Parker insists Fulham have learnt from their disastrous £100m spree
Promoted club will avoid a repeat of 2018 transfer ‘frenzy’ Manager says he is trying to build foundations for future
Had the events of Tuesday’s Championship play-off final been written in a Hollywood script, they might have been dismissed as too much of a cliche.
A wonderful free-kick from all of 40 yards, deep into extra time, inspired by a piece of managerial genius on the touchline – all it was missing was a stirring soundtrack, some slow-motion footage and a narrator’s voice telling the viewers: “And then coach Parker had a plan.”
Scott Parker’s cunning, in spotting the gap at Brentford’s near post, and Joe Bryan’s technical ability to find that gap, made for one of the most extraordinary goals of the season. For Fulham, it was the difference between £135million and another season in the Championship. It was fitting that, two years on from the madness of transfer deadline day of summer 2018, it was Bryan who emerged as the hero.
The left-back is the last man standing from that August splurge, when five players walked through the door as the transfer window clock ticked down to zero. Fulham spent more than £100million on 12 new players, only to look considerably worse for it.
This time, it will be different. “You can’t build teams with drastic changes and drastic swings of players,” Parker said after the victory at Wembley. “We are going to need additions, but no drastic changes. We will learn from those mistakes.
“What we are trying to build here are some core foundations. Sometimes those core foundations get you far in life. You can have as much talent as you want, but if you are not building your football club on concrete and you are building it on sand, then in the end it will be a roller-coaster ride. I hope we can grow gradually.”
For those players who experienced the torment of relegation in 2018-19, having lived through the sackings of Slavisa Jokanovic and Claudio Ranieri, a second play-off victory in three seasons provides them with a chance to heal some scars.
Parker spoke of “gaping wounds”, saying his team had been mentally broken by the pain of their Premier League experience. “We have tried to change the mentality,” he said.
As well as Bryan, the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Tom Cairney, Aboubakar Kamara, Denis Odoi and Tim Ream all have another shot at the top flight. Relegation will, of course, be a possibility again, but they will at least hope to enjoy the journey this time. “There was never a buzz around the place,” Cairney said. “It was a bad season.”
Cairney, as club captain, will not criticise the owners and executives too strongly for their summer spree of 2018. But it does not need spelling out that most of those moves did not work for the team, with Jean Michael Seri (£27million) and Andre Zambo Anguissa (£23 million) obvious disappointments.
“To be fair, when you get to the Premier League you have to bring in Premier League quality players,” Cairney said. “That is what the club tried to do that summer. You have to give the owners credit for that. They spent the money straight away. They tried to take us to the next level, but it did not work out. We lost the team spirit in the dressing room a bit too soon. And that team spirit is what can get you results on some days. Even this time we are going to have to bring in some players. You cannot keep the same team.”
Harrison Reed, who has been so impressive on loan from Southampton this season, could be Fulham’s first signing of the summer. The club are also leading candidates to re-sign Ryan Sessegnon on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, although Jose Mourinho’s side are adamant he will be going nowhere.
It all makes for a welcome challenge, given how difficult it might have been for Fulham had they failed to win promotion. And for Parker, now at the end of his first full season as a head coach, it will be an even more intensive test of his managerial abilities.
The former England midfielder has received some criticism from Fulham fans this season, with occasional questions asked of his tactical decisions and the performances of certain key players under his watch. Cairney, though, has seen first-hand how hard it was for Parker to lift the club following their relegation. His faith in Parker is obvious.
“If you take a step back and look at what he has done, it has been tremendous,” Cairney said. “He got the players around him and created a spirit. We had one of the strongest squads in the Championship and that can be a negative because it put him under so much pressure.
“A lot of managers have had that, but not done as well as he has. Huddersfield and Stoke have gone down and not managed to come back up, as well as some other teams. He has done that.
“He is a young manager, a British manager. In the same age group as people like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Sol Campbell. He has the intelligence and the tactical skill. We need to push managers like that. Obviously at Fulham we don’t want to lose him – but I think he will go on to one of the top jobs.”
Beat Aston Villa 1-0 £100m
Jean Michael Seri (£27m), Andre Zambo Anguissa (£22m)
A disastrous season. Too many of their signings struggled to make an impact and they fired two managers by March.
Beat Reading on penalties after 0-0 draw £40m Steve Mounie (£11m), Aaron Mooy (£8m, left)
Beat Sheffield Wednesday 1-0
Marshall (£4m) £19m Ryan Mason (£14m), David
A strange season which started with manager Steve Bruce leaving the club. Neither Mike Phelan nor Marco Silva could keep them up.
Beat Middlesbrough 2-0 £13m Robbie Brady (£9m), Graham Dorrans (£4m)
Beat Derby County 2-1 £130m Wesley (£22m), Tyrone Mings (£20m) 17th Dean Smith’s side escaped relegation by a single point, largely thanks to the work of captain Jack Grealish (right).
A great achievement by David Wagner to keep Huddersfield up despite the obvious lack of quality in their team.