Club Focus – Fulham – On the pitch is where it counts

Getting back to football on the pitch is exactly what Fulham, and, more specifically Danny Murphy, need. With a week off from club fixtures, matters in SW6 tend to be ignored. However, after Murphy came out and condemned three particular club managers – whose sides Fulham faced in consecutive games recently – attention has been focused on the Whites captain.

Some will agree with the ex-Liverpool man, others won’t, but his opinion is no less valid than anyone else in the game. Having been shrewdly asked to withdraw from his punditry role for the recent England qualifier by his manager Mark Hughes, Murphy will surely be looking forward to getting back on the field, where he does his best talking. His 33-year-old legs may sometimes fade towards the end of 90 minutes, and he may start to become a target for players who disagree with his views, but he possesses the ability to create time and space where none exists, which is a talent that will not be lost as the physical side of his game will inevitably decline.

His leadership qualities on the pitch, too, mean he is always listened to and respected by his teammates and could be why some are taking notice and – quietly, perhaps – agreeing with his recent comments. On Saturday, Murphy returns to his most recent former club, against whom he will feel he has unfinished business. Having never quite fit into the Tottenham setup, the Englishman will likely have the fire in his belly he so regularly shows against ex-clubs and rival ones. With the recent media focus, in particular the League Manager’s Association’s less-than subtle response, Hughes could do worse than use that as ammunition to spur his playmaker on to a strong performance. Against an always solid Tottenham side, any opportunity to turn a situation into an advantage is needed.

It is out of Murphy’s hands whether over-zealous challenges are to be looked at by the governing bodies, but leading by example and showing how he believes the game should be played is very much within his capabilities. At his best, Murphy cannot be dispossessed, he can thread a needle with the ball, and he can inspire the men around him. While he is of course not getting any younger, he has enough in the tank to turn in match-winning performances, of which Fulham fans will be hoping Saturday is one. Perhaps most importantly of all, with his advancing years, Murphy has matured into a player who is rarely ruffled. Passionate and self-critical, yes, but he is strong enough to cope with the fallout his comments have created.

As Hughes looks for only his second win so far this season, Saturday’s London derby will be a gripping encounter, and all eyes will be on Murphy. Should he rise to the challenge, there is every chance of the Cottage outfit taking the points.

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