After the romance of promotion came the dance of club politics. Slavisa Jokanovic walked into a Wembley corridor on Saturday night smelling of a champagne crossfire and he left having sprayed a message of his own.
It was whispered in its delivery, but in its proximity to the final whistle it was as quick as a Ryan Sessegnon run and about as precise as the teenager’s pass to set up Tom Cairney’s £170million winner as well. Investment, he said. Show me the money and give us a fighting chance next season.
Funny thing is, the conversation at that moment wasn’t even about spending plans. In the first instance, this impressive Serbian manager was asked if Fulham could surprise a few folk in the Premier League, just as they had in the Championship.
Slavisa Jokanovic has urged Fulham owner Shahid Khan to spend on transfers this summer
‘It depends what kind of ambition we are going to show, this is simple,’ he said.
Stall set, now for the sell to the club’s owner, Shahid Khan.
‘Next year we’re going to be in the Premier League,’ he continued. ‘We need to be brave, we need to make investment, we need to spend money to survive. It’s not so complicated to understand.’
At that point there was an attempt among his questioners to steer back to on-field matters, to the subject of whether Fulham will be brave enough to play such an entertaining style in the top flight. But Jokanovic was on a mission.
‘We’ve showed we can play in the Championship this way and different clubs have shown they can play that way in the Premier League too,’ he said.
‘We’re going to try, but it depends what kind of ambition we’re going to show. It’s the choice of the board.’
Not much hanging around these days between getting it done and getting it lined up. But that is the manager-owner tango. And in Jokanovic, it really must be stressed, Fulham have a manager who has earned the right to get what he wants this summer.
Jokanovic is no stranger to the big stage and took Maccabi Tel Aviv to face Chelsea in 2015
Use an eight-month slice of 2015 as a starting point on that thought — he ensured in the April that Watford would be promoted to the Premier League, left in June when he felt he was being offered half of the lowest manager wage in the top flight, took Maccabi Tel Aviv into the group stages of the Champions League for the first time in 11 years and then arrived that December at Fulham, 18th in the Championship.
The plan was to stay up and grow; the reality is that in his two-and-a-half seasons, they have survived a relegation fight and twice reached the play-offs, with this one landing them the loot.
Whereas one Khan manager in Felix Magath rubbed cheese on injured players, now he has one who has his club back among the cream of British football.
They have done it playing in a way that saw Neil Warnock label Fulham ‘the Manchester City of the Championship’, and using a squad built on a net spend of just £3m this season.
Fulham will need to spend more than the £3m the current squad cost if they are to survive
All that despite a long-running ruckus between Jokanovic and a now-departed statistics obsessive in the recruitment department that culminated in police coming to Fulham’s Motspur Park base last November. It has been an adventure, really.
The hope now is that they will have the courage to retain their toe-to-toe identity and stick with it, irrespective of thrashings that inevitably happen to all newly promoted sides.
Swansea and Bournemouth have proved in the past seven years that there is still merit in the thought that a smaller club can go up and pass their way out of trouble, and in truth they do not have time to reinvent their wheel.
What Fulham have in their favour are two inventive players in Sessegnon and Cairney who, by any measure, are Premier League ready. But part of Jokanovic’s work this summer will involve ensuring they stay.
Cairney most likely will and of Sessegnon, a Tottenham target, Jokanovic said: ‘What I know about him is that he is really happy. He wants to stay.’
It will be just as much about keeping stars like Ryan Sessegnon as it will be signing new faces
From there, he will need money to improve the contracts and then more money to thicken a thin squad, with a figure of six or seven players mentioned privately, preferably with Premier League experience.
As a point of priority, they should make Aleksandar Mitrovic’s loan from Newcastle permanent. His 12 goals since January were a massive part of their recovery from a bad start to the season and the striker is clearly open to staying.
‘It’s been an unbelievable four months for me,’ Mitrovic said. ‘Of course I will be happy to stay but we will see what happens.’
So, over to Khan and his wallet. He has work to do and a blunt request ringing in his ears.
But he also has another point of business, which was glossed over on Saturday night. And that is the subject of Jokanovic’s own future — he has a year left on his contract.
It really would be bonkers if a second promoted club took him for granted.