A running joke in footballing circles recently is the perpetual swapping of Norwich and Fulham in the Premier League. Each time one of those clubs comes up, they go down the very next season. The difference in quality between the Championship and the Premier League might not seem like much, but when it comes to the top, the margins between good and bad are so tight.
Fulham have been promoted and relegated consecutively for the past number of seasons, where it seems they’ve tried everything to stay up. With them having confirmed promotion in April, let’s look back on why they can’t stay in the Premier League.
Too good for the Championship, not good enough for the Premier League
This seems like an old proverb that constantly proves itself to be true. Watford, who were promoted last season, were tipped in the relegation odds to go down at the beginning of the season. And alas, they find themselves going back down to the Championship next season, with Leeds and Burnley the favourites to join them and Norwich in the final spot.
Fulham always appears to suffer a similar fate. They have dominant Championship campaigns and then don’t know how to adjust their style of play to the Premier League. Obviously, being the best team in a lower league, you’ll have a significant amount of the ball and be able to dictate games easier. However, they won’t be afforded that luxury when they face more skilled opposition in the Premier League.
Fulham had a great season in the Championship, where they accumulated 90 points with a massive 63 league-leading goal difference. A lot of their goals came from the mercurial Aleksandar Mitrovic, who scored a record 43 goals in 44 games. However, although he had a stellar year, he seems to personify the ‘too good for the Championship, not good enough for the Premier League’ expression.
Fulham appears to be one of the richer clubs promoted to the Premier League. Being located in London comes with many opportunities to generate revenue and winning the Championship also comes with a significant payday. However, these funds weren’t always used wisely.
When they were promoted to the Premier League for the 2018/19 season, they spent a staggering €116.50m, only to be relegated. They tried a different tactic for the 2020/21 season, where they spent €37.25m, only to suffer the same fate. Obviously, when you come into a more difficult league, you need to bring in talented players who can add an extra layer to the squad; however, just spending money without proper recruitment and scouting will only lead to failure.
Building on their level
Fulham needs a better plan than just spending money on new players. They need a philosophy that works for their level when they get promoted—having precise gameplay that suits the ability of their players in comparison to the rest of the league. In the Championship, they may be able to play expansive football, but when they get promoted to need to focus on solidity and then build their attacking play from a strong foundation.
Fulham is a great club with fantastic support. The last few years may have been turbulent, but they have the ability to become a Premier League mainstay.