Manchester United’s first home game of the brilliant 2006/2007 season was that 5-1 stuffing of Fulham. We sold our top scorer, Ruud van Nistelrooy and didn’t buy a replacement. We brought in Michael Carrick as our new number 16 but there weren’t many who had him as their first choice to replace Roy Keane. In contrast, Chelsea, having won consecutive titles, bought one of the best defenders (Ashley Cole), one of the best midfielders (Michael Ballack) and one of the best strikers (Andriy Shevchenko) in Europe. To add to this, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, our brightest prospects had apparently fallen out massively following the events of the 2006 World Cup and wouldn’t be able to play together. We had no chance, right?
That opening day was one of my favourite starts to the season ever. Whilst no one knew at that stage we would be eight points clear on the day the title was won, all the people that had been slagging us off for months had to hold back with that criticism and rethink whether we actually were dead and buried.
Kristian Balkin from the Fulham website, Cottagers Confidential, has shared his thoughts ahead of the new season.
Scott the Red: What would have to happen this season for you to class this as a successful one?
Kristian Balkin: A cup run, of any form, would be perfect for us. Our Premier League form over the past few years has been consistent and, on the whole, positive but you get the feeling that, with our squad at least, we’ve hit a ceiling with finishing 8th or 9th ish. With a few more signings I think we could definitely push on in that respect but, of course, while we may improve, so will everyone else. That’s why a cup run would do us some good – we’re not bothered if it’s the Carling Cup or the FA Cup, just any success would be great. If Birmingham City can do it, while getting themselves relegated, so can we!
STR: How do you feel about your club’s business in the transfer window this summer?
KB: Good, but unambitious. As I write this, we haven’t spent a penny, instead bringing in Hugo Rodallega and Mladen Petric on free transfers, and supplementing our defence with the loan signing of FC Koln’s Sacha Riether. If Petric’s pre-season form continues into the Premier League campaign then that deal will prove to be an incredible piece of business while, in his own right, Rodallega is a good signing. He’s not a goalscorer – something we’ve lacked for a while – but he has the quality to impress at the top level, which is all that matters. Riether looks good enough to make the right back spot his own so the three signings we have made are solid. No-one is doubting that we need more, however, and Martin Jol has made suggestions that perhaps even four could come in. We’re leaving it incredibly late, however, and the names we’re being linked with are hardly inspirational. David N’gog, Jordan Rhodes and Paul Taylor won’t have our rivals quaking in their boots. Maybe if you guys give us Berbatov though…
STR: Who do you think will be your most important player this season?
KB: Depends who stays, really. Clint Dempsey would likely have another brilliant campaign but it doesn’t look like he’ll be around in SW6 to carry his form on. Moussa Dembele would definitely be huge but, again, we can only speculate as to where he’ll be by September. For that reason, I’m going to throw in a curve ball and put forward Bryan Ruiz. He was disappointing last season but he was marred by injuries and a quite distinct failure to acclimatise with haste to the English game. He’s had a year now, though, and he has started to look sharp. Jol may be tempted to pop the Costa Rican international behind the striker and I think he could really do a job there. He’s wonderfully gifted and he can strike a ball with quite some craft – just ask Tim Howard!
STR: How do you rate your manager’s ability to take your club forward?
KB: Jol is more progressive than any of our other recent managers – perhaps even Roy Hodgson. Hodgson was an amazing manager – undoubtedly one of the best we’ll ever have – but he doesn’t look forward in the way the Dutchman does. In only one season at Craven Cottage, he has blooded Matthew Briggs, Kerim Frei, Alex Kacaniklic and, to an extent, Marcello Trotta. I’d expect at least two of them to be very important this season. Jol always has one eye on the future and, quite palpably, that’s key to progression.
STR: Who do you think will win the league this season?
KB: You’ll be pleased to hear I’ve vouched for Manchester United. It will be close though, don’t get me wrong. Man City still have the superior squad – sorry guys – but I don’t see enough about them to keep you at hold for a second season. United still have that unnerving ability to win when they’re nowhere near their best and, with Ferguson at the helm, you’ll always have that extra air of experience, that extra self belief, that you’re deserving of the Premier League title. That is key.
STR: If you could pick one United player to have in your squad who would it be?
KB: I’m sure you’ve heard it before but we’d quite happily take Wayne Rooney. He’s everything you need in a striker and, with him, I needn’t worry about the qualities of Rodallega or Petric because we could guarantee goals, work-rate and all that is important is already at a premium. Failing that, I’d have Javier Hernandez for similar reasons.