Parker confirms Fulham as this season’s most exciting relegation flirts


Greg Johnson thinks Scott Parker could be the Robert De Niro to Berbatov’s Al Pacino this season as Fulham ramp up the entertainment factor in the absence of trophies or a top half finish…

It’s a shame that Mohammed Al-Fayed no longer reigns over West London. The tenuous, cliched connection between Fulham Football Club and Harrods, brought about by the Egyptian businessman’s former ownership of both has never felt more tantalisingly apt.

Dimitar Berbatov, Bryan Ruiz, Adel Taarabt, Alexander Kacaniklic, Darren Bent: as fine a collection of esoteric luxuries and tacky rich man’s playthings as you could find across the multiple stories of the Knightsbridge department store. These are the gold encrusted Kashmir underpants, sub-prime bothering super truffles and absurd monster trucks for the under fours of the football world.

As you’d expect of such an impractical array of goods, it’s difficult to know where the bog standard essentials will come from; the daily (artisan) bread if you will. There appears to be little in the way of industry or work rate in amongst the Fulham ranks. In fact, ever since the sale of Mousa Dembele to Spurs last summer, Martin Jol’s team have felt rather gutted of their most vital keystone component.

Not only was the Belgian the club’s best player pre-Berbatov, but also their decisive balancing factor that brought fluency and structure to the side. With Dembele running the midfield, Ruiz was able to find his place behind the attack and offer more than mere flashes of brilliance while the defense enjoyed a degree of protection thanks to his energy and diligence.

Last season, beyond the aesthetic perfection of Berbatov, Fulham were far from elegant. Disjointed, jarring and confused are fair descriptions of the mess the post-Dembele team often created for themselves. Ruiz and Berbatov got in each others way, Sidwell and co lacked discipline and initiative in the middle and the once solid defensive pairing of Hangeland and Hughes was tinkered into dissassembly as pressure poured from an unguarded midfield.

The arrival of the in-demand yet limited goal scorer Bent on loan from Aston Villa a number of days ago at first reeked of yet more incoherent indulgence. Where was the work ethic and sweat going to come from to allow these odds and sods thespians the stage to perform? Had Martin Jol thrown caution and logic to the wind in some misguided attempt to become this decade’s Kevin Keegan? Perhaps he has in a roundabout Dutch manner, demanding enterprising attacking football, responsibility and initiative from his playing staff.

Creative chaos looks set to be the staple diet for Fulham this season, good news for neutrals and fans who fancy a taste for exciting adversity, following the signing of Scott Parker: supposedly the antithesis of the lazy shirker and art-school pretensions so despised by the Little England mentality that lionises him. Yet while his audience may well be fooled, his overly earnest air of authenticity can be considered an act in its own right. As his new colleagues swan about in the final third, wooing the crowds with their majestic techniques and cocksure swagger, this quintessential Englishman will equally be treating the crowds to his own form of method acting, sliding across the turf like a workaholic with vertigo.

Neither is he really fit to play the Makelele role many will undoubtedly suggest he fills considering the cast of ethereal talents he has now joined. Parker doesn’t do positional play. Racing about after the man, after the ball or generally and aimlessly, he’ll provide his own kitchen sink soap opera spectacle to weave into Fulham’s eclectic if ill-fitting tapestry. If his presence at Craven Cottage has been sought by Jol as a belated solution to Dembele’s departure last year, then such an assignment will only add to the sense that this season Fulham will be the best looking bad team outside of the newly promoted (and almost certainly soon to be relegated) bottom three.

That jibe is meant half in jest and fully in love. Fulham should make for some excellent viewing as they career about the place and serene with a wealth of mismatching players attempting to make Jol’s vision for attacking football a reality.  What’s not to like? It’s incongruous rather than incompetent. It’s Frank Spencer doing Shakespeare.

Fulham and clubs like them can’t be expected to find instant and complete solutions to the sale of their most talented, pivotal players. They have neither the reputation nor the resources to replace outgoing stars as they move on to bigger and better things. Heads turned, their sale price is usually noticeably below their market value, which only exacerbates the problem. Martin Jol shouldn’t be criticised for Fulham’s hiccups in the absence of Dembele, after all his presence secured the coup signings of Berbatov and Maarten Stekelenburg, and has kept the club fairly stable and intact. There’s little else he could have done to plug the gap created by such a sale, especially following the loss of Clint Dempsey, who while less important to the team’s structure was undoubtedly a handy source of goals to have in the side.

Since taking over from Mark Hughes, who more or less stuck with the general ideas implemented by the Europa League final reaching Roy Hodgson, Jol has at least spoken of a desire to bring down the average age of the squad and instil a more proactive playing style. For the moment however, shorn of the practically irreplaceable Dembele, he has retreating to signing veterans such as Giorgos Karagounis and hoping his team can bodge points and victories out of last season’s ham-fisted midfield.

