Fulham have gone from strength to strength since Roy Hodgson was appointed in 2007, somewhat of a forgotten man in English football. Having just spent a year working with the Finnish national team, the man who had worked in over eight countries took the reigns of an English club for the first time since 1997 when he overtook the fantastic Blackburn side of the mid-90s. Since his arrival Roy re-established himself in English football after years of exile, and hence landed the biggest (club) position in England – Liverpool. The owner of Fulham, Mohamed Al-Fayed, rued his departure and criticised the means in which he left, but one cannot argue the lure of a club like Liverpool. What now for Fulham, under the control of Mark Hughes?
The arrival of Mark Hughes proves a sensible decision from the board. After tailing Martin Jol for some time, the Dutchman was chained to his post in Ajax and refused opportunity to return to the English league. Hughes, probably second best. At least they dodged a bullet in Sven…
Last season was hugely successful for Fulham, it goes without saying really. Runners-up in the Europa League, while maintaining a decent league performance throughout the campaign, juggling both commitments well and ending up with one of, heck, the best season in it’s history – losing to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final, and finishing twelfth in the league.
With no European football to keep themselves busy this season, you could say that their league form must therefore improve. A quiet summer, with more outs than ins means in their squad is weaker in numbers and still lacks a strong enough financial muscle to wheel big players to help them up the table. Hughes is a name that can attract (linked with Craig Bellamy and Roque Santa Cruz already), but financially those moves seem unlikely at this time. A good season should be expected, possibly another cup run domestically, while a manager transition needs to be quick and brief.
Last Season: 12th
Manager: Mark Hughes
Ins: Philippe Senderos (free from Arsenal), Jonathan Greening (loan made permanent from West Brom).
Outs: Chris Smalling (£10million to Manchester United), Wayne Brown (free to Bristol Rovers), Erik Nevland (free to Viking), Andranik, Wesley Foderingham, Toni Kallio, Luca Moscatiello, King Osei-Gyan, Dan Owusu, Michael Uwezu (all released), Chris Buchtmann (undiscl. to Cologne), Elliot Omozusi (free to Leyton Orient), Stefan Payne (free to Gillingham)
It’s been a very quiet summer at the Cottage, just two arrivals which includes one who makes his loan move permanent, and thirteen players – including some reserve members – have left the club.
The biggest departure, certainly in terms of money received is Chris Smalling, who joins Manchester Utd for £10million. The young English defender joined two seasons ago from Maidstone Utd in the non-league. It’s been a huge rise for Smalling, and Fulham will be delighted with the fee United paid for his services.
Joining the club is former Arsenal defender Phillipe Senderos, on a free transfer, and Jonathan Greening who makes his loan deal from West Brom last season, permanent. The Swiss defender has been put out with an injury however, and will the first few months of the season.
Tactics: Unless more new players join the club before the end of the month, it’s hard to see Hughes going against a 4-4-1-1 that Roy Hodgson used so persistently last season towards the end of the campaign. This setup plays Zoltan Gera and Bobby Zamora to their strengths. An improvement on Murphy and Dikgacoi in midfield would benefit the side, while it could also do it another wide player to mix with Damien Duff. Defensively it is quite strong, especially if they can hold on to Brede Hangelannd. A change in the goalkeeper department may happen if rumours of a Mark Schwarzer switch to Arsenal materialises.
Key Player: Probably Fulham’s most important player is center defender Brede Hangelaand. The Norwegian international has been Fulham’s most consistent performer over the last few seasons, and a hero defensively.
Fixtures: Fulham begin their season tomorrow away to Bolton, before hosting Manchester Utd at Craven Cottage. They then visit newly promoted Blackpool away, before a home tie against Wolves and an away game against Blackburn.
First five fixtures: Bolton (A), Manchester Utd (H), Blackpool (A), Wolves (H), Blackburn (A)
Where will they finish? The transition over to a new manager will be difficult, Roy was a hugely popular figure at the Cottage. A weakened squad, who may, like last year, concentrate more on cup runs than league performances. There should be no threat of relegation for Fulham however. 13th