Fulham Looking for Immediate Promotion


Welcome to The (Real) Championship, a weekly round-up of life in the second tier of English soccer, below the Premier League. This week, the focus will be on Fulham F.C., and their bid to get immediate re-promotion.

Fulham’s fall to relegation was quick and shocking. Not four years ago they were holding their own against an incredibly talented, albeit young, Atletico Madrid side, including Diego Forlan, Sergio Aguero and David de Gea. Forlan scored the opener in the 32nd minute, but Fulham came back five minutes later with a Simon Davies equalizer. They were able to hold Atleti to that for the rest of regular time, and the game went into extra time. Forlan won the game in the 116th minute, giving Atleti the inaugrual Europa League. However, Fulham could hold their heads high, having made an European Cup final.

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2013-14 Fulham was nothing like that side. They never got on their feet, picking up just 10 points from their first 13 games. This led the board to come to the decision to first Martin Jol, who had led them to 9th and 12th place finishes previously, on December 1st, replacing him with Rene Meulensteen. Meulensteen was disgracefully replaced by Felix Magath, and then fired four days later, after winning just 4 out of 17 games. Magath tried to rally Fulham and save the club, but even inspirtational wins against the likes of Norwich and Aston Villa in April couldn’t pull the club out of the bottom three. Fulham’s relegation was secured when they were hammered on the penultimate weekend by Stoke (we don’t like scoring) City 4-1.

The season was not without hope, however, all of it coming from the youth team. Fulham hired Huw Jennings as academy director in 2008, and since then, Jennings has turned the club’s academy and youth system completely around. Jennings had experience at Southampton, helping make Gareth Bale, Adam Lallana and Theo Walcott into stars. Now the Academy Director has made Fulham into one of the best youth systems in England, winning three straight U-18 Premier League title, from 2010-11 to 2012-13.

Huw Jennings has helped develop Fulham into one of the best youth systems in the U.K., which will be relied on heavily during the upcoming Champions promotion campaign.

They also made a run to the FA Youth Cup Final last season, winning the first leg 3-2, but losing the second leg 5-3, and thus losing the cup on aggregate (6-7) to Chelsea. However, Jennings wasn’t entirley disappointed. In a piece by the Independent, Jennings said that while he and other staff like Steve Wigley (U-18 coach) and Malcolm Ellis (head of talent ID and recriument) try to instill a winning mentality, they don’t stress winning at all costs. He says “There is a difference between a winning mentality and winning at all costs. You use the games to develop the winning mentality. You certainly don’t go into competitions only to win them.” Jennings views competitions like the FA Youth Cup and the U-18 Premier League as learning experiences for the players. It’s not a place to learn how to win, but rather how to react to losing and winning. “Both experiences are equally beneficial. It is when the players realise [sic] the consequences of winning and losing. They all aspire to do well, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all.”

Felix Magath will rely heavily on players that Jennings has brought up and taught, like French international Moussa Dembele (no relation) and Patrick Roberts, two young strikers who have shown much promise. Dembele bagged 23 goals in 17 games for the Fulham U-18 squad last season, while Roberts was a part of England’s successful U-17 European Championship team, leading the tournament in assists, and coming in joint second scorer. Both have already made their first team debuts for Fulham, and with established players like Steve Sidwell, Brede Hangeland and Richardson leaving this summer, Magath will need scorers.

He has moved already, bringing in Leeds United striker Ross McCormack. McCormack bagged 29 goals for Leeds last season, and his goalscoring abilities will be crucial to Fulham’s promotion bid. With Brian Ruiz, coming off an amazing World Cup with Costa Rica, Rodellaga, a proven scorer, and young players like Roberts and Dembele also in the striking force, Fulham will have no shortage of goalscoring options. Several defenders have left, including Johnny Heitinga and Kieran Richardson, but new signings Nikolay Bodurov, Kay Voser and Konstantinos Stafylidis should do the trick in the Championship.

Magath will still have a job to do, if he is gonna get Fulham back to the Premier League on the first time of asking; but Fulham’s strong youth system, as well as smart summer signings, have made the job easier for the German. Fulham has a great chance to make it back to the top flight of English football this season.