While some London clubs have been having their annual drama; no names, Chelsea! Fulham, and more importantly, Martin Jol have been going about their business.
The manager has been quietly making plans and trying to change the mentality of a club that has under-achieved throughout it’s time in the Premier League. I have a sneaky suspicion that next season; they could well be the ones to watch or the semi-surprise package if you will.
The club and owner, Mohammed Al Fayed, originally wanted Jol as their manager following Roy Hodgson’s departure to Liverpool in July 2010, but it wasn’t until June 2011 that they got their man. The Dutch manager became familiar with the Premier League during his three years at Tottenham Hotspur; before his unceremonial and unexpected sacking.
Taking over at Spurs on 8th November 2004, he took the club to a top-half finish; with them finishing the season in ninth, four places above where they had been when he joined them.
In two of his three completed seasons in north London; they ended the campaign in fifth spot, thus securing a UEFA Cup slot. The fans were not happy to see him go and the team never had another real chance of breaking into the top four until the appointment of ‘East London God’, ‘Arry Redknapp
So far Jol has shown exactly why the west Londoners were so keen to capture his services. When there were rumblings of unrest in the camp regarding Bobby Zamora, he allowed the striker to move across the capital to relegation strugglers, Queens Park Rangers. The sale of one of the so-called key men allowed him to show the rest of the squad who was boss and it appears to have worked in his favour.
Since Zamora's departure in January, the Dutchman has brought in Pavel Pogrebnyek from Stuttgart. The player scored five goals in his first three games and became an instant hit with the Cottage faithful.
He has also started to get the best out of a group of players who appeared to be lost for guidance and somewhat nonchalant during Mark Hughes’ tenure, most notably Clint Dempsey. Although the American has always been a tidy and reliable player throughout his five years at the club, this year he has succeeded all expectations and attracted attention from the so-called ‘big four’. His 15 Premier League goals have lifted Fulham to a very respectable tenth in the league, while he has hit the net 21 times in all competitions. They sit level with a revitalised Sunderland, just one point behind Carling Cup winners, Liverpool.
While the more experienced Danny Murphy and Damien Duff have been made to take a back seat, there haven’t been any mumblings of discontent as the squad pull together and look forward to future progression under Jol.
If they manage to keep their MVP Dempsey alone with regulars such as Moussa Dembele and Brede Hangelend there would be no viable reason why they can’t be fighting the likes of Everton and Newcastle United for those Europa League positions or looking to take their fans to Wembley after a good cup run.
The last final they reached was the UEFA Europa League in 2010 under Hodgson. A game they lost after a tiring season that took then all over Europe.
Most expected them to kick on from there but they stuttered as they took their place on the managerial merry-go-round. That is, until the arrival of Jol who has revitalised the hopes and expectations of the faithful Craven Cottage crowd.
Should he get Dempsey to sign another contract before his current deal runs out in 2013, the signature will go some way to building the future the owners believe their patience warrants. The American star admits he wants to play in the Champions League before the end of his career and the manager will have to use all of his husky-voiced charm to persuade the striker that’s an ambition they can fulfil together.
With the recent appointment of Al Fayed’s son, Karim as vice-chairman, it reiterates the notion that the family are in it for the long haul. And they will surely expect the same level of commitment from their manager and most valued players.
If Dempsey decides not to sign, it is likely he will receive the same sort of reaction as Zamora did four months ago, giving Jol another chance to show who is boss.
The manager has clearly learnt from his time at Ajax and Hamburg and next season I believe Fulham will reap the benefits.