|Fulham's turnaround proves winners can be found in the lottery of management
||[Mar. 2nd, 2009|12:20 pm]
The business of choosing a soccer manager makes the lottery look like a well planned exercise in probabilities.
Brian Clough once famously lasted 44 days at Leeds United; Paul Ince, who started this season in charge of Blackburn, didn't even last until Christmas and Tottenham fired a manager who had twice got them a finishing place of fifth in the Barclay's Premier League. They promptly crashed down the table, flirted with relegation and fired his successor. Happy times...
But for every manic appointment, there is an occasional nugget. Roy Hodgson's at Fulham is a case in point. Hodgson returned to management in this country at an age when most men might be putting up their feet and reflecting on an exciting, successful career. After all, when you have coached in Switzerland, Sweden, Finland and with Inter Milan in Italy, you've had a pretty successful career.
Hodgson, formerly with Blackburn, was enticed home in December 2007 to take over that enigmatic West London club Fulham. The poor relations compared to their wealthy neighbours up the road at Chelsea, Fulham under Lawrie Sanchez had spent a fortune and yet fallen as dramatically as a pensioner on an icy London street.
Mohamed Al-Fayed's money was the only reason Fulham had remained in the Premier League in the first place. Even so, millions of pounds of wasted investment seemed likely to be no barrier to them sliding once more towards relegation.
Hodgson arrived yet was hardly offered tens of millions to redress the situation. The owner wanted it both ways - he craved survival in the Premiership but didn't want to spend much more money. Incredibly, he got his way.
Hodgson has transformed the Londoners from perennial relegation strugglers, a side scuffling along close to the bottom of the league, into a neat, efficient and highly effective outfit able to contain and, in some cases beat, the best in the land. The latest example, a 0-0 draw at Arsenal at the weekend, merely confirmed that Fulham have one of the most parsimonious defences in the land - just 22 goals conceded in 26 Premier League games this season - and one of the best organised sides.
The Englishman has correctly instilled defensive discipline and structure as the first requirement of his task. Recognising the need for that was of paramount importance. Then he organised his team into a unit, ensuring the sum of the parts usually exceeded the whole. Study Fulham's team and you'll scratch your head to understand why they stood 7th in the table last Saturday evening, just a point short of a Uefa Cup place.
For the Londoners to have soared so high is astonishing. But Hodgson has calmly and quietly brought the best from his players. Midfield playmaker Danny Murphy, after only moderate spells at Tottenham and Charlton, has flourished under Hodgson. Even selling the club's talismanic midfielder Jimmy Bullard to Hull City for £5m seems to have made little difference.
Hodgson has done it all in his own calm, quiet way. If only football had more of his kind...