BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Scott Parker wants Fulham to lose their reputation as a ‘yo-yo’ club – but ensuring they instantly win promotion back to the Premier League for a third time, ensuring they can even keep that tag, is anything but a surefire thing.
The successful teams, especially those that want to survive and then flourish in England’s top flight, have a clear plan.
Norwich suffered the same fate as Fulham at the end of last season, retained their best players and then pretty serenely cruised to the Championship table.
But the three top players on the Whites’ books are loanees.
Without Alphonse Areola’s displays between the posts, Scott Parker’s side would have been dead and buried long before Monday night’s 2-0 loss to Burnley.
Joachim Andersen will deservedly land a big move this summer after stabilising a backline which was all over the shop in a calamitous start to the campaign. Strong, assured and with excellent long-range passing, the Danish centre-back used his temporary switch from Lyon to put himself in the shop window.
And Ademola Lookman added pace, directness and danger to what otherwise was a distinctly pedestrian frontline.
You’ve got more chance of owner Shahid Khan paddleboarding down the Thames than the trio being signed permanently. The only major assets on Fulham’s books are Tosin Adarabioyo and Harrison Reed.
Aleksandar Mitrovic had a stinker of a season and his lack of mobility once again underlined why he is not Premier League class. He failed to bully markers like he did when plundering goals in the division below.
Tom Cairney, yet to convince he can influence matches at elite level, did not play after December due to a knee injury.
It is not easy for a newly-promoted team to keep Premier League status. And the Covid-19 pandemic meant that Fulham had barely recovered from their hangovers after beating rivals Brentford at Wembley before they lost 3-0 to Arsenal on their return to the big stage.
They had five weeks to prepare before the return of competitive action and took one point from a possible 21.
It was only when the loan signings kicked in and Parker tweaked the shape and tactical approach that they tightened up. Fulham won at Everton and the escape looked on after Mario Lemina’s strike earned them maximum points against reigning, but badly floundering, Premier League champions Liverpool.
Parker’s side are suited to counter-attacking opponents, a perfect example was the 2-1 win at Leicester.
But when the onus was on them to take the initiative, which was the case as the matches ticked down, they were found desperately wanting.
Fulham have won just twice at home and taken five points from the last 10 games, putting them bottom of the form table over that period.
Their attack has been horribly ineffectual with just 25 goals in 35 matches. Only Sheffield United have netted fewer.
There will be question marks over Parker too. He has been linked with the head coach vacancy at Tottenham but would represent a huge and unlikely gamble. His tactics at Fulham have seen a patient possession-based approach which lacks a change of pace.
Parker’s press conferences tend to be bland but it’s clear there is tension in his relationship with director of football Tony Khan. Khan Junior is also the founder and co-owner of All Elite Wrestling, which is aiming to rival WWE. The family also own NFL side Jacksonville Jaguars.
There is a feeling that the focus – and strategy – is not zeroed in enough on the west London club.
“What’s vitally important for me is we sit down, we analyse, we learn and we are brave enough to put our hands up and realise where we have gone wrong and not go through the same cycle,” said Parker.
“My main aim is to not come into the Premier League for a season and get relegated, I want to come into this league and stay in this league and then move the club forward and that’s going to be key.”
There are guaranteed to be changes on the playing side.
But changes to the way the club is run could be just as pivotal in breaking the cycle in a good way.
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