respect – Fulham won the Championship’s play-off final in 2018 – it will not in another.

“There were some clear errors made last time," Parker added. "We will learn from that. We need to learn from that. You can’t build teams with drastic changes and drastic swings of players; you can’t do that.”

So there will not be another £100m spree. Or, presumably, another year when they bring in 15 first-team players.

There are still questions what Fulham do with some of those they still own: midfielders Jean Michael-Seri and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, who accounted for some £50m of their 2018 outlay, were among the biggest disappointments and have spent this season on loan at Galatasaray and Villarreal respectively.

In their absence, the borrowed Harrison Reed was a combative presence at the base of the midfield. Reed hinted he expects to return to Craven Cottage but, with Southampton probably selling Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, there could be a vacancy in his parent club’s midfield. Suggestions Fulham will try to bring Ryan Sessegnon back on loan from Tottenham is another deal that would nevertheless offer some continuity.

Certainly, as Aleksandar Mitrovic was the only player to deliver more than eight league goals, they could do with finding a secondary scorer. Arguably the two wingers Parker brought in last summer, Ivan Cavaleiro and Anthony Knockaert, only exacerbated the reliance on the Serb with their lack of productivity.

Fulham’s defensive record improved after the January arrival of Michael Hector – nicknamed ‘Virgil van Mike’ by their fans – but they were breached 81 times in their last Premier League campaign and the former Reading centre-back is the only addition to their rearguard since then. More are surely required.

But the emphasis needs to be on quality rather than quantity, on judicious additions who can complement the players they already have and to use the talent within their ranks without panicking.

Fulham can testify that wholesale change can backfire. They used 39 and 28 players respectively in their last two Premier League seasons, using three managers apiece in each, and were relegated ignominiously on each occasion.

Norwich are proof stability and austerity do not always work, but Fulham, scarred by the expensive mistakes of their past, cannot afford a repeat of 2017-18.

The rookie Parker may be learning on the job, but he realises Fulham’s recent history offers some vital lessons.

Updated: August 5, 2020 04:45 PM

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