I can still remember the silence that engulfed Wembley in the milliseconds before Tom Cairney’s shot hit the back of the net.
Play-off finals are grim games- fraught with nerves and lurking heartbreak- but when your team win, as Fulham did last May, it’s all worth it. It doesn’t hurt when John Terry is the losing captain.
Conversation quickly turned to thoughts of Tim Ream pocketing Sergio Aguero and Aboubakar Kamara making a mockery of Virgil van Dijk in The World’s Best League™.
Nine months on, the only mockery is Fulham’s Premier League return. You spend four seasons slugging it out in the Wild West lottery that is the Championship only to make a complete clusterfuck of promotion.
Ignore the fact that Fulham have picked up six more points than Huddersfield; The Whites are running away with the race to be the league’s most shambolic outfit.
In fact- and maybe I’m biased- Fulham’s current campaign is a prime candidate for the most shambolic season in Premier League history.
Derby’s 2007/08 season is up there, although it could be explained by the lack of major investment, while QPR’s 2012/13 campaign under Harry Redknapp and Mark Hughes takes some beating. But Fulham’s utter ineptitude at every turn pips them both.
Much was made of Fulham becoming the first promoted side to spend more than £100million in the transfer market prior to the season getting underway.
What did Fulham get for all that money? Three first-choice goalkeepers, for a start. Fulham went out and signed Fabri from Besiktas and Sergio Rico from Sevilla to provide competition for Marcus Bettinelli. Answers on a postcard for that one.
Ten games into the season, all three had been used and Fulham still didn’t have a clean sheet to their name.
The blame for Fulham’s leaky defence can’t be placed solely on the shoulders of the goalkeepers. Despite the lavish summer outlay, Fulham came into the season with a worse defence than the one that finished the Championship campaign.
Ryan Fredericks wasn’t replaced, meaning Cyrus Christie was asked to step up to Premier League level for the first time, while Matt Target was replaced by Joe Bryan, another player lacking in top-flight experience.
Alfie Mawson, a £20mil arrival from Swansea, managed to get through Fulham’s infamously tight medical procedure but has since been limited to 12 Premier League starts because of injury.
Then there’s Maxime Le Marchand. It takes roughly 30 seconds of watching the Frenchman to appreciate that he’s more League One than Ligue 1. Yet Fulham took him from Nice to babysit Jean Michael Seri: the showpiece summer arrival. Not only that, he regularly finds himself starting.
Fulham broke their transfer record on Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa as part of a frantic deadline day in which five players arrived.
However the 23-year-old, whom Fulham paid Marseille £30m to sign, was quickly undone by being asked to play as the sole holding midfielder.
It transpired he’d only played as part of a midfield pair during his career- a fact that seemed to escape the attention of Fulham’s scouting department. He’s made seven league starts this season, the last of which saw him get sent off at Old Trafford.
The only success stories from the summer transfer window are Aleksandar Mitrovic, Calum Chambers and, when he fancies it, Seri. Andre Schurrle has magnificent technique but lacks the battle to be effective at the wrong end of the table.
Having made a complete hash of the first four months of the season, including turning their back on the fluid attacking style Jokanovic worked so hard to implement in favour of the rigid defensiveness of Claudio Ranieri, Fulham’s top brass were presented with a chance to paper over some of the cracks in January.
Instead, a 32-year-old Ryan Babel, Lazar Markovic- who last played Premier League football in May 2016- and an injured Havard Nordtveit arrived. You started to get the impression a Brentford or QPR fan was in charge of transfer dealings.
The reality is equally baffling. Tony Khan, a man with zero experience of working in football, has been Fulham’s director of football since 2017. He also happens to be the owner’s son. His data-driven approach won’t any have scouts tossing and turning at night.
The only bright spark under Ranieri was the 4-2 win against Brighton last month. However that was driven by Scott Parker essentially telling the players to ignore Ranieri and go back to the passing style they know best at half-time.
Fulham have no identity on the pitch now. Ryan Sessegnon- a Fulham fan as well as one of the brightest talents in English football- finds himself benched by Ranieri in favour of ageing journeymen. Cairney, a fans’ favourite who started the season as captain, is played out of position, if at all.
The fans wouldn’t mind going down with a fight, but Fulham under Ranieri couldn’t give the Michael Jackson statue that used to stand outside Craven Cottage a rumble.
Maybe this is what we get for using clappers.
READ MORE FROM THE WORLD OF DREAM TEAM:
- From Lionel Messi’s natural heir to Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow
- Aaron Wan-Bissaka is the best tackler in Europe and the best right-back in the Premier League
- Jadon Sancho proves he’s a glitch in the matrix again with spellbinding Dortmund display