On this day five years ago Fulham were heading for their first relegation in 20 years – the gap to the next one is likely to considerably shorter. Rhys Daly takes a look at the two seasons to see what’s different, and what’s disappointingly similar.
The 2013/14 season was Fulham’s 116th as a professional football club and 13th consecutive season in the top flight. The Whites had gradually earned their Premier League stalwart status by only finishing in the bottom six twice during that period.
That season started with a fluke win away to Sunderland via a Pajtim Kasami header but was followed up with 12 defeats from the next 16 games. Martin Jol had been working on borrowed time after losing five games in a row towards the culmination of the previous season, a final-day win over Swansea giving the Dutchman a stay of execution.
The former Spurs man lost his job in December of the following season, this time he didn’t keep his job after five consecutive defeats, the reins were then given to his right-hand man – Rene Meulensteen. Meulensteen’s appointment gave fans brief optimism, but ultimately, four wins from 17 were not enough to give Shahid Khan reason to keep him. Enter Felix.
When Felix Magath was named as Fulham manager in February 2014 I have to admit being filled with optimism. The German had completed the double twice with Bayern Munich following that up with an even more impressive Bundesliga triumph with Wolfsburg in 2008/09 (before we turned them over the following season).
Magath failed to produce a Roy Hodgson-style Great Escape, but in his defence – who knew that cream cheese wouldn’t heal a dead leg and a squad full of players the wrong side of 30 wouldn’t respond well to rigorous training methods, bizzare.
You may think with all those shenanigans that we would’ve been in a near identical, or even a worse situation in the league than we currently find ourselves in – in reality, it’s worse.
After 22 games played in 2013/14 we sat a point clear of the relegation zone on 19, with our fate firmly in our own hands. This season we are on the brink, five points behind the odds-on favourites for relegation in August – Cardiff City – who occupy the lowest position of safety.
To think that the two managers to lead Fulham this season are a cult hero who led us to a Wembley triumph and a 5000/1 title winner with Leicester just three years ago who both haven’t been able to find form with a squad with over £150million worth of talent is disappointing to say the least.
Lessons need to be learnt from that year, just because a manager has experience it is no guarantee of results, especially in a division as unforgiving as the Championship. Magath went on to lose seven and draw one of Fulham’s first eight 14/15, before Kit Symons managed to guide his former club to 17th place finish.
He was replaced by Slavisa Jokanovic who led Fulham to 19th in the reminder Kit’s final season, but then molded our signature passing style. Sixth placed followed by third has us where we are today and if Fulham don’t click into gear over the next few weeks the brutal task of getting out of the Championship will have to be navigated once more.
Rumours of rifts and unhappy players don’t bode well for the final months of the season, but several sides, including us in 2007/08, have escaped from circumstances as gloomy as this one. Ryan Babel’s signature will surely be followed by others but the club will have to keep an eye on Financial Fair Play will our league status in a perilous position.
If we are to drop down to the Championship, it won’t be without its positives. Last season we were treated to 25 league victories compared to an embarrassing three so far this season, we are also unlikely to ever match the 23-game unbeaten run. Not forgetting the season ending in one of the best days in the club’s history – beating Aston Villa in the playoff final at Wembley.
Ticket prices will drop and our seemingly endless supply of youth talent will flourish once again. Of course, we are hoping for a shock victory over Tottenham on Sunday followed by an unbeaten run reminiscent of last season but if this stint at the top level was only meant to be for a year then life goes on and as always, we keep following Fulham.