Our first View from the Enemy of the day is from Kris Balkin from Cottagers Confidential, who has shed some light on that awful Michael Jackson statue and Mark Hughes’ ridiculous departure.
Scott the Red: Were you happy with your Fulham’s performance last season?
Kris Balkin: More than. As much as he may have riled us come season’s end, with his untimely departure, Mark Hughes did a solid job for us and the promise that all his sides are ‘end of season teams’ certainly became evidential. We finished on a high and there’s no doubt 8th place is an achievement, given the short amount of time Sparky had with us to work with the squad and make acquisitions. It would have been nice to have an extended cup run, especially given our demolition of Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup. The 4-0 win was probably our highlight of the season but to say it was disappointing to be defeated by Bolton in the next round, on home turf too, would be an understatement. Still, an improvement in away form with solid wins at Stoke and Sunderland, for example, made 2010/11 quite a welcoming hangover from our Europa League exploits of the previous campaign.
STR: Who were your most important players?
KB: As always Danny Murphy has been pivotal to the way we play and as always half the home crowd will bemoan his ‘lacklustre legs’ and claim he’s past it. The fact still remains that everything goes through him and, even with his pace diminishing rapidly and his sharp awareness slowly dwindling, his eye for a pass is still ever-present and unrivalled. Brede Hangeland and the unsung Aaron Hughes continue to add a degree of consistency and robustness to our defence, which makes us incredibly tough to break down. Their partnership is borderline one of the best in the league (I’d give the no.1 spot to you guys) and if they aren’t broken up and are used effectively, Premier League safety is almost assured already.
STR: Are you hoping to add to what you’ve got though to push up the table? How have Fulham done in the transfer market this summer?
KB: It’s difficult to say at this early stage because a lot of Jol’s signings have been young talent who may not break into the first team just yet. John Arne Riise is solid, without a doubt. If he can offer us half of what he did with Liverpool, and add that to the experience he gained abroad with Roma, then he will prove to be one of the shrewder Premier League acquisitions this year. Dan Burn of Darlington and Csaba Somogyi will be unlikely to feature throughout the season, but Pajtim Kasami, signed from Palermo, has already made a decent impact in the twenty or so minutes on the pitch he has been given. He looks skilful and at such a tender age could well be big for us. Marcel Gecov has also joined, and has certainly proved to be aspirational with his words, but with our current crop of players he’d do well to get a central midfield role.
STR: What are your aspirations for this season?
KB: A top ten finish would be wonderful, but taking into account the battle we will be fighting on three other fronts, survival will do us just fine. Arguably, Fulham fans are the most down-to-earth and realistic football fans around, and that’s why you’ll see plenty of us writing off and European challenge already. We have a new manager and a new style of play so it’s difficult to assume whether another European adventure will be forthcoming, but anything is possible. No matter how we do abroad though, some kind of silverware would be nice. I think most would be content with either 9th place and some decent cup runs, or a place in a final and 12th or 13th standing in the Premier League.
STR: After Hughes did a good job in the short time he was there, how do you rate Jol’s ability to take the club forward?
KB: I’m always the first to provide some scepticism but it’s quite tough with Martin Jol. He’s a man of much experience and his humble nature is certainly fitting with the way Fulham is ran in general. Taking the club forward, however, would be difficult for most magicians and Jol’s overhaul is perhaps unnecessary. Hodgson and Hughes did wonderful continuity jobs and our standing in the league right now can be greatly owed to the two (far more the former, though), yet Jol appears intent on change. Granted, at some point it will be required, but I’d like to see some things kept the same. The Dutchman has promised ‘total football’, though I’d assume a ‘Total Football Lite’ is what we’ll really see. The signings he has made appear intelligent and forward thinking, but it’s the style of play that worries me most immediately. Will it suit us? We’ll have to wait and see.
STR: Where do you think you will finish this season?
KB If we do well in Europe, 13th place. If we concentrate domestically, we can achieve 9th.
STR: If you are to do well domestically or on the continent, which players do you think will most important in helping you achieve this?
KB: Bobby Zamora’s return from injury proved vital last season and the fact he’s here from the start this year should be crucial again. By the end of the 08/09 season, most Fulham fans wanted him out but a move to Hull City broke down and both parties have never looked back. Zamora has hit the big time with international football and Fulham are indebted to his goals. Yet again, his finishing and his aerial ability should provide a bundle of goals, especially given our wider approach to game under Jol. Expect to see Bobby’s head on the end of tonnes of crosses this coming year.
STR: Which two current United players would you most want at your club?
KB: Wayne Rooney could fit astutely into any team on the planet, so I would undoubtedly allow him to lead our front line. The lad has been blessed with abundant talent and yet he fuses it with a love for the game. Such a player is rare to find these days. Alongside him I’d take Nani who, admittedly, is very hot and cold, but when hot is impossible to cool down.
STR: Who will finish in the top 4? Who will go down?
KB: Top Four I’d suggest Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool; probably in that order too. You lot have yet again undergone a revolution and there’s no other way to look at it than with positivity. Ashley Young already looks menacing in a red shirt and you shouldn’t miss Scholes too much. City will improve slightly while Chelsea haven’t been active enough in the transfer market for my liking. Liverpool have been over-hyped by Daglish worshippers and I think their season will be more topsy-turvy than most believe.
STR: Finally, I can’t talk to a Fulham fan without asking them about that Michael Jackson statue. What’s your opinion on it?
KB: To be frank, I was disgusted when it came up but I suppose it’s quite quirky. For what Al Fayed has done for Fulham FC, it may just be worth becoming a temporary laughing stock in exchange for his money and devotion.
STR: Ha, fair point. Cheers and all the best for the season.