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Danny Murphy – Retiring Fulham Legend

This week saw the announcement from former Fulham captain Danny Murphy that he was retiring from Professional Football.

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In an age where a club like Fulham is often a stepping stone for players on the way up, or the way down, it is rare for players to ever achieve legendary status amongst the fans. Danny Murphy is one such player.

With the modern player stays are often short, exits can be acrimonious and performances often wavering. Not with our Danny. When Martin Jol decided to call time on Murphy’s Fulham career after five years, Danny showed immeasurable class in not speaking out, despite obvious and justified disappointment.

The last leg of his career saw him drop down a division with the promise of a two year contract from fallen former Premierleague champions Blackburn Rovers. It seems an ill-fitting end that such a top performer and footballing gentleman’s last professional appearances were under-appreciated and largely unseen in a division where brute force dominates ahead of wisdom and guile.

As ever, though, Danny, the model professional, simply got on with life in the Championship. Symbolic of a career where under-appreciation was a recurring theme; despite 170 league appearances for Liverpool, Danny was often overshadowed in the eyes of some by the meteoric rise of some of those around him, in particular Steven Gerrard. While Gerrard, now England captain, made an early career living out of 35 yard wonder strikes and 60 yard passes, it was Murphy that made Liverpool tick. Like Fulham fans, Liverpool fans would never forget Danny.

A Liverpool supporting friend of mine would always come to Fulham once or twice a season with me when Danny was at Craven Cottage, only to spend 90 minutes watching and cheering Murphy’s every move. As a Liverpool fan, Danny was one of them.

He is also one of us. His leadership, desire and ability made him a favourite amongst the Fulham Faithful. That goal at Portsmouth, one of the single most important in Fulham’s history, can never be forgotten.

That goal alone would have led Danny to go down in Fulham folklore. It was what followed that made him a legend.

The run to the Europa League Final saw Danny lead Fulham on our greatest ever adventure. There was a goal at home to Basel that I remember, but furthermore it was his leadership. A talisman, Danny symbolised all that was good about Roy Hodgson’s Fulham. Honest, hardworking and with a touch of flair.

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Danny also had that special something that the rest of football would kill for – the uncanny ability to beat Manchester United. There were the free kicks at Old Trafford in his Liverpool days and then there were the victories for Fulham. For two glorious years the biggest team in English football were surreptitiously beaten and forced to leave Craven Cottage with their tails between their legs. Oh those were the days.

Since his departure there has been a void at Fulham. Whether it’s the on field leadership, the role of the off-field figurehead, the Murphy turn that always won him time on the ball or the ability to play a pass when you needed it most, he’s never quite been replaced. To suggest he could be would be remiss. Players like Danny don’t come along very often. Thankfully, we could call this one our own.

Thanks for everything Danny and best of luck for the future. You’re welcome back any time.

Jol feels Fulham might be missing Etuhu

The Fulham Chronicle carries an interesting line from Martin Jol’s press conference ahead of the visit of Everton to Craven Cottage. Martin Jol, in his characteristically convivial style, has hinted that his side might be missing one of the men he left leave for Blackburn in the summer.

Whilst Danny Murphy’s leadership and range of passing was always likely to leave a squad weaker in its absence, Jol has hinted that the lack of a combative and physical midfielder in the mould of Dickson Etuhu might have played a part in Fulham’s recent collapses away from home. The Dutchman cut a frustrated figure after full time on the Madjeski Stadium touchline after the Whites had twice thrown away winning positions against Reading – something which was tougher to take after his side squandered a late lead at Southampton three weeks previously.

You could say it’s coincidence, but it happened before at Southampton, almost in the final minute. We must try to improve the mentality.You shouldn’t have that problem in the last five minutes, but it’s football.

It can happen because it’s them or us, so you have to be at the end of that ball. To go ahead twice away from home – we should have buried it. But we gave away two or three free-kicks.

Last year, we never gave away a lead, an we need to be a bit more clever, not to give away free-kicks around the box. If you do, you have to be tough to be on the end of it. We’ve got the players to do that – although last year we also had Dickson [Etuhu] for the last 10 minutes and [Clint] Dempsey, so it’s changed a bit.

