If you have ever been part of a sports team you will know just how critical it is to have a good pre-season. It needs to get players up to standard physically, technically and mentally before the season kicks off. I have not-so-fond memories of doing hill sprints and step work several times a week before the local hockey season kicked off! But I know that if you don’t have the right start then your whole season can be thrown off course leaving you with nothing but regrets wishing you had run a little harder during the summer months! In a recent interview with Marcus Bettinelli and Lasse Vigen Christensen it really struck me that both players admitted that the atmosphere around the Fulham camp was noticeably different from the same stage last season. Both players commented on how there is a better togetherness in the squad that just wasn’t there last season for a number of reasons. I’ll be honest, at the time I thought Fulham’s pre-season last year was of good quality and that the players seemed happy and focused but in hindsight it seems that there were a lot of underlining issues that had a very negative impact upon the squad.
Similarly to this year’s pre-season, in July/August last year Fulham had just finished their pre-season camp in Austria but with Felix Magath in charge rather than Kit Symons. A lot has been made of Magath’s extremely tough training regime and this alongside his complete lack of man management skills, the bizarre transfer activity and the number of big egos in the squad will have taken a much bigger toll on the squad than we perhaps realised last season. Magath’s style didn’t suit Fulham at all and he unfortunately instilled the wrong attitude right from the beginning. Apart from the likes of Ross McCormack, the transfers completed last summer were completely illogical and just became a list of unknowns. Too many members of the squad were not good enough to compete for the first team so there was a distinct lack of competition for places- never a good thing for a side supposedly aiming for promotion.
The pre-season fixtures last season also weren’t of good enough quality to really test the squad. It is important to ease the team into pre-season but the fixtures actually went downhill in quality rather than getting harder and harder as the start of the season drew nearer. Looking back on it, it really wasn’t a good way to prepare for the Championship and will probably have played a part in the terrible season we had to endure.
However, this pre-season has been a complete contrast from last year. As the boys said in the interview, the squad are much more focused on the same goal and the players who have joined up are of a much better standard. Symons has targeted the right calibre of player and we have some of the best attacking players statistically speaking from last season’s campaign in Cairney, O’Hara and Pringle. The competition for places is high now which is necessary for a team who wants to push for promotion. The standard of the pre-season friendlies have also been much higher than last season with the only opposition team outside a top league being Crawley Town. Instead of East Fife, DC United and Caykur Rizespor, Fulham have faced Aston Villa, Hertha Berlin, Eintracht Frankfurt and then face Crystal Palace at the Cottage tomorrow. These teams have been a real test physically and technically for Fulham over the past month and the match tomorrow against Palace should give us a really good idea of how the team will play in the first game of the 15/16 campaign against Cardiff.
Overall I really do believe that everything that has went on throughout this year’s pre-season has been significantly better than last season which be a real source of optimism for the fans. From the togetherness in the squad that Bettinelli and Christensen spoke about in their interview to the signings that have come in and the quality of the teams Fulham have faced throughout the month it is clear that the team is in a much better place physically and mentally than last year. It should provide a solid platform to continue to build and will hopefully be the start of a much more successful season than the last. Here’s to less tears and more cheers!
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