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Danny Murphy: Leading From The Middle

Back in his Liverpool days, a friend of mine’s grandfather used to put £10 on Danny Murphy to score first for every Anfield home game. Why? Because with Murphy there was always a chance.

Making 249 appearances, there was a time when Murphy looked like a one-club man at Liverpool. Originally a product of the Dario Gradi production line at Crewe, and despite going on to become Manchester United tormentor in chief while at Anfield, Danny eventually found his way south. First Charlton, then Tottenham and finally Fulham. For Mr Reliable, he’s played for a surprisingly large number of teams.

Ironically enough, it was under Martin Jol at Spurs that Danny became a forgotten man. The victim of a transfer policy at White Hart Lane that ensured as many midfielders as possible were signed, Lawrie Sanchez brought Murphy to Craven Cottage in August 2007. I can still remember him being introduced next to Seol Ki-Hyeon and Shefki Kuqi on the Craven Cottage pitch during one particular half time.

Football can be a fickle game, and the relative successes of those three deadline-day signings say it all. Two are confined to the history books, as mere passing specks on the radar of Fulham’s history, while Murphy has gone on to become a Fulham Hall of Famer.

Trailing his Anfield days by only 36 games, by continuing on at The Cottage into next season, there is a good chance Danny would play more times for Fulham than he did for Liverpool, and that would be quite something.

Since arriving at Fulham, Murphy has been at the very core of what has, in hindsight, been a complete upward transformation in the clubs fortunes. From his midfield play, that is the beating heart of the team on the field, to his stoic and poised leadership off it. Danny has come to embody what it means to be Fulham.

Although having not yet lifted a trophy with Fulham, Danny has always led from the front. Over the last five seasons, some of the most memorable moments in club history have involved our beloved skipper.

It started with the great escape. “Who put the ball in the Portsmouth net? Danny Murphy”. It will be a moment that lives on in the memory of all Fulham fans. Twenty-three minutes from relegation to the abyss of the championship, when up popped Murphy, all 5 feet 9 inches of him, to score that header. Since then, while we’ve gone from strength to strength, the three relegated teams that day, Derby, Birmingham and Reading have all had varying fortunes but non were in the top division this season.

Danny heads in "that" goal against Portsmouth

That Portsmouth goal is just one of 27 scored whilst in Fulham colours. Many of them have, of course, been from the penalty spot. Ask a man in the street what Danny does best, and the answer will often involve penalties. Perhaps, if he’d won more than the woefully low nine England caps he has, our national team might have actually won a penalty shoot out once in a while.

Talking of our national team. The national press’s topic du jour is appointment of former Whites boss Roy Hodgson to the England post. Although club policy prevents players from commenting, Roy’s hiring is likely a prospect welcomed by Murphy. The thinking man’s manager for the thinking man’s player perhaps?

Murphy has an uncanny knack of popping up when you really need him as well. Be it a goal or an assist, a pass or a tackle, there is always some way in which he makes a difference. As Danny is rarely flashy, these moments of quality often fly well under the radar.

The tremendously important winner against Basel at home in the Europa League is a perfect example. A stodgy game that we needed to win, Murphy won us the game with a delightful 20 yard shot. Yet, in the panoply of memories from the Europa League, you’d struggle to pick this one out of a crowd.

Our captain led us into battle both home and abroad

The Europa League was the scene of the game that Murphy himself describes as his favourite for Fulham. The atmosphere of the Europa League Semi Final second-leg against Hamburg at Craven Cottage narrowly allows it to edge out the aforementioned Portsmouth game. Aware of its significance, the game’s place in history was not lost on our skipper. Of course, playing the sumptuous assist for Simon Davies’ stunning equaliser probably doesn’t tarnish any memories, either.

It is often forgotten that Murphy had, like the rest of us, to watch the Juventus game from the stands. The ignominious sending off away at Shakthar Donetsk, when he kicked out at Darijo Srna, gave Murphy the rarest of suspensions. At the end of the day though, it was he who led us out that fateful night in Hamburg, in the Europa League Final, and there’s not a Fulham fan alive that would have had it any other way.

Domestically, it was in our two famous victories against Manchester United during Roy Hodgson’s reign that we saw Murphy’s true colours, scoring in both games to continue his role as Sir Alex Ferguson’s nemesis. It is testament to both his commitment to Fulham, and his enduring fondness for Liverpool, that his wife Joanna, darling of the Fulham twitterati, is still not sure which club the couple’s children will grow up to support (although word is they are both Fulham fans at the moment!).

