The peerless Paul Hayward pens a great piece all about Fulham’s progress under Roy Hodgson. Read it and feel a massive smile creeping across your face.
Here are a few snippets:
A second-tier continental championship is not to be sneered at, though, especially now, particularly down by the Thames, where Fulham were an exercise in self-deprecation until Mohammed Fayed took his punt and Hodgson’s appointment on 28 December 2007 turned out to be one of the most inspired headhunts in the whole sack-happy saga of the Premier League.
Eleven months after he led them to their highest ever league finish (seventh place), Hodgson has coached Zamora to the edge of a World Cup spot with England and sculpted European semi-finalists from a squad of vastly improved nearly-men. Danny Murphy was nearly a top-six midfielder, Paul Konchesky was nearly a top-half left-back, Damien Duff was nearly the wizard he used to be at Blackburn and Chelsea, Zamora was nearly, but not quite, good enough to be the main goal-getter in a top-10 Premier League side.
“No tree grows to heaven” Hodgson told me in November, in an interview in these pages, citing an old Swedish adage. What he meant was that expectation can explode on you. He said: “I constantly preach the message that all the time we can remain a Premier League club, filling the stadium with 25,000 people, playing the sort of football that those 25,000 people seem to appreciate, I’ve got to say I think that’s success.”.
His closing passages celebrate both Hodgson’s eye for talent and how Fulham finally feel like we belong in the top flight.
A good manager identifies stalled talent and coaches it to a far higher level. At Viking FK in Norway, he sees that Brede Hangeland is good enough to play in the Premier League and later brings him over. He and his staff spot Chris Smalling playing centre-back for Maidstone United and within nine months of his first-team debut are selling him on to Manchester United for £10m.In a vanished showbiz past, when Craven Cottage was a house of post-war fun, Tommy Trinder would promise his cashmere camel coat to anyone who could score a hat-trick, and Charlie Mitten would order Johnny Haynes off the physio’s table so his dog could be treated for a race at Wimbledon.
It took Fulham an age to transcend that knockabout mythology. They made football laugh. Now they ask it to learn.
Long may it continue.