City survival lessons: More than big money flops to blame for Fulham’s failure
PA Wire/PA Images
In the final part of our mini-series looking at lessons Norwich City can learn from the teams relegated from the Premier League last season, David Freezer finds out where it all went wrong for Fulham.
Fulham's huge financial outlay following promotion to the Premier League has been widely scoffed at following relegation. There is more to their failure than just money though.
The Cottagers beat Aston Villa 1-0 in the 2018 play-off final and proceeded to spend in excess of £100million to try and build a top-flight squad for Slavisa Jonkanovic.
Around £20m was spent on Alfie Mawson - more than Norwich City will be spending overall this summer - while £22m made striker Aleksandar Mitrovic's loan from Newcastle permanent and £25m of owner Shahid Khan's billions was spent on Nice midfielder Jean Michael Seri.
A club record £30m went to Marseille on deadline day for midfielder André Zambo Anguissa, who started 16 league games during an injury-hit season - yet Fulham finished 19th, eight points from safety and with the worst defensive record of 81 goals conceded.
Cottagers fan Jack Collins, who presents on the Fulhamish podcast and Bleacher Report's Football Ranks show, explains: "There's way more to it than that and any Fulham fan would probably tell you the same. We had 16 senior players when we went up, so not even enough to field a team and a bench when we went up to the Premier League, with the amount of loans and Ryan Fredericks walking away at the end of his contract and going to West Ham.
"So we needed to spend and everyone always throws the £100million around but I think we probably needed to spend more.
"Not necessarily in one go but maybe the preparation should have been better when we got those loans in when in the Championship, we should have made sure that we had loans in them that made sure they could be made permanent and all those kind of things.
"So we spent about a quarter of that £100m on players that had already been there and bringing them back for the next season, obviously Aleksandar Mitrovic is the one that stands out.
"But equally with Matt Targett we were kind of held to ransom by Southampton, they wanted £20m for him all of a sudden and the board decided that it wasn't worth paying that, and fair play to them because that was a mad sum, although Targett's a good player.
"So we had to replace him and Fredericks on the other side and with full-backs being so key to the way we played, they were the important ones. We brought in what everyone was calling for, Premier League experience, in Timothy Fosu-Mensah, and that probably turned out to be the worst signing!
"So the £100m looks bad on paper but £25m was for Mitrovic, you'd say that's quite a wise investment. The only one that didn't really step up to the mark really was Seri - and he was arguably the one that everybody was most excited about.
"So it's hard in some ways to look at it as we got it wrong but equally sometimes it just doesn't click and it didn't for us."
City survival lessons: Canaries legend believes lack of attacking quality proved costly for Cardiff
Collins pinpoints a 2-2 draw at Brighton, when Fulham were 2-0 ahead with 25 minutes remaining, as something of a turning point in the mood around the club.
He added: "I remember saying at the time that if you'd have told me we'd get a point at Brighton, we would have taken it, but the team spirit and morale just seemed to collapse and then we had a really tough run.
"We started to struggle, the manager was sacked and it all sort of snowballed."
Jokanovic was sacked in November with his team bottom and with just five points from 12 games, with the eye-catching appointment of former Leicester and Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri quickly in place.
The switch was fairly disastrous though and the Italian went in February with Fulham 10 points from safety with 10 matches left.
With relegation imminent, Scott Parker took over and has since been appointed permanently, after winning three of those 10 games.
City survival lessons: Emphasis on defence failed Terriers during top-flight relegation battle
While Collins points to summer signing Mawson's serious knee injury as damaging to the defence early on and key players Tim Ream and Kevin McDonald not being able to adjust to the Premier League, it was the lurch from Jokanovic's passing style to the defensive approach of Ranieri which claims much of his blame.
"There are factors outside of our control but ultimately we just didn't do enough and the big thing that will resonate in Norwich is that the manager does have to have the backing of the board - and Jokanovic did," he continued.
"But when we sacked him, we were probably right to when we did because he wasn't adapting, learning or moulding his game to fit the Premier League and it was costing us because we weren't able to defend.
"But what we did was go from one extreme to the absolute other by bringing in Ranieri, bringing in this defensively minded manager and we just didn't have the players to defend.
"Yes we needed to shore up at the back and I completely get that but at the same time you've got to temper that with the squad not being built to play on the counter-attack, with Mitrovic up front, who is hardly a bastion of lightning pace.
"So when they did switch the manager they weren't able to get someone who could take what Jokanvoic had built and mould it, instead it was a manager who wanted to keep clean sheets and there were five at the back.
"I could see what Ranieri was trying to do but it didn't make sense with the personnel we had and what we needed was someone of Jokanovic's mould, who believed in a passing style and that Fulham should try and dominate the ball when they could, but who was also able to say that your main job is to pass the ball out - but sometimes you have just got to keep out the opposition."
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Eastern Daily Press. Click the link in the orange box above for details.