Besides Danny’s highlight reel ability, the role he performs on the field is incredibly team first. For example, he always mans the post whilst defending corners. Is Danny’s role always glamorous? No. Is it necessary? Yes.

There is also this move that I swear he’s patented, a sort of dummy turn, where he lets the ball run past him, only to then turn his entire body 180 degrees and then continue running. It works every time, and perhaps, it should now be known as the Murphy Turn.

There is a quote from Barcelona midfield Xavi Hernandez, “football is for the smart guys, not just the big guys who can run all day”. While Xavi is perhaps the best exponent of the role of the creative metronome in the centre of midfield, Murphy cannot be far behind. There is something almost mythical about those players who can seemingly collect the ball and distribute it simultaneously whilst managing to always look for that decisive killer pass.

At 35, the fire still burns.

Off the field, it is his ability to articulate that has led many people, in and around the game, to suggest that Murphy has a future career ahead of him as either a pundit or a manager. Already used as a guest on various live broadcasts, Danny would be a welcome addition to our TV screens on a regular basis. I hope that there might be a better use for the brain and feet of our skipper once his playing days are over.

For his part, Danny wants to play for as long as he possibly can before then going into coaching, ideally at Fulham. From the fans’ perspective, this is great to hear and I sincerely wish that this career plan comes to fruition. Football is a game that is nearly impossible to predict, but one day, Danny Murphy – Fulham Manager, has a nice ring to it.

In 2010, Murphy used a platform at the Leaders in Football conference to criticise certain clubs and managers for over-zealous and aggressive tactics. He did so in an intelligent and insightful manner. Almost every Fulham fan was proud to call him our skipper that day.

The pressing issue at the moment is whether or not an agreement on a new contract will be forthcoming. At 35, Danny is no spring chicken, but in this case, age is but a number. The team’s performance level is still dictated by Murphy, and I’m hopeful that his playing career at Fulham will justly continue.

Just look at what happens when Danny’s not there. The man in control of the centre of midfield can make or break a team, and a good one is hard to find. Sir Alex Ferguson bringing back Paul Scholes to the Manchester United team at age 38 is a perfect example.

Whether or not Danny signs a new contract, either way, I’d love to know before this coming Sunday. We host Sunderland in our final home game of the season and we would all love to give Danny the standing ovation he deserves.


A big thank you to Danny and Joanna Murphy for contributing to the article. Please follow Joanna on twitter @joannataylormum

Murphy deserves more than abuse

Danny Boy

It was a poor game and one any discerning soccer enthusiast would surely rather forget. For once the BBC’s seemingly invariable editorial policy of showing any game involving Fulham and a Premier league team other than the ‘top four’, last or next to last on Match of the Day seemed wholly justified. Not that the BBC’s screening of selected incidents from the game, which lasted barely four minutes and went totally without comment, gave any impression of what us fortunate few Fulham supporters actually present saw and suffered.

True to our expectations, Stoke endeavoured to play to their physical strengths. All the ploys we anticipated were there, including: Delap’s exceptionally long, low trajectory, throws; lots of crosses unsuccessfully directed towards the far-post for the elongated expectant Crouch; and a general endeavour to boss the play in a manner appropriate to their abundance of large and combative players. Fulham’s response was also as expected, with the team for the most part retaining their shape, whilst not so successfully attempting to build a passing game. Only the referee Martin Atkinson acted throughout contrary to stereotype, appearing to be in his rare ‘consistent permissive mode’, (last seen in our cup game last year against Bolton Wanderers.) So as in the Bolton game it was again open season on Bobby Zamora, who was persistently clambered over whilst off-the-ball.

In the end Stoke got fortunate and Fulham fairly late on paid dearly for errors by conceding two goals. (The first goal came seconds after the injured Danny Murphy was subbed, when the area he would have marked was left uncovered.) From this game it is difficult to cite specific positives, though I would mention that the re-united central defender pairing of Hughes and Hangeland worked very well despite a severe testing. Also that Andrew Johnson never stopped chasing and harrying, to the continual disquiet of the Stoke defence. His acceleration and his reaction time now seem quicker than ever.

My abiding impression from the game was of the regrettable conduct of many most vocal Stoke fans who jeered Danny Murphy. He was loudly booed whenever he came into possession of the ball, and subjected to abusive chanting throughout the game. I understand the purported justification for the heated animosity displayed towards the Fulham captain throughout this game was the articles he wrote about a year ago, in which he put forward a reasoned and justifiable critique of teams, including Stoke, who at that time over-relied on physical aggression in their play.

