Sunday 19th August 2001, away to Manchester United on our first full season in the Premiership, was my first Fulham game. Then, as last weekend, we lost 3-2. What has changed is that the squad and ethos of the entire club has altered dramatically since that day 11 years ago.
Back then we were on an adventure, successive promotions had led to a largely unsuspected – at least in my mind – foray into the Premiership.
With a suave French manager in Jean Tigana and the £11.5 million Steve Marlet, what could go wrong? On that day in Manchester Barry Hayles lined up with Louis Saha in our front line; neither did a disservice to the club, indeed, Hayles remains a firm fan favourite. But yesterday Fulham pulled off the bargain-buy of the transfer window when they completed the signing of Dimitar Berbatov from Manchester United.
Fulham manager Martin Jol revealed he was “a happy man” after confirming the £4million Bulgaria striker. This is, surely, something of an understatement. In a week that has seen our talismanic midfielder, Moussa Dembele, shipped off to Tottenham and suffering the embarrassment, there is no other word, of an early exit from the Capital One Cup at Sheffield Wednesday, Fulham fans needed some good news.
Our capture of Berbatov is the bargain of the transfer window, and his presence at Craven Cottage will go a long way to appeasing Fulham fans nervous at the sale of Dembele, and the imminent departure of Clint Dempsey.
That Berbatov chose Fulham over the mighty Italian giants of Juventus, who we quashed several seasons ago on our memorable Europa League run, and Fiorentina should make Craven Cottagers smile. We are not, as were we 11 years ago, minnows to be patronised in the cut throat league of the Premiership. We have shown over that time when other bigger clubs have fallen, and fallen hard, that we have the squad, structure, ethos and sheer ability to not only survive in the best league in the world but actively compete. That we are now able to attract the likes of Berbatov, a Golden Boot winner only two years ago, is a true statement of intent.
Of course, doubts over his work rate, his sulkiness, and his wages can wait until another day. That we do still desperately need one, perhaps two, new attacking midfielders is self evident.
But there aren’t many days when a football club can welcome a former £30m striker for a mere £4m. Welcome, Dimitar.
Written by David Talbot
Follow me on Twitter @_DaveTalbot
Please like O-Posts on Facebook
Follow O-Posts on Twitter @OPosts