Tonight see’s the first West London Derby of the season for Martin Jol’s men. It falls at a time when Fulham can be seen as a beacon of stability and modicum of rationality amongst the Pandora’s box of chaos and soap opera that has engulfed our two neighbours over the past week or so.
First there was the absurd sacking of Roberto Di Matteo by Tsar Roman at Chelsea. Then in a twist straight out of Monty Python, pantomime villain of the Shed, Rafael Benitez, he of Liverpool and of ‘facts’, was appointed interim boss at Stamford Bridge. His antics when manager of Liverpool, and the disposing of the manager who won them the Champions League, led Chelsea fans to boo their incumbent leader a mere two minutes into Sunday’s draw with Manchester City.
Our other neighbours, them that are rock bottom of the league, finally made a managerial change of their own on Friday. Our former manager, Mr Ambition himself, Mark Hughes, was unsanctimoniously relieved of his duties the day before a trip to Old Trafford, after QPR made the worst start to a Premier League season in the league’s history.
What makes the carnival up at Loftus Road even more fantastical is that Harry Redknapp forced the QPR board’s hand by telling them he would fly to Kyiv on Saturday to take up the post of Ukraine Manager should the Loftus Road job not be his by the end of Friday.
What’s more, Hughes’ trusted lieutenants, Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzswicki, actually took charge of the 3-1 defeat to Manchester United with the full knowledge that their only chance of being employed in Shepherd’s Bush over Christmas is to be gift wrappers at Westfield.
Where does this leave Fulham? Firstly, Mohammed Al-Fayed is verging on boring compared to Tony Fernandes and Roman Abramovic, who seem to be finding new ways to mess around their football clubs. Although in fairness to Mr Fernandes, sacking Hughes was overdue.
More importantly, Fulham face trips to Chelsea and QPR in the next month. Facing a side with a new manager is often a troublesome business. In the case of QPR, this could well be the case. For any number of reasons, QPR’s cavalcade of signings never clicked under the Welshman. You have to hope that Harry’s arm round the shoulder management doesn’t translate to Spanish and French.
For tonight’s night’s trip to Chelsea though, Rafa Benitez has a much tougher task. His appointment wasn’t by design of a club looking to stop the hemorrhaging of points, the dressing room wasn’t lost and the fans weren’t baying for blood. Except that is what now presents the Spaniard. Change is often a positive thing, but change for changes sake is different. How Chelsea will respond is anything but certain.
While as a club, we are nicely stable at the moment. Our first team is in the middle of a turbulent fortnight. Brede Hangeland’s contentious red card against Sunderland, along with injuries to starters Alex Kacaniklic and Bryan Ruiz, have disrupted Martin Jol’s immediate first team plans.
Kerim Frei and Matthew Briggs are back from stop-start loan spells in the Championship, while David Stockdale, Marcello Trotta and Alex Smith have all been loaned out. Pajtim Kasami, one of our more talented youngsters, has been told to get his act together. Our central midfield has got four players fighting for two spots, and the formerly rock solid defence has begun to ship goals at a rate of knots, despite upgrading our major weakness at right back in the summer. To go with all this, we also have in our ranks, the most naturally gifted footballer in the club’s recent history. Oh and on Saturday we welcome back Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey with the visit of Spurs.
It is undoubtedly an exciting time to be a Fulham fan. How the coming weeks are going to transpire is anybody’s guess. Nothing is certain, and any results are within the realms of possibility. The script for this season is not yet even half written, beginning tonight at Stamford Bridge, let’s show Chelsea fans how it’s done, and help our team write the next chapter.