… Fulham and Jean Tigana parted company. But rather than concentrate on the acrimonious nature of the Frenchman’s departure, I wanted to remember the good times that Tigana brought to Fulham.
First and foremost, he returned the club to a place that younger followers like me never thought we’d reach again – the top flight. Plenty of Fulham fans were down in the mouth after Kevin Keegan left the club to take on the England job full-time and, if they weren’t depressed then, Paul Bracewell’s reign had us rather dreading match days. We looked a terribly disjointed, mid-table side and went on a forgettable run of games without scoring.
The choice of Tigana as Bracewell’s successor was a surprise, but it shouldn’t have been. Mohamed Al-Fayed had cast the net pretty wide to find the coach to deliver the Premiership football he craved and alighted on Tigana after an apparent recommendation from Eric Cantona. Tigana, a methodical coach, had a brilliant track record in French football and, if a few eyebrows were raised at the swift departure of Geoff Horsfield, there was plenty of optimism when we first saw the class of Louis Saha.
Tigana unearthed plenty more gems too. Sylvain Legwinski wasn’t anything approaching a household name over here when he arrived but became a real fans favourite. Strong in the tackle, an accurate passer and a willing runner, Monica was at home either in central midfield or on the right hand side. Niclas Sahnoun had a pretty successful loan spell before falling off the radar and Fabrice Fernandes showed flashes of absolute brilliance before his gallic temperment got the better of him.
Tigana brought in a couple of players who were much more well known to English fans. John Collins teamed up with his former manager and slotted seemlessly into the midfield alongside Lee Clark. The Scot’s crafted passing and unsurpassed footballing brain sustained our early years in the Premiership. After a shaky start, Luis Boa Morte produced the kind of quality that had persuaded Arsene Wenger to take him to Arsenal and the Fulham faithful really took him to their hearts.
Tigana also gave youth its head. Sean Davis had made his Fulham debut under Micky Adams but had fallen down the pecking order under Bracewell until Tigana reinvented him as a holding midfielder years before that position was in vogue. Seany gave us plenty of memorable moments in the promotion season alone: a blinding goal at Preston, that stunning late winner that broke Blackburn and the equaliser against Sheffield Wednesday that reduced grown men to tears and clinched our promotion.
Once we were back in the top flight, Tigana showed little concern about bringing Zat Knight in the first team. The giant centre back had been signed for 10 tracksuits and a few footballs from non-league Rushall Olympic by Kevin Keegan and Tigana noticed something he liked in Knight. He served his apprenticeship by playing in midfield for the reserves – with the aim of improving his distribution – and after making his debut at Leicester went on to become a fixture in the side.
Perhaps the best part of Tigana’s reign was the way he made some of our less heralded stalwarts into better players. The best example is probably Rufus Brevett, a turly committed left back who was expected to drift away from the first team seen once we signed Jon Harley from Chelsea. But Rufus kept the big money signing out of the side and developed as a player. Andy Melville, much maligned though he was also benefited from Tigana’s strict coaching methods and Barry Hayles, a player who many doubted could do it in Division 1, topped our goalscoring charts for our first season in the Premiership.
Tigana revolutionised our approach to training – making us one of the fittest teams in the country – and the full depth of his attention to detail is revealed in this article. He also got us playing some splendid football. That promotion season was as close to perfection as I’ve witnessed – and it didn’t stop there. The following year we went all the way to the FA Cup semi finals and on into Europe. And who can forget that special comeback against Spurs at Loftus Road? So, we’ve got plenty to be thankful for.