Friday, May 14, 2010

Fulham and Hodgson's Run

In the end the story didn’t unfold in the manner in which the English media would have hoped it did, as Roy Hodgson’s Fulham FC crashed out in the finals of the Europa League. But it must be said that the journey has been wonderful; as romantic as any in recent memory. For a club whose most memorable achievement in their 131 year old history was an appearance in the finals of the 1975 F.A. Cup, which they lost to West Ham United, reaching the finals of the Europa League signifies an outstanding accomplishment.

Participating in a European competition, let alone reaching the finals of one, albeit a second tier competition wouldn’t have been in the wildest dreams of Fulham’s fans, even as Mohamad Al-Fayed took control of the club in 1997. But, the passage has mostly been filled with joy as the club secured promotion to the First Division in 1999 and then to the Premier League in 2001. Having endured a couple of tumultuous campaigns in the Premier League, struggling to stay up, including the first season under Hodgson in 2007-08, when the club survived only thanks to a final day victory against Portsmouth, Fulham have now attained greater stability.

Hodgson’s mantra in moulding his team is outwardly quite simplistic. By getting his team to adhere to a system that incorporates two flat banks of four behind a front two and by ensuring that they maintain their shape and are aware of their defensive responsibilities, the sexagenarian has made Fulham a very difficult side to beat. But the most heartening element in Hodgson’s management is his ability to rejuvenate players who were believed to be past their best.

While, Damien Duff has produced some of his best form since his days as a Blackburn Rovers player, Danny Murphy, who had struggled to recapture his old form at both Charlton Athletic and Tottenham Hotspur since being discarded hurriedly by Liverpool, has kept Fulham ticking with his metronomic and at times ingenious distribution. Bobby Zamora, always considered a talent, although one never seemed to know why, has been excellent at the top, holding up the ball with panache and scoring some eye-catching goals that would have found him a place in England’s World Cup squad if not for his troublesome Achilles tendon.

Fulham’s run though has had its pitfalls. The rigours of modern day football mean that unless a club possesses a deep squad, it is almost impossible to sustain a challenge in both the domestic league as well as in Europe as both this season’s finalists have found out. While, Fulham has finished the campaign in 12th position in the Premier League, Atletico Madrid, Fulham’s conquerors in the finals, are incapable of finishing any higher than ninth in the Spanish La Liga. This means that in spite of Fulham’s magnificent run in Europe, they will not be participating in a continental competition next season. A pity some may say, but such is the nature of today’s football.

Fulham will have to deepen their squad without compromising on the quality of the players, if they are to qualify for Europe next season and sustain their success in the years to come. Al-Fayed may put some of the money that he has received from the recent sale of Harrods into his football club, but retaining Roy Hodgson who is certain to have suitors from across Europe and probably even an offer to coach England's national team at the end of this summer’s World Cup, holds the key to Fulham nourishing their recent success.

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