In the first of his ‘Letters from America’, the host of Cottage Talk Russ Goldman explains why he backs Martin Jol’s judgement and believes the Dutch coach can take Fulham even higher
I wasn’t the only one who raised a few eyebrows at Martin Jol’s early decisions when he took over from Mark Hughes last summer. He broke up the Hangeland-Hughes axis, shifting the Northern Irish skipper to right back to accommodate Philippe Senderos, who had an excellent first full season at Fulham. I liked the way he wasn’t sticking to the established formula and wasn’t afraid to make changes.
There were some noticeable disappointments in the early weeks as the Whites continued to look worryingly toothless on the road and the early end to our European advantage still rankles, but it became clear that Jol was trying to change the footballing philosophy at Motspur Park, a big project that was last begun when Roy Hodgson joined a sinking ship back in 2008. Since that period, Fulham have always improved in the second half of the season – and getting us out of the blocks quickly is Jol’s main task come August.
The switch from a staid 4-4-2 to the fluidity of the continent (is it a 4-2-3-1, a 4-3-3?) represented radical change. Everyone at Stamford Bridge dismissed our chances when we saw that he’d left out Zamora and Johnson, preferring young Orlando Sa up front on his own and shifting Moussa Dembele to midfield. In the first instance, he laid down a marker ahead of the upcoming transfer window and Dembele’s redeployment proved a masterstroke.
Jol’s promotion of some of our burgeoning talent is perhaps the most exciting aspect of his reign. Fulham haven’t really bought through young talent since Jean Tigana nurtured the likes of Sean Davis and Zat Knight but, under Jol, Fulham have invested heavily in their academy set-up – bolstering their under-18 squad with a number of impressive signings – and the emergence of Kerim Frei, who frightened the life out of Chelsea the League Cup derby, was followed by Alex Kacaniklic, who took the confidence of a loan spell at Watford, straight into the first team.
Jol’s not averse to playing ‘horses for courses’ and tweaking the tactics based on how the opposition will play. It’s less programmed and more proactive, which his side far less predictable. That’s tricky for the manager in the other dugout but it means there’s a real excitement about what the boss could do every weekend.
Jol’s transfer activity has been a debating point throughout the season but it is clear that he’s planning meticulously. Fulham shipped out an unhappy Bobby Zamora and found a ready-made replacement in Pavel Pogrebnyak. That didn’t look likely when you looked at it in January – and obviously Jol will have enter the market for a striker again. But doubting Jol’s eye for a player is exceptionally harsh when you see the talent he’s identified during his time in football.
He’s clearly able to get the most out of his players. Clint Dempsey had a remarkable season – the numbers just blow you away – but even those who had a slow start were able to flourish. John Arne Riise, who began the campaign looking like a pale imitation of the energetic sibling determined to get one over on his brother when Roma visited the Cottage a couple of seasons ago, looked back to his very best by the end of the season.
Most importantly, Jol’s got a plan for the future. He wants to offer young talent a chance to shine, which is so encouraging for those on the fringes of the first-team squad. Take Pajtim Kasami as an example. He’s not made the sort of impact his early Europa League displays hinted at but since Christmas he’s been in superb shape for the reserves. Jol’s promotion of Briggs, Frei, Kacaniklic and Sa must have helped the Swiss teenager snub a swift return to Italy in January. That’s got to be the first time a Fulham player has rebuffed advances from Juventus – and that’s why Jol’s plan is worth watching.
Clint Dempsey has published the first extract from his new Goal.com diary this morning – and the Fulham midfielder talks about how he had to get used to the pace and power of the Premier League, having endured an injury-ravaged start to his Fulham career after his January 2007 transfer from New England Revolution:
Getting used to the pressure of playing in the EPL is probably the biggest adjustment in moving to England. The EPL is a league where you’re under a microscope and you have to perform weekly and each match matters. You have to realize that you can’t ever really relax, that you always have to keep pushing, you always have to keep fighting for something. If you lose focus you can quickly find yourself dropping down a division. And the whole point of coming to a new country is to play at the highest level and in the best league possible.
When I came from MLS to Fulham I had just had an injury so I didn’t get to train a lot in the offseason. I didn’t come into that January feeling as fit as I possibly could have because of the injury and the fact that I had kind of been letting it heal and trying to do rehab. I wasn’t really able to go out and test it enough and get fully fit so that I could hit the ground running.
The hardest part was not getting as many minutes on the field as I would have liked. The best way to get fit is to play games, and I wasn’t really getting games. That was tough to deal with and I think it made me appreciate the time I did get on the field even more than I did before. To go from being one of the main guys on my team in MLS to coming into a place where I was a sub was hard to take. I was only coming off the bench for bits and pieces, and it was very frustrating, especially towards the end of the season.
We were fighting a relegation battle. Being on the bench and not really having anything I could do about our situation was very hard, because you can only really have any control when you’re on the field. I’m a fighter and I want to be on the field when the times are tough and when we need to get results. Luckily, my prayers were answered when I was able to get the goal against Liverpool that kept us up at the end of the season.
He’s also searingly honest about his first-half performance against Newcastle last week:
If you look at the game against Newcastle last weekend, I think I only made like 15 or 16 passes in the game. I don’t think I was getting on the ball enough in the first half and the team didn’t have much of a rhythm.
The second half was great, getting three goals and being able to make a difference, but the first half was definitely frustrating. You go into halftime knowing you’ve worked hard all week and yet things aren’t going according to plan.
The 21 year-old, who is currently training with Arsenal after a string of impressive performances for FC Dallas, says his compatriot has shown just how American players should approach the challenge of proving themselves in Europe.
Look at Clint Dempsey – he just scored a hat trick [last weekend against Charlton Athletic in the FA Cup]. I don’t think he lets the hype get to him.
I think he’s a big role model to everyone on the national team and the US. He just stays humble and plays for his family and the country. Learning from him is a big help.
It includes an intriguing quote on why the Texan’s such a good fit at ‘a smaller club like Fulham’:
There’s more pressure on you game in and game out. It’s such a roller coaster. If you go on a bad run of form, after five or six games, you can find your manager fired. That’s something I didn’t see in M.L.S.
There’s the lingering prospect of a move away from Craven Cottage to one of Europe’s top clubs as if we didn’t know Dempsey was ambitious.
You never know your road in life, but, hopefully, Champions League is in the cards for me.
And an insight into that never-say-die Dempsey philosophy:
You grab some sand and put it in your hand. That’s all the people who want to play the game. Then, you drop the sand and that’s all the people who make it to the next level. Then you pat your hand and there are only a few left. And they’re the ones who make it in the world. That’s how I view it. I’m just someone who wants to make it in the world.
He’s made it alright. And we hope to see plenty more of Clint Dempsey at the Cottage, too.
Clint Dempsey scored as the United States recorded their second win under Jurgen Klinsmann with a 3-2 friendly victory in Slovenia.
Edson Buddle put the Americans ahead when he converted a Dempsey pass after a defensive mistake but Tim Matavz equalised for the hosts after he sprung the offside trap. The Fulham midfielder restored the American lead shortly before half-time with a downward header from Michael Bradley’s corner that took him level with Joe-Max Moore in the all-time American goalscoring charts. Jozy Altidore then converted a penalty after Fabian Johnson was felled in the box and, although Matavz grabbed a second, the USA held on for the victory.