Fulham 'believer' Shahid Khan has tough act to follow

 

craven cottage

It's the hardest act in football to follow. So forget David Moyes and pity Shahid Khan, who has taken over from Mohamed Al-Fayed as owner of Fulham. By comparison with this self-inflicted role, Moyes's task in keeping Manchester United at the forefront of English and European football should be a gentle breeze.

Appropriately, rain lashed Craven Cottage yesterday and no time was wasted in showing Khan how unkind football can be, even on the lovely riverside ground where, as the American billionaire recalled in a schmaltzy programme article, he saw Fulham beat Liverpool through a Clint Dempsey goal in the spring of 2007 and became a "believer" in the club.

Six weeks ago he bought it from Al-Fayed and, having watched the 1-0 victory at Sunderland last weekend online at home in Florida with his wife Ann, he was at the Cottage with his impressive moustache to receive the pre-match applause of the fans. Then, within the space of 27 first-half minutes, a lesson in how swiftly a fall can follow pride.

Not that Khan is unacquainted with sporting disappointment: his Jacksonville Jaguars, in their only NFL season since he acquired the franchise, lost 14 games out of 16 before parting from their coach.

Such form would, of course, get Fulham relegated and Martin Jol's new employer must be hoping this display was a misleading sign of things to come – and so must Jol.

The outcome was settled before the end of the first half. Two goals down, Fulham lost hope of building on the Wearside win and Lukas Podolski's second goal, in both its making and taking, served to emphasise the gulf in class between the sides, as did almost everything Santi Cazorla did on the sodden pitch.

Fulham had no-one capable of threatening the Spaniard's command and disturbingly, while Arsenal grafted, some home players displayed a tendency to argue with each other. Nor was it a coincidence that they had more of the play after the withdrawal of Adel Taarabt, however hard he had tried to impose his skills on the match. There may not be room for both his ego and Dimitar Berbatov's in matches as testing as this.

Even after making allowances for how well Arsenal did so soon after their flight home from Istanbul, it would have to be deemed untypical of Fulham's displays since they became a familiar part of the Premier League furniture. The next two fixtures will place yesterday in context – away to Newcastle and at home to West Bromwich, Jol's men will be looking for points and the customary air of mid-table respectability.

We sometimes forget that it is not the club's birthright. Fulham were at English football's third level when Al-Fayed took over. He promised the Premier League within five years and, thanks to relatively high spending and the management of first Kevin Keegan and then Jean Tigana, achieved it a year ahead of schedule.

He continued to make some excellent appointments, above all, Roy Hodgson, under whom the club attained their highest League position – seventh – in 2009 before reaching the Europa League final the next season, along the way beating Juventus 5-4 on aggregate with four consecutive goals at home. Dempsey got the winner with a divine lob and even those old enough to recall Johnny Haynes, one of the greatest creative players England ever produced, would have struggled to nominate a finer moment at the Cottage.

Athough often magical, none of this came from the tooth-fairy. Al-Fayed put an estimated £200 million into the club. So no wonder he is revered. At the Cottage, where his surname has been sung to the tune of Volare – "he wants to be a Brit… and QPR are shit" – it will resound for many years and this is the challenge facing Khan.

What can the Fulham support expect from this sporting rookie? Surely not a start as dismal as his Jacksonville regime's. But there are the beginnings of a pattern among American owners of English football clubs. Perhaps because they are unaccustomed to relegation, they tend not to spend urgently. If the example of Stan Kroenke at Arsenal is considered extreme, take John W. Henry, whose Liverpool declined to increase their bid for Willian. Khan will eventually have to ponder, as Al Fayed so lightly did, the price of survival.

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