“We’re way short of where we need to be,” said Scott Parker, the manager of Bournemouth, three days before beginning a Premier League season as one of the three new clubs in the division. “We can’t be competitive,” echoed Marco Silva, his counterpart at Fulham, last season’s Championship winners.
August gloominess among those fresh to football’s most watched domestic competition is routine. The precedents for promoted sides to be immediately relegated are ominous. Parker and Silva know that only too clearly.
Two of Silva’s previous stints in the division have finished with his employers sitting 18th in the 20-team table. Parker, 41, began his senior managerial career at Fulham, appointed as the third different manager of a troubled season that followed their 2018 promotion.
Fulham went straight back down; Parker guided them straight back up; he then oversaw immediate relegation. Fulham would be the definition of a ‘yo-yo’ club if there weren’t so many other candidates to epitomise the perilous gap between even the most elevated standards in English football’s second tier and the heightened demands of the top flight.
Norwich City have gone up each of the last two times Fulham have gone down, and been relegated in the two Mays Fulham have been promoted. Bournemouth’s four-year record includes just one pause in a hectic zig-zag between divisions. They were relegated from the Premier League in 2020.
A tendency among club executives seeking solutions to all the instability, the strains on financial planning that perpetually switching between divisions with vastly different rewards is to identify specialist managers.
Parker is one: he knows only the zone that covers the lower end of the Premier League and the upper reaches of the Championship from his time in management. So when he says that his Bournemouth - who have this summer spent just £10m, on the midfielder Marcus Tavernier, signed from Championship Middlesbrough - are far from the level of upgrade needed, it is not just a strategic remark designed to have his bosses act more urgently.
Parker will remember that the Fulham he took over in late 2018-19 had spent over £100m in the previous summer’s transfer window. It was not enough to keep them out of a relegation zone they occupied for all but six weeks of that season.
Fulham would recruit substantially again for their unsuccessful 2020-21 Premier League campaign, although for that season they made heavier use of temporary loan signings. The rhythm of annual fluctuation between leagues has left some Fulham players feeling there were effectively two squads on the payroll. Ask Tim Ream, one of the club’s longest-serving players and a favourite of home fans at Craven Cottage, who celebrate the US international defender’s firm clearances by bellowing out his surname deep and long.
Cries of ‘Reeeeeeeeam!’ have been heard consistently during the last three Championship campaigns. They have been far less of a feature in Premier League company. In the second tier, Ream, 34, has missed only four matches in three whole seasons. His top-tier status at Fulham has been another matter.
He was dropped when the high-cost Fulham side of 2018 hurtled into a sequence of four successive losses in which 15 goals were conceded; by the time Ream had lent his full influence to promotion in the next promotion campaign, his then manager Parker had taken a clear view on his level. Ream was picked for only seven Premier League matches in the 2020-21 relegation season.
Back in the Championship, with Silva having replaced Parker, Ream was trusted again, but when the Portuguese coach, who has managed Hull City, Watford and Everton in England’s top flight, complained this week that “no one can prepare for a season with just two central defenders,” Ream can only have heard that as a warning.
Silva is armed with some new recruits in other positions, notably midfielders Joao Palhina and Andreas Pereira, goalkeeper Bernd Leno from Arsenal and the Israeli playmaker Manor Solomon, but he could scarcely have sounded clearer he wants more investment. Fulham have an intimidating start to their schedule, at home to Liverpool on Saturday.
Nottingham Forest, the last club into the Premier League via the promotion play-off after an absence of 23 years from the top division, have been far busier in recruiting with £85m spent so far on fresh faces, many from the Bundesliga. From Union Berlin, they bought the striker Taiwo Awoniyi, whose potential partnership with Jesse Lingard, ex of Manchester United, carries much of the hope that survival can be achieved.
“From the outside,” says their manager Steve Cooper, “it looks like Forest are spending loads of money. Really we’re just catching up. It’s going to be really tough. We’re going into the most elite and demanding league in world football.”