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Posted by Phil Mison on 10/10/2011

Fulham is not like other clubs. And for that we give thanks. But fans have been narked by a flurry of negative stories being aired. Let's peer through the murk.

While we are still basking in the glory of humbling Rangers with a footballing lesson they won't forget, how strange to find the anti-Fulham media more keen to dish dirt than heap praise on Martin's men. In the vanguard, and no stranger to Cottage matters, the 'People's' Dave Kidd. His paper led the way, "Zamora wins power struggle at Fulham as Jol loses player support."


That headline is disturbing on just about every level. One, were there to be a shred of truth in it, Jol might as well quit the club now. Forget the free-flowing football of that 6-0 win, any manager having lost credibility with his squad has to walk! Just months into his reign, and with Fulham mid-table and very much involved in the Europa League, the players are in revolt and holding the whip hand. Can that really be so?

As Martin's track record includes stints at Spurs, Hamburg and Ajax Amsterdam - where a whole host of major names buckled down and toed the line - how mind-boggling to learn our much-loved heroes in white have been ganging up on the Dutchman at Motspur behaving like bullies. And do you think a bruiser like Jol can be pushed around? Come on now!

Now let's imagine what probably happened. Football clubs are built on a strict hierarchical structure. Within its corridors the highest earners in the game step aside with a polite "Good afternoon Mr. Chairman" whenever the club's figurehead wanders into view. If there are any issues from the training ground or within matchday dressing rooms players views are channelled via the club captain. With Danny's ability to deliver joined up sentences and his unchallenged authority on the pitch, do you reckon our boys are going over Murphy's head? I doubt it very much.

When players have an agenda with the manager, the first call is to their agent. He's paid handsomely to deal with disgruntled stars, smooth out wrinkles, negotiate contracts and talk turkey over money. So what really happened ahead of the Rangers match? The key figure here is, of course, big Bobby. He apparently didn't enjoy being told by text he wasn't needed for the Odense trip. But the manager's comment that he had faith in the strikers he was taking was fully vindicated by the result. Bobby's been dropped and/or benched plenty of times without throwing his toys out of the pram, even the back end of last season when he was supposed to be fit.

With that Odense result the boys might have suggested, maybe via Ray Lew, or Danny, or even as a throwaway aside in training, "How about going 4-4-2 on Sunday boss?" In fact, if that view was aired, that to me suggests a group of professionals who respect and have confidence in each party's ability. I would consider it a sign of rude health at the club. Can you recall seeing teams demoralised by managers who've lost it, pros playing out of position, sullenly going through the motions, tight-lipped and looking to leave. Think West Ham under Avram Grant last season, or Liverpool's open and obvious lack of respect for Roy.

I saw not a shred of evidence at Craven Cottage on October 2nd to suggest here was an unsettled squad losing faith in their manager. Dave Kidd professes to be a Fulham fan. I don't know him personally. But I suspect he turned in a scant few lines last week saying the suggestion to try 4-4-2 had come from the team, and a sub-editor fluffed up a flimsy story with the absurd headline that Zamora had 'won a power battle' over Jol, and Jol has 'lost the support of the players.' Were that copy to be true, my, we are in BIG trouble.

Though I shrugged off the above, knowing how newspapers work, it became increasingly irritating to see the bad odour linger, with other forums then surmising all manner of misgivings behind the scenes. "Someone must be feeding these negative stories to the press." So now we've got both a conspiracy and a turncoat in the ranks. It's getting worse!

I can countenance something upset BZ since the season started and Jol hasn't helped matters with one or two enigmatic remarks. Why was Bobby not played at Wolves? He's 'sensitive' says the boss. Is that a diplomatic way of saying 'difficult?' Lacking discipline?
But where do you then gain licence to state, 'Bobby Zamora will look to leave Fulham in January after a ferocious bust-up with Jol.' I'm pretty certain had that been the case, Bobby would not have started against QPR.

