Amorebieta, above, signed for Fulham on a free transfer from Spanish outfit Athletic Bilbao yesterday.
We’ve only been mourning the end of the season for three full days now and yet, Fulham have already signed up three players for next season. Joining Sascha Riether’s more permanent new contract last week, we have Derek Boateng who, after two years of trying to get him, signs on a free transfer after his release from Dnipro in January, and Fernando Amorebieta, who we’ve nicked from Athletic Bilbao on a bosman. In fact, Boateng apparently signed his deal two weeks ago according to his management agency and Amorebieta has been mooted in the media for the past month or so. A swift bit of business.
Getting in our players ASAP is, quite clearly, the most beneficial way to go about it. I suppose that there is a chance that if we act in haste we will miss out on a better deal that may arise later, but realistically Jol will have a list of targets which he will present to the board and any other business is just opportunity, rather than more careful consideration. Consider Boateng for example. After he was a standout performer in the Dnipro team we beat 3-2 on aggregate in 2011 Jol set out to get him, and while it may have taken four transfer windows, the single-mindedness of the Dutchman eventually meant he got his man. Let’s just hope the 20 months in between haven’t diminished Boateng’s quality, because he looked rather good. A souped up Etuhu the likes of which we have genuinely missed this season (until Enoh, perhaps) and even at 30 will have something to offer our squad. Signing these players so quickly means there is little time for opportunities to come in and snatch our deals as we’ve suffered too many times in the past, like Torosidis, the captain of Greece, who was all set to join us in January until Roma came and nabbed him from under our noses.
Amorebieta is especially interesting. A good defender, very talented and highly coveted, especially after his impressive form during Athletic Bilbao’s run to the Europa League final last year. He found himself out of favour from January onwards after refusing to sign a new contract which expires in less than six weeks. He has been linked to the big guns; teams like Zenit and Arsenal were reported to be interested in him. But, despite being offered a lower wage if certain media is to be believed, he has joined Fulham, and I am certain the swift actions taken to try and secure him were key to that. If we had waited any longer I imagine someone else would have one-upped us, and who knows how long this deal has been in place – Amorebieta has been available on a bosman for near five months now. As a centre half of considerable quality I cannot wait to see him alongside Hangeland next season. Aggressive but technically sound, he will shine in England and is a real coup that bodes well if this is a symbol of our pulling power and our ambition.
Riether we are all familiar with as the best kept secret in England. A transfer of between £1m and £2m is exceptional value for money, and with Sky Italia reporting Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenberg has been dropped entirely from the Roma squad ahead of an imminent €5m move to Fulham, we seem to be the early birds in this transfer window. It seems like this is how Jol prefers to do things (remember how early we signed Petric and Rodallega?) and even before then, Mark Schwarzer’s acquisition was announced five years ago yesterday. Maybe we have learnt lessons from the shambles of last summer, where all the relevant business happened after August the 28th, leaving no time to respond adequately. The club and manager deserve great credit for moving so quickly to secure their targets. Will this also calm the borderline frenzied concerns that we are poorly run with no intent to improve? One’d hope so.
Just a shame that a Summer with no football will be made even more boring if we haven’t got any transfers to look forward to since they were signed by the end of May!
The Under 18’s capped a glorious season at Craven Cottage on Sunday after defeating Reading 3-0 to retain the Barclays Under 18 Premier League trophy.
Coming into the game, Reading were on a run of 11 straight wins with powerhouse striker Uche Ikpeazu in blistering form having already amassed 28 goals this season. Fulham on the other hand had taken their foot right off the gas with 3 wins in their last 5 games including a nail biting semi-final where a 4 goal lead was nearly lost.
The Fulham team was unchanged from that semi-final in midweek, with Rodak continuing in goal behind a back four of Passley, Donnelly, Arthurworrey and Richards. The central midfield was Hyndman and Sambou (as it had been for the majority of the season) flanked by Roberts and Tankovic who dropped into midfield to allow Dembele to partner Woodrow up front.
A strong bench was named: Oberschmidt, Burgess, Baba, Della Verde and Evans. Dan O’Reilly missed out, as did George Williams and Dean O’Halloran, both long term injured.
Fulham started the game brightly, especially down the right hand side where Passley was able to launch a few crosses in and Roberts in his usual fashion manoeuvred into the box but was eventually crowded out. There was real intent early on as Reading were put under pressure in possession, great work from Sambou in stealing the ball eventually leading to a Woodrow cross that flashed across goal.
Reading crafted their first threat down the left with Fosu’s skilful running though the long shot he eventually laid on was blocked well by the Fulham defence. Moments later it appeared that a more direct approach from the visitors would bring their first clear cut chance but for Arthurworrey who recovered well to close down Tanner and force a corner.
It was more direct play that brought about Fulham’s first chance, Woodrow heading on a Rodak clearance for Dembele to run onto, only for his left foot shot inside the area to be blocked for a corner.
A series of counters from either side ended with Roberts finding himself some space on the left. He cut it back to Dembele on the edge of the box who managed to work the ball onto his right foot and unleash a curling effort into the top corner of the Reading goal.
FULHAM 1 (Dembele) READING 0
That delightful effort appeared to kick Fulham on to a higher gear, Sambou firing a shot at goal from 25 yards before Passley fed in a couple of crosses, the latter being headed wide by Woodrow towards the far post.
Shortly after, an attack that was becoming frequent should have doubled Fulham’s lead. Dembele anticipated a flick-on from Woodrow’s aerial success to leave him running at goal with only the keeper to beat. The young Frenchman opted to round the keeper but took the ball just too far and had to double back before firing over the bar.
Whilst it looked like Fulham would be the next to score, Reading were still plugging away at the other end, a smart Rodak save denying Fosu an equaliser from distance, before Passley offered up possession and ended up having to give away a free kick a few yards outside the box, only for Tanner to place his effort over the bar, taking a touch on the way through. A bit of a scramble ensued from the corner with Rodak punching high into the air before danger was eventually eased.
It was straight down the other end, Roberts feeding Woodrow who chipped a delightful through ball for Dembele who took his chance this time, sliding the ball past the keeper for 2-0. The Reading defence had played for an offside call that never came and paid for it.
