Slaviša Jokanović has overseen a turn around at Fulham that borders on miraculous. He took over during the 2015/16 season following a poor start to the season by his predecessor, Kit Symons, and led the club to a 20th place finish – 11 points above the relegation zone. In his second season, he got them to the play-offs and then went one better last season by gaining promotion into the Premier League.
Unfortunately for Fulham fans, they had to do this the hard way. They missed out on automatic promotion on the final day of the season and had to go through the play-offs again. In seasons gone by, the third-place team has often gone on to miss-out on gaining top-flight status — to buck this trend is a testament to the mental strength of their team.
Their four-year absence from the Premier League has now come to an end and, with Jokanović at the helm, there is optimism that they can make an impact on the biggest stage in the world and will finish their maiden campaign in a respectable league position.
Smart Summer Signings
The biggest dilemma that clubs face when they are promoted is how many players to sign. Striking a balance between strengthening your squad and maintaining togetherness is vital to avoid alienating existing players. This is a tough balancing act and getting it wrong can lead to being relegated straight away, undoing all the hard work that it took to get that far.
Fulham’s transfer business so far has been exemplary. They have pulled off arguably the coup of the summer by signing Chelsea and Barcelona target, Jean Michaël Seri, from Nice. His range of passing and vision from midfield will be invaluable when it comes to breaking down teams that sit deep.
They have also bolstered their front line, André Schürrle has been brought in on loan from Borussia Dortmund to add another dimension in the final third and their talisman from last season, Aleksandar Mitrović, has been rewarded for his efforts with a permanent deal in West London. Not recruiting strikers wisely has been a major pitfall for many promoted teams in the past, so getting a player like Mitrović who fits into their system and is accustomed to the physicality of the Premier League could prove a valuable asset. Yes, he doesn’t quite have the speed of Vardy, Aguero, or Usain Bolt, for that matter, but he is a constant threat in the box.
Championship Players Ready to Step Up
Despite making a number of high-profile signings, some of the players that came up from the Championship with them already have the skill-set to thrive in the top flight. Such is club captain, Tom Cairney’s, quality that he has been linked with many Premier League clubs during his time at Fulham. His choices to stay have ultimately paid dividends as he can now showcase his talent on the big stage for a club where he has become a strong fan favourite.
Also coming up from the Championship with them is their teenage prodigy, Ryan Sessegnon. He has won many plaudits during his emergence as one of England’s brightest talents. His intelligence on the ball and technical ability gives him the flexibility to play anywhere down the left-hand side of the pitch. Last season he was involved in 24 goals (16 goals and 8 assists) during Fulham’s promotion bid so there is great optimism that he will be able to maintain this electric form and not be overawed by the pressure of the Premier League.
A Tactically Astute Manager
Despite not having the most spectacular managerial CV, Jokanović achieved great success during his spell at FK Partizan in Serbia and led Watford to the Premier League during the 2014-15 season which is a positive sign for anyone doubting his credentials. As well as this, his tactical acumen is clear to see as his Fulham team is renowned for playing a possession-based style of football that led them to be described by Neil Warnock as “the Manchester City of the Championship”.
His dedication to playing stylish football in such a competitive league with unbelievably high-stakes was indicative of his belief in the quality of his squad and made them an attractive prospect to watch. If he can maintain this style in the Premier League, it is sure to draw the crowds down to Craven Cottage and will only increase his stock as a managerial talent.
Overall, predicting the trajectory of a team’s season before they’ve even played a game is generally a fool’s errand. However, all the pieces are there for Fulham to have a fruitful debut season back in the top flight and it seems like Slaviša Jokanović is the ideal man for completing the puzzle.