Part of what makes Martin Jol such a wonderful fit for Fulham Football Club – besides his attractive style of play – is his personality. Refreshingly honest, Jol has a penchant for dry humour and subtle jibes more common on these shores than the ones in his native Netherlands, and has a way of connecting with fans that previous managers have perhaps struggled to do as well as being very intelligent. All in all, Jol is just a very likable person, and his interview in today’s Sunday Times just serves to reassure that. Replicated in full below – The Times Online is subscription only – it reads superbly and Jol discusses all manner of Fulham subjects. He also says he isn’t sure if we ‘love’ him yet; let’s put that right at Southampton today eh!
(with thanks to a nameless poster on TiFF)
When he first arrived in the capital, to coach Spurs, Chigwell was home. “And I thought Chigwell was Hollywood,” he grins. “Of course it isn’t, but it’s like the song: London is the place to be.” Now, with Marit, his daughter, and Nicole, his wife, Martin Jol rents a farmhouse near Esher on Henry VIII’s former hunting estate. There are deer in the woods and idyllic views. “It’s the best area. People are nice, it’s almost the city but still green.
“Sometimes I go to Richmond — Keith Richards and all those people living on the Thames. It’s unbelievable. If you’re here for five years you can ask for an English passport and I think about doing that,” Jol jokes. “That’s how I feel.”
He enthuses equally about Fulham. “The academy’s fantastic, champions of England. The chairman, he’s the best. He said one thing to me, ‘Here are the keys.’ Actually Alistair [Mackintosh, Fulham’s chief executive] has the keys but that’s okay because he’s very clever at his job.”
So, love is all around. Well, not quite. There’s something nagging at Jol, a feeling that, 16 months since arriving, despite being Fulham’s most successful modern manager (statistically), despite blooding youngsters, overseeing vibrant football, revamping an ageing squad at a net transfer profit of £10m, he’s not accepted in every corner of Craven Cottage.
“I get on with the people here. The only thing is this is an old-school place. Sometimes I still don’t feel all the supporters are behind me. It’s my weakness. I get too involved. It gnaws at me if some aren’t proud of me or take me here.” He pats his heart. “I’m a fighter and want everyone behind the cause.”
There’s veneration of the players Roy Hodgson led to the Europa League final in 2010; regret that many are gone. Jol understands that, but feels it’s time to move on. “Bobby Zamora scored five [league] goals the year before I came. Under me . . . he scored five goals. One year he scored eight goals, the most in his life [in the Premier League]. And everyone’s happy. But that’s Fulham.
“Other strikers scored four goals between them. People feel, because it was in the paper, I let all these star players go. But they don’t realise that for all these star players, who scored four goals and five goals, I got players like [Dimitar] Berbatov from Manchester United. Mladen Petric, 44 caps for Croatia, one of the most reliable players I’ve seen. [John Arne] Riise, [Mahamadou] Diarra. [Bryan] Ruiz. Sascha Riether. Maybe we’re a bit better now? But maybe I’m wrong.
“Everyone thinks it’s a big transformation but it was a natural process. The older players wanted long deals and we couldn’t afford that with everyone. And if your club wants to be top 10, you need strikers such as Darren Bent, who’ll score 15-20 goals a season. We haven’t had that since Louis Saha but now we’ve Berbatov and Petric.”
He wanted to keep Danny Murphy (“one of the best five No 4s in England over the past five years”) but Blackburn offered a longer contract. He fought — unrealistically, he now accepts — to retain Clint Dempsey, who had Champions League dreams. Andy Johnson and Dickson Etuhu left with his best wishes. The only beef was Zamora, who upset many inside Fulham (not just the manager) last week by declaring the “vast majority of players” don’t like Jol.
“Only Bobby really wanted to go. He doesn’t like the press. He told me, ‘I hate fans’. Obviously, he didn’t like me. A technical thing: after two weeks I said, ‘Bobby, I need you in the box to get on the end of crosses’. He said, ‘I hate crosses’. So he hated the fans, he hated the press, he hated crosses, he hated me. I thought, ‘What can I do?’