FULHAM 2 (Dembele) READING 0
Reading to their credit continued to push for a goal, Passley heading away a Reading cross before Kuhl had a shot blocked. There was still time in the first half for Arthurworrey, Dembele and Tankovic to fire efforts on goal, as well as Roberts to suffer an unfortunate bobble after beating 3 men and bursting into the box.
HALF TIME: FULHAM 2 READING 0
Reading, as expected came out all guns blazing and were looking to up the tempo whilst Steve Wigley was looking for his side to press high and stop any attacks at source. Hyndman nearly made it 3-0 after good play by Tankovic on the edge of the box before he released the ball into the path of the young American who was only stopped by Lincoln’s legs.
Up the other end, Craig Tanner was pushing forward closer to Ikpeazu and managed to get a shot off that Rodak saved well to his right. Tanner was increasingly getting a foothold in the game for the visitors but Sambou was working hard to stop him, as well as the rest of the defence who were doing well to crowd out any attacks, Arthurworrey particularly winning the battle of the giants as Ikpeazu struggled to assert any dominance.
Fulham managed to break down the left with Richards flying along the touchline; his cross managing to pick out the only player to keep up with him, but Dembele’s diving header was placed wide. Reading were on the attack again as it was all hands on deck for a few minutes, but the Fulham defence were admirably defiant in their work and after stopping the attack they managed to break superbly after keeping possession for a succession of passes ending in a Hyndman drive forward centrally before he coolly played in Woodrow one-on-one. Lincoln did well to shut off the space and Woodrow could only muster a shot at his legs.
With 70 minutes gone Reading were yet to create a real clear cut opening, be it through moving the ball around the box quickly, Fosu’s silky skills down the wing, or Ikpeazu pulling onto the smaller Richards which had failed to bear any fruit in the first half. There’s no doubt that there was pressure and tempo from the away side that on another day would have earned a victory, but this was a Fulham side that looked determined to hold onto their lead and their title.
As Reading did look to create they were forcing plenty of corners, which looked a good bet for a way back into the game, with the deliveries good and Rodak looking to punch at every opportunity. One particular corner was headed into the air and dropped agonisingly for Reading straight onto the bar before eventually being cleared.
Whilst Reading’s corners were keeping the whites on their toes, they themselves were having to stay vigilant at the back, Tankovic forcing another save out of Lincoln. Passley then drilled a shot wide before recovering to head out a dangerous cross for yet another Reading corner followed by a quick second, both of which were punched by Rodak.
Ikpeazu then won a controversial free kick for Tanner to have another chance at goal. This effort was better and was drilled towards the top corner, the crossbar yet again coming to Fulham’s aid, before the rebound was also cracked against the bar, eventually danger was averted with Reading heading over the top of the goal. Panic over for a short time at least, as Reading managed to carve somewhat of an opening before Rodak saved well with an outstretched hand.
A late challenge on Richards by the corner flag allowed some respite for Fulham who had just dropped the pace, though with barely 2 minutes left on the clock it looked as though they had just about come through the storm unscathed.
Another Fulham break, or rather a lone foray into the Reading half by Dembele allowed him to ensure he would at least be going home with the match ball, if by some miracle it wasn’t going to be joined by a winners medal. The striker faced 3 opponents, one who tripped him, but Dembele just about kept his footing and advantage was played. The defenders were backing off, and why not as they were still some distance from goal, though Dembele worked the ball to his right foot and drilled a low shot that crept past the keeper and in off the post.
FULHAM 3 (Dembele) READING 0
The 3 minutes of added time were subdued; a Reading corner was headed wide before hat-trick hero Dembele was replaced by Evans. A minute later the referee called an end to the game and confirmed Fulham as champions of the Barclays Under 18 Premier League.
FULL TIME: FULHAM 3 READING 0
FULHAM: Rodak; Passley, Donnelly, Arthurworrey, Richards; Roberts, Sambou, Hyndman, Tankovic; Woodrow, Dembele (Evans 90). Not used: Oberschmidt; Baba, Burgess, Della Verde
READING: Lincoln; Long, Griffin, Hyam, Cooper; Kuhl, Stacey, Kelly, Fosu; Tanner, Ikpeazu. Subs not used: Ward, Murombedzi, Taylor-Crossdale, Jefford, Owusu
And that was that, a year on and Fulham again reigned supreme. Though this Fulham and the Fulham that gained the title last year are few and far between. The line-up for last year’s final was as follows: Roberts; Brister, Grimmer, Pritchard, Kavanagh; Williams, Christensen, Minkwitz, Mesca; Altman, Woodrow. Looking at that line-up Fulham had a lot to do in replacing a core that we had come to admire. In fact only 3 players who players who were named in the squad were named in this year’s final, Woodrow starting up front yet again, with Sambou and Tankovic who were on the bench last year. There were also successful second chances for Passley (banned) and Arthurworrey (injured) who missed the final last year but made their mark this time around.
In terms of the 90 minutes, you can’t look any further than Moussa Dembele for man of the match, 3 goals in any final is rare let alone 3 goals that showed beautiful skill in the first, composure in the second, and pure determination in the third. Though in truth on the day there was very little between most players, Sambou breaking the play well, Arthurworrey and Donnelly shackling Ikpeazu and Tanner, both full backs bombing on and aiding attacks, the wingers for their guile in opening up space and creating chances, Woodrow for his strength and determination in the battle, Rodak for some fine saves and ability to cope under corners in their plentiful, Hyndman for his range of passing and ability to unlock the defence with one pass.
There must also be major credit to Steve Wigley, who carried on the youth philosophy in playing free flowing attacking football with a completely new side from the names we were used to hearing as well as allowing some of the younger players to step up and show what they had, Norman, Sheckleford, Smile, Redford, Leacock-McLeod.
Dembele’s final hat-trick (1 of 3 for him this season, 8 scored by Fulham players in total) left him 1 short of Tankovic’s 18 for the season (though Tankovic played 10 more games), with the Swede crowned top goal scorer.
