The new season starts with one rather dark cloud over Craven Cottage. The team's top player doesn't want to be part of it anymore.
I have every sympathy for Clint seeking to go to one more level in his career path - his drive and focus since his days in college have been admirable. It would be criminal to deny any professional the chance to test himself in the game's toughest league format. From his time at the club since 2006 the Deuce has been in all aspects of his manner both on and off the pitch the model professional. My only greviance is the timing of an official statement from the club being forced out into the public domain 24 hours before the opening game.
If you followed the body language from last May's lap of the ground through all the nuances of sound bytes carefully phrased over the close season, it was transparent Clint wanted away. No club needs to start a new campaign waving off it's MVP of the past two seasons, not to mention the invaluable goal contribution made over that time. It's going to be a challenge to fill his boots, and require a level of pragmatism and maturity from fans from here on in not to sully Dempsey's time at FFC with a wave of vitriol and ingratitude. The predictable response has already started, but that is the modern game for you. Players and their agents ultmately hold the whip hand. The days where players were virtual chattels of the club ended in 1960. Refusing to play for the club who pay you such generous wages however is for many beyond the pale.
I still hope to see our brilliant Texan No.23 in a Fulham shirt again giving his all, even if it's for a brief period before the suitors come calling. And here's the rub from Clint's side of the table. He's cast out his long-time girlfriend before ensuring he's got another sweetie on his arm for the prom. Didn't this guy learn anything as a teenager? Having made his stand, our man now faces an anxious wait as the transfer window ticks down for acceptable suitors to call. Meanwhile, Big Daddy Mo is watching from the bedroom window to check both the bouquet and black tux are are up to scratch. If not, the door aint being opened. This story still has a long way to run.
Not the ideal preparation then for Martin and the boys, having to ride an air of negativity to chill the mood of eternal optimism that always encompasses a new season. So where do we stand as we launch our campaign? There should be no excuses for the same slow start we've seen over the past two years, where new managers were at the helm and being cut some slack. Two years ago Mark Hughes drew too many early games, saw his England striker have his ankle shattered in early September, but snared Moussa Dembele just in time with his one big outlay.
Last season Martin couldn't buy a win at all until QPR rolled up - and over - on October 1st. His major summer transfer signing also failed to set the world on fire. So with the advantage of a settled summer at the club, and no early Europa League distractions, there's a little more weight of expectation for the manager to deliver. We could not have asked for better opponents to start. Four points from the Canaries last season, under new management, and of course they never win at the Cottage. This should on paper be a comfortable home win.
Nobody will be too bothered with a loss next week at ManUre, although our brilliant defence kept RvP pretty quiet last season, an away trip to WHU however will see the side under scrutiny. Can Jol at last find a formula to make us more tigerish on the road? Safety first is no longer good enough, and against a side like the Hammers who I think may really struggle under Allardyce I want to see a new dimension to our game plan away from fortress Fulham.
The squad looks every bit the equal of last season. Those who have departed since January to proud exponents of the 'beautiful' game (QPR, Blackburn) were all part of the old guard and ready for shipping out, with their best years behind them. Even from the allocation of squad numbers it seems obvious the club still looks short of one additional striker - the number 9 remains unclaimed for now - and who eventually makes up the midfield four may still be at the experimental stage, and may yet require an additional element or two.
While I know it's behoven of writers to make predictions, they invariably end up making one look silly. As the club have major ground works in the pipeline, and in light of the drastic reduction in transfer activity due to financial restraints, it's hard not to conclude this will be a season of holding station. In the past we have started slow, found ourselves briefly in the bottom three even around Christmas, then revived around January on the back of exceptional home form. I have a feeling this season may see the pattern reversed. I don't for a second see us facing a relegation battle - that's the territory of Southampton, Reading, West Ham, QPR, West Brom, Wigan and maybe Villa, Stoke or Sunderland.
Let's hope for more away games to remember, some big scalps at the Cottage, and a decent run in the Cups for once. Whatever transpires, we'll be there for every kick over the next nine months, and looking forward as ever to sharing all things Fulhamish with you all.
Apart from leaving Dempsey out of the squad after his refusal to play we are also derpived of Kerim Frei (pelvis), Philippe Senderos (foot) and Zdenek Grygera (knee) for the opening game, while Norwich hope two big players in midfielders Wes Hoolahan (Achilles) and Anthony Pilkington (hamstring) pass late tests. Summer signings Steven Whittaker (ankle) and Jacob Butterfield (knee) miss out, and Robert Snodgrass and Michael Turner make their debuts.
Here's to a winning start in the sunshine as we say for the first time...COYW!!! Enjoy the game if you're going - there should be some unsold tickets on the gate for once.
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