“We said it would take time for the guys to gel and when they do we expect really great things to happen.” Fulham’s vice-chairman Tony Khan was speaking in August after they had beaten Burnley 4-2. Perhaps, being generous, it is still taking time for their raft of newcomers to gel. Certainly, their current plight – eight points from safety, with a mere three wins since then, having conceded 10 more goals than anyone else – is scarcely a definition of great things.
Fulham are outstanding, in one respect; should they go down, theirs will rank as the Premier League’s most expensive relegation. They spent £100 million (Dh479m) last summer. Friday’s derby with West Ham United is a meeting of two clubs who did. Yet while the Hammers have been erratic, veering from beating Manchester United to losing to AFC Wimbledon, they have had some return on their investment.
Fulham’s has been all the worse because Aleksandar Mitrovic has scored 10 goals – a total only topped by players at top-six clubs – and Andre Schurrle a further six. Wolves do not have a duo with a combined tally of 16 goals and they are seventh. Wolves seemed the pertinent comparison in the summer; like Fulham, they had played their way out of the Championship, coming up in style, with ambition and with funds.
One has spent wisely, built on solid foundations and made the smoothest of progress. The other is Fulham. And while it can be simplistic to boil clubs’ fortunes down to their recruitment, it feels apt in their case. Besides Mitrovic, a low-risk addition after a successful loan, and the borrowed Schurrle, theirs has been disastrous.
Jean Michael Seri has the pedigree of a man coveted by Barcelona in 2017, but has not produced the performances. Then there is a still costlier midfielder, the club record signing Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa. The increasingly infamous agent Willie McKay boasted in letters to clubs that he helped facilitate the deal which should be a reason to avoid the Scot’s advice. Fulham have taken one point from the seven games the £30 million buy has started.
A defensive midfielder ranks among the reasons why Fulham’s defence is wretched. They are on course to concede 88 goals. They signed two goalkeepers and five defenders last summer. It feels a case of quantity, not quality. The best of them, arguably, has been Calum Chambers, pressed into service in Anguissa’s supposed role in midfield. Perhaps Fulham had a better defence last season; certainly they seem weaker in the full-back positions, where they lost the on-loan Matt Targett and Ryan Fredericks, who could face his former club for West Ham.
They have left a trail of anarchy behind them. Cyrus Christie, Dennis Odoi and summer signing Maxime le Marchand seem in a private contest to produce the season’s most inept performance. Claudio Ranieri briefly brought the promise of defensive improvement but Fulham have conceded at least twice in every game in 2019, including against League Two Oldham Athletic and when Burnley seemed to have no shots on target.
Ranieri was booed by supporters and told “you don’t know what you are doing” when he brought on Christie against Manchester United. A manager who has often been an amiable figure has quickly become unpopular with a section of the Fulham crowd, partly because he has benched Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon, the two most influential figures in their promotion campaign.
Meanwhile, Khan told a fan to “go to hell” when he became embroiled in a Twitter row last month. The Championship is a more likely destination after a season that promised much but is looking decidedly tortuous.