Over the years since he bought an ailing and abject club, Mohamed Al Fayed has certainly made some “interesting” decisions over the years. Whilst Mickey Adams was rewarded for taking the team up to Division One by being sacked in September 1997, after Al Fayed deemed him “not high profile enough”, Fulham were making major progress under Adams. Eventually Al-Fayed returned them to the top tier of English football after an absence of 32 years which was certainly some achievement. Yet, for me, his best achievement by some way was the decision to appoint Roy Hodgson to attempt and keep Fulham in the Premiership.
As he looks set to extend his stay with a new contract, the sky is the limit for Fulham under Hodgson.Christmas 2007 saw Fulham rooted in the relegation zone, after Lawrie Sanche’z disastrous tenure as manager. A reliance on Championship players and a high defensive line with no pace saw them caught out time and again and it was no surprise that Sanchez was given his marching orders. Hodgson came in to try and keep a side up and it seemed a tough ask, even for someone of his talents.
Of course, Fulham’s heriocs under Hodgson that season are well documented, but they pushed on again last season to finish 7th, their highest ever league finish in the top flight of English football, bringing with it a chance to compete in Europe for only the second time in the club’s history. Currently sitting in 10th, nicely placed behind the pack chasing 4th place, Fulham are in their best shape for years. There is no doubting the effect that Hodgson has had on the side and Fulham have gone from strength to strength under his stewardship.
The capture of Brede Hangeland, coupled with the renaissance of Danny Murphy along with several other canny signings, notably Damien Duff, has continued to build on the confidence that avoiding relegation created. Sometimes when a side avoids relegation, it can simply be a case of denying the inevitable, but Fulham have used it as a springboard to bigger and better things. Utilising his skills gained in international and continental football has given them a more expansive and clever brand of football, that makes them hard to beat.
Playing a brand of pacey, strong and fast flowing football has always been Hodgson’s calling card, wherever he’s been and Fulham are in the best shape they’ve been in for years now. With the oft mooted expansion of Craven Cottage looking to be finally sorted, a top quality manager and probably the best side they’ve ever had at the Cottage, Fulham fans can look forward with renewed optimism.
Of course, if there is one thing that Fulham currently lack, it’s strength upfront. Whilst Zamora and Johnson have tons of Premiership experience, they’ve lacked goals. Zamora especially receives plenty of stick for his goal return, but his undoubted strength is his ability to bring other players in to the game.
Johnson has been struggling with injuries the last couple of years and has now been ruled out for a while. Since his amazing season with Crystal Palace in 2004-2005 when he hit 21 league goals, he’s never scored more than 10 in a Premiership campaign.
The reserve options don’t fill me with confidence but I’m sure Hodgson will now make a move in the market come January 1st. With only Nevland, Kamara and Ki-Hyeon to come in for Johnson, getting an established goalscorer is crucial to Fulham to continue to improve on the great work that they’ve achieved over the last two years. With Hodgson in charge, anything is possible but he’ll know goals win games and at the moment, Fulham’s forward line don’t have enough in them.