Tom Cairney cannot wait to lead Fulham into the Premier League following a play-off final win the captain believes will keep the team together.
Vultures have been circling over Craven Cottage this season after Slavisa Jokanovic again got the west Londoners playing with style and skill.
Defeat to Aston Villa in the play-off final would likely have seen this Fulham side broken up, but Cairney’s first-half goal secured a 1-0 win that ends their four-year absence from the top flight.
The skipper has been linked with a move away, along with the likes of 18-year-old Ryan Sessegnon and marauding full-back Ryan Fredericks, but Wembley glory strengthens the Whites’ position and hopes of retaining some loan players, too.
“I signed a contract extension last summer – I believed in what we’re doing here,” said Cairney, who attracted attention from West Ham in January.
“I believed in the way we play, and the manager has put a lot of faith in me. I’ve tried to repay him the best I can, and I think I did that today.
“I think people were coming to the end of their contracts and stuff.
“But I think this team being in the Premier League, based in London, I think it’s an attractive club and I think it keeps the team together.
“I think that’s why I said we needed to win today.”
Fulham captain Cairney, unsurprisingly, called Saturday’s win the highlight of a career he expects to continue for some time yet.
“I am 27 years old,” he said. “I want to play football.
“Yeah, the next few years are probably going to be my prime and whatever.
“To be honest, I feel like I will get better as I get older. I am not exactly going to lose pace – do you know what I mean?
“I am getting more and more experiences the more I play. I understand my position.
“I have got a lot of responsibly in this team and I try and make us play.
“But, honestly, to a man today we were outstanding.”
Fulham showed grit to match their undoubted ability, which has so regularly been on display during the campaign.
An untimely end to their 23-match unbeaten run prevented them earning automatic promotion ahead of Cardiff, but the Wembley victory seals their place in the record books as well as neutrals’ appreciation.
“No one remembers nice football or ‘they were good’,” Cairney said. “No one says that.
“People only remember winners and we said before we go out, ‘Wembley only remembers winners’ – and we had to win today.
“Our football alone will get credit in the season because we got promoted. People will talk about Fulham.
“If we lost today, nobody would talk about us.
“Football won. I think God was on our side today.
“The last 20 to 25 minutes, every time the ball went out of play the Fulham fans acted like we scored a goal.”