With a 3-0 win over Preston North End on April 19, Championship leaders Fulham have mathematically wrapped up a top two spot in the Championship. With that, the Cottagers become the first of three clubs to officially secure promotion to the Premier League next season.
Two weeks later, Fulham emphatically clinched the Championship crown with a 7-0 walloping of Luton Town. The Whites are on top of England’s second tier, returning to the top flight for the third time in the last five years. They hope it will go differently this time around.
It has been a season to remember for manager Marco Silva and Fulham, scoring an insane amount of goals in the chase for a Premier League place.
Still, there are plenty of questions about how the formula used in the second tier will work in the unforgiving top flight, and whether Fulham should risk a summer reset in order to mold itself for a long-term stay in the Premier League. Having yo-yo’d for four years running, it will take a spot-on summer from the Fulham front office and a helmsman’s charge from Marco Silva to keep the Whites up.
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Fulham FC Championship promotion
Fulham flew to the top of the Championship table early in the 2021-22 season and remained there pretty much wire to wire. A slight dip in late September saw the club drop to fifth place, but it quickly recovered and was top by late November, never again relinquishing its lead.
Here’s a rundown of how the club has pushed for promotion this season.
Aleksandar Mitrovic record-breaking season
The biggest story of Fulham’s season is the goalscoring record, with an astonishing +67 goal differential on the back of 106 goals scored through 45 matches played to this point. That is on pace to set the single-season Championship goals record set at 108 by Manchester City in 2002-03.
At the forefront of that goalscoring outburst is Serbian international Aleksandar Mitrovic, who has had a roller-coaster career. Arriving from Newcastle in January of 2018, Mitrovic has been unstoppable this season in the Championship.
With now 43 goals across 43 league matches, Mitrovic has smashed the Championship single-season goalscoring record of 31 (since 2004 rebrand) set just last year by Brentford’s Ivan Toney. Most recently, he has also broken an even bigger mark: the modern era second-tier record (since World War Two) of 42 goals in a 46-game league season, set by Guy Whittingham of Portsmouth in 1992-93.
“The manager and his staff have changed the way we train, » Mitrovic told The Athletic in late February. « They have changed a lot of details, I would say. Not just for me, but as a team. We feel fitter. I feel fitter than I was before, more fit than ever in my life. I don’t know if that’s the Championship or something, but I feel really good. »
Still, there are questions about Mitrovic’s long-term viability as the club heads to the Premier League next season. Mitrovic has an incredible 78 goals in 101 Championship matches since joining Fulham, but just 14 goals in 64 Premier League matches with the club, including a paltry three goals in 27 matches during Fulham’s 2020-21 relegation campaign. Mitrovic must prove his target man style can indeed translate to the English top flight.
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Marco Silva tactics
Fulham made an emotional managerial change after relegation from the Premier League, parting ways with fan favorite Scott Parker and hiring former Everton and Watford boss Marco Silva. It was a risky move, as Parker was far from the only reason for Fulham’s relegation and Silva had not worked since a disastrous Everton spell that ended in 2019.
The move has proven a smashing success. Silva managed to take Parker’s vision of Fulham as a possession team — which never truly came to fruition in the Premier League — and mold it into a reality in the Championship. Fulham held an average of 60.6 percent possession through the Championship season, completing a stunning 457 passes per game. That’s not quite Man City levels (68 percent possession and 618 passes per game), but it’s still an accurate reflection of what Fulham has become under Silva.
His preferred 4-2-3-1 formation got the best out of Aleksandar Mitrovic up front and Fabio Carvalho as a No. 10, with Nathaniel Chalobah and Harrison Reed holding down the middle of the pitch. It also saw the resurgence of club captain Tom Cairney, who looked washed in the relegation campaign.
Fabio Carvalho transfer saga
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses this season for Fulham despite the table-topping performance, and the high-flying act may well have cost the Whites a talented young player.
Fabio Carvalho, a 19-year-old Fulham youth product, made his professional debut late in last season’s Premier League season, and this season has transformed into a critical component of Fulham’s dangerous attack.
He has also outsmarted Fulham’s front office. The youngster, knowing he’s a wanted man and courted by many top English clubs, refused to sign a new contract at Fulham, and his current deal expires this summer.
Liverpool has long been the most aggressive for his signature, nearly signing him in the winter (he had even completed a medical before time ran out on Deadline Day), and according to a host of reports he will officially sign for the Reds on a free transfer once this season is over.
Liverpool will reportedly pay Fulham $6.5 million for Carvalho plus a 20 percent sell-on fee, despite the club’s ability to sign him on a free transfer, mostly because the Reds would still have to pay Fulham a fee determined by a tribunal due to the Premier League’s rules about signing young academy products, so it was just easier for the clubs to come to an agreement.
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How much is promotion worth?
This is difficult to calculate to an exact level, because the TV broadcast revenue is not shared on an exactly even basis, but the consensus is real — it’s worth a LOT.
According to the annual football finance study done by Deloitte in 2021, when factoring in parachute payments incurred over a number of years following possible relegation, promotion to the Premier League last season was worth as much as $240 million in an absolute worst-case scenario situation (the club finishes bottom of the league, falling back to the Championship after one season).
According to a release by Statista, Norwich City, who finished bottom of the Premier League in the 2019-20 season, still received around $120 million just that season alone, and that came before the new and lucrative Premier League broadcast deal signed, which will net the 20th-place finisher at least $143 million according to The Times. Then, tack on parachute payments for relegated clubs, which the Deloitte study tabs at around $63 million for first-year relegated clubs, and the amount skyrockets even further.
