Well, that happened.
If you had asked me in August if I would take a likely 43 or 44 points and a comfortable mid-table finish, I probably would have grasped it with both hands. Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembele were as good as gone and Dimitar Berbatov had yet to darken the door at Craven Cottage leaving many of us Fulham fans wondering where the goals would come from and who would become the face of the club.
Fast forward nine months and I have to admit, I'm not just pining away for the 2010 Europa League run, I'm finding myself even a little misty eyed for the 2008 Great Escape and am just a touch envious of Aston Villa and Wigan supporters. Well, maybe not Wigan supporters, but I think you know what I mean.
This Fulham vintage has given me occasion to cheer in fits and starts, but mostly my passion has been as languid and blase as Berbatov's dalliances in the final third of the field. I'm satisfied that Fulham have avoided a relegation scrap, but I am inclined to believe said avoidance has had as much to do with the utter ineptitude of sides like Reading and QPR as it has had to do with the Cottagers attacking verve and defensive mettle.
The immediate question "Will we survive?", has been underwhelmingly answered in the affirmative, but I'll take it. No long suffering Fulham fan is silly enough to take Premier League safety for granted. However, now that the club has survived to kick off another campaign come August, there are some serious and uncomfortable questions that need to be addressed.
From where I sit, Fulham need another striker; an out and out wing player with pace; a creative box to box midfielder; a center back; a left back; possibly a right back if Riether's deal isn't made permanent; and a goalkeeper. That's one hell of a shopping list especially when you consider that I believe these hypothetical players are the sorts of players who need to be of first XI caliber from the beginning of the season.
I'm operating under no illusion that the Chairman will suddenly find his pockets to be much, much deeper than they traditionally have been, but even if only two or three of these needs are addressed, the club is looking at an expensive summer of potentially historic proportions.
It is with these hurdles looming on the horizon that rumors have started circulating regarding the futures of Messrs. Jol and Berbatov. If there is any fire behind these alarm bells, I would suggest that it's a fire that's been set by Jol and possibly Berbatov themselves. What better bargaining chip than the threat of an exodus?
I tend to agree with Kristian Balkin that Jol and Berbatov are likely not going anywhere, but it's a dangerous gambit to play against an iron-willed chairman and if it doesn't work, I could wind up getting exactly what this season has left me wishing for, an epic relegation scrap.