After Fulham’s latest attempt to escape Premier League relegation had run its unfulfilling course, Scott Parker identified the trend that has defined their last four years. “The rollercoaster and the highs and lows [are] not something you want,” he said. “We need to try and get off this rollercoaster that we’re on. We need to break that cycle.”
Parker will not be around to have a go, having decamped to their likely Championship promotion rivals Bournemouth. If Fulham, favourites for the title, are successful this time then it will be their fifth consecutive yo-yoing between the top two divisions and it is not hard to imagine a numbing effect taking hold. Football fans were not conditioned to treat the imposters of success and failure equally.
On the face of things it was a surprise, then, that they chose Marco Silva to drive a more sustainable path forward. Silva forged a big early reputation during a spirited, if doomed, rearguard action with Hull four years ago, before flickering in subsequent spells with Watford and Everton, though only once completing a full season. Perhaps the fact club and manager both need to set down roots will be mutually beneficial.
Silva wants to distance himself from any suggestion he is a fly-by-night. “If you ask me whether it’s a good opportunity to show myself as a manager in a longer period, I agree with you,” he said on Friday. “If you ask me if I didn’t show what I can do as a manager in the past I disagree with you totally, because you can have five months in one football club and show you have quality as well. I think in all of them we had an impact straightaway, developed players, played football, had very good progress.”
Fulham certainly require a strong start and Silva, yet to manage a game in the second tier, might have picked an easier opening assignment than Sunday lunchtime’s visit of Neil Warnock and Middlesbrough. Outwardly their transfer business has been encouraging: nobody has been sold and the £12m signing of Harry Wilson means Fulham acquire someone else who could do with a long-term home. Paulo Gazzaniga also provides seasoned competition in goal. But, as Silva pointed out, the core of the side that fell short last time has left through the back door.
“It’s not true that we kept all the squad,” he said. Six high-profile loanees have departed: Alphonse Areola, Joachim Andersen, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ademola Lookman, Josh Maja and Ola Aina. Given they made 155 top-flight starts between them last season it is a sizeable gap to fill; although packing the ranks with short-term signings meant Fulham were not, as in previous seasons, lumbered with a fresh raft of high earners upon demotion, it was hardly a monument to sound squad building.
All the same, Silva can call upon eight players who went down with Fulham in 2018-19 and took them back up the following year. Aleksandar Mitrovic may have made minimal impact on last season’s Premier League but scored 26 Championship goals last time and will surely be potent again if no big offers are forthcoming. Tom Cairney, Joe Bryan, Neeskens Kebano and Alfie Mawson are among others still around; so, improbably, is Jean Michaël Seri. Fulham’s rapid-fire changes in status have led to their loaning players out, or simply jettisoning them, as sharply as they have shipped them in; the revolving door has been hard to keep pace with but it means Silva is, in theory at least, able to fall back on a rump of individuals who have succeeded before.
It is an odd, if richly talented, mix and Silva does not have long to wheel and deal his way to a team in his own image. He can take heart that the 18-year-old Fabio Carvalho is a sumptuously talented forward who has already broken his goalscoring duck at top-flight level. Carvalho should be heavily involved over the coming months, having shone further during an outstanding pre-season, and Fulham should benefit from his freshness.
Silva finds himself balancing the need to correct Fulham’s undulations with the imperative that stares him in the face. “If you ask me what I would like to do straightaway it is to get the ‘up’ [of the rollercoaster] again,” he said. “In the future we will have time to talk about how will stop this ‘up and down, up and down’ every time. But it’s not a question for the moment: we want to go up, it’ll be tough and all our focus is on this competition.”
On paper Silva should be able to navigate through the consequences of half a decade’s flux and give Fulham their latest day in the sun, even if the glow may be dimming. “We have the chance to create, to build and to finalise something in terms of a project,” he said. “I always want as a manager to build something important.” It is time for both parties to show they can achieve it.