Perhaps the most interesting part of an engaging press conference this afternoon was when Martin Jol expanded upon how he’d try to reshape Fulham. Most observers would agree that there’s not too much wrong with this well-run club at the moment. You’d find it difficult to beat what Roy Hodgson achieved at Craven Cottage and even Mark Hughes, casting aside the acrimonious manner of his abrupt departure for a moment, was widely regarded as having began impressively at Fulham.
Jol was quite clear that he’d like to play attacking, attractive football. That was one of the reasons why he was one of my favoured candidates to replace Hodgson last year. His experience both of the Premier League and European football make him a suitably continental-minded manager, who will be able to mix style with pragmatism. The comments of every Tottenham fan have been unfailingly positive, tinged with happiness that a man who was obviously very popular at White Hart Lane has returned to English football. The one lingering doubt is that, although he talks a good game, Jol was sometimes found out tactically. My mind keeps returning to that memorable 3-3 draw with Spurs secured by Diomansy Kamara’s crazy overhead kick in injury-time. Spurs were cruising midway through the second half, until he withdrew Robbie Keane. Hopefully, that was an abberation.
Jol was also very clear that he wants to build a young team. He inherits one of the oldest squads in the league. Hodgson put a premium on experience and character when identifying new signings. His methods were successful, but short-term. Jonathan Greening’s signing was an example of this. Not one to set any pulses racing, but steady, dependable and an asset, as confirmed by the eye-catching way with which he finished last season. The likes of Murphy, Zamora, Duff, Schwarzer – and even Hangeland and Hughes – will need replacing sooner rather than later. If Jol is genuinely committed to Fulham for the four or five years he referred to earlier (and the last couple of years have left him sceptical about the likelihood of that), then he’ll have to undertake a radical overhaul of the squad.
He’s clearly began that task already by releasing four players. The only one who feels like a loss is Zoltan Gera, for reasons we’ve covered before. But even Gera was getting on. Jol has referred both in interviews and in his press conference to an impressive youth set-up but it’s difficult to know what this constitutes. Fulham fans talk about David Stockdale being a good prospect: but, at 26, he’s beyond that stage now. It’s been years since we brought through an academy graduate to a regular place in the first team – you probably have to go back to Sean Davis – and Matthew Briggs struggled in his Premier League appearances last season. The left back’s only young and had a tough baptism of fire so it would be harsh to judge him on those fleeting moments alone. It’s even tougher to judge the prospects from our youth team: Bettinelli, Marsh-Brown, Dalla Valle and Kacaniklic have had hardly any first-team football and are probably another season (at most) away from breaking into the first team squad.
Therefore, the new manager will have to probably buy in talent from elsewhere. The People’s Dean Jones mentioned last week that Jol had identified eight potential new signings, most of them young and based overseas. There was an intriguing comment from Jol elsewhere, intimating that he was embarrassed by some of the names Fulham had already been linked with. The inference was clear again: he was interested in players with careers in front of them. That’s all well and good but signing players in the 20-25 year age bracket will require the club’s transfer policy to shift dramatically. In short, it will need Mohamed Al Fayed, conspicuous by his absence at today’s press conference, to loosen his purse strings.
Jol will also know that he won’t be able to compete for the continent’s hottest young talent as he doesn’t have the carrot of Champions’ League football to dangle in front of potential signings. He’s shrewd enough to know a bargain when he sees one: a number of his signings at Spurs were perceptive ones. If by the end of the August transfer window, he’s managed to add a youthful central midfielder, a promising full back and a striking prospect to salivate over, we’ll have had a very successful summer indeed (do use the comments box for your suggestions). But you suspect that this revolution – rather than the evolution we’ve seen of the past few seasons – will take a few years to complete.