Listen. I’m not the type of guy to fake humility and modesty; when I predict something or hype something up beforehand and it comes to fruition, I’m the first person to stand up and say “Yeah, that’s right, I said that would happen.” I don’t see what’s wrong with that. To me, the majority of people who don’t say “I told you so” really want to, but they just don’t give in to that urge for the sake of wanting to appear humble. That’s it, it’s to keep up appearances so they don’t sound cocky.
Whatever. I don’t believe in that.
Go back and look at my preseason capsules for each Premiership team; I picked Fulham to finish 13th this year. Alright, I may have overestimated the players ex-manager Lawrie Sanchez brought in last summer. Upon further review, some of those players were more squad guys and depth guys than actual regular contributors. With that said though, this is all in hindsight. Steven Davis, Diomansy Kamara, David Healy, Aaron Hughes, and Chris Baird are all internationally-capped players. Healy holds the record for most goals scored in one European Championship qualifying campaign (13). Kamara averaged better than a goal every three games for West Bromwich Albion from 2005-2007. These acquisitions all seemed like legitimate, significant moves at the time, and they just haven’t worked out as well as I thought they would.
My preseason prediction was heavily influenced by a healthy Brian McBride and having creative midfielder Jimmy Bullard return from injury by Christmas, which was the timetable for his recovery from his severe knee injury, suffered on September 9, 2006 in a game against Newcastle, entering this season. McBride dislocated his knee–ironically, while scoring a goal–on August 18 and only made his return to the lineup today in the 2-1 win victory over Aston Villa as a late substitute. McBride, the captain, was coming off a fans’ player of the year 2006-2007 season in which he scored 12 league goals and really helped Fulham retain their Premiership status. Bullard started the 2006-2007 season for the Cottagers like a house on fire, winning two Man of the Match awards in his team’s first three games played. He was terrific for Wigan from 2003-2006 when he was at the JJB, playing an integral role in their promotion to the Premiership in 2004-2005 and spearheading his team’s run to the Carling Cup final the next year.
When I did my Christmastime season summaries for every team and their respective outlooks for the rest of the year, I again was counting on both McBride’s and Bullard’s return. As I said, that was the original mark for Bullard and after McBride’s injury, the estimated timetable for his recovery was around that same time as well. The Cottagers were in 13th place at the time I wrote their summary, so things were looking good for me.
But then, things didn’t exactly go according to plan. After Christmas (December 25) and before today’s victory, Fulham did not record a win. They slipped gradually down the standings from 13th place to 19th place, where they now sit. The returns of Bullard and McBride kept getting pushed back and pushed back and no hope looked to be in sight. At that point, I was preparing to eat my words and take the heat for predicting a mid-table finish.
Not so fast. New manager Roy Hodgson tapped into his Scandinavian connections and brought in five players from that region this January, including three from Finland, his most recent place of employment (as national team manager). Jari Litmanen was the most recognizable name of those five with his background at Ajax, Bareclona, and Liverpool, but some under-the-radar moves have really proved beneficial.
Norwegian center back Brede Hangeland was signed to help shore up the leaky defense corps and at 6’5″, is a force in the air. Hangeland won the SkySports Man of the Match award in his Fulham debut against Bolton on January 29, proving his worth instantly.
Danish midfielder Leon Andreasen played well today in the victory. Erik Nevland, a Norwegian striker, made his debut today after signing from FC Groningen, where he scored 53 goals in 116 league games. Two North Americans, Eddie Johnson (USA) and Paul Stalteri (Canada) were brought in as well to help address the club’s most glaring needs (up top and in the back). Toni “Bonecrusher” Kallio is another defender, capable of playing both center and left back, and has made 35 appearances for Finland.
Most importantly though, and we saw this today, Bullard and McBride are healthy again and back in the lineup. Bullard’s free kick late in the match was a thing of magic and a perfect way to take the three points. McBride entered the game as a sub and showed his value as a target man, playing with his back to goal, controlling long balls and then either nodding them down to teammates or to himself, followed by a pass to a teammate.
Aston Villa are a very, very good young team. I had them finishing 7th this season and look to be right on that line. This was a big win for Fulham today and with the mediocrity and downright poorness of some of the teams at the bottom of the table, I can honestly see Fulham making a real run towards safety. They’re simply a better team and have a more experienced manager than the likes of Birmingham, Wigan, and Sunderland, all sides ahead of them right now. Their poor run of form was duly noted, of course, but let’s be honest with ourselves. Two of their best players in Bullard and McBride were injured for that whole period of time. No club, no matter who it is, can survive long-term injuries to their top two players.
The Cottagers have two winnable games upcoming as they’re at Middlesbrough next week, followed by a home game against London rival West Ham. The Cottagers also still have Derby, Sunderland, Reading, and Birmingham on their schedule, and their two most difficult games (against Liverpool and Manchester United) both come at Craven Cottage.
Come May, if Fulham do what I think they will do and finish very close to 13th, believe me, I’ll be here saying “I told you so” and laughing at the rest of you who wrote them off as dead and buried by Christmas.