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Notice how few negative headlines you've read about Mike Ashley this season? The last time the Magpies made national news coverage away from the pitch was the renaming of St James Park. Understandably irritated fans detested the rebranding last November. You won't hear many referring to the 'Sports Direct Arena.' Crass marketing from Ashley in keeping with his ego, but that aside the guy's appointment of Alan Pardew is matching the acumen shown in building up his millions from merchandising. All those protest banners after Hughton's sacking have been binned.
Pardew was handed a five and a half year contract on arrival in December 2010 - unusual by Premier League standards, causing plenty to question the owner's wisdom yet again. Pardew was Ashley's 5th managerial appointment in three years, coming in after the popular Chris Hughton had been shafted as Pardew offered more 'experience.' Of what sort? He got West Ham up and to a Cup Final before getting sacked when he couldn't cut it at the top, then took Charlton down and had been dumped by Southampton that August. Nobody back then on Tyneside would have envisaged the Southerner being touted for Manager of the Season eighteen months on. But full marks to Pardew for transforming Newcastle on the pitch - and he's a lifelong Fulham fan by the way.
Despite the chequered managerial past, where Alan had a reputation for being 'difficult' to get along with, he does not lack for belief in his own abilities. But that has to be a prerequisite for football managers. And this season I've also heard Pardew say the club's progress is all part of his five year plan. Now this can often be manager speak for 'I'm going to need time to turn this around,' which is something owners are so reluctant to give. Abramovich being a prime example. 'King' Kenny is already drinking in the last chance saloon 18 months into NO change to Liverpool's progress after Roy's departure. Closer to home, Asian business tycoon Tony Fernandes is another to repeat the mantra at QPR in recent weeks. Paving the way for probable demotion to the Championship, Tony's five year plan for that little club down Loftus Road dictates a new stadium, building an academy, new commercial activities around 'brand QPR,' and more besides. Even were Rangers to beat the drop, 18,000 capacity gates in the Prem makes any real progress unsustainable. Matchday revenues at Rangers for the season are matched by Arsenal and Man United inside a month.
Not that Fulham are immune from this problem. You can find a full dossier on the breakdown of our indebtedness and financials from excellent research done at the following site: swissramble.blogspot.co.uk/ Scroll down the left column to locate Fulham, read and be ever grateful for the munificence of the al Fayed family that keeps us afloat.
If we ever publicly had a 5 Year Plan of our own I can't recall. But in the absence of a weekend fixture I took to musing on our position at the back end of the season in 2007. By any yardstick Fulham have come on considerably since then. My research was influenced by all the media attention Clint is getting from two phenomenal back-to-back seasons, and an article our number one fan in North Carolina Jessica sent over. It was of course that memorable strike of Clint's deep into the 2nd half home to Liverpool in 07 that saved our skins following an awful slump that campaign as Coleman lost the plot and Sheffield United took the drop instead of us.
I shudder to look back at some of the players we were fielding in that period. Clint wasn't featuring after his move across and in the article sent over had been pretty vocal in his frustration at waiting his chance. "The club had worked really hard to get me to come over from the MLS and then, not to be featuring, was getting to me." Prior to that crunch fixture with Liverpool we had gone up to Arsenal for our habitual thrashing. Clint replaced Jensen for the last half an hour and was asked by Sanchez to play up the middle (with Radzinski!!!). Looking back what do we remember from our first sightings of the Texan legend? He fell over a lot. He wasn't that quick. He took some ridiculous long shots. But there was definitely something there...For that Liverpool win it was the underwhelming Montella who gave way for Dempsey to come on and notch the winner, the first and most crucial goal he would ever score for FFC. In the greater scheme of things, far more important than 'that chip' v Juventus. It was our first win in 11, the first with Sanchez at the helm, and if you want to spook yourself all over again look up the match report and see some of the names we had in our ranks at the time.
It brings things into focus when we reflect on the make-up of the team now. Of course, Sanchez wasn't the answer either, though he was unlucky with injuries to key players, and we were to suffer more agonies through the second half of the following season. The tide turned under Hodgson, Hughes retained equilibrium, and though today's side had the talent to add a further 5-8 points to our current tally, Europa League distractions and some questionable tactics from Jol prior to winter saw us treading water in the lower half of the league until recently. Few however as we approach season's end would argue that in all departments the current Whites look a different vintage to the whipping boys of five years ago.
Ah yes, nostalgia. We can't get enough of it. Last week was also the 10th anniversary of the Sunday we motored up to Villa Park to contest an FA Cup semi-final with Chelsea. You all know the result, it wasn't our finest hour and the Blues won with a very scruffy goal from a corner. As the BBC reported in what was our first season in the Prem, "Fulham's finishing did not match the quality of their approach play." So here's to the next 10 years, in which, dare I say it, Fulham will finally manage to lift a trophy of significance! We always live in hope.
Build up to the match action Saturday, with a suddenly far more intriguing game with Wigan than we might have foreseen, to come later in the week.
Keep the faith and COYW! Twitter@fulhamphil