Mohammad Al Fayed, the man behind Fulham’s modern rebirth, has asked the fans to get behind new owner Shahid Khan while describing Friday’s takeover as a “new era” for the club.
Al Fayed sought to soothe the nerves of supporters as the Londoners took a step into the unknown after 16 years of improvement and stability under the watchful eye of the Egyptian businessman.
Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL franchise, assumed “100 percent ownership of the club, debt-free, as of today”, the Premier League team said on their website (www.fulhamfc.com).
Al Fayed, who lifted Fulham from the third tier to the top flight, attracted a string of high-profile managers and steered the club into their maiden European final, stressed there would be continuity in the boardroom.
“My time of serving as the custodian of Fulham Football Club would one day come to an end and I feel that time has now arrived,” he said.
“The time is right because I have found a very good man in Shahid Khan to accept the responsibility and privilege I have enjoyed since 1997. Fulham will be in very good hands with Shahid whose success in business and passion for sport is very evident.”
The sentiment was echoed by Khan, keen to impress upon fans the principles that had underpinned Al Fayed’s time in charge would be maintained.
“Fulham is the perfect club at the perfect time for me,” Khan said. “I want to be clear, I do not view myself so much as the owner of Fulham but a custodian of the club on behalf of its fans.
“My priority is to ensure the club and Craven Cottage each have a viable and sustainable Premier League future that fans of present and future generations can be proud of.”
Fulham fans have seen their club transformed since Al Fayed’s takeover in 1997, from lower league strugglers to stable Premier League competitors who have forged traditions of playing open, attacking football.
When the Egyptian completed a six million pounds ($9.07 million) takeover at Craven Cottage in 1997, he promised the supporters they would be playing in the top flight within five years.
They made it in four. With former England captain Kevin Keegan at the managerial helm, the club gained their first promotion under Al Fayed and then former France international Jean Tigana led them to the promised land of the Premier League in 2001.
Managers came and went but Fulham stayed up, despite a few close shaves with relegation, and with the arrival of boss Roy Hodgson in 2007 they enjoyed a purple patch in their history.
During his three years in charge the current England coach took the club to the Europa League final in 2010 where they were unlucky to lose 2-1 in extra-time to Atletico Madrid.
Al Fayed’s time in charge was not without the occasional odd moment.
He told fans they could “go to hell” if they did not like a statue of pop singer Michael Jackson that had been erected at the stadium but the wildly unpredictable owner was still a safe pair of hands when it came to the club.
The 62-year-old Khan is a billionaire car-parts manufacturer who was born in Pakistan but moved to the United States at 16.
His credentials in sport are founded on his stewardship of the Jaguars where he took control in 2011.
The Fulham website says “his personable approach, enthusiasm and bold vision for the Jaguars have since made him a popular figure in Jacksonville and throughout the NFL”.
Last year the Jaguars signed a deal to play four games at Wembley Stadium over the next four years but they have struggled to fill their 67,000-seater home venue at times and are one of the NFL’s weaker franchises.
Al Fayed told the supporters Khan would take the club to even better things.
“I am sad but proud of our achievements,” said the outgoing owner. “I am very grateful to Fulham’s fans, the most incredible fans in the world.
“They have given me their support and affection. I would never let them down. Now a new era dawns. Come on you Whites.”