After 16-years at the forefront of Fulham Football Club, Mohamed Al-Fayed sold what he has built, improved and sustained in the Premier League on Friday, as he now sets about enjoying a peaceful, and thoroughly deserved, retirement from business venturing.
It has come the time for a new man to take the Londoners forward into the future and that man is American tycoon, Shahid Khan, who with the greatest respect, has a tough act to follow in Al-Fayed, but comes across as a shrewd choice to continue Fulham’s progress in the greatest league in the world.
The history of Khan
Shahid Khan is a Pakistani-born American businessman, who is ranked the 491st richest person in the world, according to Forbes. Not only will the 62-year-old’s wealth be music to the ears of the Fulham supporters, but Khan also owns NFL side Jacksonville Jaguars, whom he purchased in 2011 for a reported $760 million after previous attempts to buy an American Football team had broken down.
His rise to esteemed affluence began with automobile parts manufacturer, Flex-N-Gate in Illinois, America. Khan rose through the ranks from employee to engineering director, before purchasing the business in 1980. This is the greatest evidence to the watchful eye of the English media that Khan is in the business game for the long-run, and as of 2011, he didn’t just develop but instead transformed Flex-N-Gate into a renowned name, making over $3 billion in revenue.
Khan’s takeover of Fulham isn’t one that will see him be involved in the day-to-day running of the club but it’s more like Al-Fayed is passing the baton onto a younger pair of hands, who can inject greater financial benefits to manager Martin Jol and the club. The figure of what he purchased Fulham for hasn’t been officially disclosed, although we’re led to believe it’s around £150-200m. Khan can bring a lot to the table for Fulham but he will have his work cut out when trying to replicate the heart and soul his predecessor put into the club.
Al-Fayed will be a big loss but he’s left the club fit and healthy
When the Egyptian industrialist known as Mohamed Al-Fayed bought Fulham in 1997 for £6.25m, he was a man with a dream. The Cottagers were playing in Division Two, now known as League One, and Al-Fayed said he had the objective of wanting to take Fulham into the Premier League within five years.
It was ambitious but through financial support and leadership, Al-Fayed and the club fought tooth and nail to achieve that feat, winning the Division Two title in 1999 and then going on to win Division One by 101 points, securing promotion to the Premier League one season ahead of schedule. Since that memorable day when Jean Tigana guided the club to the promised land, Al-Fayed has invested £200m of his own personal wealth to ensure Fulham’s stay in the league, earning his riches through many thriving business projects such as, Harrods Department Store and the Hotel Ritz in Paris.
The 84-year-old hasn’t just provided stability through league finishes but Al-Fayed has also dipped into his pockets along the way to provide numerous marquee signings such as, Andrew Johnson and Bryan Ruiz, whilst also making big profits on those who have made a name for themselves at Craven Cottage such as, Louis Saha (£12.4m to Manchester United) and Moussa Dembélé (£15m to Tottenham Hotspur).
But probably the most prominent moment in Al-Fayed’s era at the club was the appointment of Roy Hodgson in 2007. It was a bold and gutsy move to bring in a manager who had 15 previous jobs in management, with his last coming with the Finland national side at that point. But the 65-year-old was the man that drastically raised the expectations around Fulham, by taking them to within touching distance of European glory in the 2009-10 UEFA Europa League final, losing 2-1 to Atletico Madrid, but defeating the likes of Juventus, and the holders of the trophy at the time Shakhtar Donetsk, were severe highs that Al-Fayed created through Hodgson’s arrival, in one of the greatest underdog stories of modern times.
Al-Fayed showed further commitment to Fulham by selling Harrods in 2010 to the Qatari Royal Family’s investment company for £1.5bn, which he has used to move the club into the black and debt-free. This was crucial when trying to attract a buyer like Shahid Khan, who will benefit profusely from a healthy structure left by Al-Fayed. It’s now down to Khan to reach into his deep pockets and back Fulham’s well-respected and trusted manager, Martin Jol, but there is no doubt that Al-Fayed will be sorely missed at the club.
