Lesson learned! Fulham’s focused approach to recruitment is paying dividends in the Premier League

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Look away Nottingham Forest fans. If Fulham’s 2018-19 campaign has taught us anything, it’s that summer spending sprees do not always guarantee Premier League survival.

The Cottagers’ transitory status in the top flight has seen the club yo-yo to and from the Premier League in each of the last five seasons, but it seems the club chiefs have finally discovered a working formula.

After spending over £100million in the summer of 2018, luring high-profile signings such as Jean Michael Seri and Franck Zambo Anguissa, Fulham owner Shahid Khan watched his club suffer instant relegation before earning promotion again the following campaign.

Fulham’s 3-2 win at Leeds climbed the newly-promoted side to seventh in the Premier League

The club were relegated in 2019 after spending £100m on players including Jean Michael Seri

The club were relegated in 2019 after spending £100m on players including Jean Michael Seri

Once bitten and twice shy, Khan adopted a different approach in 2019-20 and chose to loan a catalogue of experienced players in the hope of keeping his team up on the cheap, but Fulham were ultimately hit with the same unfortunate fate.

At last, a successful summer of business at Craven Cottage has handed the west London club a fruitful start to the season, with Marco Silva’s side sitting seventh, ahead of Liverpool with five wins from 12 matches.

As Fulham finally appear to have cracked it in the Premier League, Sportsmail has analysed the secrets behind the Cottagers’ winning formula, focusing specifically on their successes in the transfer market this summer.

The Cottagers then made seven loan signings before suffering relegation again in 2020/21 - this included defender Joachim Andersen

The Cottagers then made seven loan signings before suffering relegation again in 2020/21 – this included defender Joachim Andersen 

Owner Shahid Khan and his son Tony seem to have finally found the right recruitment strategy

Owner Shahid Khan and his son Tony seem to have finally found the right recruitment strategy

A focused approach to transfers

Fulham’s all-in approach in 2018 was admirable, at the very least. Few fans would have grumbled at the owner’s ambition at the time.

Meanwhile, their spree of loan transfers in 2020 was a somewhat sensible business model: why splurge another £100m on Premier League talent when you can borrow players for a fraction of the cost?

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But ultimately, as the Fulham chiefs have learned, the recipe for staying in this division is far more complex than assembling a bunch of talented individuals on paper.

Throughout the five year yo-yo stint, Fulham’s scouts deserve credit for attracting players who — for the most part — have carved out fruitful careers at or away from Craven Cottage.

Portuguese midfield anchor Joao Palhinha signed for £20m this summer from Sporting Lisbon

Portuguese midfield anchor Joao Palhinha signed for £20m this summer from Sporting Lisbon

Midfield anchor Anguissa has helped pioneer Napoli to the summit of Serie A, former on-loan defender Joachim Andersen has continued to impress at the back for Crystal Palace, and Cottagers talisman Aleksandar Mitrovic has followed up his record-breaking Championship season with regular goals in the top flight.

The transfers made by Fulham in both 2018 and 2020 did not necessarily fail on an individual basis. Instead, the club failed to consider a balanced approach to recruitment and ripped apart the core of their team each time.

For example, ahead of Claudio Ranieri’s failed stint with Fulham in the top flight, the club signed four new centre-halves who were each bidding for first team spots alongside Tim Ream — Alfie Mawson and Maxime Le Marchand on permanent deals as well as Calum Chambers and Havard Nordtveit on loan.

The Cottagers also signed two first-choice central midfielders, two goalkeepers, two centre-forwards and three wingers, bulking out the team across all areas of the pitch.

New signing Andreas Pereira has helped improve Fulham's threat from free-kicks and corners

New signing Andreas Pereira has helped improve Fulham’s threat from free-kicks and corners

Similarly in 2020, the west London club made seven loan additions including the likes of Alphonse Areola, Joachim Andersen and Ademola Lookman. Although each performed well on an individual level, there was a lack of unity on the pitch during the early stages of the season.

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Whilst competition for places is important, every team needs a solid spine of players to provide stability to the team week in, week out, and this lack of continuity cost Fulham in defence especially.

By contrast, the west London club only recruited this summer in the areas they needed to: Andreas Pereira came in as a replacement for new Liverpool signing Fabio Carvalho; Bernd Leno arrived as a long-term No 1 goalkeeper; and Joao Palhinha signed to shore up defensive midfield, possessing a strength and physicality which was lacking in Fulham’s engine room.

The rest of the summer arrivals — aside from Willian who has nudged his way into the first team in recent weeks — have settled for spots on the bench as part of Silva’s rotation, meaning seven or eight players from Fulham’s Championship winning season have remained in the starting line-up.

Fulham have no doubt profited from a focused approach to recruitment, only targeting a few players to feature in Silva’s first team setup every week.

Bernd Leno arrived at Craven Cottage from Arsenal after losing his place to Aaron Ramsdale

Bernd Leno arrived at Craven Cottage from Arsenal after losing his place to Aaron Ramsdale

All-in on Mitrovic

Identifying Mitrovic as a prolific goal-scorer, the Craven Cottage chiefs made sure to focus every aspect of recruitment on getting the best out of their talisman.

Often what separates the Premier League strugglers and best of the rest behind the top six is how well the team caters for their star attacker. Ivan Toney spearheaded Brentford’s success last campaign, while Richarlison’s resurgence of form at Everton late in the season practically kept the Toffees in the top flight.

After his record-breaking 43 goal season in the Championship, Fulham knew their best chance of success in the Premier League lived and died at the hands of the Serbian.

Only Erling Haaland and Harry Kane have scored more goals than Aleksandar Mitrovic so far

Only Erling Haaland and Harry Kane have scored more goals than Aleksandar Mitrovic so far

Although Pereira arrived at Craven Cottage with an unconvincing goal record as an attacking midfielder — with just three goals in 29 appearances last season — Fulham knew he would partner Mitrovic well.

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The Brazilian’s crossing, which was on display last weekend as he assisted two of Fulham’s three goals against Leeds from crosses, has complemented the striker’s aerial threat in the box.

Meanwhile, his tendency to pick up the ball and run at defenders on the edge of the area succeeds in opening up additional space for Mitrovic, who has the knack of being in the right place at the right time from close range.

Boss Marco Silva is continuing to impress after marshalling Fulham to promotion last season

Boss Marco Silva is continuing to impress after marshalling Fulham to promotion last season

Targeting players with unfinished business

Both Leno and Pereira, who were each ousted by Arsenal and Manchester United respectively, were looking for a fresh start in the Premier League when they arrived at Craven Cottage.

Whilst it can be risky business, targeting players with something to prove can help inspire and motivate the rest of the dressing room, establishing a resilient underdog mentality.

While Pereira and Leno work to redefine themselves with impressive performances on the pitch every week, there are a handful of new additions attempting to do the same on the training ground in each session.

Former Chelsea and Arsenal star Willian scored what proved to be the winner at Elland Road

Former Chelsea and Arsenal star Willian scored what proved to be the winner at Elland Road 

On-loan left-back Layvin Kurzawa, former out-of-favour West Ham defender Issa Diop and ex-Spurs loan star Carlos Vinicius, who failed to impress in north London, are each fighting to win the favour of Silva in an effort to reignite their careers.

The Fulham fans need only look at how Willian wheeled away in celebration after netting the crucial goal against Leeds at the weekend. 

Scoring goals in the Premier League again — particularly after his ill-fated spell at the Emirate — clearly meant the world to him.

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