“Berbatov isn’t here because Fulham’s on the Thames. Nor Petric, Diarra, the others. They came because they knew me. Maybe, despite what Bobby says, there is a little advantage I’m here.”
Evidence he benefits at least some of the old guard, as seen in Damien Duff’s resurgence. “Four per cent body fat, it’s almost unnatural. The best professional I’ve ever seen,” Jol marvels. Berbatov can be transformative. Magisterial in his two Fulham starts, wins over West Brom and Wigan, he’s 50:50 to return from injury for the match at Southampton today.
“We needed a signing like that. Because the big players already here, like Brede [Hangeland] or Mark Schwarzer, saw Dempsey, [Moussa] Dembele go, and thought, ‘What? Aren’t we ambitious?’
“I remember coming on the team bus and Charlie Nicholas was saying on TV, ‘Yeah, Berbatov, different class’. Everyone on the bus was cheering. At another club, players would feel jealousy. I knew, then, Berba would work out just fine because the other players would accept him as The Man . . . He’s not The Man, of course, because he’s quiet!”
Jol, who first brought him to the Premier League when he moved to Spurs from Bayer Leverkusen, doesn’t see Berbatov as the enigma other managers describe.
“The thing you’ve got to understand is even when he’s happy, he doesn’t always look it. His body language . . . but I know him.
“Berba’s no extrovert. But he loves people, you know? Like him, I can be quite introverted. If you’re my friend I’m totally different than with someone I know won’t like me. He has some of my mentality so I say, ‘Come into the office, Berba, let’s talk’.”
Berbatov has played as No 10 behind Hugo Rodallega, who was signed from Wigan in July, but Jol envisaged him as a No 9 in the 4-3-3 he was moving towards, before Dempsey and Dembele departed. “I’ve had to take a step back with my style and play 4-4-2 again, because we lack midfield numbers. I’ve mixed feelings.
“We had a good team last year, the first time Fulham had more than 50 points while also playing in Europe. I thought, with Berbatov, top seven. Then . . . bang . . . Spurs paid the release fee for Dembele [£15m] and got Dempsey. Now we’re rebuilding again.
“Someone said, ‘You’ve got the top six, then Everton and Fulham’. I thought, ‘Really?!’ If you look at Stoke, with six strikers, Aston Villa, West Ham, QPR, Sunderland spending . . . how can you say Fulham should be top 10?”
Yet he adds: “I still feel outside of the top four, vision, philosophy, a bit of luck, development, good scouting, can make the difference.”
A dream for Jol is opening a gallery for his 350 paintings. Recently, he was in Leipzig on a buying trip. He has collected from New York, Canada and Vienna. The gallery would be in London. “I’m 56, it’s time to settle.”
Does that mean staying at Fulham? “I’d love to. And my missus would. But I’m too sensitive for this business,” he smiles.
He means he’s not counting chickens. Fulham plan contract extension talks but after leaving Spurs and Hamburg despite overseeing both clubs’ best seasons in 25 years, he’s cautious. Which brings us back to his unease.
Everton were hailed for finishing seventh last season. Fulham were joint-eighth with Liverpool but nobody seemed to notice. “I like to be recognised,” Jol admits. “That’s why I’m a sportsman.
“I work not only for money but because I want people to see me and my club are doing well. When I was in Waalwijk, at my first club, they named a street after me,” he adds wistfully. “Is it a nice street? No. But never mind.”
Striking sums add up for Jol
Martin Jol has done the maths and knows what he needs to succeed. He says: ‘To finish in the top 10, you need 50 goals. We’ve lost our top scorer, Clint Dempsey, who got 17 last season, but I know Berbatov can score 14-15, Petric 10 and Rodallega can score seven or eight.’Mladen Petric: averaged 10 league goals/season in five years in Bundesliga.Dimitar Berbatov, left: averaged 14 goals/season in five PL years (not counting 2011-12 when, restricted mostly to substitute appearances, he still scored seven in 12 games).Hugo Rodallega: averaged seven goals/season in his three full seasons for Wigan.Bobby Zamora hit two, eight, five and five goals in his 3½ seasons with Fulham (20 league goals in 91 appearances) while Andy Johnson, in three complete seasons, scored seven, three and three.