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Karagounis still in love with Fulham

Giorgos Karagounis has said he will never forget the love and admiration he received from the Fulham faithful.

The Greek legend spent two years at Craven Cottage where he wore the white shirt 39 times and quickly became a cult hero.

The 37-year-old has now hanged up his boots after an incredible World Cup but has not forgotten Fulham and their loyal supporters.

He said “The love I got from the fans will always have a special place in my heart.

“I always hold those kind of memories dear and I will never forget that special devotion.”

‘Kara’ said it was a good experience as it is always a great thing for a footballer to make it to the Premier League.

However, he noted that a number of changes, such as the dismissal of managers, during his last months in London had a negative effect on the club.

The team were relegated in May after 13 years in the Premier League and struggled this season in the Championship until Felix Magath was dismissed.

Much have been said regarding the German’s methods but Karagounis did not find him eccentric and insisted that he should not take all the blame for the team’s situation.

“He (Magath) was not ready for that kind of step.

“He had different beliefs and it was hard for him to contribute to the team.

“His ways didn’t help but things were already difficult.”

The former midfielder’s last stand took place in Brazil where Greece came a whisker away from qualifying for the quarter-finals.

The Greek said that the National’s appearance last summer was equally as successful as the Euro 2004 triumph because it established them as one of the best in the world.

Now he has taken a new role on Greece’s coaching staff next to former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri.

Clever Karagounis typifies Fulham’s fight

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Fulham v Aston Villa - Craven Cottage

Of all the changes that Rene Meulensteen instigated upon taking over from Martin Jol eight days ago, restoring Giorgos Karagounis to the first team might have been one of the most telling. The Greek veteran has never been short of passion, and while relying on a 37 year-old to anchor the midfield might not be a long-term solution, he has had an immediate impact. Karagounis put in an all-action performance against Tottenham in midweek and his display in the vital win over Aston Villa yesterday typified the energy and endeavour that Meulensteen will need to move Fulham away from the bottom of the table.

Meulensteen opted to match Aston Villa’s central midfield trio with three of his own, with Steve Sidwell returning to face his one of his old clubs alongside Scott Parker and Karagounis. It worked a treat. Parker, Karagounis and Sidwell have a combined age just short of a hundred, but you never would have guessed it. Where Parker has been battling against the t-ide in recent weeks, rushing around the field trying to put out fires, here Fulham’s extra man in the middle meant they were in control from the off and began to dictate play.

Whilst Karagounis can’t complete ninety minutes any more, he managed two matches in four days with the minimum of fuss. Such was his influence that Meulensteen kept him on the field far longer than against Spurs. It wasn’t surprising since Karagounis – who marries passion, fight and technical ability – embodies the kind of qualities that you require in a relegation fight. His ball carrying from deep injects a bit of life into what has previously been a predictable midfield pairing in Sidwell and Parker and created an early opportunity for Dimitar Berbatov.

Crucially against a side who like to keep the ball themselves, Karagounis rarely wasted a pass. He completed 25 out of 30 passes, many of them forward balls and none more important than the one that instantly turned defence into attack down in the left back area. Fulham were penned back by a bit of Aston Villa pressure having gone ahead, but Karagounis brought some composure to a potentially dangerous situation, turning out of trouble and clipping a clever ball to Berbatov short of the halfway line. Berbatov’s outrageous through ball with the outside of the foot released Kacaniklic and once Mike Dean pointed to the spot, the game wasn’t really in doubt.

The Greek warrior’s appetite for a scrap has never been in doubt. He refused to be off forced by a succession of feisty challenges and contributed in both aspects of Fulham’s play. A defence that had been shaky in recent weeks looked a lot more solid thanks to the shielding by the central midfield three, whilst the extra man in midfield allowed Berbatov and Fulham’s two wingers a chance to impress in advanced positions. One surging run and shot that flew over Brad Guzan’s bar from distance epitomised his effort and his final contribution was to send a majestic cross over from the right which John Arne Riise headed against the far post. It was fitting that an appreciative Craven Cottage afforded him a standing ovation when he was replaced by Kasami.

There’s one more moment that encapsulates the kind of character that Karagounis is. Upon walking off the pitch at half time, Karagounis noticed one of his compatriots rushing towards the tunnel waving a Greek flag. Fiercely patriotic, Karagounis ensured that supporter got his shirt as a souvenir. Meulensteen has spoken already of Karagounis’ personality and influence around the squad and, with only a few months to what might be his international swansong in Brazil, the Greek is determined to grab his first-team chance. On the evidence of his displays over the past week, it will be mutually beneficial for both the battling midfielder and his club.

