Future imperfect at Fulham

Posted by Phil Mison

Christopher Lee/Getty ImagesDarren Bent and Fulham's on-field performance has been poor, but many of the club's issues still reside in the boardroom.

Our headline should perhaps be read with a question mark, as the following is a stab in the dark piece of supposition as to how the future landscape of football in West London might look five years hence. For now, rankings in the catchment area of West London where I grew up watching football show my club Fulham in the top flight, QPR are riding high in the Championship, Brentford lead League One.

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That pecking order, which has prevailed for more than a decade, is set to change.

During a torrid week for Premiership outfit Fulham, fans of the Whites have understandably taken to the bunker as the bombs have rained down. The overwhelming evidence says this is the season Fulham, now paying the price for two seasons of under-investment and inept management, are going down. At one end the side cannot find a goal, at the back the side have the worst goal difference across all four leagues.

At the training ground, an aggregation of footballing wisdom over time at the highest level from three individuals -- Rene Meulensteen, Alan Curbishley and Ray Wilkins -- can find no tactical plan or motivation to overcome Sheffield United over two matches and 210 minutes in the FA Cup. A side trounced 3-0 last Saturday by Crewe.

A squad bristling with full internationals and promising academy graduates stands in the headlights and naturally takes the full force of fan frustration. But behind the scenes the architects and decision-makers at board level must also be held to account.

It is too easy with the gift of hindsight to call the appointment of Martin Jol a massive mistake. When a manager arrives holding a CV stamped with time at Tottenham, Hamburg SV and Ajax Amsterdam, one expects a role at modest Fulham to be comfortably within his grasp.

However, Jol's predecessor, Mark Hughes, had sensed the club ethos inside one season and jumped ship in May 2011 -- despite lifting the club to eighth in the league and delivering Europa League qualification. Yes, we grumbled at Sparky's lack of charisma and flair, but what would Fulham fans give for those halcyon days now!

The attrition rate for managers in the Premiership shows how quick nervous chairmen can be to pull the trigger. Having starved Jol of funds, the board's real crime was clinging on too long to the floundering Dutchman. But that again comes with the benefit of hindsight. When Jol went at the end of November, Fulham weren't bottom. They are now.

With new owner Shahid Khan sitting in the United States with just one man reporting back, it is tempting to say where Fulham really lack critical mass during these dark days is at the board level. Once Mohammed Al-Fayed off-loaded the club last summer, two long-serving Fulham directors were dismissed from the board, and it was strongly rumoured to have been delivered in a two line e-mail. One of those, Mark Collins, was Al-Fayed's eyes and ears at the club for many years. Collins has not been back for a game since.

The bookies and every pundit have Fulham nailed on certainties to go down. Record signing Kostas Mitroglou has arrived in the UK unfit. The transfer spend last week has surely come a year too late. The club have landed some decent talent, but Meulensteen also missed out on three major signings for a left-back, a midfielder and a central defender. With Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea to come in the next month, the current demoralised first team have to turn things around immediately. It looks a massive ask.

For those Fulham followers resigned to the drop, but now projecting a chance to rebuild and bounce back stronger, a note of caution. Like any fan, I pray that happens and the club do a QPR. But if the side fragments, should the academy youngsters not fulfil their promise, if attendances drop off and the TV revenues dry up, the near future could look very scary indeed.

One thing relegation guarantees -- the long proposed expansion of the Riverside to a 30,000 seater stadium won't happen. And Fulham's biggest game of the season will be Brentford. Yes, Brentford, who announced in December planning permission to move to a spanking new stadium alongside the M4 flyover. "We are losing five million a year here at Griffin Park, this move gives us sustainability," noted Brentford FC Chairman Cliff Crown in December 2013 after the council chamber approved planning application for a new stadium.

More on the property front. Government plans a massive regeneration project of brownfield and wasteland sites on the old rail yards at Old Oak Common. Talk is this neglected area of West London will be rebuilt to Canary Wharf projections. And included in the blueprint is a wonderful 40,000 capacity stadium for Rangers, along with its own rail hub, no less. Of course, Rangers have been desperate to move away from ramshackle Loftus Road for years.

So there's your potential vision for football across West London in the years to come. Where will your "floating" fan choose to spend his money? On the evidence above, Fulham will have the smallest capacity of the three local sides. Are they likely to be offering the attraction of Premier League football?

It is not the mission of this blog to raise fears of Armageddon. Who can predict where we'll be in five years' time? I only suggest it is time to raise our heads from the navel gazing and consider the bigger picture. Relegation for a small club like Fulham carries enormous implications. Let us not forget the huge sums it cost Al-Fayed to get the club there in the first place.



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