The Fulham squad is undeniably lacking depth, and fans have been asking how exactly Roy Hodgson intends to address the issue. With a crafty Chairman keeping his eyes on the wage bill, the manager has taken his time, played the market and come to the conclusion that the best deals are to be found at last season’s relegated Premier League teams. Perhaps Roy needs some friends in the Pension queue, because he has raided Newcastle and West Brom for two thirty-somethings – Damien Duff and Jonathan Greening respectively, albeit the latter on a season-long loan deal.
Now, this writer is not one to judge Hodgson’s talent-spotting abilities – as Duff said himself he is a “top-notch coach” – after all, both players are proven in the Premier League – it is just neither were looked at as too good for the Championship following their respective relegations. The Cottage faithful would have been drooling had the club snapped up, say, Tuncay or (maybe) Stewart Downing, but Duff and Greening have not arrived with quite the same air of optimism. That said – Dickson Etuhu, John Pantsil, Brede Hangeland, perhaps this is yet another piece of shrewd business?
And maybe Fulham is an equally shrewd place for Duff to come. In recent years, the white half of west London has seen a number of players revive their careers, namely Aaron Hughes and Danny Murphy, and the Irishman is without doubt a player in need of such a turnaround. He has not been half the player he once was since moving to Newcastle, but if the manager can bring out even some of the form that convinced Chelsea to sign him, then the Whites’ long wait for a quality, naturally left-sided winger will be over. That form can’t start against his former employers on Sunday, can it? It can’t hurt to hope, that is for sure. After all, it was Fulham’s last quality, naturally left-sided winger – Luis Boa Morte – who gave them their last victory against their local rivals in 2006 – and fans will be hoping history repeats itself.
The west London derby will be the third game in eight days for Fulham, something that the club will have to get used to if they aim to impress Europe. If Etuhu and Murphy, and to a certain extent Clint Dempsey, at times last season could barely run around the pitch, then cover in midfield is absolutely essential. Hodgson, by bringing in Duff and Greening, is addressing this and, at the same time, the lack of competition for places. There will be squeals around SW6 complaining about the lack of young talent being brought in, but Hodgson’s strategy is to sign players who will fit into the league and, most importantly, with the squad already at the club. Some just happen to be his former apprentices, too, and Duff joins Erik Nevland and Hangeland in that respect, the two know each other from their days at Blackburn Rovers. Argue with that strategy if you want, but argue with a seventh-place finish at your peril. For that reason this writer is confident Greening and particularly Duff will be successful in the Capital.
As quickly as the Irishman’s signing was completed he made his debut, coming off the bench in a 3-1 win over Amkar Perm in the Europa League. The win, however, introduced Fulham to the dark side of European football – centre-backs who are quite possibly on day release from maximum security prisons.
In England, when a strike pairing run a defence ragged they get a few words and a little playful shove. In Russia, apparently, you stop it by throwing the football rulebook out of the window in favour of an American football one. Unfortunately, Andy Johnson did not have pads or a helmet and as such, according to early indications, will be out for eight weeks with a dislocated shoulder. A foul punishable in the UK by incarceration, but warrants merely a yellow card for Eastern European teams (in fact, Perm is so far east this writer wouldn’t even call it Europe).
You know it is a bad foul when you see a red-faced, eye-darting, sarcastic Roy Hodgson spitting at journalists after the game: “UEFA and FIFA are constantly trying to stop serious foul play. Obviously it is not working, because it is not being stopped.” Dmitry Belorukov, I advise you watch your back for a while, no-one knows what this softly-spoken gentleman is capable of. Luckily, the staff at Putney Post Office will be behind protective glass on Monday morning.
Fulham Club Focus
Long season ahead – July 29
Confirmed: Zamora’s foot does fit in his mouth – August 5
Fulham needs Brede to survive – August 12
How do Fulham push on? – August 18
Roy Hodgson raids the Post Office queue – August 21