Before the new season begins for Fulham I wanted to get a sense to where they stand. So I contacted two gentleman to help me with my questions on Fulham going into the season. Timothy Gelles from the The Offside Fulham and Dan Crawford from Hammyend.com, were nice enough to answer many questions I had regarding the club. I respect both of their opinions tremendously. Both of their sites are fantastic to visit for fans of Fulham. I couldn't recommend these sites more.
I asked Tim and Dan a range of questions on Fulham. I think you will find their answers interesting. Below is my Q & A with Timothy Gelles of The Offside Fulham and Dan Crawford of Hammyend.com.
What was your initial thought when you first heard that Liverpool were interested in Roy Hodgson becoming their new manager?
TG: I wasn’t surprised. Liverpool, despite their financial woes, is still a step up from Fulham in regards to pedigree. Plus I had a feeling that Roy felt he took Fulham as far as he could and wanted to try new pastures.
DC: Once Liverpool parted company with Rafa Benitez, I was immediately worried that they may target Roy Hodgson as a potential successor. Guiding Fulham to a European final brought him greater prominence within England and the most pressing concern was whether the FA might approach him after England's shocking performance at the World Cup. Fulham had hoped that Hodgson would stay with them but, as the summer drew on with no announcement on his future, the fans became more concerned.
When it was announced that he was officially taking on the job at Liverpool what was your reaction?
TG: I was a bit disappointed, but not surprised.
DC: By the time Hodgson was announced as Liverpool's new manager, I had moved from disappointment at the developments to acceptance. It was obviously upsetting to lose the man who had been behind such a dramatic upturn in Fulham's fortunes but, once Hodgson had decided to take the Anfield job, there was very little that the club could do to stop him leaving.
Do you think Roy handled the situation between Liverpool and Fulham correctly?
TG: Yes, I do. Especially compare it to other managers leaving their clubs in this day and age – like Martin O’Neill this week, or Jose Mourniho saying how he wanted to join Real Madrid while Inter were partying their Champions League trophy. He did it quietly, but he appropriately. He gave the club plenty of time to find a replacement and the fans time to move on.
DC: Many of the fans have criticised Hodgson's conduct with the benefit of hindsight but I think that's extremely ungracious given what he achieved at the Cottage. Without knowing the full facts of the dialogue between Hodgson, his representatives and both clubs, I wouldn't like to comment on whether any of the parties acted 'correctly' or otherwise.
Do you think Fulham management handled the Hodgson situation well?
TG: From what little information we know, I suppose so. The press doesn’t cover us like the big clubs and the change happened when everyone’s eyes were watching the World Cup, so we really have no idea what transpired. It could have been a bust up, or a calm resignation.
DC: Again, it's difficult to comment without knowing what went on. Fulham did stress quite heavily both in the build-up to the Europa League final and in the aftermath of that game that Hodgson was saying and perhaps some of the strident statements gave the supporters unrealistic expectations. The club were criticised for not communicating more regularly with the fans, but it's difficult to know how they could have acted differently - unless they knew about Hodgson's intentions from an early stage.
On Martin Jol, Do you think he would have been a good choice for Fulham?
TG: Yes, I do. Three years ago, this would have seemed completely impossible. What we would have seen in Jol’s honesty and conviviality is a complete change from Roy’s schoolmaster/principle-esque rigidity. That’s not to say Roy was bad with his players and fans — we/they loved him. But if you didn’t fit into the system to the nth degree, you were out. Under Roy, we marveled at the production of the parts. Under Jol, we would have marveled at the parts of production.
DC: Martin Jol would have been excellent replacement for Hodgson. He's had experience of the cut-throat world of the Premier League and was very happy in London when he was charge of Tottenham Hotspur. His time coaching on the continent would have made him a suitable successor to Hodgson and given the Fulham fans more of the sophisticated football that Hodgson had introduced to the Cottage.
Do you think the Ajax manager really wanted to come to Fulham?
