The Premier League season has ended, and there is no hiding from the fact that Fulham had a disappointing campaign. We never really found momentum and rhythm in the most challenging league in world football, and hopefully many lessons have been learned. I think overall the approach on the pitch was brave but bordering on naïve, and we were never able to strike the correct balance between attack and defence, and ultimately paid the price in the form of relegation.
However, all is not doom and gloom. The squad seems much more balanced than what was the case after our last relegation in 2014, and there is every chance and a realistic hope of a swift return back to the Premier League. Even still, I am sure the coming weeks will be busy for the people working behind the doors at Motspur Park. Deciding who is staying and who is going, along with looking for additions to the squad, is absolutely essential work in the quest for a strong season in the Championship.
On that note, the timing in the appointment of Scott Parker was good. He now has the time and control needed to influence these processes as he looks to put together the best possible squad for next season. In my opinion, the basic question for any player now is does he want to give his all to help the Club in the push for promotion? The Championship is a very tough league, and strength of character is essential.
It was evident again last week, watching the on-pitch celebration of Liverpool (after beating Barcelona) and Manchester City (after winning the title), that even football at the highest level is first and foremost about a bunch of guys achieving greatness together. No external motivation, be it money, fame or power, will ever beat the feeling of togetherness that a successful team has. I was lucky enough to experience this feeling many times in my career, most notably at Fulham, and these experiences of togetherness is what sticks with you later in life. I think it is very clear that while top players of course need talent, physique and attitude, the most important trait is a willingness to do it for the team. Those top players at Liverpool and Manchester City have every reason to get carried away by all the external forces, but they remained loyal to their team values and success was their reward.
I know Scott Parker thinks about football in the same way, and he will look for the above traits when making decisions on which players to rely on next season. He will also work very hard on the identity of the team, making sure the performance is recognisable and predictable from game to game. I wish him and the staff the very best of luck for the work ahead.
A few interesting trends in modern football might be worth noting. In addition to a certain character in players, the top teams led by the top managers (Guardiola, Klopp, Pochettino) have developed a type of football that has been labelled press-and-possess. Through superior skills and organisation, the top teams in the country slowly but surely squeeze the opposition while they wait for the deciding moments in matches. They keep the ball extremely well and win it back early after having lost it. There are a great number of statistics showing this development over recent years, in categories such as possession, speed and pressing. While this impressive playing style certainly requires individual ability, for me it is very clear that it first and foremost requires a very coherent approach in coaching. Nothing is left to chance and everything is prepared. Football is a physical game, but the top level is a meeting between bright minds both on and off the pitch, in a continued process of improvement.
As for all of us supporting Fulham, we can only hope for magic sparks once again in SW6 next year. Supporting your club is a bit like life in general, there are ups and downs but it’s well worth staying for the ride. I count myself very lucky to have arrived at Fulham many years ago, and the bond is forever unbreakable. I must also thank the Club for having given me the opportunity to share my thoughts with you during this season, and I hope some of you found it useful. Unfortunately I am not able to carry on writing the column next season, as there are simply not enough hours in a day to have the required level of understanding of the Championship on top of all the matches I must watch in my TV job. But we will of course see each other again. On Putney Bridge, in Bishop’s Park or at the Cottage. We will always be at the Cottage, cheering the team on, through thick and thin.
Come on Fulham!