A lot of odd things have happened at Fulham since the new owner Shahid Khan came into the club: Martin Jol was given more time in the job, that many thought he didn’t deserve; then an untested head coach in Rene Meulensteen was given the job, despite being brought in to assist his fellow Dutchman Jol; even more extraordinary were the appointments of Ray Wilkins and Alan Curbishley in various positions to assist Meulensteen, both of whom were former managers and have been out of the game for a number of years. Many considered this to be an act that could threaten Meulensteen like the former Manchester United coach’s appointment proved to be for Jol, but the Dutchman appears to have the backing of the board. Fulham find themselves bottom of the league table at the beginning of February with 19 points, four away from Crystal Palace in 17th. Many thought Fulham were certainties for relegation towards the end of January but the signings of Lewis Holtby and Kostas Mitroglou could prove to be the turning points of the West London side’s season.
Lewis Holtby joins from Tottenham on loan for the rest of the campaign and he will add a lot to the Fulham midfield. He played 13 times for Tottenham, with six starts. The amount of midfielders at Tottenham and Tim Sherwood’s move to a 4-4-2 dried up Holtby’s chances. He did create 17 chances in the first half of the season, creating one every 33 minutes which is very impressive. If he repeats these figures at Fulham, he will be a vital player for them. Only three sides have scored less than Fulham this season, so the extra creativity will be an asset for them. Tottenham fans also noted Holtby’s ability to work hard on the pitch, which will be appreciated in a relegation battle. At the age of 23, he will add a youthful exuberance to an ageing Fulham squad.
An even bigger coup for the club was the signing of the highly rated Greek striker Kostas Mitroglou from Olympiakos for around £11m, despite late interest from West Ham. Newcastle, Liverpool and Arsenal have also been linked with the striker in the past six months, so it was a shock to many that Fulham managed to secure the striker. In an age where loyalty is rare in football, Mitroglou may consider that scoring a few goals for a side in the relegation fight like Fulham in the second half of the season will push him to a bigger club, like it did for Carlos Tevez and Demba Ba at West Ham. Fulham fans won’t care, if he secures their Premier League status. He has netted 23 goals in 26 appearances for club and country this season, including a hat-trick away at Anderlecht in the Champions League which is no mean feat. The Greek international also scored the winner in a Champions League match against Arsenal in 2012. He has a natural goal scoring instinct and is very clever when in the box. His strength also leads to many of his goals, while he is useful with both feet. In a season when Fulham are struggling for goals, the signing of Mitroglou could prove to be inspired.
Fulham were very busy in January as Johnny Heitinga, Clint Dempsey, Larnell Cole, Ryan Tunnicliffe and William Kvist came into the club. They currently have the worst defence in the league this season conceding an eye-watering 53 goals, and the addition of Heitinga will improve that, as he seeks to secure a place in the Dutch World Cup squad. His experience with Everton will add a lot to the defence, as he replaces a departing Philippe Sendoros who was very shaky in the first half of the season. The additions of Larnell Cole and Ryan Tunnicliffe may be geared towards the future, but Meulensteen may be tempted to give them a chance this season. He will know them very well from his time at Old Trafford. Cole will give Meulensteen a pacy attacking outlet which will cause other sides problems, while Tunnicliffe will give the Dutchman another option in central midfield. Clint Dempsey will only be at the club until March, but he has the ability to win the side vital points in this period. Their final signing of the Danish international Kvist will give the club a more conservative option as he is a very effective defensive midfielder. He could be used in the pivot with Scott Parker, which could give Fulham a base to win points.
Fulham have also seen Senderos, Dimitar Berbatov, Bryan Ruiz, Aaron Hughes, and Adel Taarabt depart the club, as Meulensteen has had the chance to form his own squad. The business that Fulham did in January has certainly enhanced the squad, as hard working players have come in to replace mavericks in Taarabt, Ruiz and Berbatov. Also, the likes of Mitroglou and Holtby are younger and will be more keen to impress which will prove beneficial for Fulham, while the team will start to work harder something thatMeulensteen will want in a relegation battle. Many have criticised the age of the Fulham squad, but the signings have added a youthful edge, which will boost their survival hopes. Fulham certainly have the quality to survive the drop, its now down to Meulenteen and the squad to do so.