TG: It sure seems like he did. If it was altruistic or not – ie whether it was more about him proving doubters wrong than wanting to manage Fulham – is unclear. But it’s all a moot point.
DC: It seems as though he was certainly keen on the idea but Ajax seemed unwilling to let him leave.
Who do you think is to blame for not knowing that his escape clause in his contract was expiring?
TG: Probably Jol’s agent. Theoretically, Only him and Ajax would have had a complete copy of the contract – unless it was leaked to Fulham – so it would have been up to the agent to know the fine print inside and out.
DC:I think the club's negotiating tactics didn't go down well with Ajax, but there must have been a chance that Jol could have moved to Fulham otherwise they would not have approached him in the first place.
After Jol could not take the job who were you hoping they would target as manager?
TG: I was so jaded by it and still reeling from Roy’s leaving that I just stopped thinking about it. That’s probably a bad way to deal with issues, but I needed a break.
DC: A lot of names were banded about after the unsuccessful pursuit of Jol, but my major concern was that we would begin the season without a manager. I was excited by the possibility of Ottmar Hitzfeld or Sven-Goran Eriksson being in the running - but making an appointment was paramount.
What are your thoughts when you first heard about the possibility of Mark Hughes becoming manager?
TG: If you remember correctly, his name was first thrown out there immediately after Roy left for Liverpool. And then things went completely silent. So when his name came back up, I wasn’t too surprised.
DC: I was interested in the idea of Mark Hughes replacing Hodgson. Initially, I wondered whether he would be happy to take the job - especially as he might feel it was a step down after being involved at the top end of the table. His success with Wales and Blackburn marked him out as a credible candidate and his harsh sacking by Manchester City would serve as suitable motivation to prove his former employees wrong.
Do you think he is the right man for the job to move Fulham forward?
TG: Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t think he’s not the man for the job, but there is just some unknown visceral feeling I get from him that he’ll be off in a year or two.
DC: I'm excited as we had towards the start of the season with Hughes as manager. He has a visceral hatred of losing and certainly won't tolerate some of the abject away displays that Fulham fans have had to endure for too long. He might not necessarily tweak Hodgson's formation too much (perhaps altering between a 4-4-2 and the 4-4-1-1 to start with) but it seems as though we'll play with a quicker tempo and look to seize the advantage during games.
What type of acquisitions do you think Hughes has to make before the transfer window closes?
TG: A striker, without a doubt. We are woefully thin up front. Excluding Zamora it’s the oft-injured Andy Johnson (who was less than stellar when we was healthy last season), the enigmatic Kamara, Eddie Johnson, and David Elm. Beyond there aren’t really any gaping holes.
DC: He certainly shouldn't buy players for the sake of it - and the budgetary constraints at the Cottage will be different to the unlimited funds he enjoyed at City. Hughes will have had experience of working on a smaller budget when he was in charge of Blackburn and he'll obviously be looking to bring in a couple of players to bolster the squad. I'd be keen to see a creative midfielder and a couple of forwards arrive before the end of August.
Do you think Fulham will lose any players before the end of the transfer window?
TG: If you believe the papers, yes. But there hasn’t been any real activity throughout the league so I don’t think we’ll lose any massive role players.
DC: Hughes has been pretty insistent that none of the club's key players will leave - he specifically referenced Schwarzer and Konchesky. Brede Hangeland has reiterated his commitment to the club, which is a big boost. I think the new manager may wish to get rid of some squad players who haven't really featured in the first team over the last couple of years but I'd be disappointed if first-teamers were shipped out.
What are your thoughts on the one new signing Philippe Senderos?
TG: I think it was a good signing. I mean, wasn’t he captaining Arsenal a few seasons ago? My only worry is that it was a Roy signing, which could play a large role in how much he will play under Sparky. Obviously, if he is good enough he will play. But we all know how the politics can go for players playing for a new manager that were signed by a previous manager.
