Friday, March 1, 2024

Let’s just hope that others learn from Fulham’s mistakes

Graham Fisher in Editorial, English Premier League 21 Apr 2008


The Board at Fulham football club have made a series of bad decisions over the past few years and those decisions appear to be coming back to haunt them now as relegation to the Championship seems to have become almost certain.

The Chairman, Mohammed Al Fayed, has had many things on his mind over the past few years, but he has always been determined to succeed at the football club in West London. Either Al Fayed is very badly advised, or he has been sadly mistaken when it comes to setting up a club likely to be successful in the Premier League.

Chris Coleman had done a wonderful job of keeping Fulham in the top league since their promotion. It was a job very similar to the one achieved by Alan Curbishley at Charlton. They had time and support and managed to make their teams consistently over achieve. When Coleman was dismissed, they weren’t going well, but I feel sure he would have kept them up.

We all know what has happened to Charlton since Curbishley left and now the same thing is happening at Craven Cottage.

Chris Coleman would probably never had made Fulham into a top six club, and that was what Al Fayed was desperate to achieve. He wanted to be regarded as one of the top chairmen and he desired far more than Chris Coleman could ever deliver.

Unfortunately for Al Fayed and Fulham fans, the club will never be a top six club. Not in my lifetime anyway. With a ground holding only 25,000 and being located just down the road from Chelsea and many other alternative clubs for locals to support, they cannot begin to compete with the big boys.

That is where I believe Al Fayed and his fellow directors have made their biggest mistake. They should have been happy with where they were and realised that they were over achieving, not taken drastic action and tried to improve further.

Lawrie Sanchez had performed admirably as manager of Northern Ireland, and he had certainly got that side playing above the level their ability should have allowed. Presumably that was what attracted him to the Fulham board.

Everybody could see that the policy of bringing many of his Northern Ireland players to Craven Cottage was never going to be successful in the Premier League, but he was allowed to continue down that path. He assembled a team of players who were unproven at Premier League level, or simply decent Championship players. Without the added passion of playing for their Country in one-off games, their lack of true ability at the top level was always going to shine through.

It is easy to criticise with hindsight, but so many people, including many Fulham fans expressed this opinion and concern at the time.

After leaving it too late to make a change, with Fulham already in deep trouble, they dismissed Sanchez and looked for a new manager. They needed an experienced hand who could steady the ship, motivate the players and fire up the team and the crowd into a motivated unit who would be difficult to beat and who teams would not like playing against. Much as much as I don’t always agree with him, someone like Graeme Souness, who may have been able to generate the sort of passion they needed to compensate for their lack of necessary talent at this level.

Instead, they turned to Roy Hodgson. Now Hodgson may well be an exceptional coach. He is respected around Europe and has worked in many top places. A look at his career, shows that he must be a talented man. However, he was a million miles away from what Fulham needed at the time and everyone apart from Al Fayed and his colleagues knew that straight away.

Hodgson is not terribly media friendly and he doesn’t inspire passion, belief, desire and will from the fans. He may be able to do so behind the scenes, in the changing rooms, with the players, but it doesn’t seem a very likely scenario.

Roy Hodgson may well be a really nice man, a talented coach and a great manager, but he was quite simply the wrong man, in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don’t think that Al Fayed could have found a squarer peg to fit into the round hole he had at the club.

There is no doubt that Fulham have been unlucky with the injuries to McBride and Bullard and some awful decisions have gone against them at times this season. The fact is though that they are definitely one of the three worst teams in the league and are therefore absolutely right to get relegation.

If you listed the teams and their managers and asked a panel to select three for relegation, I have no doubt that Fulham would have been in most people’s choices. It is a shame for all those Fulham fans that the powers that be couldn’t have spotted that as well.

Chris Coleman had the ability to make an average team play well above their apparent capabilities. He is currently in the process of lifting a very poor and formerly dispirited Coventry side away from the Championship drop zone. I’m not saying that Fulham would definitely be a Premier League side next season if they had kept faith with Coleman, but they would have had a whole lot more chance than they’ve had since he was fired.

I am all for clubs showing ambition, but the Chairmen need to remain realistic, build slowly and stand by managers who produce the goods. I truly hope that other clubs are looking on at what has happened at Craven Cottage and realise that sacking their manager in the summer might not be the answer to what they perceive to be their problems.


Graham Fisher



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