MARTIN Jol is confident Fulham can make an even greater impact on the Premier League next season without the draining demands of European football.
But the Whites boss conceded he would still gladly have taken a Fair Play wildcard entry into next year’s Europa League, given the choice.
Such is the format of the Europa League that last year Fulham found themselves involved before June was out, and although Jol did his best to treat early matches as glorified friendlies to gain fitness, there is little doubt his players ran out of puff as winter arrived.
Next season – with three Uefa Fair Play berths set to be allocated to other countries – Fulham will not have the glamour of Europe, but will also be without the burden of those extra games.
"If all the players are still there, I believe we can do even better," said Jol, whose side finished ninth. "I think playing in Europe cost us a few points, that is for sure.
"I can imagine Stoke played as many games as us and they struggled a bit and it’s not a surprise that we were in the top five over the last 20 games, because we weren’t involved in Europe.
"But if you want to be a very good side like Arsenal or Chelsea, you have to play in Europe and you have to play in the league.
"It shouldn’t be a problem, but over the last five years, when Fulham weren’t in Europe, they were seventh with 52 points, and when they were in the final of the Europa League, they were 12th with the same team, so of course, it will cost you points.
"So it could be a benefit not playing, but even now, if they told us we were first in the Fair Play cup and that we would have to start in June, I would still love to do that. It’s so good for the profile of your club, for the players and for the youngsters, playing in Europe."
Jol added: "I was listening to a discussion on the radio about teams being involved in Europe and I think they’ve got a point [about it draining you], but on the other hand, you always want to be involved in Europe, because that means you’re doing well.
"The only thing is, can you play your best team [in Europe]? If you saw Aston Villa and Man City over the last couple of years, there was always a little doubt. Do we have to play our best teams?
"And that is probably not an ideal scenario because, of course, the Premier League is still the most important thing."