Muamar Tankovic 18
Moussa Dembele 17
Cauley Woodrow 15
What a terrible season it has been. Not in terms of catastrophes – we have pretty much remained at arms length from relegation all season – but it’s been so incredibly mediocre that it has quite genuinely sucked the fun out of supporting Fulham. We haven’t turned over any of the big boys sans Tottenham away, our goal of the season competition will be decidedly average compared to last season, displays have been apathetic and performances frustrating; I think our ‘highlights of the season’ come down to Norwich on the first day, the first half vs QPR and Spurs in spring. Our star players Berbatov and Ruiz have hinted at what they can provide while too often reminding us why they are not playing for Champions League clubs, and the supporting cast has provided the team with as much balance as a drunk on a tightrope. Hangeland and Riether aside (and maybe Karagounis) there is little affection for the players from the supporters, and the short-term dealings which were partly forced and partly planned will not allow us to build an affinity either. And when we finally looked as if we’d get some end-of-season momentum and we could push for a top ten finish, an achievement which we could quite rightly be proud of, our star man of those few games, Dejagah, was unceremoniously wiped out by the captain of our rivals and that was that. I won’t say much about the cups because, well, there isn’t much to say anyway.
It has been a lacklustre season in every sense. It could have ended five weeks ago and I wouldn’t be bothered. It’s not a pleasant state of mind. Come the end of Sunday this weekend, here’s hoping that we can finally draw a line under this, look forward to the Summer and make next season one to remember.
If you look at the league table how many teams would actually say they’ve had a good season?
Then ask the same question for “not big” teams.
There are two: West Bromwich Albion, who had a good year but also a big striker on loan from Chelsea; Swansea, who have made some very clever moves in the transfer market and are generally admired throughout the land.
That’s it. Everyone else is more or less in the relegation mix, or would be were it not for three measly points.
Is this what happens when the rich get too rich?
Are Fulham just one of many clubs finding this out the hard way?
Are we – gasp! – really not that bad?
Filed under: General
So after yesterdays game that seemed to show absolutely NO passion whatsoever from the Fulham players here is a video showing the Hull City players celebrating promotion yesterday. We have some quality players in our side but it is this sort of passion that wins games. Take note, Fulham.
Don’t panic but… if Wigan win their game in hand on Tuesday – when they play a sliding Swansea at home – we’ll be three points off the relegation zone. We reached 40 points what seems like a time ago, and until Saturday I never once entertained the idea of relegation and I still think it’s so, so unlikely that it will happen, but after yesterday’s drama in the Championship where literally every permutation was played out at least once that afternoon (what drama! I was drained after a fantastic afternoon spent listening to 5live) I am genuinely quite anxious. Maybe it’s a side effect of the end-of-term Uni stresses but, my word it’s going to be tight. Hosting a Jekyll-Hyde Liverpool side before an away match, you cannot guarantee the win we need. I still feel a little ridiculous talking about a possible relegation but it’s not inconceivable by any means.
If Wigan win Tuesday night’s game against Swansea then, my word, everyone from Stoke in 11th (who join us on 40 points) down will be dragged in to it. And great credit to Wigan who have shown marvellous quality and determination in recent weeks like they always seem to do at this time of the season. But that is what makes yesterday’s display absolutely undeniably inexplicable. A display devoid of shape, consideration and quality – although it was an incredibly exciting match and I think everyone bar Fulham fans would have enjoyed that one – I cannot understand how the players could step out and justify that to themselves. There have been a lot of signs this season that something is fundamentally very, very wrong in the first team set up and I hope that we finally put the nagging threat of relegation to bed next weekend and we have the opportunity to do some serious DIY.
No more patchwork players – I love Karagounis as much as the next man and wouldn’t mind if he stays on for another year, but let’s not kid ourselves; likewise January’s loan deals, with any luck we can keep Enoh who has looked very good and Urby who really is quality, although you might have to take my word for it, and please not a plethora of one-year deals. Let’s see development, the beginnings of a cohesive plan that will bring us prosperity over the next five years.
Maybe this is just the end-of-season blues. And in all honestly it’s been a terribly uninspiring season with no cup runs, no Europe to push for and realistically a little threat of relegation (although it’s far too close for comfort right now), so there’s no surprise if I was a little down. I would have been quite happy for it to have been over three weeks ago because this apathy is sucking the fun out of it. Thankfully, the drama in the Champions League and the Championship has at least reminded me that football really is quite special. So c’mon Jol, Bryan, Berba et. al. Let’s provide a statement of intent in the last two games of the season, and come summertime, build on the handful of special players we do have at our disposal.
Well that was positively embarrassing wasn’t it? Yesterday’s Fulham performance against relegated Reading was nothing short of disgraceful. Not for the first time this season, fans have been left wondering where they can ask for a refund on increasingly over-priced tickets to watch what seemed nothing more than an exhibition in nonchalance.
After losing at Loftus Road to QPR in December there was a genuine feeling of shock at how poor and uninterested Fulham were. Yesterday felt exactly the same. The performance under the early May sun became an ever-worsening comedy of errors that eventually descended into farce.
From a squad filled with more detritus than your average landfill site, to on the day performances laced with so little compassion and energy that you could have been excused for thinking you were watching eleven robots, yesterday will live in the memory as an unfortunate reminder of how not to tackle a late season game, and it could yet have consequences significantly worse, with a two game relegation dogfight for survival looming.
Even amongst the catalogue of glumness, we could and should have still won yesterday’s match. Had Reading been penalised for Stephen Kelly’s clumsy and reckless felling of Dimitar Berbatov inside the area, as they should have been, Hal Robson-Kanu would not have been able to put them 2-0 up. The opening penalty was inside the box by the width of a fingernail, or was it? Match of the day didn’t really care to analyse those finer details.
But refereeing decisions are not tantamount to an excuse. Decisions like those should light a fire under the belly of motivated players, yet ours sunk like shouted at schoolchildren.
In the end it is all quite simple. I had my non-football watching fiancé at the game yesterday, her restricted view ticket, a £58 addition to the three season tickets we already hold (see what I was saying about over-pricing). I kept testing her observation skills by asking for tactical insights, and she stated what seems the blindingly obvious yet seems to go un-preached by those in a position to do some preaching. Our players do not seem to look up when passing, Senderos, Hangeland, Riise, Emmanuelson, Duff and Karagounis particularly guilty of this. There is also no team movement, Reading attacked as a wave, and defended as a group of 11, standing as a single unit. Fulham attacked as individuals and defended as statues.
