You won’t see many blogs previewing Fulham season in the 2013/4 Premier League on NZ based websites. Martin Hearnden fills the void
A small caveat before we start, I am not a Fulham fan as such. Having spent a good deal of time in SW London recently they quickly became my club of choice as they were easy to get to and the environment was pretty friendly and well, just plain inoffensive. A very pleasant place therefore to go and watch football with Putney nearby for the after match. Accordingly, I have developed a soft spot for them but hard core fan I am not. (“Hard core” and Fulham do not belong in the same sentence.)
Fulham finished 14th last season, a pretty disappointing effort after an OK start, but there were extenuating circumstances. They hammered Norwich 5-0 in the first game and looked very good in the process. The central midfield that day was dominated by Dembele and Mahamadou Diarra – Dempsey was skulking on the side-line agitating for a move away. Within a few short days Dembele and Dempsey were off to Spurs, and Diarra was pretty much crocked for the season. Berbatov came in but events were not kind and the season rather meandered along for the most part. The squad is not deep and it showed when Steve Sidwell became the main man in the middle of the park…
The main news in the off season has been the arrival of a new owner. Shahid Khan, an American of Pakistani origin with a superb moustache, purchased the club from Mohamed Al- Fayad. Al- Fayad is a lot of things (delusional, paranoid and a non-citizen despite 35 years of trying) but he was a good owner and popular with the fans. They even seem to forgive him that damn statue. Anyway Khan is in and hopefully the record of his other club, the Jacksonville Jaguars, (last season 2-14) is not some ghastly foretaste of things to come.
Fulham always seem to attract decent Managers (OK, let’s try and forget Mark Hughes and Chris Coleman) and Martin Jol certainly falls into that category. He has an excellent knowledge of the European scene with the arrival in his time of some very useful footballers (Kacaniklic, Dejagah, Riether) largely unknown in the UK. His man management style is pretty (read “very”) direct but he does seem to get the players playing for him; he runs a tight and disciplined ship. At first glance the squad being assembled for this season is tasty and should provide plenty of entertainment. Hopefully less concentration on the magical 40 point mark and more emphasis on winning games even if you have to take the odd risk.
The long serving fan favourite Mark Schwarzer has departed to pad his pension by sitting on the bench at Chelsea. However, in his place Fulham have pulled off a bit of a coup signing Stekelenburg from Roma. This bloke is currently the Dutch #1 and an imposing figure. Adjustment to the Premier league should be no problem; I expect some commanding performances once he has fine-tuned his relationship with Hangeland and don’t laugh, Senderos.
At the other end of the spectrum Taarabt has signed on a season long loan from QPR. This bloke is seriously talented but thinks he is a cross between Ronaldo and Messi and has a work rate that makes Berbatov look a champion of defending from the front. The development of his relationships with the Manager, the fans and his team-mates will be fascinating. With the likes of Berbatov, Brian Ruiz and Dejagah (keep your eye on him, very tasty) the attacking options are solid although central mid is likely to be problematic. Fulham play a lot of good stuff down the left side with Riise (he may be off as well) and Kacaniklic to the fore. Duff is not the player of old but still provides good width on the right, as will Dejagah.
If you cannot be optimistic at this time of the year then things really are bleak. If and it is a big if, the squad stays fit and maybe a central midfielder of note can be tempted by London’s bright lights then I forecast a solid 10th for the “Whites”. But injuries, loss of form and poor run of results will see them struggle, although, being optimistic again, a battle with relegation is unlikely. A cup run would be grand and hopefully Jol has paid attention to the success enjoyed by Swansea and Wigan last season in that area. The next piece of proper silverware will be the first and the most polite fans in the premier league deserve that.
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