DID YOU ACTUALLY MANAGE TO GET ANY TIME OFF OVER THE SUMMER?
I got ten days with my wife and kids in America, but my phone was still on though! Other than a couple of days in Swansea and a couple of days in Dublin with my wife, I was here most of the time. There’s always loads to do – planning pre-season, trying to bring players in, trying to hold on to players. It doesn’t really stop, even though the matches do.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’VE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO HAVE A REST AND REFLECT ON A JOB WELL DONE LAST SEASON, OR DOES ONE CAMPAIGN RUN INTO THE NEXT?
Well for starters I didn’t see last season as a job well done. It was just one part of a bigger task. The way I look at it, the end of last season is the beginning of next. But we finished really well and that should put us in good stead for the start of the new season. As I said, for me it never stops.
DID YOU GO TO EURO 2004?
No, we didn’t go to Portugal but we did go and watch a few players in the Under 21 Championships in Germany. But I watched the Euro 2004 games on TV. Edwin was on outstanding form and kept Holland in it on a few occasions.
YOU’VE SAID THAT YOUR OVER-RIDING PRIORITY IS TO KEEP THE BULK OF YOUR SQUAD TOGETHER…
I think it’s important to bring in new players to keep things fresh as much as anything else. If you get the right people in it can be very good for the overall morale of the squad. And that’s without even looking at the tactical dimension to signing players.
WERE THE LADS IN GOOD SPIRITS WHEN THEY REPORTED BACK FOR TRAINING AT THE START OF JULY?
Very good spirits. They all seemed glad to be back and they were all in pretty good shape too. We’d given them programmes to stick to during the summer and the tests on the first day back showed that they’d all looked after themselves.
If they hadn’t lost a little bit of fitness it would have shown that they hadn’t had a rest and I didn’t want that either.
It’s a long season, mentally and physically so they all need to get away from it for a good while.
It wasn’t ideal to have our first game after only being back a week but we really wanted to get three games in at the Cottage to get the lads used to playing there – if you look at the squad, many will never have played there, and obviously nobody will have played there in it’s current form.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO GET OUT OF THE PRE-SEASON GAMES? IS WINNING STILL THE ALL-IMPORTANT AIM?
You always want to win. That’s part and parcel of being a player or a manager. But the aim of friendlies is to develop fitness and patterns of play and to get used to playing with each other again. I don’t think you should put too much emphasis on winning.
I’ve seen so many teams have a great pre-season, win all their games and have a bad start when it comes to the games that count – and visa-versa. Last year we lost two games up in Scotland and we were really poor, but we had a great start to the season. So there is little point putting too much emphasis on winning. The most important thing is that you are ready to start winning when the season proper starts.
CAN YOU TALK US THROUGH THE PRE-SEASON SCHEDULE?
The week before the Celtic game we were away down in Devon at a great facility owned by Nigel Mansell. We’ve been going there for the last four or five years and it’s a great place. We were doing mainly fitness sessions in the morning and then ball work in the afternoons, and on certain days we did three sessions.
Then we go up to Scotland to play Hearts and Partick. And then finally we’ve got the Feyenoord game in Holland. It’s important to take the lads away during pre-season. If you’re working them really hard twice or three times a day non stop for five weeks in the same surroundings it can become very monotonous. If you can change the backdrop it keeps everyone interested and helps them work harder.
YOU’VE HAD A COUPLE OF SESSIONS AT THE COTTAGE ALREADY. WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF IT NOW?
I think it looks great – really impressive. The Chairman’s spent a lot of money on revamping it and I hope everybody who hasn’t seen it will be pleasantly surprised. I think the atmosphere’s going to be great once it’s packed out. The two new stands really make it much more of a closed in space which is much better. We can’t wait for the first Premiership game there.
A BIG QUESTION, SIMPLY ASKED…WHAT’S THE AIM FOR NEXT SEASON?
First and foremost it’ll be the same as last season – to make sure we’re not in the relegation shake up. I’m not interested in starting the season saying let’s finish sixth or eighth or whatever. Let’s be realistic, it’s a very tough League and if you have a bad run of games you can find yourself slipping into that bottom six or seven, irrelevant of how good you are.
So we’ve got to make it our priority to stay clear of that. If we get into a position where we can better what we did last year, we’ll go for it big time. Last year I didn’t start setting unrealistic targets and I’m not about to change that. We’ve got to get to 40 points first and foremost, and we’ll do that by identifying mini targets over small blocks of games, and build our season that way.
AND FINALLY KEANO AND YOU BOTH SIGNED NEW CONTRACTS IN EARLY JULY. THAT’S A VERY POSITIVE SYMBOL AS THE CLUB APPROACHES THE NEW CAMPAIGN…
We’re both really pleased – it’s taken a bit of time but sometimes these things do. But we’re both delighted to have pledged our futures to Fulham. We had a good first year but we know we’ve got to work doubly hard in the new season.
Me, Keano and the players were written off last year and I think we came out fighting with a point to prove. But if we don’t show that same kind of attitude and commitment we’ll find ourselves in trouble. Just look at Everton’s story over the last two seasons. We can’t let the same thing happen to us. But there’s absolutely no reason why it should provided we go about things the right way.