Yesterday evening we witnessed Fulham’s ignominious exit from the FA Cup at the hands of League 1 relegation candidates Sheffield United at Craven Cottage. Such was the despondency around the ground following the Blades’ one hundred and nineteenth minute winning goal, there is now a genuine worry as to whether or not manager Rene Meulensteen will be able to rally his troops in a fight against relegation but what exactly is going wrong with a club that very few tipped for relegation this term?
Fulham finished twelfth last term and last summer the club could be accused of not strengthening adequately however with the process of a board takeover ongoing it would always be difficult to free the finances to improve the squad too much although the deal was completed in mid July. The then Head Coach Martin Jol brought in a couple of players who you would imagine would have strengthened the team, Darren Bent on loan for £2million looked a bargain, as did Scott Parker at £4million. Fernando Amorebieta, who came from Athletic Bilbao with a sizeable reputation, cost Fulham nothing in terms of a transfer fee but has been a heavy disappointment since due to injury struggles and poor performances.
You got the impression that close to the end of his spell with Fulham, Martin Jol’s time with the Cottagers was beginning to look very similar to his final days at Tottenham Hotspur. Anything that could go wrong did, results weren’t too good and it was only a matter of time before his dismissal. Admittedly at Tottenham Daniel Levy had been looking at appointing Juande Ramos for a while, I don’t think you could say the same about the Fulham hierarchy with Rene Meulensteen.
There have been flashes of good football and strong performances from Fulham this term, stretching back into the Jol era and now with Rene Meulensteen. Steve Sidwell and Scott Parker look to be a good midfield pairing albeit short of mobility and genius, if you could place a third man in that midfield alongside or just in front of them, a playmaker then you wouldn’t be far off a strong mid-table starting midfield. Going forward there has been issues with scoring, Darren Bent hasn’t shown anything like the form he has at previous clubs, last season’s events at Aston Villa where Bent was frozen out of the team but was still deemed too important to sell has clearly had a negative impact.
Dimitar Berbatov has looked at times disinterested prior to his January move to Monaco and the performances of Bryan Ruiz and Adel Taarabt have been inconsistent with very few moments of magic.
In fairness to the incoming Meulensteen the first thing he did was surround himself with coach’s who had experience in the Premier League in order to assist him. Ray Wilkins enjoyed an excellent spell as Assistant Manager to Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea with the general consensus that the decision to remove Wilkins from his post taken by owner Roman Abramovich was the beginning of the end of Ancelotti’s highly successful time with the London club. Alan Curbishley was also brought in as a technical director after tallying up years of experience as a Premier League manager with Charlton Athletic and more recently West Ham United where once again the circumstances that surrounded his exit were interesting to say the least.