For the fifth year in a row Fulham are preparing to change divisions but there is a sense that, this time, it is different.
The Championship concluded on Saturday without any anxiety over securing a play-off place, nor the gloom of relegation from the top flight. As winners of the second tier, Fulham were already bound for a return to the Premier League and at the weekend could afford to coast to defeat at top-six chasing Sheffield United.
They are going up with a flourish. Marco Silva’s team hit the front in November and, but for one week, led the rest of the way.
They became the first Championship team for 20 years to score more than 100 goals, hit seven on three separate occasions and saw Aleksandar Mitrovic set a new English record for a 46-game season by rippling the net 43 times. For these reasons, fans feel more bullish about avoiding immediate relegation next term.
“I trust our owners will invest appropriately in key areas and I think we’ll make a fist of it more than in previous seasons. I certainly have more confidence. I think the teams in the bottom half of the Premier League are all beatable. They’re the games we have to be more competitive in next season.”
Former Everton and Watford boss Silva has won over Fulham fans since taking over from Scott Parker last summer, liberating the team’s attacking strengths with a more expansive style.
As well as reviving Serbia striker Mitrovic he has coaxed strong campaigns out of Harry Wilson and youngster Fabio Carvalho, the latter earning a widely anticipated summer move to Liverpool.
“If we had Marco Silva managing the players we had last year I think we’d have been very close to staying up,” added Di Nello.
“We spent £100m four years ago but spent it incorrectly. Last year we made some good signings but maybe had the wrong manager. If we can get that formula right – the right manager with experience at this level, the right players for his system – then I think we’ve got a good chance to succeed.”
Fulham will need a replacement for Carvalho and replenishments throughout the squad. Di Nello, a season ticket-holder for 30 years, also wants a new goalkeeper, centre-back, defensive midfielder, second striker and left winger.
As much as they are rivals, he believes Brentford have provided a blueprint for clubs of a similar size to not just survive but thrive in the top flight.
“They’ve done a very good job staying in the Premier League and why can’t we? They’ve got a good brand of football, a very good coach – fair play to them,” said Di Nello.
“Two years ago we did a [podcast] show right after beating Brentford in the play-off final and I was already nervous for the next season. Now I’m celebrating, enjoying the great season we’ve had and feeling more bullish about next year. The formula now is better.”