Fulham past Premier League promotions
After relegation from the top flight in 1968, Fulham languished for decades in the lower leagues. The club even flirted with a fall to the fourth tier in the late 1980’s before Mohamed Al Fayed purchased the club and is credited with its revival.
Under Al Fayed’s watch, the club won the third tier in 1998-99 and then won the second tier two seasons later to earn promotion to the Premier League in 2001. Fulham stayed in the Premier League for 13 seasons, enjoying its greatest success through 2008-2012 that included a seventh-place finish and an appearance in the Europa League final, until it was relegated in 2014.
After four seasons in the Championship, Fulham was promoted back to the Premier League in 2018, and has yo-yo’d in the four seasons since. Relegation in 2019 was followed by promotion in 2020 via the playoff, while relegation in 2021 has now been followed by promotion this season. The club is searching for Premier League viability.
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Fulham squad: New player signings & departures expected
Fulham will no doubt make significant changes this summer, as most newly promoted teams do, hoping to secure Premier League safety.
Aside from the aforementioned Fabio Carvalho, who is almost sure to leave the club this summer and no loan back from Liverpool expected, there are others who will likely depart.
Out of contract players include American defender Tim Ream, midfield maestro Jean-Michel Seri, and center-back Alfie Mawson. Ream is expected to leave the club, as he has proven below Premier League levels in both recent relegation campaigns. Mawson’s arrival at Fulham was highly touted, but it things have not worked out due to multiple injuries, and he should be expected to leave as well.
Seri is a more difficult case. Part of the infamous 2018 spending spree and initially written off as an expensive failure, Seri has enjoyed a successful season in the Championship. However, since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, he has found himself on the outside looking in.
Should Fulham look to move on from Tom Cairney and Harrison Reed and see Seri as an upgrade in midfield, the club could try to re-sign Seri, but without an extension at this point, it’s likely he will leave as well.
Despite the successful Championship campaign, there are countless holes in the squad. A host of current players have already proven they don’t belong in the Premier League, and improvements will be needed.
Replacing Carvalho’s energy and creativity will be difficult, and finding another striker who can perform should Mitrovic fail again to deliver in the top flight is a must.
All this must be done, however, without a total overhaul, as 2018 proved a promoted club cannot just buy an entirely new squad and expect to stay up.
Multiple rumors point towards a summer swoop of 22-year-old Shakhtar Donetsk winger Manor Solomon for a cut-rate price due to the unrest in Ukraine, which would represent a standout signing. Otherwise, there is little knowledge of Fulham’s future transfer plans. This summer is critical, as Fulham must improve the squad but also do so by learning from past mistakes.
Can Fulham stay in the Premier League?
This is a big, big question. While the Championship season proved fruitful and successful in a number of ways, there are still a host of gaping questions that must be answered for the club to secure Premier League safety next season and avoid becoming a true yo-yo club.
The failures across the 2020-21 season largely boiled down to one thing: The club tried to play like Man City and failed. That resulted in a historically porous defense and an attack that failed to produce. Now, the club has seemingly perfected that style of play, but once again, a move up to the Premier League begs the question: Will Fulham give the possession style another go in the top flight, or change course to a more traditional counter-attacking side typical of newly promoted clubs?
First and foremost, the club must decide whether to give Aleksandar Mitrovic another chance to prove he can be a Premier League striker. His record-breaking Championship campaign proves he still has the cutting edge, but across three Premier League campaigns with Fulham and Newcastle, he has not been up to standards. At 27 years old, can his best form translate to the top flight?
In addition, Marco Silva and the club must sit down this summer and construct a Premier League tactical plan. There must be a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C tactically heading into this season — how the club wants to play, how the club can tweak things if it doesn’t work, and at what point they throw it away and make a tactical overhaul if it’s not going to plan.
Finally, the club must make more changes this summer. Players like Harrison Reed, Bobby Reid, and Tom Cairney had revivals in the Championship, but it’s hard to forget how poor they were just a year prior in the top flight as regulars in the squad. It will be hard to move on from players who played critical roles in a promotion campaign, but those tough decisions must be made.
Who owns Fulham FC?
Fulham’s ownership group is not just the name on the checkbook, but an identity.
American billionaire Shad Khan, who also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars, bought Fulham in 2013, and his nine years in charge have been a roller coaster. Originally purchasing the team from club hero Mohamed Al Fayed, his ownership has been punctuated by a few highs and a lot of challenges.
Since taking over, Fulham has hired and fired seven managers across his nine years, a less than consistent tally. A 13-year Premier League stay came to an end in his first full season at the helm, and since, the club has been promoted twice, and relegated twice.
A big point of discussion regarding Shad Khan’s ownership is the appointment of his son, Tony, as head of recruitment. As the founder of data analytics group TruMedia, Tony Khan is a sports analytics disciple and has looked to implement that approach at the club, to varying degrees of success.
The disastrous summer of 2018, where Tony’s recruitment pushed the newly-promoted club to spend historic amounts in the transfer market, only to finish 19th, still resonates in the minds of fans. Often, Tony has been criticized for having too many irons in the fire to focus on Fulham, also heading the NFL Jaguars’ analytics department and spending ample time focusing on the Khans’ pro wrestling ventures as well.
Tony’s dealings this coming summer will be a major focus for Fulham fans, and could be critical in the club’s Premier League survival. It will be his third go at helping the club achieve Premier League safety, having failed in the previous two attempts.