Premier League preview – Fulham

Last season:

Premier League: 12th

FA Cup: Fourth round

League Cup: Second Round

It has been a momentous summer off the pitch for Fulham. After 16 years as the head honcho on the banks of the Thames, the charismatic, unique Mohamed Al Fayed sold the club to American billionaire Shahid Khan.

It seems impossible to imagine a match taking place at Craven Cottage without the 84-year-old Egyptian waving a Fulham club scarf to the supporters in the stands but as illustrated by Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement at Manchester United, the club Al Fayed promised to emulate upon his arrival in west London back in 1997, all things do come to an end as the Cottagers now prepare to begin their maiden season under Khan’s stewardship.

However, it has also been a period of flux on the pitch. After a mish-mash of a 2012/13 season which saw Fulham often flirt with a concerted push for a top-half finish largely thanks to the efforts of the brilliant Dimitar Berbatov, they eventually finished 12th and only secured their Premier League status in the final few weeks of the season.

A feeling of lethargy often seemed to reside at Craven Cottage as both the team and the manager Martin Jol seemed unable to recover from the double body-blow of the departures Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey. Jol often seemed disinterested and non-committal on his future, even going as far as to flirt with vacant managerial positions in the Bundesliga.

Indeed, the Dutchman was often quick to question the club’s ambition to push on and the lack of funds available appeared to be demonstrated by the spate of short-term free transfers and loan signings in January.

However, at the dawn of the new campaign, Jol remains the club’s manager and there is a feeling that Fulham have actually done some very decent transfer business so far this summer.

Stalwarts Mark Schwarzer, Chris Baird and Simon Davies, as well as Mahamadou Diarra and Mladen Petric have been allowed to depart, though only the veteran Australian goalkeeper represents a significant loss.

However, it is the arrivals that have sparked optimism. The majority of the club’s business was conducted early and importantly, appears to be strategically dealing with the problem positions of goalkeeper, central defence and central midfield.

Dutch international Maarten Stekelenburg has plenty of pedigree and represents an upgrade on Schwarzer, while in Fernando Amorebieta, a free transfer from Athletic Bilbao, the Cottagers may finally have located a central defensive partner for skipper Brede Hangeland.

In midfield, Derek Boateng finally arrived from Dnipro after months of speculation and the Ghanaian should provide the muscle Fulham often lacked last season while Adel Taarabt, who was brought to England at Tottenham by Martin Jol, could prove an inspired loan signing, particularly if he can establish a connection with Berbatov, whose talents up front will continue to win some games single-handed.

Weaknesses do remain, particularly at full-back and across the squad as a whole depth-wise, while there are also questions over the team’s mentality when the chips are down. However, this season could just represent a very comfortable one for all involved at Craven Cottage.

Martin Jol

Manager – Martin Jol: It is a slight surprise that the Dutchman is still at Fulham after looking almost certain to leave at various points last season. However, if he has re-found the infectious passion that endears him so much to supporters, then his ability to get the best out of the likes of Berbatov and Taarabt could just bode well for the campaign ahead.

Key signing – Fernando Amorebieta: Brede Hangeland will remain the side’s defensive mainstay but Venezuela international Amorebieta could finally become the Norwegian’s first consistent partner since age began to take its toll on Aaron Hughes. A member of the Athletic Bilbao side that reached the Europa League final in 2012, he was linked with a move to Arsenal last January.

Key sale – Mark Schwarzer: The departure of the long-serving Australian represented another move away from the Roy Hodgson era. Though last season was not his best for the club, there will still be sadness at Schwarzer’s move to West London rivals Chelsea. However, Fulham do seem to have reacted well to bring in Maarten Stekelenburg as his replacement.

Keep an eye out for – The Michael Jackson statue: The silver statue of the late King of Pop has been a cause of laughter and derision from both Fulham and football supporters across the land. Upon selling the club, Mohamed Al Fayed promised that the statue of his great friend would still remain. Will new owner Shahid Khan agree?

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