A thoroughly professional display got Fulham’s season underway as fans of the Canaries were left spitting feathers for the second time in five months. Nobody’s getting carried away after our five goal display – Norwich clearly hate playing at the Cottage, no win here since 1986, but my, did the Whites hit the ground running. There are nothing but positives to be taken from the performance as the side slipped seamlessly into top gear, raising their game after 20 minutes and then outplaying their opponents.
For the first time in three seasons we start the campaign under the same manager, and with no Europa League distractions. Jol was able to cast aside the shadow of Dempsey’s want-away stance and field an eleven who played as an inventive unit, looking utterly sharp and comfortable from front to back. Hard to grasp now, but on the last day of March the Canaries arrived at the Cottage above us in mid-table, and were pushing hard for an equaliser as Fulham clung on to the final whistle that afternoon after early strikes from Clint and Damien.
This time around the gulf between the teams was massive. Hughton admitted his side were poor, but Fulham were also very, very good – and could easily have had more. Testament to the shrewd work put in early summer to tie up deals for Diarra and Rodallega. Securing the first means midfield will not miss Danny, while Hugo is a free transfer striker who has shown he can score goals in the Prem for a poor side. How much more of a return will we see over the coming season from him playing with better players in support. And when Pavel opted for life in Reading rather than Chelsea Wharf …money isn’t everything comrade, Jol went shopping on the cheap for another striker he knew well. Mladan Petric made a dream debut, looking comfortable with the system, and certainly more mobile than Pogrebnyak. The gaffer says he’s not even up to full fitness yet, so if he can last the pace of the Prem our Croat could well turn out to be one of the top acquisitions of the summer.
The club are also still sitting on funds for additional players in the window should the right names come along. It seems Trotta will be heading out on loan again, so there is clearly the need to find a support striker, especially if all parties manage to find a deal that suits Clint. How much are we going to miss him? Well, I’m still not convinced the door has been slammed shut on the Texan, even though he’s again been left out of the squad for the trip Saturday to some small outfit in the North.
There will be plenty of games in the next 37 when things are not running Fulham’s way. Clint’s ability, shown most notably in the 82nd minute of THAT match v Juventus, has been to pop up with something at times off the wall to conjure a goal out of nothing, many of them brave headers in the box. We are going to miss that, yes. But our talent pool at present is such that we certainly won’t struggle with him gone. And, from his perspective, where exactly does Clint Dempsey go from here?
His agents must I’m sure have mobiles permanently clamped to their ears - yesterday they were too busy to respond to my call. When it comes to delivering up the holy grail of Champions League football Clint, has it escaped your attention that neither Liverpool or Sunderland have even a faint chance of making that competition in the next five years. Both are distinctly average clubs with American backers fearful of throwing away any more bucks for very little return. Fulham maintain there have been no concrete offers at all for Dempsey's services, while there are clear signs both Liverpool and Sunderland are commiting money elsewhere. So who loves ya baby?
I also sense Brendan Rogers is going to come under real pressure pretty quickly, and Liverpool might not be the ‘work in progress’ ideal unit for any big player right now. As to what Mrs. Dempsey thinks about moving north with the kids…
So bidders for our Texan star are going to have to come from abroad. That means even more disruption to family life. And how many big European sides are set up to accommodate the maverick that is Clint? Every Fulham manager since Coleman has needed convincing – sure Clint has buckled down every time and shown his worth. He’s as tough as old boots we know. But age is against him, and I certainly don’t see him fitting into a latin team, so his options narrow even further. We’ll know this time next week. Another winless weekend for Arsenal might push Wenger into a bid, but it will have to match Fulham’s valuation.
With the stance Dempsey has taken, and by missing first the Norwich game, and now ManUre, every day passing makes it harder you feel for some accommodation to be reached before bad blood sets in. Clint still has a chance to shrug, take a step back, and say, ‘well, let’s get back to playing football,’ and all will be forgiven. But it’s now or never. I tell you this, if Fulham go to Old Trafford and win – and there’s a real chance we can – my, but there’ll need to be some hard thinking done in the Dempsey household over the weekend. FFC in the Champions League next season?
OK, some way to go yet before we start down that train of thought. But what did we learn from day one? Not quite as terminal as Liverpool’s malaise maybe but Arsenal are no longer a force in English football. They will do well to make the top four, but any talk of the title is risible. Why Wenger is treated so shabbily by a board awash with personal cash is beyond me. I would hate to be a Gooner right now. This is not ‘fan bashing’ barbarity on my part. I think Wenger is a superb manager and talent spotter, I loved the football played by Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ and would have taken them as my second team in London after FFC. Today’s Gunners look ordinary, and without van Persie…
Chelsea likewise to my eye appear no stronger than last season. We got two draws off the European Champions last time and looked their equals. Only more reffing incompetence denied us a home win over the Blues. I thought Tottenham looked predictable and somewhat toothless in defeat at Newcastle, who themselves will have a European campaign to add to their work load. The Magpies will remain dangerous with Ba, Cisse and Ben Arfa up front, but won’t fly as high as last year. And look what we did to them at the Cottage in January!
Everton. Hmm, I just don’t know how they keep doing it each year. Too good for United this week, and of course we have not a clue how to beat them either. The two Manchester clubs will again contest the title, and I personally don’t care which one ends up ‘buying’ the trophy. But could little old Fulham down by the Thames just sneak up on the playground bullies and steal some of their conkers over the course of the next nine months…? I think we may be in for a season of fun. Clint, listen to the love man, and DO THE RIGHT THING.