One thing that caught us all by surprise last year is just how badly things collapsed. I think we’ve all been nice and wise after the event, but at the time really nobody saw this coming.
(I highlight this not to criticise, by the way – these are some of the people I agree with most on footballing matters!)
They did well to spot Kieran Richardson but everything else is miles off. Will noted the need for a passing midfielder and worried what the lack of one might mean, but really passing wasn’t the problem. Fulham 2013/14 turned into a boat full of holes, with water coming in faster than it can be bailed out. You could fix one issue and another would present itself. You might say that the problem with Fulham wasn’t the midfield, the defence, or the attack. The problem was “the footballing side of things”. And the off-pitch stuff, too. So: everything.
If everything was wrong, why didn’t we notice? It’s not just us, of course. I remember Louise Taylor of the Guardian predicting relegation, but then she had Spurs to win the league too. No, everyone missed it. There was clearly much happening behind the scenes that we weren’t privy to, but were there signs we could see? How could we have spotted this?
The end of the season before: after beating QPR 3-2 on April fool’s day (we went 3-0 up, played awfully, but hung on), Fulham lost 6, drew 1, then beat Swansea on the last day of the season. We all noticed the bad form but many of us took the view that the form over the course of the season had been decent enough and that bad runs happen, don’t they? In retrospect this collapse was a real red flag.
We then sold Etuhu, Murphy, Dembele and Dempsey. Now, this was perhaps unavailable but it did represent a lot of talent disappearing in one go. Dembele was playing at an elite level. Dempsey’s 20 goal season was as impressive as anything anyone’s done in a Fulham shirt in recent years. Murphy was a great player and a leader. Etuhu was just the kind of player teams need but sometimes forget they need. Now, we had Sidwell and Parker as it turned out but this proved to be a calimitous drop-off.
Jol’s incoming transfers showed no underlining ethos. Riise, Grygera, Ruiz, Sa, Pogrebnyak, Diarra, Petric, Rodallega, Berbatov, Richardson, Dejagah, Karagounis, Riether, Frimpong, Emanuelson, Manolev, Enoh, Amorebieta, Boateng, Stekelenburg, Parker, Zverotic… it’s just completely haphazard isn’t it? Players not being bought to fill a role at all, just a giant splurge, like he was buying books he might not get to read for a while. If things were to get better we might have expected to see some Jol signings integrated into the team, as important players, but no: there’s not a single player that Jol bought who became indispensible. We should have been more suspicious of this than we were.
Despite all of this I still think a mid-table finish was a reasonable expectation. We’ll have to wait for the autobiographies to find out what exactly happened.