Fulham skipper Luis Boa Morte has played a crucial role in establising The Cottagers in the Premiership, as he has continued to do this season. The Portuguese forward could have left for Newcastle last summer but Coleman persuaded him to sign a deal that committed him to the club until 2010 and his performances have increasingly been marked by the quality of leadership.

The 28-year-old has matured in the post and the added responsibility has strengthened his effectiveness. Now his friendship with Bridge, forged during their time together at Southampton, has helped to seal a deal that Coleman regards as the best bit of business he has completed in management “because there’s no better quality in that position in Europe”.

Boa Morte convinced the 25-year-old defender that a move to Craven Cottage could rehabilitate his career in World Cup year. “I’m delighted he decided to come to the club,” said Boa Morte. “Even as a young player at Southampton, Wayne was the perfect professional, destined to perform at the very top. He had great skill, great technique and the appetite to succeed. He wanted to play against the best and the potential was always there.

“He’s developed into a very good player who can support the midfield and attack well, and if he’s looking to prove he is fit again following injury and capable of taking his place in the England squad for the World Cup, he can boost his cause with us.”

A Premiership top-10 place must be Fulham’s target, Boa Morte emphasised. “We know we have the squad to achieve this, so we need to start showing it.” A Premiership and FA Cup Double-winner with Arsenal in 1998, he wants to taste success at Fulham. “I expect Fulham to be playing in the Uefa Cup,” he declared. “That is what we must aim for. Hopefully, we can bring European football to Craven Cottage. That would be special and we can do it.”

A strong work ethic has always been the basis of Boa Morte’s beliefs. His father was a tailor who found work on ocean liners, forcing him to spend long periods away from his family. His mother, who cooked in the canteen of a Lisbon hospital, had to raise 10 children. When Boa Morte was 15 he left school and went to work in a camping park, stacking supermarket shelves and covering staff at the checkout. He would leave home at six every morning and not return until nine at night.

“I know life away from football, a hard life,” he said. “That’s why nothing scares me. I know how blessed I am to live this current life and the hard work and dedication it takes to get where you want to be.” A bakery job and an apprenticeship repairing motors on fridge freezers and washing machines followed before he joined his brother as an electrician.

“I was playing football with a small team all this time and eventually Sporting Lisbon offered me a contract,” he recalled. “But if I’d had to earn a living in the real world for the rest of my life, I would have. You will never get anywhere without working hard.”

After leaving Arsenal in 1999, his spell at Southampton ended acrimoniously. Glenn Hoddle replaced Dave Jones as manager and stopped playing him without explanation. But at Fulham he has found a spiritual home. “Fulham is my house, I always say. I feel at home here, really settled and appreciated, and I appreciate the club,” Boa Morte said. “It’s most important to be happy where you’re playing, and I am, especially because I played with Fulham in the old Division One and helped get the club into the Premiership.

“We have targets to achieve and we’re going to try to reach them. It’s not easy because Fulham is a small club compared to other London teams, but it has tradition and we play the game the right way. That’s why a player like Wayne Bridge would want to come here and that’s why we can face the future with much optimism.”