Opinion: Why Cottagers are set for more than stroll 'down by the river' on Premier League return

As Fulham make their return to the top flight this season, Slavisa Jokanovic is masterminding the West Londoners' permanent stay back in the big time in SW6

Opinion: Why Cottagers are set for more than stroll 'down by the river' on Premier League return
Photo: Clive Mason / Getty Images

As realisation dawned on Fulham Football Club in early May four years ago, a perennial flirting with relegation from the Premier League finally came home to roost as the West London club who famously lined the waters of the capital's River Thames, finally got that sinking feeling and dropped to the Championship.

After a 13-year stint in the English top-flight, it understandably felt like a giant step backwards for the Cottagers, who had gained promotion to the league's riches at the beginning of the millennium in 2001.

Fast forward to 2018 and after a number of years of mismanagement and boardroom roulette, Slavisa Jokanovic's men finally have stability and the financial backing of one of sports most powerful businessmen as they return to the big time. Indeed the Serb has his sights on returning Premier League longevity to this most picturesque corner of London.

Blues' west London monopoly

Since Fulham's relegation, the shift of power in the South-West of the capital has firmly swung back in the favour of their more illustrious neighbours in Chelsea, fueled by the growing riches of Roman Abramovich just a stones' throw across the Fulham Broadway along the Kings' Road.

Now however, the club who have boasted such names as Jimmy Hill, George Best and Bobby Moore in its' annuls of history have returned to loosen the Blues' stronghold and restore top-flight football to leafy Putney.

To boot, it is not only Stamford Bridge's inhabitants who boast a multi-billionaire owner, as Shahid Khan has been keen to prove his commitment, after initially seeing his new asset drop down a tier.

As the new majority shareholder of Wembley Stadium no less, Khan has injected money into the cause of Fulham again establishing themselves at the top level, with a squad of influential and exciting individuals thrown into the mix.

 

Top-flight reality stark for Cottagers

Having escaped the clutches of the Championship, the landscape of the Premier League has changed markedly in Fulham's four-year absence from the top flight. 

For Fulham boss Jokanovic, the task in solidifying their former top-flight status once more presents a huge task for the former Watford boss, who led the Hornets to promotion in 2015 but after failing to agree a new deal left Vicarage Road, as Quique Sanchez Flores took up the reins.  

The Serbian's misfortune on that occasion however, could serve the Cottagers well this time around as a man now desperate to prove his credentials on the big stage - with a subtle nudge in the direct of his former employers in Hertfordshire no less.

 

Summer of coup signings

Fulham will be under no illusions their task to avoid an immediate return to the second tier will be a stiff one then, however after a summer of shrewd investment, the burden has been eased somewhat.

With the nation was in the throes of World Cup fever, and as the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal were strongly linked with Nice midfielder Jean Michaël Seri - a man also having had amorous glances from Spain and Barcelona - the West Londoners swooped in for the Ivorian 27-year-old.

Having amassed nine goals and 15 assists during his time in the south of France, Seri will be a key asset to Fulham in a creative department, but also has been compared to the unrelenting N'Golo Kante in terms of work-rate.

Whilst Aleksandar Mitrovic has yet to secure a permanent move to West London having played a vital part in the Cottagers' promotion push toward the end of last season, Jokanovic however has brought in former Chelsea man Andre Schurrle to add a bit of spice on the flanks also.

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Young guns to shine

Fulham's promotion last term was built on the foundations of work ethic, but also being able to boast some of the youngest talents around in English football.

Ryan Sessegnon has been hailed as future England star in the making, and having been converted to a winger from a burgeoning full-back, the Three Lions' youth player will finally been given a chance to announce himself in the 'toughest league in the world' this season.

Still yet to reach his 19th birthday, Sessegnon scored 15 goals in 46 games last campaign, and pin-point assist in the Championship Play-Off final last May was everything the Roehampton-born player is about.

Setting up skipper Tom Cairney for the winning goal at Wembley last spring, the Scottish international will be a pivotal cog in the Fulham machine this term also.

With top-flight experience with Hull City previously but as a now more rounded and cool head in the middle of the park, Cairney will hope to make a bigger impact on his second stint in the same league that found the midfielder wanting, having made the switch from Blackburn Rovers three years ago.

Looking to surprise

Fulham might be seen as likely candidates for the immediate spring-back to the lower leagues, but despite a poor start to last season went unbeaten in the Championship last term between the Christmas period and late April, beating fellow promotees Cardiff City and Wolverhampton Wanderers during the same period.

Jokanovic's side were arguably the league's best side for much of the second half of the season and could surprise many this season with their aesthetic brand of offensive play and possession football.

There are rightly concerns from a defensive point of view, but the London side's former status in the Premier League was built on forward thinking rather than a defensive nouse. The new campaign should be no different.

The top flight is set to be more competitive than ever after a close season of exuberant spending across the board, but Fulham with financial clout of their own, a strong following across the country and a unique approach of flair, strength and expressive play, the Cottagers are not just there to make up the numbers this season on the river this season.