Fulham: Will They Realise Their Limitations?

Michael Jackson stayed but Mo Al-Fayed has been replaced by Shahid Khan. Philip Cornwall wonders if the new man will continue the old man's good work...

Last Updated: 08/08/13 at 13:15 Post Comment

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LAST SEASON

Premier League
12th FA Cup fourth round League Cup second round
Manager Martin Jol (since June 2011) Odds on being first out of his job 8-1 (2nd=)
Players in Maarten Stekelenburg (Roma, £4.75m), Fernando Amorebieta (Athletic Bilbao, free), Derek Boateng (Dnipro, free), Sascha Riether (Koln, £1.2m, from loan),
Players out Mark Schwarzer (Chelsea, free), Mladen Petric, Mahamadou Diarra, Chris Baird, Simon Davies (all released)
Club turnover in 2011-12 £79m (10th)
Handicap betting to win Premier League +38 points (14th=)
When Mohamed Fayed sold his football club to Shahid Khan, he stressed that the statue of Michael Jackson had to stay. But he slapped no preservation order on Fulham's more lifelike MJ and, with an unknown quantity as the owner, Martin Jol is now 8-1 joint second favourite to be the first manager out of his job.

There were six defeats in seven games towards the end of the season but it finished as another middling campaign for Fulham who, since Roy Hodgson saved them on the last day in 2008, have oscillated between seventh and 12th, where they finished again in May. That was enough for Fayed, who had long since abandoned his early Premier League dreams of challenging at the very top, even before a different class of plutocrat started to appear. Now such an owner has arrived at Craven Cottage in the shape of the American car-parts billionaire.

Khan is also the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, buying them in January 2012 at a point when they were without a head coach. His first appointment lasted only one season but it was the worst in the club's history, so we cannot conclude he is trigger-happy on that basis (nor should we read much into the fact of that one season of struggle as a reflection of his ownership). Khan may be bad news for Jol if he proves impatient, but on the other hand anyone he asks will tell him that Fayed did well to lure the Dutchman, who is well-placed to improve the squad with players who want to play a decent style of football in one of the game's most attractive locales. Still, Jol will be keen to make an early good impression and he would have been awaiting the fixture list with keener than usual interest.

Two trips to the north-east - with Sunderland on opening day - sandwich the visit of Arsenal. There are certainly worse starts available though he would really have liked either the Mackems or Newcastle at Craven Cottage. West Brom, Cardiff and Stoke are the next three visitors and Jol will expect to have assuaged any initial concerns Khan may have by the time that sequence is over.

Jol can point to the loss of Clint Dempsey, Mousa Dembele and Danny Murphy last summer as reasons why his team went off the boil; Dimitar Berbatov was reunited with his former manager at Spurs but the Bulgarian is more icing than cake. Sascha Riether was a good loan signing, now made permanent, and this summer's big loss, Mark Schwarzer, has been made good by Jol's compatriot Maarten Stekelenburg. Brede Hangeland has gone nowhere but acquired a partner in the Venezuelan Fernando Amorebieta, while Derek Boateng's arrival in midfield is a belated attempt to make up for what was lost in last summer's departures.

So far, not bad at all. Berbatov needs support, though, and Jol believes he is on the verge of bringing Darren Bent to Craven Cottage. If a price cannot be agreed with Aston Villa then there is still time to look elsewhere, though the fact that they are haggling between £4m and £6m suggests that Khan is not going to be too forward with his money.

Hodgson's remarkable feat of reaching the 2010 Europa League final was surely a once-in-a-lifetime moment for Fulham fans but his achievement in qualifying for Europe via the league may be repeatable, if Khan gives Jol reasonable backing and that striker can be found. The cups could offer a European route, too, if it is another season where lesser lights, such as Swansea and Wigan last season and Liverpool the year before, prosper.

Such is the competition for support in the capital that Fulham will always struggle to increase their base and one wonders what Khan has in mind for the long run. It has to be hoped that he realises the limitations and appreciates the charm of the club that, for all his myriad faults, Fayed served well.

Philip Cornwall

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