Karagounis keen to encourage youngsters

Fulham midfielder Georgios Karagounis has admitted that he is happy to act as a role model to younger players at the Premier League club.

The 36-year-old Greek international recently signed a new 12-month contract with the Cottagers following a move from Panathinaikos last summer.

“If the younger players look upon me as a good role model then I’m only too pleased to be available to help them if they have any questions,” Karagounis said.

“I am ready to help them because I remember what it was like to be a young player and I appreciated all the advice I received from the senior guys.

“It also gives me a lot of pleasure to help them because I can see a lot of quality amongst the younger players at Fulham. I think they have a great future ahead of them, not only individually but to do well for the team.”

Fulham get their Premier League campaign underway on Saturday when they travel to Sunderland.

Long, Slow Goodbye

We knew it was coming, but earlier this week on the 1st of July – the typical date of expiring contracts – Fulham confirmed the releases of first team squad members  Mark Schwarzer, Mladen Petric, Chris Baird, Simon Davies, Gorgios Karagounis and Csaba Somogyi, along with Alex Smith, Tom Donegan, Corey Gameiro, James Musa and Richard Peniket, who featured in the development squad (note that Diarra isn’t on the list). I think that every Fulham fan to a man anticipated the releases of the senior players, and had done so for some time, but it doesn’t make it much easier to swallow. Even though it’s entirely cliche and every fan with a blog/twitter account/messageboard moniker will have done one, here’s my goodbye to those who’ve left.

Mark Schwarzer: What a guy. To be honest, when he first signed I was distinctly underwhelmed. I was a pretty ignorant of players outside of Fulham and the Champions League, so when I heard we signed a 35 year old keeper who was woeful on Football Manager I was profoundly irritated, with a real sense of entitlement that we should show signs of progress after our great escape. I don’t think I’ve ever judged anything more wrong. Over the five years he has demonstrated that he is an exceptionally competent goalkeeper and a consumate professional with a fitness and athleticism that would make most 20 year olds look like Robert Chew in comparison. In his first couple of seasons I don’t think it’s unfair to claim that he was one of the top four or five keepers in the league, and even though his performances dropped off steadily in the years after that, they were incremental, and he displayed his ability on numerous occasions last season. The QPR and Arsenal penalty saves stand out in my mind, and it was great he could sign off with MotM display at Swansea in May. I think that ever since January and our determination to sign Stekelenberg was revealed, his days were numbered, and it’s no surprise he rejected our contract offer, as he did to Bayern Munich and Juventus for us back in ’08, for guaranteed first team football. I think he’s replacement is more than capable, but I’m sad to see Schwarzer leave regardless. A natural time for separation  and I wish him all the best.

Simon Davies: After struggling at Spurs and then Everton, Simon Davies must have been wondering why he left the cushy position of the bench for our relegation battles – we were confined to them in the first 18 months of his time with us – but it is fair to say that Fulham was the making of him. A player with much promise but not a lot to show for it, Davies came in to his own at Fulham. Demonstrating great technique, great passion, and great ability, his lack of pace as a wide man did not hinder his game. To be honest, there is not much I can say here that I didn’t say in my salute to him last year, but what memories he left us! That wonder goal against Reading, what wonderful technique, for a struggling Lawrie Sanchez; the ball through to Nevland in the reverse fixture that season; his deliveries to McBride in the great escape; and the goals in the Europa League… well, they speak for themselves. We owe some of the most wonderful Fulham moments in recent history to this man, and it is really quite sad that his injuries over the last couple of seasons have meant he has almost become a forgotten part of our squad. Let us make sure we remember his contributions.

