An all-time highest top-flight finish and European qualification through league position were the highs that Fulham ended the 2008/09 season on. Most fans and members of the Press are pointing to major strengthening of the playing squad this summer if the Whites are to cope with the added expectation and fatigue European football brings. So far, however, manager Roy Hodgson has only added two players to an already small squad – former Tottenham right-back Stephen Kelly and a Norwegian by the name of Riise. No, not that one – his brother, Bjorn Helge.
Despite Hodgson’s transfer dealings so often being under the radar, there is usually one in each window for the Media to latch on to. Last year there was the long-winded purchase of Andy Johnson – dubbed F5 by the Cottage faithful due to their continuous pressing of the refresh key in anticipation of his signing – and this summer has been the gentle-giant Peter Crouch. At first he looked set to join Sunderland before it was claimed he favoured staying in the south, making Fulham the favourites. However, reports this week claimed the Crouch merry-go-round might finally come to a halt at Anfield, with Rafa Benitez recently hinting at his interest in the England front-man. But hang on, isn’t Liverpool in the north? It is confirmed, however, that “staying in the south” means a reunion with Crouch’s multi-time manager, Harry Redknapp, as Tottenham have had now completed his £10m signing.
Things have been equally quiet through the exit door. Just Moritz Volz, Julian Gray and Collins John have been released, with no money exchanging hands for any Fulham player so far. That could change, however, with Hull reportedly very interested in striker Bobby Zamora – who only managed two league goals last term – and constant speculation regarding the future of giant centre-back Brede Hangeland – Arsenal and Manchester City his supposed suitors. The former West Ham and Tottenham hit-man, Zamora, is widely expected to turn down Hull’s £40 000 per-week offer and instead attempt to prove himself to the divided Fulham faithful. On his misfiring striker, Hodgson said: “I can confirm that Hull are interested in him and have made a bid but I can’t confirm that we’re going to be prepared to let him go … Bobby Zamora and Andrew Johnson have been excellent on the tour and if we lose him, he’s going to be a hard man to replace.”
Let’s go back to Volz for a minute because, of course, one sentence mentioning his release does not do the German justice. For those associated with the club he has become quite the cult hero in his time at the Cottage and this week he has paid tribute to Fulham on his quite epic personal blog – http://www.volzy.com/diary.php You would have to go a very long way to find a more modest and appreciative footballer in today’s game.
On the pitch, there has been little to get excited about but also little to cause concern. Aside from a 2-1 reverse against Gold Coast United during the Whites’ pre-season tour of Australia – which caused their owner to act as if his team has just won the World Cup – friendlies have gone more or less to plan. That said, the team did concede two late goals against Peterborough last Saturday to draw 3-3, and they will certainly need to defend better in competitive matches. There have been only a handful of warm-up games overall, but competitive football starts earlier than for the rest of the league, so the club doesn’t want the players to burn-out – much like they did the last time Fulham was in Europe (qualifying via the Intertoto), in the 2002/03 season. The highlight of the summer’s friendly action was Erik Nevland hitting a seven-minute hat-trick against Perth Glory – the striker showing his top-class finishing in another substitute appearance.
Fans this week are snapping up the club’s hospitality packages to Lithuania in anticipation of the first leg in the Europa League Third qualifying round, where the team is travelling to play FK Vetra. Never before has a 2 500 mile round-trip to eastern Europe been so appealing to anyone from west London, but therein is the appeal of playing in Europe. The match against Vetra takes place this Thursday night, July 30 and, by playing away first, Fulham has the advantage of the deciding leg being in familiar surroundings.
The start of Fulham’s season is imminent and, for now, last year’s squad will have to do. Even though Hodgson wants more players, if he cannot bring more in one big question remains: will largely the same first XI be able to cope with what is potentially a 60-game, 10-month season?
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Fulham Club Focus
Long season ahead – July 29