Hats off to Martin and the board. They got their marquee man in Bryan Ruiz and further cover for other positions, while giving us all kittens as the clock ticked down. The sheer frenzy of last Wednesday night, with the Sky Sports team foaming at the mouth, personifies the madness that infests the English game.
Spending in total up by a third, close to £500 million pounds changed hands. Yes folks, in the deepest recession since the 1970’s first oil crisis, football clubs across Europe flew in the face of financial prudency and common sense. Well, not quite everybody.
Much as we detest all things United and their reptilian owners, the princes of the Premiership showed how it should be done. Likewise their cross-town neighbours City. Ferguson had all his deals done while everyone else was still at the beach. The only activity from the blue side of Manchester on deadline day clearing out the dead wood of those no longer deemed worthy of the sky blue shirt.
Both clubs have made a fast start to the season, while traditional rivals for the title look tired, tarnished or in transition. Results from last weekend spell a watershed in the evolution of the English league. I wonder what those who presided over the birth of the Premiership 20 years ago think of their baby now? We have successfully emulated the Scots. The title this season in the EPL is a two horse race.
After last week’s results I’ve no doubt every United fan will be gleefully adding the 8-2 demolition of an abject Arsenal to their DVD collection. But ten years from now, do you imagine this match will feature highly in the Premier League’s archive of great games? No – because it was actually like watching football on the park. Simply too one-sided to hold my interest, a transient, almost surreal moment of car-crash television.
And therein lies the rub, and the lesson from north of the border. Competitiveness is the beating heart of sport. Take that away, and what remains is an almost irrelevant sideshow. This trend has blighted a generation of West Indian cricketers and sees the world of Formula One incessantly revising its rules year on year. Major sports from snooker to the NHL have seen their product turn pallid, TV productions, sponsors and revenues dry up as popular taste turned against them. Administrators, club owners and professional bodies beware. Domination of the EPL by the two Manchester sides for the coming season – and we are barely into September – leaves me feeling hollow.
Returning closer to home – our own humble but wonderful football club has dumbfounded all the doubters by showing real purpose, and a canny strategy. We can only guess at how much subterfuge goes on in the transfer merry-go-round. I’ve even toyed with the notion Martin ‘contrived’ with the back room staff to inflate concerns over Zamora’s ankle and thus concentrate the board’s mind into bankrolling his buys. Is that too Byzantine of me? We shall never know. I do know that prior to the Wolves game, when BZ was filmed skipping off the team bus in his track suit looking fresh and fit, during the Dnipro home tie to my eye he looked 100%...and wasn’t he supposed to have told people at Molineux he was injury-free and surprised not to be starting?
To more concrete matters. A no-fee one year contract for the 32-year-old Juve RB Zdenek Grygera makes sense. It should also not of itself undermine Baird’s first-team options. Likewise the Bosman signing of Orlando Sa from Portugal. In short, the club has now cemented two elevens capable of representing Fulham across another fixture crowded season. We are perhaps one striker light, but that is no fault of FFC, who from their end had everything in place to bring over Marseille’s Gignac, the player being summoned back to France from the Cottage at the last minute.
We may yet see him turn up in January, which may also be shakedown time for a few Fulham players to find new clubs. Andy Johnson is one obvious candidate. It’s hard to see him getting ahead of Ruiz, Dembele and Dempsey in the pecking order to support Zamo. The run up to Christmas is intriguing as to who Martin favours for starting places. It’s been another great week in the progression of Matthew Briggs career with an assured England display for the U-21’s, so Riise might not be automatic choice for the LB slot when fit again.
The burning issue is who does Martin nominate to fill Danny’s role in midfield, and at what point will he be brave enough to bench the club’s captain? There’s a case for trying Clint in the role, the more rangy Kasami could work, and we are yet to see anything of Gecov. As I’ve said above, Fulham remains a work in progress as we distance ourselves further from the Hodgson era. It was vital we lowered the average age of the side and the board have clearly worked with an eye to the future throughout 2011.
The modern game of football is one where you simply cannot be caught standing still. Look how rapidly problems have engulfed Arsenal, now paying a heavy price for lack of foresight. I’m not sure the Wenger of old would have moved for some of the players he went for this week, but it’s a sign of the times at the Emirates, and panic clearly took hold after the Old Trafford debacle. At Fulham we might have to cut the boys a bit of slack while Jol shuffles the pack and the new faces bed in. Last word on a strange week - oh, I haven’t mentioned the Newcastle game (best glossed over, though we did improve) – should go to our new £10 million pound Costa Rican. Welcome Bryan!
Let’s not heap a ton of pressure on the boy, but his scoring record in Holland was spectacular. One man doesn’t make a team, but here’s hoping he really adds a fresh dimension to the side, and I can go back to my early season optimism of seeing Fulham compete for a place just below the bottom four. With another memorable run in the Europa League for good measure.
Do you feel more or less optimistic after last Wednesday? Your thoughts as ever, please.
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