If you were to tell me at the end of the 2007/2008 season that Fulham by 2009 would have qualified for the Europa League and then by 2010 be in the competition’s quarter final, , I definitely would not have believed you and no doubt laughed off these ridiculous predictions. Likewise would have been my reaction if you would have told me that a squad containing the likes of Chris Baird, Simon Davies and Dickson Etuhu would knock holders Shakhtar Donetsk and Italian giants Juventus out of the competition. It’s these achievements that have made the job that Roy Hodgson has done at Fulham nothing short of a miracle, when you consider the tools he has had at his disposal.
He took over in 2008 to pull off the most incredible of great escapes, saving the club from the previous works of Lawrie Sanchez. Sanchez being a man that got given full financial backing from chairman Mohamed Al-Fayed, only to spend the majority of his funds on Northern Ireland international players, which in hindsight probably wasn’t the best move.
It was then in the summer before the 08/09 season Hodgson revamped his squad signing Mark Schwarzer, Bobby Zamora, Andy Johnson, John Pantsil and Zoltan Gera, all players that were key in guiding Fulham to a 7th place finish in the league and bringing Europa League football to the cottage for only the second time in the club’s history. This achievement at the time was completely unexpected yet Hodgson had managed to do it with a small squad that didn’t stand out in terms of quality compared to the teams in and around them.
This season Fulham have only continued to surprise with their success in the Europa League where they are now have a chance of reaching the semi-finals after a 2-1 victory at home to Wolfsburg. Even more astonishing in my eyes is the fact that Hodgson’s men have managed to maintain reasonable form in the league and have only recently began to show the effects of their European endeavours in domestic performances. They are set up to finish the season in a more than respectable top half place, something that any Fulham fan would have taken at the start of the season with their unprecedented success in Europe.
Last season we saw Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa and Harry Redknapp’s Spurs surrender their European campaigns by fielding weakened teams after complaints that they were playing too many games. Roy Hodgson’s ruthless attitude towards the 50 plus games his side have already had this season is refreshing and I’ve not heard an echo of a complaint. It can’t be said that on paper Fulham’s squad this season is any bigger or better than the Villa or Spurs squads of last season. So where O’Neill and Redknapp struggled, Hodgson has seemed to revel.
This can be put down to Hodgson’s fantastic man management and tactical astuteness that has led to strong shouts for him being England manager sometime in the future. What Roy Hodgson has achieved at Fulham in around 3 years can only be commended and described as incredible. He has taken them from a team battling relegation when he took over to a team you now consider as comfortable with their Premier League status. Fulham have a bright future ahead of them with Roy Hodgson at the helm and their Europa League adventure for this season still isn’t over. I know I won’t be writing them off when they travel to Germany in a weeks’ time.