by Mike Forrest
Martin Jol endured a difficult start as Fulham manager. No league win for the first six weeks coupled with star signing Bryan Ruiz having a dim rather than shining effect resulted in uncertainty as to whether the Dutchman was the right man for the job.
His first problem was that he tried changing Fulham too dramtically too soon. He began by quarrying the rigid 442 formation that was set in stone at Fulham and tried implementing a liberal, free flowing 4231 formation – it didn’t have the desired effect, leading to drab, incoherent displays. Fortunately Jol had the nous to withdraw from forcibly enforcing the new formation and instead caressed and moulded the already sculpted Fulham side into the beginnings of a new monument.
He did this by dropping flair player Moussa Dembele into a central midfield role, a move that surprised many. Jols decision was vindicated however as Demebele’s attributes were allowed to excel in the deeper role as opposed to being stifled when he was further up the pitch. Not surprisingly Dembele is now been linked with a move to some of Englands top clubs.
He had been persisting with his experiment of playing Aaron Hughes at right back, the idea being that having Hughes at right back would allow left back John Arne Riise to tear forward and Hughes would tuck in to make three center backs. The experiment was failing though and he eventually reinstated a natural right back, Stephen Kelly, to the position. However he was rightly criticised for the longevity of this obviously failing experiment.
Another obstacle facing Jol was Bobby Zamora’s attitude. His first few months at Fulham suffured from reports of discontent within the squad over Jol’s approach and attitude. Amazingly as soon as Zamora was sold the reports of unhappiness ceased. Zamora’s replacement, Pavel Pogrebnyak has proven to be a more than adequate replacement and is likely to sign on a long term deal with the Cottagers.
Since Christmas and the ridding of Zamora, the upturn in form has been remarkable. Consistently nice football and results have led Fulham to a near points record tally – something which should not be sniffed at and something that Jol has to be applauded for.
The introduction of Kerim Frei, astute signings in Pogrebnyak Mahamadou Diarra, the latter performances of John Arne Riise and even the glimmer from Bryan Ruiz that he will be a star after all has constituted a good first season of progess for Jol.
However just as Jol has Fulham on the cusp of his revered free flowing football, vultures are already circuling to swoop for Fulhams best players; namely Clint Dempsey and Dembele. The summer transfer window will be a good indicator of Fulham’s chances of success next season. If they can keep one of the two Dem’s, add several good players and get rid of the deadwood then next season could prove to be very exciting. Question it quietly but can Fulham fans dare to dream of a Newcastle type like season and challenge for a Champions League place? Optimism reigns, but come September we’ll see if it was false hope or the start of a dream come through.
Player of the Season: Clint Dempsey
Goal of the Season: Pavel .Pogrebnyak vs QPR
Player to Watch for Next Season: Kerim Frei