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Forget the three kings. It's three games in eight days that matter, all at the Cottage, each encounter with a unique script of its own. We start on Wednesday with one final hurdle keeping us from the lucrative and exciting knock-out rounds of the Europa League.
Denmark's Odense round off a programme that began with the players running out at the Cottage last June against Runavik of the Faroe Islands. Revisiting my blog archive, it all seems so long ago. How did I follow the game that night? Believe it or not, I was hitting the free bar for all I was worth at a hospitality bash down on the field of the Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington, Texas. Tomorrow I'll be shivering at the Hammy End wrapped in gloves, scarf and wooly hat nipping from my hip flask (which technically I have to smuggle in). A journalist's life is anything but predictable...
A bit like following Fulham. How to prioritise the coming schedule? We need to beat the bottom side in the group to make sense of the ridiculous trek to date around the fringes of the Europa League. Had we shown more urgency in Holland on December 1st or in Poland last October we could have relaxed for this game six and given the first team squad a night off. But as a result is imperative to progress, nobody's getting a free ride this week.
If Zamora is back leading the line, as Jol suggested he would be at his presser, it begs the question where our manager lays his own priorities at present. Two years ago Hodgson was unflinching - survival in the Premiership was paramount. League points were all that mattered to Roy that autumn, his teams for Europa nights were littered with fringe players. Only from the round of 32 on did he look to play stronger teams as far as possible.
Because of the club clampdown on players giving statements to the press, all current information emanating from the boss is naturally a one-way street. Whatever the reality behind the scenes, I can't help thinking Jol's handling of the issues have been poor. He's spent this week defusing all rumours of a bust up between himself and Zamora. No sooner is the ink dry on the hacks morning story of QPR, Sunderland and Villa all preparing January moves for our star striker, Jol states Bobby's going nowhere and says he loves the club! Cue rapid re-write for tonight's presses.
Let's all take a deep breath, cease contributing to ridiculous 'fan polls' as to who should stay and who should go, and assume the truth lies somewhere in between. Words have been exchanged, as Jol admits, at the start of the season. Though I find his quote that 'this kind of disagreement is normal with a new manager,' somewhat bizarre. Certainly can't imagine Hodgson or Hughes ever releasing a statement like that about internal matters, even were it to be true.
To my mind Jol has painted himself into a corner with the fans, and possibly the players too. And it can't be blamed on his poor command of English or appreciation of the English game. Here's where I find fault with Jol's stance over the past few days. If Zamora was being rested - and possibly nursing an injury niggle - why not say it. The manner in which Jol set out to humiliate our striker was deeply unfortunate. Telling the fans Andy Johnson 'deserved' a start based on recent form (and this for an away game too) defied logic, severely damaged our chances at Swansea, and looked to make fools of the fans.
This was compounded by saying, 'Zamora is not the best player to have on the subs bench.' Really??? It was fine for Sparky last Spring, and can you be serious in saying that about an international striker six feet tall among a side that is criminally goal-shy and a tad on the short side up front! Motivation is a monumental part of a manager's armoury. It does not constitute shouting at players, nor seeking to belittle them.
Just taking this blog as a straw poll, inadequately unscientific I know, nine out of ten posters seem to see the problem here to be Martin Jol rather than any players. I've said this before, I invariably run the rule over other credible FFC sites for comment and feedback before dipping my pen in the vitriol. It seemed to me the negative approach Saturday (yet again) was the final straw for a fair number of Fulham folk. The bottom line is Jol - for whatever personal reasons - failed to follow Roy's dictum that Premiership points are paramount for a club with our resources.
It's too early in the season to say Swansea away was a must win. It was however a very winnable game for a side that rarely ever wins away. Compounding this error of judgement was the fact that Jol surely had to realise, with no AJ or Ruiz to call upon for Odense, having so publicly snubbed Zamora last week and left him behind, he'd be needing to wrap his arm around him Wednesday evening and with a cheeky squeeze of the cheek ask Bob to go out there and make sure Fulham made into the next phase of the Europa League.
Now examine the scenario for Zamo Wednesday night. Unlike Clint, who seems capable of all but shutting down his life support systems pre-match (rf recent stories of cartoons with the kids, never visualising a game to heap extra pressure on himself etc), Bobby seems a more complex character. I don't envy him his options for the Odense game. Should he put in a big shift but fail to score he'll come off boiling with frustration feeling he's let the side down. If he has a really off night the bulk of the crowd will write him off as wanting away and no longer bothered being in Fulham white. Should he play his part in a rousing win does he celebrate with the team, stare out the boss, or feel he's got to go out against Bolton and prove himself all over again?
Ah, yes. The really big game of the three. Rock bottom Bolton. No Danny or Steve for the Europa game. That shouldn't be critical, especially with Duff and Baird fit again (Danny will be fit for Bolton). Odense have looked lightweight at this level and are playing just for pride. I'm intrigued to see how Fulham approach this game, because in the final analysis what really does matter are the six points up for grabs against the Trotters and Man United. A home loss Saturday and Martin will certainly find out what pressure is all about. Even before Sir Alex pitches up.
Let's deal with the Danes first, so COYW! Twitter@fulhamphil