ESPN Soccernet - Correspondents - Fulham
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Posted by Phil Mison on 08/18/2012

It's been a vibrant sporting summer in London but now the Olympians have left the stage let's celebrate the return of the national game. Time to rekindle our love affair with Fulham FC and reconnect with our ever-growing army of international fans. Are you ready to rumble?

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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Posted by Thomas on 08/20/2012

It appears that Dempsey may not have actually refused to play. I suspect Jol's first statement was a bit of public perception gamesmanship. It appears to have worked with the fans in the stadium. There were a lot of short memories in the stands. The squad looked good though. Hopefully Clint will play while they get the situation sorted out.

Posted by Bobert on 08/20/2012

That's all it took for everyone to turn on Dempsey? Really? Five years of servitude wiped away in one game? Disappointing. I'm hoping this was all just a big misunderstanding

Props to Fulham though. They played amazingly.

Posted by Michael in Calgary on 08/20/2012

1. Obviously, it won't last, but after Week 1, I'm enjoying looking at the table and seeing Fulham in a Champions League spot and Liverpool in a relegation spot!

2. On the Dempsey matter: It's fine to be a "want-away"--but if there are no offers forthcoming, what's a club to do? Then "refusing" to play--however it actually went down--further hamstrings the club. Now it's obvious that the player REALLY wants to go, which opens the door to "lowball" offers.

This is one of the great flaws of the transfer system as it currently exists. A club (any "smaller" club) has a highly desirable player--still under contract, if I'm not mistaken--who doesn't want to play (whether for fear of injury and damaging his potential value or whatever it may be). The predators begin circling like sharks, smelling blood and knowing they can now put in an offer less than the player's actual market value, and the smaller club will be forced to accept it. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer.

Blog Central: There's no way Clint would have effectively 'gone on strike' without long consultation with his agents - the party with most to gain from any transfer. How they must be regretting the timing of their gambit. Liverpool are a team in transition with even less hope of claiming the title than Fulham. Right now the last thing they need is to be rebuilding the side around a forward/winger approaching the veteran stage. I would also suggest any move there at this time for Dempsey would be very unwise. His corner have 10 days to pray some European side with CL credentials come calling. If not, Clint will be eating humble pie and pulling on the number 23 shirt again (initially to warm the bench).

Posted by Michael in Calgary on 08/20/2012

It's rather disheartening, actually, to think that a few big scalps, decent Cup runs, and the possible "booby prize" of a Europa League spot is the best one can hope for. Sadly, it's the truth. The financial and therefore competitive imbalance in the EPL is so great that the supporters of most clubs start the season knowing a League title or even a Champions League place are simply out of the question.

It's akin to baseball on this side of the pond (my other favourite sport). You just know the "big market" teams (Yankees, etc) have a virtual lock on the playoff spots, so cheering for your sentimental favourite team (Royals? Astros? Blue Jays?) is really a pointless exercise...and there is CERTAINLY no reason to spend hard-earned cash on supporting their causes which are lost before they're even begun.

Competitive balance is the ONLY thing that matters in sport--everyone should have a fighting chance--but, alas, I fear it's gone forever in the EPL and MLB.

Blog Central: No question this process has been accelerated by globalisation of sports markets and huge revenue streams for the big fish. But even the fiercist cheerleaders for the free market have never argued capitalism is in any way 'fair.' Just so happy FFC are now on the right side of the divide compared to our status in 1996. It will all change when that meteor finally hits...

Posted by thomas on 08/22/2012

Is it possible that the lack of offers for Dempsey had anything to do with Fulham's posturing during the off-season? They did constantly warn other clubs away from Dempsey and Dembele. I think, business wise, Fulham could have handled the situation better and made a move that would have benefited the club.

Posted by Jessica on 08/24/2012

Finally- the season starts and we can pick up our discussion. It was a long summer with out you, Phil and fellow posters.

What's going on with the new format? Why must "progress" get in the way again? Of course ESPN has always operated under the "if it ain't broke, let's fix it anyway" mantra for years. Ugh. Oh well.

I don't want to get into the CD saga yest again. But I will say this: IMHO the ones with real egg on their faces are his "handlers." I don't know what percentage their cut is, but fifty cents is too much if you ask me. If you want to play hardball, you'd better be sure there are optionS. I desperately want him to stay, but not at the cost of the future.

Here's to a positive Match Day 2. COYW!!!

Posted by fraught _with_peril on 08/27/2012

Response to Thomas above. It's hard to see that Fulham's posture deterred serious bids for Dempsey. The Club can easily justify the mooted 9-10mm valuation. An actual bid is a powerful thing and would test Fulham's resolve as the contract holder, as well as potentially allowing the player to influence the outcome.

This happens all the time in football transfer machinations.

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