It was never in doubt, was it? Fulham’s inevitable return to the Premier League has been confirmed and the club can now start planning for life back on the big stage, with supporters’ belief growing a lot stronger this time around than following their last two promotions.
The Cottagers have had an unstable time of it in recent years since their initial 13-year stay in the top-flight came to an end in 2014. Their last five campaigns have ended in either promotion or relegation, seeing them fight with Norwich City for the title of biggest yo-yo club. While that trend isn’t healthy, the club’s resilience is something that is to be commended, even if the promotion bubble has burst in double-quick fashion on their last two visits to English football’s elite.
Having seen the exciting football that they have displayed this season, the signs of a redemption arc look promising and it feels as though Fulham need consistency and stability now more than ever. The way they have expressed themselves on the pitch this year, they have looked to be a Premier League club in all but name, they just need to find a way to reproduce that in 2022-23.
Redemption stories are one of the most enjoyable things about football, and while this has become a recurring thing in west London in recent years, it is the first time the term has been used in the same sentence as the manager who has taken them back to the big time, Marco Silva. The Portuguese boss has previous experience in England, but there were notably difficult endings in each post.
The 44-year-old first came onto the scene tasked with guiding Hull City to safety in the top-flight back in 2016-17, having replaced Mike Phelan midway through the season. He was able to galvanise the dressing room initially, but having seemingly pulled them out of trouble he then oversaw a slump which ended in relegation.
His next crack was with Watford in 2017-18. The problem he had at Vicarage Road, which was also an issue at Hull, was that he tried to implement his style with a squad that was largely filled with players he had inherited. Silva’s time in Hertfordshire was cut short in January after Everton made an approach for his services. Silva had his head turned and he was sacked for a deterioration of focus and results.
Everton eventually got their man in May 2018, handing him a three-year contract. His debut campaign went rather well, especially when you consider the slippery slope the Toffees have gone down since. He guided Everton to eighth with a tally of 54 points and delivered an unbelievable 4-0 thrashing of Manchester United at Goodison Park. But, as at his other English jobs, things quickly turned and, in December 2019, Silva was handed his P45 after a 5-2 defeat against rivals Liverpool with the club languishing in 18th.
Silva then went on his longest break away from English football. It seemed as though his credits had been spent, at least in the Premier League, and that the only way he would get another chance was if he took a job in the second tier. So when Fulham announced him as Scott Parker’s successor, eyebrows were raised but everyone knew that Silva had unfinished business.
While it was never going to be viewed as hard to inspire Fulham to promotion with the squad they have and the windfall of parachute payments, Silva has instilled his philosophy with a squad capable of executing it to a tee. Their performances in the Championship have been commanding and the players have been outstanding. Star striker Aleksandar Mitrovic has smashed the goal record for an individual campaign with 40 to his name, and his importance to the team cannot be overstated. Silva’s management has unlocked the best version of the Serbian forward and he has evolved into a complete attacker, tormenting the rest of the teams in the division.
Wingers Harry Wilson and Fabio Carvalho have dazzled down the flanks and both have been integral in Fulham being as free-scoring as they are. There is commitment from all departments on the field, not just from the front and they have all played their part brilliantly.
The Whites have collectively scored 98 goals in 42 matches, while only conceding 37. As a result, Silva boasts a 62% win percentage with 26 victories. The 4-2-3-1 system he utilises has that perfect balance to enhance both attack and defence, and he will be looking forward to his fourth chance in the Premier League.
Having silenced a lot of critics this year, Silva will be aware that he’ll need to do a lot more next season to prove people wrong. The next task will be difficult, but he will be fired up to rebuild his managerial credentials on the biggest stage in England while continuing his promising project at Craven Cottage.
*18+ | BeGambleAware