Without their Serbian striker, Fulham’s season would look a whole lot differently. His 23 Championship goals has arguably kept Scott Parker in a job but with the summer approaching, and Mitrovic looking likely to move on, it could be a ‘blessing in disguise’ for the Fulham.
Few teams in the Championship have an affinity with a single player like Fulham do with Aleksandar Mitrovic. For whatever reason, the pair just go hand-in-hand and this season has been his most prolific to date – for club and country, the 25-year-old has scored 34 goals, in what’s very much been ‘the making of Mitrovic’ in the Championship. For all his goals and his importance to the side though, a summer exit has become all the more inevitable as the season’s gone on.
Fulham in truth did well to keep Mitrovic last summer. Dropping down from the Premier League for a second time in his career, Mitrovic could easily have followed the likes of Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Jean Michael Seri out on-loan, in the hope that Fulham would immediately return and they could come back to Premier League football. But he chose to stay and fight with Fulham and Parker.
Then January came around. Fulham were and have been loitering just outside the top-two for much of the season, but the automatic promotion places were 11 points ahead of 3rd-place Fulham at one time, and automatic promotion looked (and still does) certain for both West Brom and Leeds. That placed a lot of speculation on Mitrovic – with Fulham looking likely to settle for a play-off place, and in general not performing how they should’ve been, it looked as though Mitrovic would be off then.
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Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur showed a passing interest, and so too did Italian side Genoa. But nothing ever materialised past a ‘passing interest’ and Fulham went through January with their star man relatively untouched, and ready for an uphill and ongoing battle in the second-half of the season. Football in the UK has been postponed until April 30th due to the outbreak of coronavirus but Fulham will resume their campaign in a good vein of form, losing just one of their last 11 in the Championship, and Mitrovic scoring five in his last eight.
The longer that the season’s gone on without Fulham being in the top-two though, the more likely it seems that Mitrovic will be gone in the summer. He’s long stated his love for the club, being in and around the training ground and living in the area, but realistically – how long will he want to keep playing in the Championship, scoring 30 goals a season but never making it back into the Premier League? That’s the trajectory that Fulham are on. West Brom and Leeds are too much to handle this season, and out of the current teams in the play-offs – Fulham, Brentford, Forest and Preston, it’s hard to see Fulham prevailing.
His departure would leave an evident void, but with each set-back comes an opportunity. Fulham with Mitrovic are so one dimensional, if not totally. Everything must go through him and he must be the one who scores every goal – Mitrovic must be the star of the show. It’s the kind of player he is and we applaud him for it, but players like him suffocate teams. Look at some of the players Fulham have in their attack – Ivan Cavaleiro, Anthony Knockaert, Bobby Reid – all of them have had relatively poor seasons but with Mitrovic out the picture, would they not flourish?
Without having to set Mitrovic as the focal point of his side, Parker could really open them up to so many new dynamics and avenues that they could become a much better team of players, rather than a team with one outstanding goal-scorer. The obvious reaction from fans will be to keep hold of Mitrovic at whatever cost, but it won’t all be doom and gloom if he goes – in fact, Fulham could be better off for it.