Fulham supporters are probably in a very dark emotional place this evening, and that’s an understandable response to what looks increasingly to be a lost cause. Giving up on seasons and embracing relegation benefits nobody, but the chances are that Fulham will be playing Championship football next season.
Relegation is a horrible scenario, and there are plenty of ex-Premier League teams floating about the football league who serve as a caveat as to what can happen post-demotion, but there’s every reason to believe that Fulham are a side who possess the infrastructure to remain even-keeled and who could theoretically bounce straight back up.
It’s not a foregone conclusion yet, but as a worst-case scenario relegation really isn’t as terrifying for this club as it might seem.
The most obvious point first: relatively speaking, Fulham are well-managed. Whilst the club did spend heavily on Kostas Mitroglou in the January transfer-window, they have not gambled their own sustainability on staying in the Premier League. In Championship terms, the wage bill is high, but this isn’t a QPR situation and the club is not going to be at the mercy of huge earners who refuse to let-go of generous contracts.
The temporary loss of television revenue is a problem for any relegated club, but Fulham have some very substantial assets which could be traded away to both compensate their balance sheet and re-equip the squad for promotion. Mitroglou would certainly depart, Pajtim Kasami would interest plenty of buyers, and Ashkan Dejagah and Alex Kacaniklic each hold a certain amount of value.
Because so much emphasis has been placed on the age of the Fulham playing squad, very little attention is paid to the club’s youth development system and to the players who are emerging from it. Whilst not Premier League-ready right now or useful in the current fight against relegation, teenagers like Muamer Tankovic, Cauley Woodrow, Lasse Vigen Christensen, and Moussa Dembele represent a healthy future, and that’s in addition to Dan Burn, Chris David, and Matthew Briggs, who are all in their early twenties. That group isn’t enough on its own to win promotion, but the resources - as mentioned - would exist to supplement that developing talent with experience and nous. In addition to which, there are probably half-a-dozen other youngsters up Huw Jennings’ sleeve that nobody is yet aware of - he has a good reputation for a reason.
When you look at the sides who have gone down, it’s very easy to identify the factors which have prevented them from returning: Blackburn (institutional chaos), Portsmouth (financial blackhole), Bolton (saddled by debt), Blackpool (under-talented squad), Wolves (failure to replace key personnel/debt/poor management decisions). There are more, obviously, but Fulham don’t really have any of those frailties or dysfunctions, and so - disappointing as it would be - relegation wouldn’t be the disaster it has been for those clubs mentioned.
There’s a difference between having a bad season and enduring a bad era, and the recognition that Fulham are embroiled in the former rather than the latter should provide both context to the present and hope for the future.