Seemingly within a heartbeat, the once respected Fulham Football Club has plunged to new depths. Relegation from the hallowed ground of the Premier League was hard to take, but many expected the team to bounce back quickly. To be embroiled in a relegation battle in the Championship was an idea no one dared entertain. However, that is the predicament we find ourselves in now. But what happened to propel a once great side into such abysmal twist of fortune? The turning point of the summer of 2012 provides a crucial insight to the decline of Fulham Football Club.
The 2012 transfer window was a decisive moment in the future of Fulham. It was the end of Martin Jol's first year in charge after Mark Hughes' acrimonious departure, and results were encouraging. We had come off one of the best seasons in recent memory (bar the Europe League run) in which we had done the league double over Liverpool and Queens Park Rangers, beaten Arsenal, drew Chelsea twice, and finished an impressive 9th. Clint Dempsey was our breakout star, having scored 23 goals in all competitions in a superb season from the American. Coupled with the impressive performances of Moussa Dembele and Danny Murphy in midfield, Brede Hangeland at the back, and Pavel Pogrebnyak up front, Fulham appeared to be headed on a brilliantly positive route.
However, we now know that much was going on behind the scenes. Mohamed Al-Fayed, the club's longtime owner, was priming to sell the club that he had purchased the club in 1997, when Fulham was in the third division of English football. He made a bold statement that we would be promoted to the Premier League in five years, and his dream came true. With Al-Fayed's large financial backing, we were promoted to the Premier League in 2001. But after over a decade and a half of ownership, Al-Fayed was ready to sell. A shrewd businessman, the Egyptian realized he didn't need to invest heavily in his last couple of years, as he wanted to make as much money as possible. Unfortunately, in the summer of 2012 many questions needed to answered.
In the end, we failed to address any of the stark issues that presented themselves. Danny Murphy, club captain and FFC legend, left that summer for new pastures at his old age. Murphy had been a commanding presence in midfield and his passing range and tenacity were unmatched. Yet we needed to find a replacement to fill the void. Many saw the Belgian Moussa Dembele as the answer, as he was now deployed as a deep-lying central midfielder. But after Dembele's impressive performances (notably his man of the match display against Manchester United in late August) he was sold to Tottenham on deadline day for 15 million pounds. Another player who had attracted interest was our leading scorer, Clint Dempsey. Dempsey unprofessionally sat out the first two matches of the new season attempting to force a move. He had his wishes granted on deadline day with a transfer to Tottenham, joining Dembele. It was a devastating blow, as some of Fulham's most consistent and exciting players over the past couple seasons had departed. New recruits were needed.
Yet Al-Fayed did little but paper over the cracks. Dimitar Berbatov was brought in to much fanfare and produced a stellar first season. But the fact of the matter was that he was aging fast, and was never a long-term goal scoring solution. As soon as the going got tough in our relegation campaign, he was shipped off to the luxuries of Monaco. Our replacements to the central midfielder were not addressed either, with Karagounis and Diarra being brought in. Both were in their mid to late thirties; coupled with an aging defense, a recipe for disaster.
The repercussions of sticking with an aged squad were vast. Fulham had previously invested in young players such as Pajtim Kasami, Kerim Frei, Chris David, and Matthew Briggs. These were all exciting talents who had the potential to impress on the biggest stage. Yet the management favored experience over youth, alienating our young prospects with loan moves and time on the bench. A more accepting strategy of our youthful players could have saved the club from relegation. Instead, every one of the aforementioned players have now left the club.
While Fulham brought in short term solutions, many other clubs were doing good business. Newly promoted Southampton had bought the creative midfielder Steven Davis from Rangers on a free, lethal finisher Jay Rodriguez from Burnley, and pacy fullback Nathaniel Clyne from Crystal Palace. West Ham also received a powerful central midfielder, Mohamed Diame, on a free from Wigan. Why weren't Fulham pursuing these types of players? Within a year, Southampton had attracted the likes of Victor Wanyama, Dejan Lovren, and Pablo Osvaldo. If Fulham had followed Southampton's lead with a smart, ambitious transfer strategy, we might be the ones sitting in the top 7 of the Premier League today.
Fulham ended up finishing a disappointing twelfth in 2013, ending the season on a run of one win out of eight -- only seven points above the drop zone. In July 2013 Mohamed Al Fayed sold the club to new owner Shahid Khan, and things went downhill from there. A smattering of experienced signings gave Fulham one of the oldest teams in the Premier League, and a horrible season culminated in relegation under madman Felix Magath.
Our turbulent past couple of seasons can all be linked back to the summer of 2012. It marked a turning point in our club's history, a fork in the road. We either could have strengthened significantly as was needed and become an established top half Premier League side, or we could have papered over the cracks and hoped for the best. Disastrously, we chose the second option, and we paid the price with relegation and struggles in the Championship. If only Mohamed Al-Fayed had chosen to fork out the cash in 2012. It all could have been oh so different.