When you fail to execute the simple things, it is no wonder the complex seems a mile off.
For all this though, we still could have salvaged something from the game. Hugo Rodallega, for all his energy and positive attitude compared to some, missed three chances to score that a striker at this level has to put away, hitting the keeper, post and crossbar is simply not good enough. Profligacy is a reason for failure, not an excuse.
Frustration was in the air at Craven Cottage yesterday
I will lay off tearing into Bryan Ruiz as some seem to be doing, not only his two goals, but his boot was the sole creative asset we possessed all day. Yes he should have scored 4, but at least unlike some, he was trying to go in the right direction.
The real issue yesterday was the defence. Sascha Reither aside, it was a monumentally bad game for the collective back 5 (or 6 if you include an out –of- sorts Richardson). Philippe Senderos, so often unjustly criticised and scapegoated this season, was poor, but he was not alone, Brede was out of sorts, while the John Arne Riise tenure at left back must surely be at an end. Mark Schwarzer had an awful game too, the penalty aside; all the goals were preventable by the last line. In the twilight of his career, Mark’s form over the last 3 months has been outstanding, but on this occasion, Martin Jol’s not so subtle catcalls for a new goalkeeper seem entirely justified.
It is no wonder a performance like this reared its ugly head again, in a season where you lose your best three starting midfields and replace them at a cost of less than a single ticket to yesterday’s game, is it any wonder ambition and progress have been replaced by terms like ‘muddling’ and ‘escape’?
At 40 points it appears the dressing room had thought themselves safe on April 1st. They are not. From 12th to 18th in two games is yet a real possibility and will yet likely depend on results elsewhere. Should the lack of desire be replicated come Liverpool next Sunday, we could do worse than starting the Under 18’s against Swansea following their 3rd consecutive league title. There are certainly a few youngsters who’d contribute more to the first team at the moment than their under-performing older siblings.
To not show ambition is disappointing, but to not show any heart yesterday was equivalent to disrespect – to themselves, to their coaches and to those fans for whom the season doesn’t stop until the end of the final game. Seeing as the team stopped playing on April 1st, can we pro-rate our season tickets?
The winds of change are blowing. This summer must see deadwood expunged and ambition shown. However, we have to get there first. There are two games to go. Let’s join together and show support. Players, fans, coaches all rallying together can turn this game’s negative into a positive. Use this as the fire to ignite some passion for two games and turn all fears of relegation into hearsay.
Yesterday was embarrassing. So Fulham. Come to play next Sunday. Come to win. Or don’t come at all.
Human nature is to be ambitious; we all want to be the best we can be, and to make the most success out of those abilities. The grassy knoll of human ambition is one that we all strive to climb but its as easy to climb to far, as it is to refuse to climb it at all. One thing’s for certain, if you go to far, there can be a heck of a fall.
If that’s all a bit existential, lets bring it back on topic, in the week that our neighbours from Shepherd’s Bush finally saw the deathnail in the Premiership survival hopes, the blurred lines between genuine ambition and over-ambition have never been clearer. The lure of Italian, Indian, Malaysian and Formula One funded cash under the heralded title, ambition, has led Queens Park Rangers on a journey that their Four Year Plan could never have envisaged, yet was all too obvious.
The difference between ambition and greed?
Having bought their way up from the dog eat dog championship, they sought to buy themselves into mid-table in the top flight. It lured Mark Hughes and his mercenary army for hire in 2011, then players swapped the likes of Marseille, Inter Milan and Real Madrid for Loftus Road, before finally Harry Redknapp turned down Ukrainian petrodollars for a shot at fulfilling QPR’s ambition. Look where it’s got them, an away trip to Doncaster next season. I’m led to wonder if Loic Remy, Julio Cesar and Esteban Granero have ever heard of Doncaster?
At Fulham, we always seem to understand the level of our ambitions. Even after that mesmeric run to Hamburg, when it would have been easy to get carried away, we have stayed true to who we are, building brick by brick and appreciating that finishing tenth is a good ambition for a club of our resources.
As another season draws to a close though, I ask, are we ambitious enough? This is something of an esoteric question as I am quite happy with the club’s on and off field performance in recent years, as I’m sure every level headed fan, player and director would be.
However, for another 12 months, we will go trophyless and Wembley appearanceless, we still have a middling to poor away record and we have had a season of overall slumber. But here’s that question again. Would wishing anything more than this be over-ambitious?
Let’s face it, you name me a mid table club who sells their two best players in the last three days of the summer window and really pushes on the next year. Heck, compared to the pre Roy days of relegation dodging, our rise has been somewhat Napoleonic in its brevity.
Right now, however, I would like to state that for as enjoyable as it is, I would like next season to be about more than simply watching Dimitar Berbatov play. Our Bulgarian talisman has been the recurring constant in the theme of this season. Whether it be his soo ften-mesmeric skills, or listening to another so-called “expert” misanalyse him as lazy. Even daring to make the phone call to his agent to sign him in the first place was ambitious. But there’s been little else of late.
Next season needs to be about more than just Berbatov, on and off the field.
Ambition and Dimitar Berbatov go hand in hand though. The “Keep Calm and Pass Me the Ball” shirt is the perfect example. We only have one more shot at making the most of Dimitar’s monumental talent, the second year of his two year contract. We have to help him help us to push on next season. He needs a supporting cast. Watching Daniel Day-Lewis play Abraham Lincoln in a home movie is unlikely to win him an Oscar, for that he needs a supporting cast and director to all work as one.
We reached 40 points in Mid-April, and let’s face it, that’s not bad. But what happened to those incremental increases? If you look back and view this season as a complete picture, we’ve done ok considering. Injuries, badly timed suspensions and yes, those damn sales in August, have all gone against us, and yet we should hopefully end comfortably mid-table when all is said and done. But is wishing for a few Berbatov calibre complimentary pieces being over-ambitious?
The most frustrating thing is that unlike QPR, who were never even remotely the sum of their parts, at times this year, Martin Jol has gelled Fulham into a very attractive, skilful and tactically astute bunch, but there has been little to no consistency.
This is not a season review, the season still has three games to go. A club bigger than our own could well join Reading and QPR in the Championship next season with Newcastle and Villa still amongst the quagmire.