Jol’s right about one thing. The loss of couple of players shouldn’t make a team weaker in the final ten minutes when defending set pieces, but considering Fulham have had to make and mend in central midfield after the departure of Mousa Dembele and an injury sustained on international duty by Mahamadou Diarra, it could entirely possible that Jol wonders whether he should have persuaded Murphy to stay or certainly kept hold of Etuhu.

The Nigerian was unfairly maligned at the start of stint at the Cottage but his partnership with Murphy matured into one of the most effective pairings in the Premier League. They weren’t likely to garner too many headlines, but between them they excelled at the unseen hard graft – tackling, tracking back, cajoling and organsing and, most importantly in the context of keeping things tight away from home, protecting the back four. Like John Pantsil, Etuhu benefited greatly from Roy Hodgson’s stewardship: becoming the midfield enforcer whose presence and stamina helped fire Fulham all the way to a Europa League final. When Mark Hughes released the shackles somewhat, Etuhu was often influential at the other end of the field, scoring a memorable equaliser when it looked as though the Whites can contrived to throw away a winning position at Blackpool.

With Etuhu now in the middle of a topsy-turvy Championship season, Fulham will need to find another imposing presence to protect their leads. Towards the tail end of his time at the Cottage, Dickson became something of a crowd favourite for his cheery demeanour during his shuttle runs down the touchline as a substitute. Jol certainly isn’t the only one who remembers his crucial contribution with fondness.

Could this be Kasami’s year?

Could Pajtim Kasami play a more pivotal role in his second season at Fulham?

It seems fashionable to view every football manager’s job as ‘a project’ these days. Andre-Vilas Boas has just embarked on a new one in north London, hoping to mirror the early success of Arsene Wenger, who must be wishing he could turn the clock back to those glory days. Roberto Mancini’s ‘project’ at Manchester City began with what was viewed as a harsh sacking of Mark Hughes but that decision now looks like one of the smartest a football club has ever made as the ever-engaging Italian added some real flair to what initially was a dour, disciplined team that operated on the counter-attack and shut up shop once going in front.

What do make of Jol’s project so far? Of course, just a year in, it’s very difficult to judge. His chief aspirations on arrival were to revamp the playing style and reduce the average age of a squad that contained plenty of experience but was rather plodding and predictable. He’s certainly done both but football fans demand certainty even when the game can only offer intrigue. Jol’s more fluid approach has been described as ‘total football’ but that understates the transition from a rigid English structure, with clearly defined defensive roles for the wide players, central midfielders and even a striker, to a looser 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 that encourages movement and demands that the forward players interchange positions regularly.

Such a system requires a few free spirits who possess pace, stamina and high levels of technical ability as well as being exceptional readers of a game. In his very first press conference, Jol stressed the need for the speed but his initial assessment of the squad will have shown that he had inherited very few rapid individuals. The biggest area in need of an overhaul was a midfield that was at times pedestrian – largely because it lacked players who could burst through from central areas or break away thanks to a trick or a turn of pace.

Just over twelve months on from his appointment and the picture looks somewhat different. The reinvention of Moussa Dembele from a roaming forward to a midfield playmaker was a tactical masterstroke and the nonchalant ease with which he skips past opponents offering a different dimension to Fulham’s approach play. Factor in the emergence of Kerim Frei and Alex Kacaniklic, who are both skillful and no slouches on either wing, and Jol’s closer to constructing the template for a side that can attack in a number of different ways rather than being cautious and hoping to nick a goal on the break, which seemed the sum total of Fulham’s ambition away from home for three or four seasons.

Of course, the big question mark is over who might replace Danny Murphy. But, as I argued when the news broke that Murphy was heading to Blackburn for a medical, it’s a rather moot point as you won’t find a replacement for Fulham’s former captain – and if you did, he would cost big money. Murphy’s experience and successful alteration from an advanced midfield operator to a deeper-lying orchestrator of attacks who successfully shielded the back four was one of the key reasons why Fulham were able to go from staving off almost-certain relegation to a European final in a blink of an eye. But in a less regimented system, the side’s reliance on Murphy would diminsh.

