Fulham season review – Underwhelming campaign means major changes afoot

Premier League – 12th

FA Cup – Fourth Round

League Cup – Second Round

This has been a season of extremely mixed emotions for anyone connected with Fulham, from a bright start to what seemed like an interminable mid-season lull. Then came a recovery that all-but-secured their Premier League for another season before a final six games or so that eventually saw the Cottagers end with a whimper, though their final-day 3-0 defeat of Swansea at least secured Martin Jol’s side a respectable 12th place.

It began so wonderfully at Craven Cottage as Norwich were demolished by a resounding 5-0 scoreline on the opening day, with Mousa Dembele, Bryan Ruiz and Mladen Petric at the heart of a superb team display. There was even talk that Clint Dempsey could be tempted into remaining at the club. A 3-2 defeat at Manchester United followed in the next game but there was genuine hope that this season Fulham could seriously challenge the upper echelons of the Premier League.

That all changed however in the last week of the transfer window when Dembele and Dempsey were both sold to Tottenham and effectively, the heart was ripped out of this Fulham team.

However, from the depths of that darkness, Jol managed to secure the coup signing of Dimitar Berbatov from Manchester United. Described upon arrival as the best player to ever grace the club, the Bulgarian scored twice on his full debut against West Brom and set the tone for a wonderful season for the 32-year-old.

More goals followed as Berbatov racked up 15 for the season and often seemed to carry Fulham alone on his shoulders, particularly during the winter months when the team took only two wins from 15 league matches, a run of form that at one point threatened their top flight status.

During those troubled months, the underlying problems within the squad appeared to come home to roost. This was a squad lacking desperately in pace, which made the decision to send Alexander Kacanicklic on loan to Burnley all the more puzzling. It was also an ageing team, none more so than in defence where Brede Hangeland, who would eventually sign an extension to his contract, endured by far his poorest season in some time while time looks to have finally caught up with nominal partner Aaron Hughes. Though at least in Sascha Riether, Fulham have an excellent option at right-back.

The midfield also appeared to lack variety, particularly after the departures of Dembele and Dempsey and the raft of January loan signings such as Emmanuel Frimpong and Urby Emanuelson did little to change that.

The Cottagers did eventually pick up some form, led inevitably by the class of Berbatov, to move themselves away from relegation but even the respectability of a 12th-place finish must not mask the major deficiencies that remain.

Major surgery is needed to this squad if it is to avoid another listless season in 2013/14 and at least with the permanent signings of Riether, Derek Boateng and Fernando Amorebieta in the week since the season has finished, that fact does not seem to have been lost on the manager.

Manager – Martin Jol: A difficult season for the Dutchman who at times has looked almost bored and lacking in both inspiration and ideas as his team struggled to put results together. The former Tottenham boss has committed his future to the club but whispers remain that he could be set to move back to the continent in the summer.

Player of the season – Dimitar Berbatov: Riether may have been voted as the players’ player of the season but without Berbatov, Fulham simply would not still be playing in the Premier League next season. At times it is almost astonishing to see a player of his quality playing in the white of Fulham and not the reds of a Manchester United or Arsenal.

Turning point – The sales of Mousa Dembele and Clint Dempsey: While the sale of Dempsey was rather expected, Dembele’s departure took Fulham and Jol by complete surprise. The Belgian had started the season in imperious form and the Cottagers looked set to do well with him at their midfield base. His move to Tottenham in the last week of the summer transfer window left Fulham’s midfield lacking in quality, drive and pace.

Any other business: Fulham’s use of the free transfer and loan markets has been extensive in recent seasons, with Mahamadou Diarra and Giorgos Karagounis, as well as the likes of Riether, Frimpong, Emanuelson and Stansilav Manolev all being brought in via those methods. However, it is surely time for the club to seek more permanent solutions. At times this season the squad has looked rather lopsided and even lacking in commitment, a problem when relying too heavily on the temporary markets.

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