There have been highlights this year. Along with Dimitar Berbatov, the play of Sascha Reither in particular, but also the likes of Giorgios Karagounis and since January, Mark Schwarzer, have been particularly pleasing. Urby Emmanuelson and Eyong Enoh joined on loan and have showed flashes of quality to light keep alight the embers of ambition in all of us.
Lets just hope that we all manage to keep the ambition in balance in our heads. As fans it is unreasonable for us to get all miserable and sulky if the club isn’t over ambitious. It’s ok if we aren’t in on signing Falcao or Cavani, but perhaps if we ever sing “attack, attack, attack” at our players, we’ll know we have a problem.
For all our sake though, lets hope Fulham take every effort towards the goal of collective improvement this summer, even if it is baby step by baby step.
Matthew Briggs is the youngest player ever to make an appearance in the Premier League and yet, six years on, we are still left wondering about what role he has to play in Fulham’s future. Earmarked by Mark Hughes and then Martin Jol as one to watch, cited by Aaron Hughes as one of the exciting young talents, courted by Chelsea and United when he was with the U18s, the athletic left back clearly has something about him which has lead to his Premier League and England U21 appearances. However, it seems a case of ‘too much too soon’, a player who thinks he’s made it when really he hasn’t even started, and as a result has not worked nearly as hard at his game as he perhaps should have. I don’t know, but it’s a possibility. We were all hoping – me especially, I don’t doubt his potential – that his latest move, out on loan to Watford, would be the final thing to kickstart his time at Fulham in the same way it worked for Kacaniklic, and having heard him conduct himself well against Cardiff last week felt even a little reassured. But, as Tom Bodell from VitalWatford lays out, it seems to be more of the same.
Suffice to say, he’s done appallingly & is the new scapegoat. Here’s what I can say without it sounding like a vitriolic rant -
I have to admit to being slightly apprehensive when we signed Matthew Briggs. The video that Lorcan linked me to for Vital Watford showed a young defender hopelessly caught out of position by West Brom for Fulham, lacking the concentration or awareness to hold down a defensive berth.
On his first outing against Blackpool he appeared to do OK in defeat, playing down the left-hand side of a back three. That fairly steady start was unfortunately followed up by an awful mistake against Burnley on Good Friday to gift the Clarets a point. If you didn’t see it, Briggs was caught dozing and entirely unaware of the man nipping past him to race onto a routine long-ball and level up at 3-3.
It wasn’t classic defending.
Gianfranco Zola had clearly learned his lesson and by the time we went to Hull at the beginning of April he had been moved to left wing-back, which ought to have suited him with his natural athletic ability and will to get forward. Sadly he was so poor he was hooked at half-time after putting in a very limp display.
Unlike the Udinese & Granada loanees he has thus far failed to show the same level of commitment and desire; the will to put his foot or head in where it hurts and sod the consequences.
His most recent appearance came at home to Cardiff City and although most Hornets’ supporters were slating him for another lacklustre display at left wing-back, I felt it was the best I’d seen him play.
He was keen to get forward and worked hard, but time and time again he wanted to take an extra touch or an extra second to set himself before crossing. As anyone knows, the best players need less time and fewer touches; that is just not the case with Briggs. He was not helped by slow service by centre-back Lloyd Doyley, always directed into feet when he could have done with it in front of him, but nonetheless, he has shown very little so far to suggest he will ever cut it at a level higher than this.
Before a few weeks ago, I had never heard of the Dallas Cup and now, I feel as though I’ve heavily missed out. A prestigious and physically gruelling youth tournament that has helped to chisel and develop some of the greatest players to grace the game, a list that includes, Raul, David Beckham, Michael Owen and Clint Dempsey to name just a few. Previous English winners of the Dallas Cup include Liverpool in 2008, Nottingham Forest in 2002 and West Ham in 1992. They have now been joined by English under 18 Premier League winners Fulham who would go on to triumph in the Dallas Cup in emphatic style, proving why we are all excited about where our academy is going.
The captain of the impressive under 19 Fulham side that would go all of the way in the tournament told me about his and the squad’s experiences in Dallas. Jack Grimmer has earned plaudits for his performances for Fulham’s under 21 side and had a very successful week out in America personally. A centre back that when growing up modelled himself on old fashioned centre halves and fellow Scots Alex McLeish and Willie Miller admitted the majority of the squad did not know what to expect, with him also praising the tournament, “It was honestly the best tournament I’ve played in as a player so far. We didn’t know what to expect but had only heard good things, so we went out with an open mind and thankfully done well in the matches. It was also obviously an honour for me to be captain! As well as the tournament, the week in general was brilliant. We got time to go to the outlets for some shopping to get some down time.”
Picture: A victorious Jack Grimmer (right) holds the Dallas Cup trophy with teammate Ryan Williams (left)
The excitement grew within the Fulham fan base as the tournament continued, and it didn’t go unnoticed, Grimmer added “[The support was] overwhelming to say the least! I’ve had a lot of tweets giving the whole squad support which is brilliant. It shows how much the fans care for the club regardless of the ages playing. We really appreciated all of the support we got from everybody back home.” One of the interesting things about seeing our highly acclaimed side in the Dallas Cup was seeing how well they dealt with different styles of play from around the world. The Scot would add “It was different compared to playing against EPL teams for the u21s, but I was slightly more used to it because I have played International games with Scotland for a few years now. All the players adapted well and listened to what our coaches told us throughout the competition.”
With the Dallas Cup being an under 19 tournament, a few of our squad players had already been integrated into the under 21 side which gave as an advantage in experience. The enthusiastic captain agreed; “Well obviously as a player playing with and against better players’ week in and week out helps you improve, so yes I think this helped. The squad had a real good mix of older and younger players. One of the best parts about the squad was the togetherness.” He also was full of praise of Steve Wigley and appreciated each Fulham coach has provided in his development: “I was coached by Ray Lewington when I first arrived and as you’d expect each coach has their own style and way of doing things. I’m thankful to each of them in my own way for each thing they’ve taught me. Both Steve and Kit are top classes coaches hence why they are both on the international scene too. I hadn’t been coached much by Steve until the trip so it was nice to finally get some time under him. He definitely knows how to get the best out of his players.”