DC: I'm not as sceptical about his ability as some Fulham fans. Signing Senderos, who has experience of Champions League football with Arsenal and life in Serie A more recently, on a free transfer was an excellent move to give the squad a bit more depth. He's more experienced than Chris Smalling, who had previously been our main back-up to Hangeland and Hughes, and should be able to challenge for a first-team spot.
If you have concerns regarding the financial situation what would they be?
TG: Where to begin? Obviously we are saddled with debt, but the debt is owed to one person -- Mohammaed Al Fayed. So unless something truly awful happens to MAF, I don’t see him calling in the outstanding funds.
Yet it has been revealed that relegation would be deadly for this club – something most fans assumed but a recent blog post laid it bare. But is our financial predicament different for any other club of our stature? That is the financial nature of this game, and it will not change – even with UEFA’s recent debt ruling – until one of the big clubs go under.
DC: Fulham's finances, with Mohamed Al-Fayed having loaned over £200m to the club, are worrying. Relegation would be a disaster for the club, perhaps placing our immediate future in jeopardy and there is the concern that any new investors may be interested in redeveloping the Cottage as housing since it sits on such prime real estate. The immediate priority for Fulham should be making themselves more self-sufficent but it is remarkably difficult given the number of Premier League clubs in London. Should the debt situation not be resolved, UEFA's proposed financial fair play rules might preclude Fulham from competing in their European competitions.
On the team are there any young players that could be stepping up this season?
TG: I really don’t know. Every year there seems to be a player or two that is tipped to be a revelation in the coming season, but it never pans out. Michael Timlin, Elliot Omosuzi, Wayne Brown – am I forgetting anyone else? I suspect Robert Milsomor Matthew Briggs would be that ‘guy’, but I’m going to hold my breath until it happens.
DC: There are three outstanding youth prospects that we're very excited about. Matthew Briggs, who can play at left back or in central defence, made his debut three years ago at Middlesbrough and is very highly regarded having starred for England's youth sides. Keanu Marsh-Brown, comfortable as an attacking right-back or winger, has impressed in the reserves and during his fleeting pre-season appearances. Marcello Trotta, the Italian striker who starred in Fulham's run to the quarter finals of the FA Youth Cup last season, looks like one for the future, although this season would probably be a little early for him to feature for the first team.
What players are you expecting to have a big year for Fulham?
TG: I’d like to see Johnny Pantsil score a goal. Beyond that I think Riise and The Evidence should step up considering the age of our midfield.
DC: The thing about Fulham is that we don't have too many 'big stars' on whom success depends. We'll obviously be hoping for more outstanding performances from Bobby Zamora, which may benefit the national team as well as us, and if Zoltan Gera can continue his superb form from last season, then Fulham will be a real threat up front. Personally, I hope that the excellent Simon Davies can deliver the kind of excellent displays that punctuated our 'Great Escape' season and put his injury nightmare of the last couple of years behind him.
Going into the season what are the club's weaknesses?
TG: Beyond the lack of depth up front, I’m worried about our ageing midfield core. Half are over 30 years old. Only The Evidence is under 28. There are going to be some injuries, and some players are going to see their form dip.
DC: We look incredibly light up front, which will be a problem if Zamora gets injured. There's a lack of creativity in central midfield apart from Danny Murphy and Hughes should look to address our unacceptably weak away form.
Going into the season what are the club's strengths?
TG: We still have our main defensive core intact, which is crucial for any club.
DC: Fulham's strengths are the defensive and tactical discipline that Hodgson imbued in the side over the past couple of years. If Hughes can continue to keep things tight at the back then we'll remain difficult to beat, especially at home.
What place are you predicting Fulham to finish at by the end of the season in the Table?
TG: A top half finish. Don’t know where, don’t know how, but I just hope it happens.
DC: My pre-season predictions are notoriously unreliable. Like every season, I'd settle for 17th to ensure we stay in the division but hopefully last season's success will have shifted our sights a little higher. Hughes has targeted a top-ten finish, which may well be achievable. It should be another fascinating campaign.
I want to thank Tim and Dan for their help with this post. I would highly recommend going to both of their sites.