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May 20, 2010
Posted by Gareth Maher on 05/20/2010

It might be that time of the year when transfer speculation gets more coverage than a government election, but not every story should be instantly dismissed, including Kevin Doyle's link to each of the big four.

A few years ago it would have been laughable to suggest that the Republic of Ireland international was good enough to be targeted by the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. However, such is his transformation into a top-class striker that it no longer seems so ludicrous.

Perhaps a little perspective is needed here. After all, isn't this the same player that only managed to score nine goals in a Wolverhampton Wanderers team that finished three places above the relegation zone? Surely a jump up to one of the big four is asking too much of him.

Well, that depends on how you view Doyle. He is not a prolific goalscorer and probably will never be – that was obvious from when he started his career with St Patrick's Athletic in the League of Ireland – but the other attributes that he possesses mark him out as a valuable asset that most teams would crave to have.

The reasons why other managers would be interested in him range from his ability to win key aerial battles to linking play superbly to being in the right place at the right time to cause havoc in the opposition's penalty area. He might not be in contention for the golden boot, but Doyle will make space, hold-up play and lead the line better than a lot of Premier League frontmen who oddly have better reputations.

And even criticizing his goal ratio is nit-picking. He netted nine times in the league in the season just gone, which was more than Bobby Zamora (Fulham), Peter Crouch (Tottenham Hotspur) and Emile Heskey (Aston Villa) – all of whom were in England boss Fabio Capello's plans for the World Cup.

Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni admits to being puzzled as to why Doyle is plying his trade for Wolves rather than getting a chance to prove himself for one of the big four.

"I think Kevin is one of the best strikers in England. He has everything. Attitude, experience, personality. These are all very important," said Trapattoni.

"Every time I am in England, I watch many teams and see players play in bigger teams than Kevin. And I wonder how these players can play for these teams and Kevin cannot.

"I can't tell club managers what to do, but I know English football, I know what the teams and managers are like and Kevin, for sure, can play in a top team – one of the very top teams in England.

"I don't know if he is going to move in the summer. For him, this is a tough decision to make. He scores goals in a team like Wolves, but if he moves to a great team, he will score a lot more goals."

Doyle is one of the first names on Trapattoni's teamsheet and the Wexford native has certainly made a big impression on the former Juventus boss, who has long been singing his praises but this week suggested that Doyle is now 'ready to join a big club'.

One of the clubs that the ex-Reading hitman had been linked with was Serie A giants Juventus, but the recent speculation suggesting that Arsenal were considering a move for him could be more accurate.

Of course, he would have to improve all aspects of his game to hold down a place ahead of players like Robin Van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner, Eduardo Da Silva, Carlos Vela and potentially Marouane Chamakh.

But Doyle is ready for that challenge and with his managers for both club (Mick McCarthy also thinks he can aim higher) and country backing him then is no reason why he can't make that step up.

"I would love to be challenging for titles every year and playing in Europe and stuff like that but I am also realistic as to whether that can happen," said Doyle.

"In the last year or so I have realized I have to give it every shot I can to try to get myself to that physical level and that football level. I will not leave any stone unturned to try and make the most of my career."

Whether one of the big four clubs will ultimately swoop for Doyle remains to be seen, but his development from a rookie with St Pat's to a proven Premier League player has been hard to ignore. And he has yet to even reach his peak.

Gareth Maher covers Irish football for ESPN Soccernet. Check out his website www.garethmaher.com to read more of his writing.

May 13, 2010
Posted by Ben Blackmore on 05/13/2010

The pain, the pride, the agony and the heartache all belong to Fulham after their magnificent Europa League adventure ultimately ended in despair at the HSH Nordbank Arena on Wednesday night, but when the dust settles and the nightmares of Diego Forlan's winner eventually subside, they will at least be able to take huge satisfaction out of a night when Fulham Football Club was put on the European footballing map.

Roy Hodgson said ahead of the biggest night in Fulham's 131-year history that he wanted to emulate Sir Bobby Robson by becoming the first English manager to lift a European trophy since his good friend led Barcelona to Cup Winners Cup glory 13 years ago. Hodgson fell short of his dream, but even the late, great, Sir Bobby would acknowledge that Hodgson's achievement far outweighs his own.

As Diego Forlan wheeled away, bare-chested, having needed his second piece of good fortune of the night to finally kill off Hodgson's men, it was worth remembering that the Uruguayan's €21 million transfer fee accounts for the cost of the entire Fulham team. That's not to mention the fact that the ball was supplied by his €23 million strike partner Sergio Aguero.

Football matches are not won or lost with chequebooks, Madrid were slick at times and were the better team on the night. But when the archives simply chart Fulham as losing finalists in 50 years' time, they should at least be accompanied by articles that acknowledge the huge achievement that reaching the final in Hamburg represented.

Triumphs over Juventus, Hamburg, Wolfsburg and Shakhtar Donetsk will never be forgotten by those who witnessed them. Which club ever comes back from a three-goal deficit against Juventus?

When Hodgson first arrived at Craven Cottage in December 2007, his job was merely one of survival. And with three games left in that particular mission, Fulham were down and out before staging a remarkable comeback from two goals down to win at Manchester City.

Hodgson had a squad worthy of the Championship, yet by working on a largely shoestring budget he has shaped a team capable of challenging for European honours. No wonder Liverpool - given all their financial difficulties - are rumoured to be interested.

Mark Schwarzer, signed by Hodgson for free, has been one of the goalkeepers of the season. Playing in the defence in front of him against Atletico Madrid was Chris Baird - a utility man plucked from Southampton, Aaron Hughes - rescued from a bit-part role at Aston Villa, and Paul Konchesky - a man out of favour at West Ham.

How many football supporters truthfully had a chuckle or two when Fulham splashed the cash on a striker who had scored just one goal the previous season?

Pulling them all together was Hodgson's defining capture, Brede Hangeland, a man few people in English football knew about before the Fulham boss snapped him up from FC Copenhagen for £2.5 million. How cruel that the winning goal deflected in off the Norwegian, who has been immense for Fulham since he arrived in January 2008.

There are more astute Hodgson captures in the midfield, where Damien Duff, Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu were all cast-offs at their former clubs before moving to Craven Cottage. Hodgson cannot claim credit for Murphy's capture, but he has reinvigorated the former Liverpool man's career since handing him the captain's armband.

As for Simon Davies, the talent has always simmered under the surface with the Wales international, but rarely at Spurs or Everton did he produce moments like the goals scored in the Europa League semi-final and final. Davies has never played better football than he has under Hodgson.

The same can be said for the man whose goals fired Fulham to Hamburg: 19-goal Bobby Zamora. Bought for £6.3 million in a deal also involving John Pantsil, how many football supporters truthfully had a chuckle or two when Fulham splashed the cash on a striker who had scored just one goal the previous season?

That has been Hodgson's major achievement: Getting the best out of players written off by the masses. Fulham trod a similar path, written off before the Juventus game, written off against Shakhtar Donestk, told repeatedly that Hamburg in the semis would be a bridge too far. Yet when Forlan scored with four minutes remaining in extra time, for the first time there was a sense that you couldn't write them off.

The glory on the night belonged to Atletico, but pride in the Fulham club crest has surely never been greater.

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