It’s hard to imagine a more snug fit than Martin Jol taking over as manager of Fulham. It would certainly be wrong to regard the big Dutchman as some kind of big softy – he is too successful for that. But I cannot think of another Premier League boss who has enjoyed such popularity from the football-supporting public.
The manner of his sacking by Tottenham almost four years ago remains an embarrassment to all of us who have Spurs in our blood. Jol was just a dodgy lasagne away from guiding them into the Champions League in 2006. Food poisoning decimated his side for a final-day defeat by West Ham – allowing Arsenal to pip their great rivals to fourth place. Jol was sacked despite successive fifth-placed finishes, when chairman Daniel Levy went behind his back to appoint Juande Ramos. The Dutchman was huge favourite at White Hart Lane and those I know at the club were gutted by his sacking.
Fulham, meanwhile, have always enjoyed that ‘family’ reputation and they are what I’d call a traditional football club, from their stadium, to their supporters, to the way they conduct themselves. Jol just seems like a Fulham kind of man. He takes me back to Alec Stock, the manager who guided them to their only FA Cup Final, back in 1975, when Bobby Moore was in the side. Alec was universally loved and had a unique way of talking. He was the inspiration for Paul Whitehouse’s brilliant Ron Manager in The Fast Show. Another great Fulham character was Charlie Mitten, who once evicted the club’s England captain Johnny Haynes from the Craven Cottage treatment table because he wanted to use the heat lamp on an injured greyhound!
Jol isn’t a comic-book character, of course, and he did have his fair share of run-ins with players while at Spurs. But I know Fulham fans will warm to him. Like most Dutchmen, he speaks our language better than we do and, having played for West Brom and Coventry as a combative midfielder, he knows what the English game is all about. You just knew he was destined to come back to the Premier League sooner rather than later. He will feel that he has some scores to settle and I certainly wouldn’t bet against Fulham getting a result or two against Spurs next season.
With Fulham having finished eighth and another season of Europa League football to look forward to, you have to wonder why Mark Hughes left the club. Like Roy Hodgson last year, he felt he could go on to bigger and better things and looks to have fallen flat on his face – because he is now going to be out of work. It was like Martin O’Neill leaving Aston Villa last summer because of a disagreement over transfer funds – and no matter how good a job O’Neill did at Villa Park, where is he now? Still on the outside, looking in.
A lot of current football managers have unfeasibly high opinions of themselves, but there are not enough big clubs to satisfy the ambition and self-regard which is out there. There is only so much silverware up for grabs and, each season, there will be several clubs who end up empty-handed. That’s something Tottenham failed to recognise when they axed Jol. Not that Fulham will be complaining.