Roy Hodgson will prove a difficult act for new Fulham manager Mark Hughes to follow.
Manager: Mark Hughes
Position last season: 12th
Transfers in: Jonathan Greening (West Brom, free), Philippe Senderos (Arsenal, free)
Transfers out: Wayne Brown (Bristol Rovers, free), Chris Buchtmann (Cologne, undisclosed), Erik Nevland (Viking, free), Chris Smalling (Manchester United, £10m).
There are two ways to judge Fulham’s Premier League campaign last season. The first is to glance solely at the table: to finish 12th with 46 points is respectable for a club of their budget, and the London side never looked in danger of being relegated.
However, Fulham reached their first ever European final in May – only their second ever major final after the FA Cup Final in 1975. They progressed to the showpiece event of the UEFA Europa League after beginning their European adventure from the third qualifying round in late July. Ten months later they almost won it.
Looking at Fulham’s Premier League total with this in mind is more enlightening: bigger clubs than the Cottagers have failed to juggle a European campaign with their domestic goals throughout a season. Fulham may have finished seventh the season beforehand, but their 53 points total was only seven more than they managed last season.
Given that Roy Hodgson miraculously staved off relegation for Fulham on the last day of the 2007/2008 season, it is clear that the club improved each year under his command. Unfortunately for Fulham, the job offer from Liverpool proved too tempting to resist.
Mark Hughes will struggle to improve on Hodgson’s record in an increasingly competitive Barclays Premier League, but he is a shrewd appointment by owner Mohamed Al-Fayed nonetheless.
The former Wales, Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City boss is a good coach, but was perhaps a little out of his depth with the huge amounts of money thrown his way at Eastlands. While a talented player, £17m for Roque Santa Cruz is not exactly good business practice.
However, aside from results at Manchester United and Tottenham, Manchester City were unbeaten under Hughes – one of the few managers to be sacked for too many draws.
Fulham fans will be more heartened by Hughes’ work with Wales and Blackburn. In both of these jobs he got the best out of the players he had, and at Blackburn he probably had a similar budget to that which he will receive at Fulham.
Hughes will find a better squad in West London than he had at Blackburn. Mark Schwarzer, Brede Hangeland, Danny Murphy, Simon Davies, Zoltan Gera and Bobby Zamora are all excellent players worthy of a place in most Premier League selections – and Zamora certainly did not look out of place last night for England.
Furthermore, aside from overpaying for players at Manchester City he has always shown quite a good transfer acumen. Hughes was after all the man who got David Bentley’s career on track, and if he can unearth similar bargains at Fulham they will do just fine.
Given the amount of money that has been invested by other teams, perhaps Fulham fans should not expect to better last season’s Premier League finish of 12th. Even the likes of Stoke City have splashed out a cool £8m on Kenwyne Jones.
On the kind of budget Hughes has been given, for Fulham to maintain their Premier League status ought to be considered satisfactory. Otherwise, Al-Fayed might have to get out his chequebook just to keep up.