Fulham: the Premier League’s
A quick look at the current Premier League table won’t tell you much, six games into the new season. But one thing is notable: ahead of their game against Southampton this Sunday, Fulham are ninth, which happens to be exactly where they finished last season. It’s a pretty good indication that they’re a fully-fledged mid-table team these days. Luckily, that doesn’t have to be such a bad thing.
Normally there are two options for a club in Fulham’s position, and neither is much fun. There’s a: boredom, or b: getting into an unnecessary relegation battle to spice things up (otherwise known as ‘doing a West Ham’). But Fulham have got a new angle on it: free from agonising over Champions League places or feeling insecure about relegation, they’ve gone and become the most entertaining thing to watch in the league – notwithstanding Roberto Mancini’s attempts to play with a back three.
Under Martin Jol, Fulham aren’t mediocre mid-table – they’re liberated entertainers with an appetite for playing a brand of football that doesn’t quite look like anyone else’s. Last season, for instance, they were the only team in the league to create more chances from the middle of the pitch than either the left or the right. It was a style which had something to do with playing with a ludicrously attacking selection of central midfielders – Bryan Ruiz and Mousa Dembélé both started from deep at various points. Anyone who’s seen either of those players knows that that kind of thing doesn’t happen at many other clubs.
And it’s not an accident, either. It’s an ideology. Dembélé and Clint Dempsey, last season’s top scorer, have left the club to join Tottenham, but the midfield replacements are equally as progressive. Giorgos Karagounis and Alexander Kacaniklic look like they’ve had fallings out with the centre-backs for all that they refuse to look back to them, while Mladen Petric and Hugo Rodallega were brought in as dynamic goalscorers before Dempsey had even squeezed himself away from the club. Which is even before Dimitar Berbatov gets a mention.
Now on to the man himself. Halfway through the process of signing for Fiorentina, Berbatov was persuaded to join Fulham by Jol, his former manager at Tottenham, creating the kind of club-player match-up that makes far more sense than reality usually serves up. In Berbatov, the aesthete’s club meets the aesthete’s aesthete of a player. Manchester United, and perhaps most of the teams launching themselves full-throttle at the Champions League, no longer feel they can afford the supposed luxury of a player like Berbatov. Fulham, on the other hand, have room for the deep sensuality of that velvet striker’s first touch and languid stride. And who isn’t thankful that they do? Philistines. Only philistines.
Orchestrated by Jol and completed by Berbatov, something special has come together on the banks of the Thames. Roy Hodgson made them solid, Mark Hughes kept them ticking over and Jol has made them likeable, maybe the rarest quality available in football. Only Manchester United have scored more goals than Fulham this season. Technically, they’re as good as anyone. In terms of entertainment, they’re better. And if they’re not at least your second team, you haven’t watched them enough.
Where do they go from here? Well, alongside the style, there is already more substance than last season. Both Manchester sides have already been given difficult games and Berbatov may be a luxury but he also happens to be a player capable of scoring more goals than anyone else in a Premier League season (Carlos Tévez excluded). It won’t be mid-table forever, then, because enough right decisions are being made at the club that tangible progress should follow.
So we should probably enjoy them as a mid-table side while we can, before success shackles them. Success ruins everything.
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Watch Fulham live on BT Vision:
Southampton v Fulham, 1pm, 7 October, Sky Sports 1
Fulham v Sunderland, 3.30pm, 18 November, Sky Sports 1
Don’t have BT Vision? Find out how to get it