The targeting of any player for abuse can never be justified whatever the perceived circumstances. The selection of Danny Murphy as a hate figure seems particularly perverse given that he personifies intelligence in football, both in the manner he plays with his focus on constructive passing and creative control, and from his perceptive comments on the game. As we always have at Fulham, players with such rare qualities should be cherished.

I spoke with Danny after the game. (It was very good of him to talk to me as he was then in process of applying two large ice packs to the knocks he had received, and was clearly still in some considerable discomfort.) I asked him whether he was, as has been rumoured, The Secret Footballer who writes a weekly column in The Guardian newspaper and who expressed similar views and the time. “I’m not the Secret Footballer” replied Danny. “I wouldn’t write anonymously. Anything I want to say goes out in my name………I think that is important.” Whilst we were speaking the atavistic faces of two Stoke (so called) fans appeared pressed up against the other side of the plate glass window, looking in and mouthing obscenities at Danny. This was a graphic reminder that not only is it important to be prepared to speak out and to be attributed for honest and intelligent opinions, but also that in soccer this can be a brave principal to live by. Sometimes our “beautiful game” has very ugly faces.



Danny’s Not Right For Us. Yet.

It is pretty common knowledge that Danny Murphy wants to be a manager one day. With a vacancy at the club that he captains and has a great deal of affection for, combined with his ambition to manage and inevitable retirement in the near future it is no suprise that speculation about his future here is pretty highly debated; the Bookies have him as one of the favourites. And while this would be a sweet ending to his playing career, I can’t see it happening, not now anyway.

Firstly from Fulham’s point of view it would be a risk to employ a complete rookie as manager. The league now is so competitive that a few points slip up for club like us who finished comfortably mid table will mean a certain relegation battle. Rarely will a player who goes straight into management instantly pick up the subleties and demands of management to a high standard (in lower divisions it is more common to see success in this way since the more talented young managers will be able to hold their own against the less talented and experienced ones, but off the top of my head I can’t even remember a player going straight from playing to management in the Premier League). It is a learning curve which induces risk, one that we can’t afford to take., even with a guiding hand like Ray Lewington as his assistant. The last two ‘experiments’ with similarly inexperienced managers Sanchez and Coleman almost ended in disaster despite having many years coaching experience, and in Sanchez’ case it was a spectacular failure. No doubt that Murphy is more suitable for top flight management than those two, at least from the characteristics he displays as player and captain, but it demonstrates how hard it is to hit the ground running. I know we had a good couple of years under Coleman but from his career path after them they seem to have been one offs. Whether it was down to good fortune or if he just ran out of ideas, I’m not sure.

Secondly, Murphy himself probably knows that it is not the time for him. While I am sure that he will have been tempted to submit an application for the job, he is sensible enough I think to recognise that he himself is not the right man for the job. He will also feel that he has at least a year, if not two, left in him to play and prove himself as a player in his mid thirties at the ‘top level’. The career of a professional football is not long and he won’t want to reduce it any further than he has to. Going off the Talksport article earlier, it doesn’t sound like he is interested.

However there is no doubt in my or Murphy’s mind that he will be a manager. I expect that as soon as he retires he will either coach with us or become assistant at a lower league club. The attributes he has, such as level-headedness, intelligence, determination and being able to motivate lend themselves well to being a good manager, and already he displays a fairly deep understanding of the game. His experiences with previous managers will no doubt rub off on him too. Dario Gradi from his time at Crewe will have, from a young age, instilled a passing philosophy even with the lesser talented players in the lower leagues. The success he had at Liverpool and time at England means he knows first hand what you need in a team, both in terms of mentality and player quality, to win trophies and accolades. Murphy’s experienced the opposite side of the game with us too, having score the goal to keep us up in ’08, and considering the glowing terms that he talks about Roy in it will be interesting to see how much of his management style is influenced by what he learnt under Roy; I’m sure it’ll be fairly substantial.

So, give it 5 or 6 years of coaching and managerial experience and I will gladly accept Danny Murphy as Fulham manager because I’m certain that he is destined to be one of the better English managers of his generation, having had experiences that will have taught him alot and the brain to take advantage of what he knows. But, right now, we can’t afford the risk, and neither can Danny.