Without taking sides, I delved back into the record books and came up with this. Roy authorised two massive cheques to unite AJ and Bobby at Fulham after the great escape of Fratton in 2008. But the dream team never gelled. Neither were prolific in year one. Bob's drought was particularly painful to witness and either side of Christmas that first season he was regularly subbed early into the 2nd half. When he finally converted a simple tap in at the Hammy End v WBA he blew a gasket, snarling and swearing right into the faces of Fulham fans on the perimeter, though his anger was being directed at the whole stand who'd been dishing abuse and ridicule for weeks. That summer he was on the verge of being off-loaded.

In season two (2009/10) AJ's season never began. His knee got battered by Ankar Perm and he was unfit for well over a year. But Bobby was reborn. He found his touch, confidence flowed back through his veins, the goal tally climbed into double figures, and on European nights especially, often playing the lone man up front, he truly excelled. Last season the roles reversed after Zamora had his ankle fractured. The two were not actually ready to be paired together again until March of this year.

And the team had moved on of course. With loanees in Gudjohnsen and Kakuta, midfielders Dembele, Davies, Duff and Dempsey in the mix, Zamo and AJ were never Mark Hughes first choice pairing up front, their game time together over the last 10 weeks of the season being really quite limited. When BZ marked his first start in 11 months with a double against Blackpool AJ was on the bench (actually replacing Bobby on 62 mins). Andy took a long time to get back on the goal trail too after his op. A deflected effort at Wigan in January, a diving header on a Friedel parry at Villa in Feb and a strike at Wolves after coming on as a late sub in April. Bob was on the pitch with Andy only for the last of those goals.

So what did Jol have to go on when taking charge in June apart from the stats and videos from last season's games? Little hard evidence surely to suggest since 2008 AJ and Zamo were a natural fit up front. Hence, in our first six league games of four draws and two losses Martin was still searching through his pack looking for a full house. Was QPR a one-off? Were we that good, or Rangers that bad? Is Andy back to his coruscating best? The coming weeks will tell. But let's cut the gaffer some slack here. And returning to those destabilising rumours, on the evidence above, I can quite understand why Jol may still be ready to let AJ go in January. His logic is sound, in keeping with his desire to lower the age of the side. I don't for one moment believe it all smacks of 'discontent behind the scenes' and power struggles. At any football club, that's how it has to be. The Boss IS the boss.

Let's have Fulham back to playing winning football again at Stoke and making headlines for all the right reasons.

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Posted by nuetral on 10/11/2011

good article, i have wondered about where some of the stories are coming from

Posted by Paul Moore on 10/11/2011

Well said and well put. I hope this is the case we need a good run now not later and if AJ and BZ can combine and do this then thats great , However at there age and past Injuries , one Game could put them both back in the dark while they recover.. We must never be in the situation where we rely on one player ..which was the case recently.

Posted by Rob on 10/11/2011

Another smart bit of blogging Phil. I see this sort of journalism all the time when a team with high expectations struggles out of the gate. I would guess as the team climbs the table and advances in Europe these stories will be few and far between.
That being said I believe Fulham is about to go through the changing of the guard over the next couple seasons. It can be a very painful, but necessary transition. This current squad has had a great run over the last few years.

I would've liked to see AJ conistently perform for a few more games before offering him a two year deal.

Any guesses on how many minutes in before Martin Atikinson shows a red card? Hasn't this guy earned himself at least a week off?

Blog Central: Atkinson needs to be aware of what's going on OFF the ball in games involving Stoke. Big test for all three match doubt in my mind who will play the football and who will do the fouling. Tester for you, before Gera's moment of insanity last May, when did we last receive a red card in the league?

Posted by fraught_with_peril on 10/17/2011

Answering the Blog Central question: I think the prior red card was at West Ham in early October 2009 in what may have been Kagisho Digacoi's Premier League debut. Late in the first half Digacoi was red-carded for raising his arm during a dead-ball situation and making contact with a West Ham player's face (may have been Scotty Parker).

Phil, keep up the great work -- I look forward to your columns.

Blog Central: Correct! A coconut will be dropping through your door any day now. I appreciate the kind words.

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