Barely four years ago Fulham were seen as a team who would grind their way through games to just about stay in the Premier League. Neutrals generally weren’t excited to see Fulham on TV because they played boring, defensive football. As much as I do not like that opinion, it can’t be denied that for many years Fulham had to defend to stay in games and it wasn’t exactly easy on the eye (or the heart as Fulham have threatened to give me many heart attacks over the years!) The age of Fulham squads in the past have been in the higher end of the scale, especially when Hodgson took over. He brought in the likes of Schwarzer,Gera, Duff,Zamoraand AJ to add experience to a squad that needed some level heads. Hodgson may have increased the average age of the squad and employed rather defensive tactics, but who regrets that decision? It may not have been the most attractive football at times, but without it we would have been relegated and there is no doubt about that.
Everybody thought that it would completely change whenever Mark Hughes was appointed in charge of the squad for the 10/11 season but, apart from the excellent signing of Dembele, the team was very similar to what it had been under Hodgson. We understood why that was whenever Hughes walked out on Fulham just last year: he had never intended on staying with Fulham for the long-term!
Whenever Jol joined last year, Fulham fans were again cast into the unknown. We had seen Jol come very close to taking Spurs to a top four spot a number of years previously but we didn’t really know what he was going to do on a tight budget at Fulham. Jol seemed to start as he meant to go on by signing younger players such as Sa, Kasami, Ruiz and Gecov as well as bringing through players such as Frei, Briggs and Kacaniklic. However the average age of Fulham’s squad last year was still the 2nd oldest, standing at 28.04 years.
Jol has continued to stamp his authority on the squad though by letting the likes of Murphy, Zamora and Johnson leave and it is clear that while he wants to bring in younger, perhaps hungrier players in their places to drive the Fulham of today and tomorrow onwards. Yes, Jol has signed Petric who is 31, but he has also signed 26 year-old Rodellaga. He has also included even more youth players like Trotta, who scored two goals inGermany, and Mesca who seems to impress everybody who watches him play. I wouldn’t be surprised if more players arrive at Fulham soon, infact I’d be disappointed if we didn’t sign more players who are younger than 26. We still need one or two players in midfield at least.
Another clue about Jol’s plan at the Cottage was given today whenever the Official Fulham site made the announcement that the reserves will be replaced with an U21 team with Kit Symons in charge. Steve Wigley has been brought in as head of Academy and the U18 side. Both men have a lot of experience whenever it comes to developing young players and the aim will be to develop player to allow them to progress through to the first team in the future. Having this sort of set-up at Fulham should prove to be a wise decision but we might have to wait a few years to see the outcome. It is something that excites me and keeps reminding me that Jol has a long-term plan and wants to keep moving Fulham onwards.
Not only has the age of the squad changed since Jol has been in charge, the style of play is very different to what we used to see. I am not criticising Hodgson because he brought what was critically needed at Fulham, I am just saying that the football philosophy has changed. Jol clearly likes to attack and pass the ball around the ground to create chances. The team took a little bit of time to get used to this but gradually we saw a change. Sometimes Fulham simply passed around teams with ease this year.
For example Newcastle, Wolves and QPR could just not handle us at home and you don’t have to look further than Dempsey’s goal against Wolves if you are looking for a slick, passing goal. Fulham had had the ball for around four minutes before Diarra’s defence cutting ball into Dempsey’s path to thunder into the top corner. It was beautiful stuff and it captures exactly what Jol wants to see at the Cottage more often. It didn’t always work but the squad were still getting used to it last year. I believe that tactics employed under Jol will continue to improve Fulham and continues to get me very excited for the upcoming season. I feel like I am counting down the days now. Only 24 days to go…