Do Fulham Have Reason To Worry?

Things have been largely joyous at Craven Cottages for a number of year now, yet there are murmurings that the waters might just be set to get a little choppy.

It is not since 2008 that the Cottagers have been in any kind of relegation trouble – a season when Roy Hodgson and Jimmy Bullard took them from the brink of almost certainly sinking into to the Championship to dramatically swimming to safety on the final day.

Since then they have been the definition of a side basking in mid-table safety, despite seeing both Hodgson and Mark Hughes leave the club. Martin Jol has took over the reigns and things remained calm, however towards the end of last season there were signs that the future was unlikely to be such plane sailing.

Fulham picked up just one win in their final eight fixtures, a victory that only came only the final day of the season – a result that lifted them to a respectively twelfth. It should though not be ignored that had results in the closing weeks of the season taken a different turn then the Cottagers might have been plunged into relegation trouble, as it was Wigan failed to muster their usual escapology act.

The problem with Fulham you could argue is that they became comfortable within their success – with the squad that brought them such impressive returns remaining largely unchanged over the last four or five years. Now unfortunately that team has reached the end of its road, with the likes of Danny Murphy, Simon Davies and Bobby Zamora now long gone or in the last legs of their careers, whilst players such as John Arne Riise, Damien Duff and Aaron Hughes are all in their twilight.

Jol has unfortunately been left the job of replacing the side that brought several years of surpassing expectations. Investment prior to recent times had been largely minimal and although some would admire Fulham for sticking within their means, you can’t help but question whether more should have been done ensure the side was being continually built. Yes players were brought into the side but the majority were largely stop gaps rather than individuals who have gone on to form prosperous careers at the Cottage.

The Dutchmen has not been helped by last summer’s hammer blow of losing Clint Dempsey and Mousa Dembele – two players who were the undoubted heartbeat of the side and who have proved irreplaceable. Losing both in the final flings of last summer’s transfer window was particularly difficult to handle, especially considering that in that window midfield regulars Murphy and Dickson Etuhu had also both moved on.

Dimitar Berbatov was brought in as the solution to the loss of goals as a result of the Dempsey sale and although the Bulgarian has certainly scored enough, he has proved a luxury that has at times been too much for Fulham to carry. Berbatov unfortunately offers little else besides goals and too often than not he doesn’t fancy it – a far cry from the all-action American, Dempsey. Dembele was last year simply not replaced in any capacity, with Jol left to scratch around for any midfield bodies he could find. In truth a player of that quality who provides such varied attributes was always going to be incredibly tough to replace and so it has proved.

This summer Jol has made attempts to rebuild Fulham, yet there are worries with his business. Darren Bent should aid in the lack of goals but again, like Berbatov, he is going to provide you with virtually no defensive support – meaning fielding both is likely to leave them overly vulnerable. Add in the fact that Bryan Ruiz, another of their most creative assets is another who shys away from defending and Fulham look more than light. As if that was enough to fill the pot of luxury item, then Adel Taraabt has been loaned in from QPR, another individual who too often flatters to deceive and hardly adds muscular presence.

Scott Parker has been brought in to add steal but his best days now look long gone, with many questioning whether he has the legs for Premier League football anymore. Long-time target Derek Boateng should at least add much required strength, nevertheless we cannot be sure whether he possesses enough Premier League quality. That is a question that can also be asked of Venezuelan centre back Fernando Amorebeita, a player of significant ability but one who there are questions marks over how effective he will be in England. You can’t help but feel that whilst the sides around them have significantly strengthened, Fulham have signed to many players who represent risky and inconsistent additions.

Considering the numerous players the club has lost either to age or to bigger fish in recent years, it is difficult to highlight many who have been properly replaced. With the only real success being Maarten Stekelenburg, who should in time fill the huge shoes left by Mark Schwarzer.

This is not to say Fulham will go down, just that this could be the year when the threat of relegation finally rears its head. Of significant concern to the Fulham faithful is that Craven Cottage is starting to perhaps lose its fortress-like ability – prior to the West Brom fixture on Saturday they had won at home just three times since the turn of the year. For a side with a notoriously poor away record that is an alarming return.

Some might argue it was only a matter of time that after years of punching above their weight that the Cottagers were always going to be sucked back in by the relegation monster, nevertheless you can’t help but feel that more could have been done to combat this impeding threat. Without question they do possess goal threat, although how consistent and at what sacrifice that threat will come at remains to be seen.