Chris Baird: Lawrie Sanchez signed him as a right back and initially it was proving to be perhaps one of the worst decisions of all time. The absolute roasting from Petrov in one of his first games aside, Baird was abysmal in an unfamiliar role (he’s a centre half by trade) and the situation was desperate enough that Roy Hodgson recruited Paul Stalteri to replace him. With those performances however came the most unfortunate and shameful abuse. It was genuinely embarrassing to hear a player’s name booed as it was spoken over the speakers, especially someone who had shown no disrespect or disloyalty to the club. That was as low as it got though, and in the seasons since Baird has shown to be a versatile, professional footballer of some ability. Although he will probably leave being best remembered for smacking Bullard in the nose, he played his role in the most fruitful period of Fulham’s history, setting the stage for a top 10 finish with two brilliant long range strikes against Stoke (eat your heart our Riise) over the 10/11 season, and being the midfield anchor in our win over Juventus – perhaps the most standout result we’ve ever had. It’s truly a zero to hero story, and I’m very disappointed to see him leave because I feel his versatility means there is a role for him to play in our squad, but he deserves to play football and so I hope he finds somewhere where he can enjoy himself. All the best to Chris ‘Bairdinho’ Baird.

Mladen Petric: Petric’s career never really took off at Fulham, although it threatened to. I was excited to see him join because of his reputation as a prolific goalscorer, but really when Berbatov joined his days were numbered. Jol would always prefer Berba and Ruiz up top, leaving no room for the Croat apart from on the bench, and as his minutes dwindled so did his performances. Still, he seemed like a good character and didn’t complain about his bit part role, so one can only give a fond farewell.

Giorgos Karagounis: This fella defines Greek theatre. His pantomime dives and pleads to the referees will stick in my mind. Karagounis was really signed as a stop gap after the midfield was ripped apart in the Summer, and although he was never expected to make an enormous contribution to the first team he had a surprising impact, and his work rate and personality endeared him to the fans. A fine passer, he could never really reach the heights of Danny Murphy – of similar age and pedigree – but his two stunning goals were a couple of standout moments from the entirety of last season. All the best, Giorgos!

Csaba Somogyi: This is awkward. Although he was Martin Jol’s first signing, he never played a minute for the first team. I think Jol was hoping he had unearthed a rough diamond, but really it was more like a rotten carrot. Still, he must have had something to get a year’s contract extension, and hopefully he finds better somewhere than Dartford to move to next season.

As for the youngsters, it’s a shame to see Tom Donegan be release. He was the man of the match when Fulham met Everton in the youth cup game a couple of seasons back, but it appears he couldn’t build on that promise. Alex Smith was always competing with Matty Briggs at left back and there was only one winner there, although he looked to have something about him when he made a cameo appearance against West Brom back in August. I think he’s signed at Leyton Orient, so all the best to him. Richard Peniket joined from Walsall for a fair fee as we fended off competition from the likes of Manchester United, but he never really kicked on and after some disappointing loan spells out at non-league clubs, it’s no surprise to see him go. Corey Gameiro is I think another one who couldn’t really get any momentum going, but apparently he’s signed a deal back in his native Australia, so congratulations to him. Finally, James Musa showed enough promise at the Olympics last year for the club to invest in him for a season but ultimately showed he wasn’t up to the challenge. Another Australasian, let’s see if his career can pick up once again like compatriot and fellow defender Winston Reid.

LRCN

Fulham release twelve

Chris Baird, Simon Davies and goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer are among 12 players to be released by Fulham after their contracts expired.

Giorgos Karagounis, Mahamadou Diarra and Mladen Petric are also leaving Craven Cottage as boss Martin Jol looks to freshen up his squad.

Keeper Csaba Somogyi and five of the development squad have also been allowed to leave.

All six of the first-team squad members to be released are over the age of 30 and three – Schwarzer, Baird and Davies – played in the 2010 Europa League final.

Australian Schwarzer, 40, departs after five seasons, during which time he made more than 200 appearances for Fulham.

Petric, 32, joined from Jol’s former club Hamburg last summer and scored five goals in 24 games, although he was largely used as a substitute, while Northern Ireland international Baird, 31, leaves after six seasons at Fulham.

Vastly experienced 36-year-old Greek international Karagounis played 28 times after signing last September but injuries restricted former Lyon and Real Madrid star Diarra, 32, to just 19 appearances in his 15 months at Craven Cottage.

Longest-serving player Davies, 33, who joined from Everton in 2007, will be best remembered for his crucial goals in the Europa League run, including the equaliser in the final against Atletico Madrid, but hasn’t played for the first team since March 2012.

Somogyi was Jol’s first signing when he joined in the summer of 2011 but failed to make a first-team appearance, and he joins Alex Smith, James Musa, Richard Peniket, Tom Donegan and Corey Gameiro out the exit door.