Fulham’s stay in the Premier League might have been short, but it was sweet.
From the languid Gallic charm of Sylvain Legwinski and Steed Malbranque to the waspish aegis of Roy Hodgson, Craven Cottage was always a pleasant distraction. Nice ground, nice football, no drama, until they suffered a shock relegation in 2014.
At the time, the club had lost their way and identity. Craven Cottage was a fortress for Fulham during their Premier League years but that close atmosphere worked against them during their final year in the top flight.
After four years in the Championship, the Londoners are returning, buffeted by a range of high-profile signings. The question is, will they be enough to guarantee the club’s survival in the top flight?
Strengthened in all areas
On paper, the answer is a resounding ‘Yes!' Manager Slavisa Jokanovic has strengthened in all areas with each of the new arrivals expected to slot into the team immediately.
Fabri, for example, is a solid goalkeeper with Champions League experience. Calum Chambers and Alfie Mawson, acquired from Arsenal and Swansea respectively, offer height and profile to a defence that was lacking in both.
Maxime Le Marchand, meanwhile, offers versatility and technique on the left, whilst his former teammate Jean Michael Seri is expected to sew things together in midfield.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, unwanted at Newcastle, is ready to kick and push his way towards redemption in the Premier League. Last season he was superb for Fulham in the Championship while on loan and he earned the right to help them survive this season.
He’ll be reliant on regular service from World Cup winner and German international Andre Schurrle, who arrives from Dortmund on long-term loan.
Homegrown and boisterously talented
With the possible exception of Liverpool, Fulham have done the most impressive business of the summer. The new arrivals are augmented, however, by a core that is homegrown and boisterously talented.
Ryan Sessegnon, for example, scored fifteen goals in the Championship last term, despite only being allowed into nightclubs since March.
Tim Ream, meanwhile, was impressive all year as a diligent no-nonsense centre back, whilst Tom Cairney is a delicious passer who has grafted his way to the club captaincy.
Jokanovic, backed by the plummeting pockets of billionaire owner Shahid Khan, has taken a considerable gamble. Teams are fragile things, and the sheer number of new arrivals could upset the balance in a squad which embarked on a 23-game-unbeaten streak last term.
There was, however, a clear lack of Premier League experience that needed to be addressed. Rather than filling their squad with Championship players, as Cardiff have done, Fulham have decided to be brave.
Schurrle, Chambers and Mitrovic are all acquainted with the demands of life at the highest level, whilst Fabri has won titles in Turkey with Besiktas.
That Fulham were able to capture Seri and Schurrle in the first place speaks of the duo’s relative downturn in form and output, but both are possessed of enough talent to help the club stave off a relegation battle.
Being better than the next guy
Fulham have done everything in their power to guarantee Premier League survival. Ultimately though, none of it will matter as long as there are three worse teams in the league, something that seems increasingly likely as a number of clubs wade through a frustrating transfer window.
Southampton, for example, have spent most of their money on Manchester City goalkeeper Angus Gunn, despite not having a regular source of goals or any kind of leadership in midfield and defence.
Huddersfield Town can only defy gravity for so long, especially as other sides warm to the gregarious triumphs of manager David Wagner. Brighton, Bournemouth and Watford, too, are just one bad run away from being hurled into the relegation knife fight.
They have the money, the chairman, the proven talents and the hyped prospects. All Fulham need to do is start winning. If they do, they might be in the Premier League for another decade and beyond.