Fulham have been down the road of fighting relegation before during their current 12 year run of Premier League football. However, it seems every time the Cottagers were threatened with relegation, something either miraculous happened, or the grit and commitment of the squad came through. The current group of players at Craven Cottage however seem to be a hodgepodge of malcontents from other clubs and run-of-the-mill chance signings that Martin Jol has put together, proving a radical departure from the formula that long worked for the West London club.
New owner Shahid Khan has inherited this situation. One must wonder about the long-term health of a club without a robust supporter base whose success has largely been down to the generosity and commitment of one man, the former owner Mohammed Al-Fayed. Fulham must learn to live within its own means as the new owner has repeatedly stated and while my feeling is going down may not be the worst thing for the West London club, no supporter of the club wants to hear that. Accordingly, alternatives to going down exist but every scenario probably involves the sacking of Martin Jol, who has been ineffective on job and whose buys have not worked out as planned. Even today’s announcement that Rene Meulensteen has been hired as Fulham head coach to work alongside Jol is a stop-gap measure and isn’t going to revitalize the team.
Previously, I have not taken the possibility of an American managing in a top European league seriously. But Bob Bradley could be the exception. He’s a manager who cut his teeth at home but has now shown he can manage abroad, has managed big egos well and is tactically astute. While most American managers would have a steep if not impossible learning curve to adapt to the intricacies of everyday management in Europe, I feel Bradley is the lone American who can make this jump and adapt fairly quickly.
With Bradley due to manage his last match for Egypt next week, he is readily available and perhaps the type of flier Fulham needs to kickstart a campaign that otherwise very well could be lost. The Cottagers have a list of established managers they could consider but almost each one brings the feeling of a “band-aid” solution to organizations problems that could flare back up in the near future.
Khan, as an American owner, could give Bradley his shot. The former USA, Princeton University and MLS manager follows European football closely and may be able to help identify the types of players the Cottagers must target in the January transfer window if they are to stay up. Furthermore, Bradley will help build on the base of support the club has cultivated in the United States that for years led to many new fans of the game adopting Fulham as the club they support.
But by and large the Cottagers have structural issues that have been overcome in the past — creative management, good scouting and a committed owner. The club is about to begin integrating its first real set of Academy players and a commitment to long-term sustainability is being implemented by Khan. Perhaps Bradley is that manager who can create an environment at the club where things are freshened up for the veteran players and younger players are either acquired or brought through the system.
Looking back at the last nine months of the Premier League, Fulham have been far and away the worst squad in the top flight of English football. Shahid Khan inherited Martin Jol but has little choice but to dispense of him. Fulham have stayed in the top flight a lot longer than anyone expected and even improbably have reached a European final in that period. But more creativity and perhaps an outsider as manager are needed to keep the club in the top flight for this season and beyond.
Khan has the opportunity to make history as an American owner by seriously considering and then perhaps appointing an American manager. Certainly skepticism will accompany an appointment of Bradley among many in the British press, but he just may prove to the refreshing, respectful and worldly manager that can transform things at Craven Cottage.
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