After answering questions about the squad’s time in the Dallas Cup, Jack Grimmer was kind enough to answer more questions about his personal career. The natural leader showed clear goals and a mature head when asking what his aims for the rest of the season and the year ahead, “Personally my ambitions are to knuckle down and keep working hard and of course to break into the first team!” 19 year old Grimmer was in fact a joy to talk to and spoke very intelligently about his idols and the experienced provided by the first team, “Players always offer advice and pointers. Experience is priceless! I’ve looked up to good old fashioned centre halves like Alex McLeish and Willie Miller from my time at Aberdeen. Now I base my game around the centre halves at Fulham. They also show a great example of how it should be done! It’s brilliant Brede recently signed on.” Upon finishing the interview I asked Jack whether he had a message for Fulham fans and he replied with “I just really hope I can do them proud and fill the shirt that so many great players have played in.”
I and the others at HammyEnd.com cannot thank Jack Grimmer enough for this interview and must say he was first class during it admitting he was glad to help us. I hope we see him and the rest of the squad parade the trophy during the next home game which is interestingly against Chelsea. We should be very proud of our squad and hope that this is the first of a double with the under 18s on the journey for back to back Academy League titles.
Dimitar Berbatov believed Fulham were always likely to hold onto their advantage in a topsy-turvy West London derby despite what he described as ‘childish’ second-half defending.
The Bulgarian striker had helped established the home side’s strong position in the contest with a quickfire double courtesy of two mistakes from Chris Samba. The QPR defender first felled Ashkan Dejagah to give away a penalty and then dallied on the ball in front of Damien Duff – and Berbatov freely admitted that he quickly targeted the error-prone centre back.
Yeah, you can see [players are nervous] sometimes. In the first couple of minutes you can see which players look nervous or [who] is having a bad game. So you try to push and press on them, which was the case with their player when we scored the second goal. You need to be clever in a situation like this because if you take advantage of them like you should, we score.
A second half slump almost saw Fulham squander their three-goal lead with the Whites indebted to goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer for two fine second half saves: the first from a Loic Remy penalty and a late stop from former Fulham forward Bobby Zamora. Berbatov, however, always felt his team were in control.
We weren’t nervous but we almost threw the game away. We had a comfortable lead in the first half – three goals is a lot – and the something in the second half, a bit childish maybe.
They scored the second goal and started to believe. But in the end we held onto the three goals we scored. We could have scored more but in the end three points was good for us.
The only time they can score is when we make a mistake, so the goal for them lifted their spirits. If you look back, you see mistakes and try to correct them next time, but now we’re going to celebrate the three points.
Berbatov also insisted that Sky Sports should have given the man-of-the-match award to Schwarzer after his goalkeeper’s fine display.
I think you should give [the man of the match award] to [Schwarzer], or I will be giving it to him in the dressing room, because it’s not the first time he’s saved a penalty. He’s a great goalkeeper and without him I don’t think we were going to win this game.
The 32 year-old was also quick to reaffirm that he’s happy at Craven Cottage and downplayed suggestions that Fulham were ever in any danger of going down themselves.
It’s great, I’m enjoying my football here. You can see it on the pitch, by the goals I score and the way I’m playing. It’s going great for me, and for the team, so I hope it continues this way.
We’ve always been safe. I don’t see why anyone should worry. We play good football and sometimes we make childish mistakes which is why we suffer, but if we correct this we will be even better.
Martin Jol admitted he was mightily relieved after Fulham hung on to clinch a dramatic derby win over QPR at Craven Cottage tonight – as the Whites almost surrendered a three-goal lead.
The points looked safe after a Dimitar Berbatov brace and an own goal from Clint Hill put the home side three goals to the good after 41 minutes, but Adel Taraabt’s sensational solo goal just before the interval provided Rangers with a real shot in the arm. Loic Remy added a second after missing a penalty and things got even tenser after Steve Sidwell was sent off, with Fulham hanging on to gain revenge for December’s defeat at Loftus Road.
Speaking afterwards, Jol felt this west London derby was the archetypal game of two halves:
It was a great game for the spectators but it was two different halves. In the first half we played much better than them and we played some great football. But in the second half we probably made the mistakes they made in the first half.
At 3-1 you always know they will smell blood and their spirit was better in the second half. You shouldn’t concede a second goal but we did and we needed the keeper again to save the penalty. He’s a fantastic goalkeeper. So overall, we are a bit disappointed that we were 3-0 up and then made it a bit difficult for ourselves.
The Fulham manager felt Sidwell’s straight red for a challenge on Armand Traore was harsh and left his side hanging on towards the end.
The sending off was a bit harsh. He went for the ball and tried to pull his leg out of the tackle but he was red carded and that was difficult for us.
Much of the post-match praise went to Berbatov for another brilliant performance and Jol highlighted his striker’s all-round display rather than just his deadly finishes.
He worked ever so hard; that is what we like. You saw the penalty kick, he’s a specialist, and for the second, Damien Duff intercepted the ball and Dimitar scored again. He’s got 13 goals and he’s a special player for us.
The Fulham manager isn’t yet completely convinced that his side are safe, but has begun to consider the possibility of moving even further up the Premier League table.
We had three unexpected points against Tottenham Hotspur but we always felt this game against QPR would be vital. Hopefully 39 will be enough but it’s the only competition in the world where you can be 10th and still go down. There are a few clubs above us but we have a game in hand and hopefully we can go a bit higher in the league.
For 44 minutes, it appeared as though this west London derby would prove as straightforward as last September’s sunny stroll when Fulham put six past Queen’s Park Rangers. Fired up by the memory of an abject pre-Christmas surrender at Loftus Road, Fulham were formidable, flying out of the starting blocks, and the speed of their start suggested that they might better last season’s margin. Dimitar Berbatov confidently converted a penalty and stroked home a second after being presented with the ball by an all too accommodating Chris Samba, before the hapless Clint Hill turned a John Arne Riise cross into his own net.
