Fulham’s top-half credentials hinges on Dempsey DecisionJordan Florit | August 5, 2012
2011/12 Campaign (9th in the Premier League)
The first season in charge of Fulham for Martin Jol was a hugely successful one, building on the solid foundations Roy Hodgson had built prior to Mark Hughes’ brief stint as manager at Craven Cottage.
Finishing 9th – one position below their 8th-placed finish of the 2010/11 campaign, but with a higher points total – Jol could deem his first season back managing on British soil a success. Their 52 point haul was The Cottagers’ second highest ever tally. The Dutchman quickly made an impression in London – his second spell in England’s capital, having formerly managed Tottenham Hotspur – by splashing out £10.6m on Costa Rican forward Bryan Ruiz from FC Twente.
Although the new arrival, who joined with a strike rate higher than one goal every other game in the Eredivisie, failed to replicate his impressive goal-scoring record for his new side in his inaugural season, he did play his part in Fulham’s top ten finish with numerous assists. With Andrew Johnson and Bobby Zamora both having left Fulham for London rivals QPR, the share of the goals may fall more Ruiz’s way in the forthcoming campaign.
Instead, the goals were divided among three key men over the course of the entire season at Craven Cottage – Bobby Zamora (7), Andrew Johnson (11) and Clint Dempsey (23). Pavel Pogrebnyak did indeed see Fulham over the line in the second-half of the season – but even his input was rather sensationalised. Having scored 5 in his first 3 Premier League games, including a perfect hattrick against Wolves, the Russian striker then only scored 1 in his remaining 11 games for the club. Jol had got the best out of The Pog at minimal cost and was therefore happy to let him go at the end of the season when his demands were high and Mladen Petric and Hugo Rodallega were available on a free.
Fulham, however, were perhaps on the last draws of a cusp of a wave – their squad was becoming old with an average of 31.2 years of age. Yet their cohesion and organisation, still withstanding from the Hodgson days, was a vital by-product of this aging squad. When Fulham scored first in Premier League games last season, they won 81% of the time and never lost. Furthermore, they’d turned Craven Cottage, a small and imposing stadium, into a fortress, achieving the seventh best home record in the league. Only Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle and Tottenham had a better home record. Or in other words – the top six.
In physical terms Fulham’s preseason looks kindly upon the approaching campaign: they’ve so far scored 13 in 5 games, conceding just two, with seven of their goals coming in the past two fixtures: a 3-0 win over Wycombe Wanderers and a 4-0 win against Ligue 1′s OGC Nice.
A man particularly amongst the goals is Mladen Petric – the last of Croatia’s key men in the qualification for and participation in Euro 2008 to make the move to the Premier League, following in the steps of Luka Modric, Niko Kranjcar and Ivan Klasnic. The former Hamburg striker scored one goal in his first two appearances for Fulham – both as a substitute – before scoring 4 in his 3 starts since. Therefore 5 of Fulham’s 13 goals to date in preseason have come through the Croatian striker, who has partnered numerous strikers during preseason, such as Marcello Trotta and Bryan Ruiz, as well as leading the line alone.
Mladen Petric is certainly not Fulham’s only capture of the summer so far – he is perhaps the best though. Also coming in through the doors at Craven Cottage is Colombian international Hugo Rodallega, formerly of Premier League rivals Wigan, German defender Sascha Riether on loan from Koln and George Williams from MK Dons. Rodallega is yet to feature in Fulham’s preseason, whilst Riether started Fulham’s last friendly – the 4-0 win over Nice, and Williams is one for the future, joining Fulham at just 16 years of age.
The busier set of Fulham transfers have been outwards, with seven players leaving adding to the January departure of Bobby Zamora. Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu have both joined relegated Blackburn Rovers, Andrew Johnson has teamed up with Zamora at QPR and Bjorn Helge Riise was released, among Fulham’s most poignant outgoings.
Most promising for Fulham fans is Jol’s assessment of the summer post-match at Nice: “We are getting there but there is still three weeks to go and it’s very encouraging,” said the Dutchman, “It was Nice’s final game before they started the league and we looked the better team. But there are always little things that can make us better. We’ve got Trotta coming through, and then next week Rodallega can join us, and Clint Dempsey can join us, and then we’ll be making big steps.”
“The transfer window is open until August 31 – its no secret that I would like to play Champions League one day in my career.”
That comment is perhaps more daunting than Jol’s was encouraging, though. It came from the mouth of Fulham’s top goal-scorer last season Clint Dempsey. With the American, Jol’s side has every hope of a top-half finish. Without him, despite him missing much of Fulham’s preseason preparations, Fulham will be hard-pushed to finish in the top ten.
Fulham claim Dempsey missed the Switzerland-based training camp for fitness reasons: “Clint and Hugo Rodallega are both staying in London to work on their fitness at the training ground,” clarified a Fulham spokesperson, ”Neither were scheduled to feature in the weekend friendly against Nice which is the reason neither travelled.”
Faced with the opposing claim that Dempsey sat out of the camp in order to see through a move elsewhere, Fulham stated that, ”We are not to prepared to comment on any further speculation.”
Simply put, Fulham wont achieve their predicted 10th place finish without Dempsey: their four top scorers from last season would all be gone; four of their five most prolific scorers at the club would have left since January, leaving just Simon Davies as their most prolific scorer, who only featured six times last season; and their two most experienced players would have both departed this summer – Dempsey and Murphy. Their current Player of the Season, who has won the past two awards, has Fulham’s top-half credentials hinging on his decision. If he does go, their impressive home record may be their saving grace.