The Fulham Factor: Perpetual Underdogs?
With the transfer window hotting up or dying down, depending on who you support, speculation continues for followers of the Premier League as to who will go the final distance in the Premier League.
There are constant arguments over who will win the league, can Manchester City break the top six, who out of Villa, Everton, City and Spurs will qualify for the Europa League.
But, in the wake of all this, everybody has been so head-over-heels in congratulating City for their wealth or applauding Aston Villa for their continued growth, that they seem to have forgotten little old Fulham. Some would say that this is because, after all, Fulham are "tiny"—they do not have the wealth to be anything other than relegation scrappers, Craven Cottage is minuscule compared to the mighty Goodison Park or that they have not strengthened during the transfer window.
Maybe this is to the benefit of Fulham. After the heart stopping end to the 07-08 campaign which saw them just clinch survival, there was no pressure at all on Roy Hodgson to deliver last term—but deliver he did, and he did it in style, beating the likes of Manchester United along the way.
They can go into next season, once again, knowing that they are playing for enjoyment rather than to prove anything, and knowing that they have a loyal fanbase who will support them whatever, simply happy to watch their team perform on a European Stage which, let's be honest, they really deserve to be on more than most.
But to all those who think that the three Europa League spots are too much for brave little Fulham, maybe there are a few things that people have forgotten.
First of all, quite simply, there is the manager. Roy Hodgson is the type of manager that gives the game credibility. He was gracious in defeat, humble in victory and, let's face it, he is generally the sort of nice guy that people actually want to see succeed.
His staggering achievements and constant good temper last season earned him the Barclay's Spirit accolade, and there were widespread calls for him to be named manager of the season. No Rafa-styled rants, no underhand transfer tactics, just a clean managerial style by a man who deserves every bit of praise he receives and then some.
It's not as though it was a fluke either—Fulham were on a winner as soon as he joined back in Christmas 2007. As long as he remains there, Fulham are worthy of a top-half finish.
Second is that amazing home record they garnered last season. They won 11 of 19 at home last season, including an impressive 2-0 win over United. Only the big four were more clinical on their own turf during 08-09, and despite the transfer lull at Craven Cottage you can probably bet that it will remain a sturdy fortress.
It's not like they were awful on the road either—they avoided defeat at Arsenal, Villa, Spurs, and Liverpool, four of the league's biggest names. Impressive for a club which many would have you believe are annual relegation scrappers. Keeping miserly away coupled with that impenetrable home form would surely see the Cottagers retain their top-half status.
Even watching Fulham play, you get the impression that they more than deserve to be up there. Schwarzer was arguably the signing of the season last year. Hangeland could play for any of the top clubs and Erik Nevland popped up with plenty of goals when it was really needed.
The positive play, mixed with the sense of togetherness within the squad means watching Fulham actually makes you want them to do well. At no point last season do I remember anyone in Lilywhite looking remotely downbeat or unconfident. Even after their 4-0 drubbing in the FA Cup, they came out with a smile and a "we'll be back" attitude.
Yes, Fulham have certainly not been prolific in the market thus far—it looks as though Zamora is going to the mighty Hull City (yes, I am a fan) and their only signing thus far (I am prepared to be corrected here) has been Bjorn Riise, brother of John, a midfielder who has presumably been signed to try and make up for the lack of depth within the squad as well as obviously adding quality.
But compare this with the crazy antics of City, who basically have bought a whole new team, and again positives can be drawn. Fulham will go into next season with a strong team understanding, and they haven't broke the bank with lots of risky signings.
Fulham will go into next season in the same manner as they ended the last one—simply enjoying their football, with little outside pressure. But they will have that edge in confidence, and Roy Hodgson will be as sharp as ever.
Watch out, Premier League. Fulham are here to stay.
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