Jol’s reshaped central midfield will certainly include Mahamadou Diarra, who briefly replaced Murphy in the second half of last year. The Malian is more than just a defensive midfielder as his late marauding runs in the box, which heralded a first goal for the club up at Bolton, and his range of passing, illustrated by the cleverly disguised pass that released Clint Dempsey for the fifth goal at home to Wolves, demonstrate. Dembele – should he stay – will be the preferred pick alongside Diarra, but there are other options as well.

One of the most fascinating possibilities is why Pajtim Kasami might fit into the picture. The Swiss midfielder was a surprise capture after a successful single season with Palermo where he flourished under Delio Rossi, making 23 appearances as an eighteen year-old. Kasami had an eye-catching start to his Fulham career, with a couple of early energetic Europa League performances, whipping over a few dangerous crosses and corners with his lovely left foot and having no hesitation about introducing himself to English football with a tough tackle or two. People might have raised eyebrows at his sudden disappearance from the first-team picture after he rattled the bar with a penalty at Stamford Bridge, but this was always a developmental season for Kasami.

He made just 15 starts for Palermo in 2010-11 and Martin Jol offered him eleven in his first year in English football. With a bit more luck – and a less impressive assistant referee than Sian Massey – Kasami might already be off the mark in terms of goals for the club. He starred in the dismantling of Dnipro at the Cottage in August – playing a part in all three of Fulham’s goals – and his development continued in the reserves, where he scored three goals and made three more as the club’s second string finished the season very strongly.

Kasami’s been a prodigious talent from a young age. He was a key part of the Swiss under-17 side that surprised everybody by winning the 2009 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria and his high-octane displays for the under-21 side, for whom he found the net three times last season, have earned him a place in Switzerland’s Olympic squad this month. Still only 20, Kasami was encouraged enough by his start to life in London – and Jol’s belief in his ‘great talent’ – to reject an early return to Italy with Juventus last January and fight for a spot in Fulham’s first team.

There’s something endearing about the shaven-headed midfielder and it isn’t his training ground high-jinks with Matthew Briggs. Instead, you feel that it’s worth watching Kasami when he’s on a football pitch. He can cross and shoot from range as well as take a mean set-piece and his technical skills, combined with that tenacious streak, mean he could play either behind the striker – a position for which they’ll be plenty of competition this season – or, eventually, in the heart of a midfield. He’s served his apprenticeship and I think the signs are encouraging: let’s hope this could be his breakthrough year.

Danny Murphy – My Own Tribute

Murphy gets a hug from Hodgson after Fulham won their Europa League semi-final against Hamburg

It has been a fair number of days since Danny Murphy moved from Craven Cottage on the banks of the Thames to the North West for Blackburn Rovers, so I apologise for only getting this piece up now. For the Fulham fans who read this, you will read about what I feel Danny Murphy did for our club and if you are a Blackburn fan, well you should hopefully get some insight into what you can expect to see over the next season or so. If any of you listened to the most recent Cottage Talk you will have already heard a little bit of what will be in this piece.

It is hard to write something that will give a man like Danny Murphy the credit he deserves. For me, he has been the most influential player at the club for a long time, being the long standing captain on the pitch as well as being the leading man off the pitch as club captain. Not only does he have tremendous quality as a footballer, but his leadership qualities are second to none.  I will get to his leadership qualities a little bit later in this piece but for now I want to write about the he did on the pitch, what qualities do Fulham now have to replace?

Vision: Firstly, let’s talk about the exceptional vision the guy has. Sometimes his passing is just exquisite. He can completely unlock the defence with a ball that not many people would have spotted. How many times have we had a free kick and he has seen the run of perhaps Andy Johnson or Clint Dempsey and just a beautiful pass on the ground literally straight through the defence? It is something that we could miss at Fulham.