All three goals – and Rangers’ complete lack of organisation – demonstrated why Harry Redknapp’s side had struggled to keep pace with the rest of the Premier League. Just before the break, a stupendous solo goal from Adel Taraabt, his second such sensational strike against Fulham this season, seemed simply a consolation. It actually threatened to turn the tie on its head. Rangers were revitalised after the break. They should have had a second when Giorgis Karagounis, whose careless pass had allowed Taraabt to set off on his mazy dribble before the break, felled the Moroccan inside the box but Mark Schwarzer sprung to his right and saved Loic Remy’s tame penalty. Fulham’s reprieve was short-lived: two minutes later, Remy spun away from Phillipe Senderos and lashed a drive in off the underside of the crossbar. When Steve Sidwell saw red for a tackle on Armand Traore, the dynamics of the contest were totally transformed.
Fulham hung on as their home fans gleefully reminded their visitors of their perilous predicament. Perhaps it was QPR’s desperate plight that persuaded Redknapp to field Taraabt, Remy and the former Fulham striker Bobby Zamora in the same starting eleven. It was a high-stakes gamble that backfired badly. Rangers were robbed of the defensive solidity that had neutralised Berbatov at Loftus Road – and were far too open as a result. With their Bulgarian maestro to the fore, Fulham made the most of the gaps that quickly appeared.
Samba’s charity had a lot to do with Fulham’s fast start. Far from being the big-money replacement for Ryan Nelsen, he was the weakest link in a QPR back four that hardly covered itself in glory. One aberration followed another. A poor touch presented the ball to Ashkan Dejagah and a clumsy challenge conceded the penalty, which Berbatov tucked away with the minimum of fuss. That mistake seemed to transform the £12.5m centre back in a bag of nerves. He then inexplicably tried to dribble around Damien Duff twenty yards from his own goal, allowing Berbatov to steal in and roll his second of the net past a stranded Julio Cesar in an instant. Samba’s embarrassment was complete when he was bamboozled by a backheel from his opposite number Brede Hangeland and Riise’s cross rebounded into the net off Hill.
Fulham’s dominance was barely reflected by the half-time scoreline. Duff, who dovetailed delightfully with Riise down the Fulham left, almost surprised Cesar at his near post with a low shot and Hangeland, who had handed Fulham a timely boost last week by committing his future to the club with a new contract, headed wastefully wide when left unattended from the Irishman’s free-kick. The home side were in complete command, stroking the ball around imperiously and looking threatening with every attack. Berbatov caught the eye not just for his finishing, but a couple of majestic touches – the most breathtaking of which saw him bring down a high ball on the corner of the penalty area and burst away from Traore in the blink of an eye.
It was to Rangers’ credit that they managed to make a game of it. Were it not for a splendid Schwarzer save from Zamora, the visitors might have snatched a point after a much improved second half showing. It would have merely papered over the cracks of the abject defending that has blighted their second season in the top flight – and the outlook looks remarkably bleak. While Fulham could contentedly consider a late assault on the top half, Redknapp’s Rangers appear destined for the Championship.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Riether, Riise, Senderos, Hangeland; Karagounis, Sidwell; Dejagah (Emmanuelson 38; Frimpong 80), Duff, Ruiz; Berbatov. Subs (not used): Etheridge, Hughes, Richardson, Frei, Rodallega.
BOOKED: Riether, Senderos.
SENT OFF: Sidwell (78).
GOALS: Berbatov (pen 8, 22), Hill (o.g. 41).
QUEEN’S PARK RANGERS (4-2-3-1): Cesar; Bosingwa, Traore (Mackie 83), Samba, Hill (Onouha 45); Jenas, Mbia; Remy, Taraabt (Hoilett 74), Townsend; Zamora. Subs (not used): Green, Ben Haim, Granero, Park Ji-Sung.
GOAL: Taraabt (45), Remy (51).
REFEREE: Lee Probert (Wiltshire).
For those unable to make the game, or fancy a little discussion, I will be running the HammyEnd twitter feed during the QPR match tonight. Follow us @HammyEnd or by clicking here.
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If one game epitomised the desperate nature of Fulham’s winter slump, it came at Loftus Road on December 15. Leaving that ground, Fulham’s home in name only for a couple of seasons before their return home almost a decade ago, after watching a performance hardly worthy of the name was a desolate experience. Spineless, supine, sacrificial: several synonyms could sum it up. Fulham were wretched and meekly surrendered in a second half that unfortunately isn’t forgettable.
The sight of Adel Taraabt, who famously sought a quick getaway from Craven Cottage after being substituted at half time in last season’s 6-0 drubbing, dribbling through the remnants of a lackadaisical Fulham defence to score QPR’s second, winning a loose ball from Brede Hangeland just past the half way line, will send a shiver down my spine for years to come. For me, it wasn’t so much that QPR had secured their first league win of the season and glimpsed survival after the poorest start in Premier League history, but that Fulham were so devoid of fight, passion and spirit. It seemed fitting that Mladen Petric’s deflected strike came too late – it was almost an apologetic afterthought.
Rivalry for me didn’t come into it, although it certainly will have bothered others. I grew up with a raging dislike of Brentford, who were a division above Fulham when I first started visiting Craven Cottage regularly and had aspirations of climbing higher, while Chelsea feel like more natural geographical rivals these days. Passions will rise in anticipation of Monday’s return fixture for many, however. 1983 still lingers long in the memory, an abject 3-1 defeat securing the Second Division title for Rangers, and the deathly phrase ‘Fulham Park Rangers’ should serve as a reminder of how far we’ve come in the years since Fulham conjured up images of the halcyon days of the 60s, the 1975 Cup final and the latter stages of Bobby Moore and George Best’s careers.
More recently, of course, the fortunes of the two clubs have been inextricably linked. From Mark Hughes’ own ‘ambition’ to that of Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson, there’s been a fair bit of traffic travelling down the Askew Road towards Shepherds Bush. Hughes’ departure from the Cottage looks more and more like a moment of hubris that might prove one of his biggest managerial miscalculations – his time at Loftus Road saw an expensively assembled squad plumb depths that few pundits could have predicted in the summer – while his two striking recruits have endured uncomfortable injury-plagued spells at their new club. Andy Johnson’s lack of fitness was the reason why Fulham were unwilling to extend his contract, while Lorcan’s already adequately covered the subject of Zamora’s return.