Backing Martin Jol would be a statement of intent from Khan
When Roy Hodgson left Fulham in 2010 for pastures new with Liverpool, Mark Hughes was the man chosen to replace him but the Welshman lasted just one season with the club and soon resigned, with many believing he left with one eye cast towards the vacant Aston Villa and Chelsea jobs at the time.
Ex-Tottenham, Hamburg and Ajax manager, Martin Jol succeeded Hughes and in his first season in-charge, he helped the club finish the 2011/12 campaign just one place behind Hughes’ eighth-place finish the year before. Jol proved his credentials that season when it came to big games, as Fulham grabbed draws away at Arsenal and Chelsea, as well as toppling the likes of highly-flying Newcastle at home and doing the double over Liverpool.
The 57-year-old sold two crucial players in Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembélé to Tottenham last summer but managed to secure one the bargain’s of the season in Dimitar Berbatov, signing the Bulgarian from Manchester United for as little as £4m.
Fulham finished 12th last season, which wasn’t bad considering they lost Dempsey, who scored 23 goals in all competitions the season before. Although there has been little to shout about in the domestic cup competitions under Jol, he once again made up for it by claiming draws away at the Emirates and Stamford Bridge before winning 1-0 at White Hart Lane against Tottenham.
Jol has carried on Fulham’s solidity in the league, which has been rubber-stamped over the last couple of campaigns. But he knows himself that the current group of players at the club are all ageing and that needs to be addressed before the start of the upcoming season. The signings of Fernando Amorebieta, Derek Boateng, Sascha Riether and Roma’s Maarten Stekelenburg has proved a fruitful start in a much-needed re-jig of the team, but new owner Khan can really get on the fans side straight away if he can give Jol the funds to take Fulham onto what he describes as “the next level.”
He already has a manager at his club with a proven track record at claiming huge points at big grounds, which is something hard to find in the game, but he simply needs to give Jol the tools to build his own team, as he is only just starting to release players like Simon Davies, Mark Schwarzer and Chris Baird, who were all part of Hodgson’s tenure three-years ago.
Fulham need players of a younger age but they also require more goals and bit more pace to sustain a top-ten finish regularly. Berbatov was the club’s top goalscorer with 15 last season but second to him, Mladan Petric, was quite far off, netting just five times, and has since been released in a list of twelve players to all depart this summer.
The next “level” is a good plan but Khan must show Jol the money in the transfer window and allow him to go out and bring in the players he needs to establish a quality and competitive team for the future. That is the glowing priority at the club right now and Jol has proved he can do it during his time with Tottenham and there is no reason why he can’t do it again with Fulham, given the time and financial assistance to pull it off. Last season, Jol had to bring in mid-season loanees Urby Emanuelson, Stanislav Manolev, Emmanuel Frimpong and Eyong Enoh just to get by and it’s a beaming reference to Khan that he needs a few more permanent faces in the market.
Khan is also more used to Jacksonville Jaguars’ EverBank Field arena, which has a substantial 67,426 capacity in the United States. Finding the time and access to possibly develop Craven Cottage, which currently holds 25,700, or the location in London to build a new stadium, will be difficult but that could also be on the agenda for Khan in the long-term.
The Jaguars have a deal to play one home game in London for four consecutive seasons, starting in October at Wembley Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers, and this opens the possibility to more deals and coverage for Fulham. It’s now over to Khan to turn his plans into reality as the new custodian of Fulham but giving Martin Jol the freedom and the resources to create his own side will see the club move onto the next echelon and stop crucial players leaving.
A club to look out for in the coming years
#ThankYouMrAlFayed was a suitable Twitter message from everybody connected with Fulham on a weekend that has brought much anticipation, hope and excitement on Shahid Khan’s instalment as the new owner of the club. His first task should be backing Martin Jol in the transfer market but with his expertise in the NFL and automobile manufacturing industries, Khan has the potential to make Fulham bigger as a new era begins at the Cottage. It’s a club that will be one to watch in the coming years, to see whether new developments can take shape and if Fulham can become a stronger force on all fronts.