Fulham are on the brink of history. On Wednesday, they will be playing in the Europa League Final against Atletico Madrid. Win or lose this match, Fulham will leave some sort of historical mark. The question is which historical direction will Fulham go?
If they win this Final, I would compare this season to the 2001 New England Patriots. No one in the beginning of that season picked the Pats to win the Super Bowl. I don’t even know if any experts had them making the playoffs. This team was not made up of superstars. It was more about the “team” than the individual players. The quarterback was a 6th round pick in his second year. His name was Tom Brady. What the Pats had was a belief that they could win. They also had an incredible head coach named Bill Belichick. Each week Belichick put the Pats in a position to win. They were underdogs I believe in every playoff game. They beat 3 teams who were all favored to beat them to winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy. All 3 of these wins were victories that went down to the wire. Each time the Pats figured out a way to win. In concluding, this was an unexpected Super Bowl winner.
For Fulham, they are not made up of superstars. They are made up of players that play a very disciplined style of football. The club is extremely well drilled. They do not beat themselves. Their manager Roy Hodgson like Belichick puts his club in positions to win each week. During the Europa League, Fulham had tremendous victories over Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Wolfsburg, and Hamburg. They were not favored in any of these match-ups. Somehow they found a way to win. They would also win in dramatic fashion. The second legs against Juventus and Hamburg were dramatic endings. Fulham would be an unexpected Europa League Champion.
I see many similarities between the 2001 New England Patriots and this current Fulham Football Club. If they lose this comparison would make no sense. To be compared to a champion you need to be one.
If Fulham lose the Final they could be compared to the Middlesbrough Football Club of the 2005/2006 season. That particular club got to the UEFA Cup Finals against Sevilla. They lost this match 4-0. Shortly after the match Steve McClaren left Middlesbrough to become England Manager. Three years later, Middlesbrough were relegated to the Championship.
For Fulham, losing this match isn’t devastating, but they will be compared to a club that lost their manager to England and then 3 years later was out of the English Premier League. Ironically, Roy Hodgson has been mentioned as a potential England manager someday. For Fulham Fans let’s hope he stays with the Cottagers for a long time.
I have heard and read many comments regarding the lack of importance of the Europa League. For a club like Fulham, the Europa League has provided them with European Football. I personally think this tournament is viable and has offered great competition. Look who Fulham have beaten to get to the Final.
They first beat Shakhtar Donetsk. In my opinion they are the most talented club to play in this tournament this year. They won the UEFA Cup last year. Fulham beat them 2-1 at Craven Cottage. They then tied them away 1-1.
Fulham then beat Juventus. The Italian giants are a legendary club. They might be having a down year, but beating them is a great accomplishment. Juventus won their home leg 3-1. Fulham then beat Juventus 4-1 at Craven Cottage to move on to the Quarterfinals.
Fulham then beat Wolfsburg. This club happens to be the defending German Champions. In the first leg, Fulham beat Wolfsburg 2-1 at Craven Cottage. In the second leg Fulham won 1-0 in Germany. They would then move on to the Semifinals.
Fulham then beat Hamburg. This club is very talented with great players up front. They have players like Ruud van Nistelrooy and Mladen Petric. In the first leg, the score was a 0-0 draw. In the second leg at Craven Cottage, Fulham came from behind to win 2 – 1. They scored two goals in the second half to move on to the Finals.
I accept that some fans just don’t think this Final is that important. I wouldn’t tell that to the Fulham Fans and the players. I think they were pretty excited. If you don’t believe me please check out this video from Fulham.theoffside.com entitled “Post match Festivities at the Cottage.”
No matter what happens on Wednesday, Fulham’s accomplishment has been remarkable. The only question left is their legacy in the Final. Will Fulham become the 2001 New England Patriots or the 2005-06 Middlesbrough Football Club?
Russ Goldman is a Fulham blogger who posts regularly on his website www.cottagersconfidential.com. His website is a part of sbnation. This is a network of 250 sports blogs. There are several soccer related sites and many more to be added soon.
Editor’s note: View an online magazine celebrating the final in Hamburg between Fulham and Atletico Madrid.