Monday’s meeting assumes massive significance for QPR as Harry Redknapp runs out of games to prove he can still claim his Houdini mantle. It goes without saying that Rangers badly need a win, even though they’ve climbed off the foot of the table thanks to Arsenal’s pummeling of Reading on Saturday, but the importance of the fixture for Fulham shouldn’t be understated. Jol’s side have quietly crept towards the top half of the table – and as both Swansea and West Brom stumble ahead of them – there’s a slim chance that Fulham could climb even higher. The Whites have acquired the handy habit of finishing seasons strongly in recent years – and Monday’s game offers the rare opportunity to clinch consecutive London derby wins following the defeat of Tottenham before the international break.
Victory tomorrow night would prove cathartic for a number of the Fulham faithful. It shouldn’t be taken for granted, however. QPR do have the ability to score goals – Redknapp’s capture of Loic Remy and Zamora’s return to fitness have offered the strugglers a striking threat that they had previously lacked. If Fulham can console themselves that the mercurial talent of Taraabt might start on the bench, they’ll face a physical and explosive partnership in the shape of the French forward and a man whose ability to infuriate central defenders we know all about.
In their media comments in the build up to this game, it seems as though both Jol and the players have got the message. They seemed lacklustre and leaden-footed at Loftus Road. It wasn’t good enough. There’s a score to settle this time – and a few psychological scars to repair.
I remember feeling genuine shock when Bobby Zamora’s transfer from Fulham to QPR was announced. In fact I was so disappointed I treated the situation at the time with complete apathy. It really was a demoralising blow to lose a striker who had been so key to our success over the last few seasons and won who earnt a lot of adulation, if not love, for his stunning 19 goal season during that incredible Europa League run – to our most vicious rivals, no less! But hindsight is a wonderful thing; we’ve gone from strength to strength since he left, and his immediate replacement, Pavel Pogrebnyak, coincided with a fantastic run of form, demonstrating that actually Zamora was maybe more of a hindrance to the team than a help by the time of his departure. Monday marks the first time Zamora will line up in QPR colours since his switch, and as such it’s a good opportunity to have a look at a player who I appreciate, but can probably never really respect again.
The supporter-player dynamic between the fans on the Cottage terraces and Zamora himself was fascinating however. There was a genuine love-hate relationship, with fans wanting him to score goals for the good of the team and demonstrate limited appreciation without ever really warming to a player who visibly disliked them.
After a catastrophic goal return over his first few months at Fulham – after a goal on his debut in August he didn’t score again until we beat non-league Kettering in the FA cup – a number of fans were on his back. The supporters were split into two camps: those with him (responsible for the “his hold up play” cliché which became a running joke) and those against him. It was a huge shame though that there was even an “against him” camp for a player who did genuinely contribute significantly on the pitch to our highest ever league finish despite his lack of goals, and who showed little negative contribution really (you could never question his work rate and he didn’t say anything out of turn). The abuse was vicious and unnecessary and I do have some genuine sympathy for him.
However, there were two paths Zamora could have gone down after this. He could have risen above it and taken the one Chris Baird has since travelled; the Irishman has certainly undergone a remarkably transformation from boo-boy to cult hero. Instead, Zamora took the other and responded in kind. After Kettering he scored twice more in the 2008-09 season, both in front of his home crowd and both celebrated with a hand cupped to his ear as if to say “So what’re you saying now?” before hurling a few choice comments of his own at the stand.
This was the start of a frosty acquaintanceship, whereby Zamora would generally celebrate as if he just discovered his wife was being unloyal before cupping his ear to the crowd. There were a couple of extreme episodes between the striker and the infamous Babygrow Man, a fan at the front of the Hammy End who did not like Zamora nor think much of his ability and let it be known too, so when Zamora scored against Sunderland at home at the Putney End he turned, pointed, mimed himself eating a burger (presumably in reference to Babygrow man’s large belly) before quite clearly yelling “f*** off” in Babygrow’s direction. A surreal moment but a very real demonstration of how Zamora felt.
Then there were his inexcusable actions while he was managed by Martin Jol. The two clearly didn’t get on and Jol implied as much in his press conferences, once saying “He does’t like crosses, he doesn’t like defending, he doesn’t like the fans.”, but in that situation both parties must remain professional. Zamora instead leaked information to the press about players discontent in what really amounts to slander. Zamora’s exit was inevitable and clearly motivated, even if he tried to cover it up with a false impress of QPR’s ambition.
As I said, it was a real shame that this is how Zamora chose to behave. While I do not, and would never, condone malice from the stands – and would even go as far to say as if you give some then you should expect some back – I believe Zamora could have been a genuine legend in the same ilk as McBride had he chosen to behave differently. Strong, hard-working and possessing genuine guile and quality following a rocky career carved in the lower leagues, when on song Zamora was undeniably supreme (just ask Cannavaro!) and just the sort of player we love to support. Instead, we are left unfortunately disliking someone who fired us to a European final and unable to celebrate a forward’s 19 goal season.
So when Zamora returns on Monday, expect a chorus of boos and a player utterly determined to bite back. A crying shame indeed.
This week’s Cottage Talk podcast has just finished broadcasting, and as per usual it was a ninety minutes packed full of Fulham content. I joined Will Paul, journalist Dean Jones and host Russ Goldman to discuss the news of our success in the Dallas Cup and Hangeland’s new contract as well as the return of Bobby Zamora, before Russ presented an exclusive interview with player of the season-elect Sascha Riether and an in depth preview of the QPR game on Monday. Listen by checking below.
Listen To Cottage Talk: 29th March 2013
The empty article was not a red herring: Brede Hangeland has signed a new deal! After months of protracted negotiation, Fulham have announced Hangeland has extended his stay with Fulham to 2015 with the option of another year. This is a huge relief as our captain, who has lead a defence that has kept three clean sheets in four games, could have left for free in the Summer – and it would have cost a fair bit to replace a player of his quality. We have had nothing but good times since his arrival and hopefully that continues over the next couple of years.
As noted on Friends of Fulham, the club appear to have let slip that captain Brede Hangeland has signed a contract extension. An ‘empty’ new article was published with the headline “Brede’s New Deal”, implying that there’s a new story set to be released with that article – and that can only mean one thing surely. Hangeland’s current contract expires at the end of June and confirmation of a new contract would be a welcome relief.