Passing: It’s all well and good having good vision, but if you can’t play the pass then that is a pretty useless quality. Murphy often has the highest rate of successful passes on the pitch throughout the matches he is involved with. His choice of pass is nearly always right and he doesn’t often misplace passes. However, there were some games this year were he gave the ball away a little more than usual but everyone can have an off game! I have noticed that any time he does give the ball away, the commentators often mention how that doesn’t happen very often! We are fortunate at Fulham to have a group of players who like to pass the ball around but it was often Murphy who finds the killer ball. This could be something that we miss next season if we don’t find a suitable replacement.

Penalties: With all the hype about English players and their penalties I thought that I had to add this one in. Danny Murphy can fairly hit a penalty. He does it with such ease, confidence and pure skill. He isn’t the sort of player to blast his penalties, nor is he one to take a stupid, funny run up (Portugal penalty takers take note!). Rather he places his penalties and often he puts the ball where the keeper is never going to get to. Who takes the penalties now? Dempsey? Dembele? Who knows?

It would be very fair to say that Murphy has been with the club through the ups and the downs. From our nail-biting, just-about-staying-up season to the dizzying heights of seventh in the top flight and then an amazing European run that ended in a very tense final. He has seen a number of managers at the club and has played under different systems but he has nearly always kept his place. His outstanding dedication and experience saw him gain the captain’s armband under Hodgson reign and he has kept it ever since whenever he played. The debate over who will succeed him as captain will be very healthy over the next few months.

It was so fitting whenever he scored that goal at Portsmouth to keep us in the league. He is a fantastic leader and has, I believe, played an important role in the development of younger players such as Kerim Frei and Alex Kacaniklic. As a hockey player, I used to always relish the chance to play along side and learn from the top players, and our younger guys at Fulham have been able to do that from Danny Murphy. The mixture of youth and experience in our side over the past year has been excited to watch and a great benefit to our club and Danny Murphy has been very important for this.

We'll all miss Danny's signature goal celebration - as well as his metronomic accuracy from the spot

I would have loved Murphy to finish his career at Fulham but he feels that he has another few years and perhaps the step down to Championship level will suit him. After all, he was starting to struggle to finish games this season due to his age. Blackburn will be hoping that he can help them get straight back up to the PL and I reckon that with his experience he will play a very important role there. I wish him all the best and I really hope that we draw Blackburn in one of the cups this year at home so that the fans can proper say bye-bye to the man who has given us so much over the past five years. I hope he returns at some stage in some sort of coaching role, but for now, we must wish him well at his new club and never forget the impact that he made at Fulham Football Club.

Murphy: English football needs a coaching revolution

Forgive me if we keep talking about Danny Murphy here. He might have left Fulham but he’s always been an intelligent voice from inside the game, although followers of his new side didn’t appreciate his first foray into discussing life in elite football.

Danny Murphy and Roy Hodgson during Fulham's European run

Murphy has joined a number of leading figures in the English game and overseas in calling for a change in the way we coach our young players in this country and he’s absolutely right. We could start with training a few more coaches.

It starts from what you are taught as youngsters. You need to change the whole philosophy of coaching in this country because a lot of clubs are trying to get a team on the pitch to win games, rather than look pretty and produce technically-gifted players.

On the flipside, we are talking about the quality of the Premier League in terms of what it brings to the fans – that intensity, passion, pace, end-to-end stuff. You don’t get both. It’s a fine balance between pleasing the fans and playing the right way. That is always a manager’s dilemma. Fans don’t want to see you being patient and sitting off.

Murphy learned about the science of football under possibly the most innovative coach around and certainly the one with the best track record of nurturing young talent. At Crewe, Dario Gradi ripped up the ridiculously dated coaching manuals and introduced his own ideas, with splendid results.

We played lots of different systems and positions. I remember playing sweeper once as a 15-year-old in the reserves. It was a brilliant education.

Murphy’s confident about England’s future, although I can’t help wondering Roy Hodgson’s side might have made the semi-finals had he taken Murphy – if only to break him off the bench with twenty minutes to go for his experience and spot-kick success rate.

Roy’s too clever not to accept change. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a huge improvement.