Fulham’s first Premier League stint lasted 13 years and their second just a single season. However, managerial rookie Scott Parker brought the Cottagers back up at the first time of asking, winning the club’s second play-off final in three year. Who says familiarity breeds contempt?
Fulham were underdogs after West London rivals Brentford did the double of them during the regular campaign, but such form goes out the window in the richest game in football.
An extra-time brace from left-back Joe Bryan catapulted Fulham back into the Premier League; now Parker wants to avoid the mistakes of the club’s previous top-flight campaign.
“There were some clear errors made last time,” he told the BBC. “We’ll learn from that. We need to [as] we’re going into the best league in the world [with] the best players [and] the best teams. It is a brutal league, and I realise the challenge ahead.”
And what a challenge it is. Fulham ended the 2017-18 season 10 points from safety and conceded a division-high 81 goals after sacking Slavisa Jokanovic and Claudio Ranieri, a Premier League title winner with Leicester City just two years beforehand.
Spending in excess of £100m on new players proved you simply cannot just throw money at the problem
Spending in excess of £100m on new players for their last crack at the big time proved you simply cannot just throw money at the problem. It’s perhaps that mistake that Parker wants to avoid repeating most of all.
Fulham have been lucky to bounce back at the first attempt. Other, bigger football clubs have not been fortunate. See fellow promoted side Leeds United, for instance, who required 16 years and relegation to the third tier of English football before returning to the top.
Parker is under no illusions about what next season entails. Fulham are bound to be among the favourites for relegation with bookmakers like 888sport, as is the lot of all newly promoted clubs.
The obvious area for improvement is recruitment. Although far from perfect two years ago, Fulham lost few key players other than Ryan Sessegnon after relegation and now face tough decisions over how to better prepare themselves for Premier League life.
This is the real test of Parker’s credentials, just 18 months into his managerial career. All sides promoted to the Premier League face the quandary of whether to stick with the players who got them up or twist by adding new signings to the squad.
This is the real test of Parker’s credentials, just 18 months into his managerial career
Fulham got that blend wrong two years ago, so the club must be wiser this time around – especially as there is a shorter transfer window in which to operate. Parker pulled off promotion, but proving himself at the highest level is now the mission.
That goes for the players too, but in Aleksandar Mitrovic Fulham have a throwback centre forward who can cut it in the Premier League. He scored 11 times in their last top-flight campaign, and the Serbia striker hit 26 goals when taking the Championship Golden Boot this season.
Although stepping up a level, Parker must ensure that the team continues to provide Mitrovic with the right service.
He is a handful for opposition defences with his physical presence and aerial ability. If Fulham win ugly and somehow defy the odds by staying in the Premier League, will anyone connected with Craven Cottage really question how they went about it?