For this year at least it appears that his side will aspire to a different kind of progress: the opportunity to enthral and excite with the outside chance of a respectable, top-of-the-bottom-half finish. A return to Europe or the top half proper is out of reach for the time being any way, although that’s not to say the future in the medium-to-long term doesn’t look bright for the Cottagers.

The signing of Scott Parker this summer confirms that Fulham will be this year’s most exciting relegation flirts; dancing above the doomed trio of Cardiff, Hull and Palace, while Sunderland and Stoke struggle in the quagmire of 16th, 17th and lower. He is the ideal self-consciously earnest and workmanlike counterpoint to Berbatov’s palacial artistry, and as such the contrast between the two footballers should produce something rather splendid and eclectic, if not exactly consistent or effective.

He will be the work experience backstage rigger to their amateur dramatics society, the glass washer to their cocktail bar, the grease heeled runner to the sleazy jazz combo clouding up the green room with smoke: the deferential downstairs to their debonair and aristocratic forward line of Parker heaved privilege, and we’ll love watching it.

Long live excellence in beauty and form over mediocre, mid-table assuredness. Long live the land that Al-Fayed built. Long live Fulham Football Club circa 2013/14.


17 thoughts on “Parker confirms Fulham as this season’s most exciting relegation flirts

  1. No doubt the author of this pretentious, try-hard ‘article’, enjoys a few lines in the evening before he settles down to the pastime of producing lines of rubbish.

  2. Fail to see why a top half finish is “out of reach” for Fulham as you claim. Indeed, far from it. Which club has got the best squad in the Premier League now outside of Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham? I’d be tempted to say Fulham! Everton look set to be shorn of their two best players (Fellaini and Baines), while West Brom last season’s “one-man team” have lost that man, Lukaku. Allardyce’s “kick and rush” West Ham team will be found out this season, while Swansea’s league form will dip as they chase Europa League glory. Sunderland and Newcastle will be little more than sitcoms this season, while improving Villa will do better, but lack the experience of Jol’s Fulham. Rest assured, Fulham are set for a top half finish this season…

    • And I’d love them to, I just don’t see them getting it together this year. In some ways they’re the antithesis of Stoke – veteran players and cast offs but with good technical skills, trying to play great football.

      Can’t agree with you on the strength of the squad either. I’d say Swansea have got one of the strongest, most balanced squads in the mid-table at the moment, and beyond that it’s much of a muchness between the rest of the teams. Fulham have got some cracking flair players don’t get me wrong but I’m not sure they blend together as a unit as well as say Southampton or Everton, or have much defensive quality to back it all up. Happy to be proven wrong however, and with Stekelenburg and Amorebieta coming in (who I should have mentioned in my piece to be honest), Jol is obviously trying his best to sort the backline out. The team really misses Dembele however. He knitted the creative players together, gave the team balance and did an underrated job taking pressure off the defense. Imagine if they still had Danny Murphy… he’s getting on but would still do a job I reckon.

      Then again, hopefully Fulham’s admirable if not wholly successful youth policy can see them produce some great players to fill the gaps in the side to kick on. Thanks for your comment Ben!

      • Well, I suppose time will tell Greg! You may be right about Swansea having a more balanced squad (I will bow to your undoubtedly superior knowledge on that one!), but Swansea only finished 3 points above Fulham last season remember, and Fulham’s squad is vastly improved this season. While Swansea may still have a superior squad to Fulham, I think their Europa League campaign could take it’s toll, mainly because (like Fulham three years ago), I think there is a possibility they could have a lengthy run in it. With regard to Everton, who you mention, yes, they did blend together well as a unit, but that was under Moyes, whose great strength was building a team that was better than the sum of its parts. Is Martinez (a manager I have a lot of time for) capable of doing the same? I’m not so sure – I think Martinez teams have a little more flair about them and less of the solidity that has been the bedrock of Everton’s relative success in recent years. Where I do agree with you is that I think Southampton could be dark horses this season as they have splashed a lot of cash and, if those signings live up to their billing, they could be outsiders for a top 8 finish.
        Yes, Fulham do still miss Dembele – but I have a sneaking feeling that we may see a transformed Adel Taarabt at Fulham this season. He’s still only 24, has time to mature, and has already remarked on how he prefers the greater team spirit at Craven Cottage compared to Loftus Road. He has been praised for the discipline and workmanlike quality he showed in the opening win at Sunderland (a game in which he saw relatively little of the ball and was not totally match fit). In flashes, he showed the great ability he has, if he can combine that with the willingness to be more of a team player, Fulham could reap the benefit.
        Finally, in the spirit of hearty debate, I have to pick you up on your comment about Fulham’s lack of defensive quality. Yes, Fulham showed a worrying increase in defensive lapses last season, but the performance at Sunderland (which was founded on a sterling defensive display) indicated that Jol and the coaching staff have been working on this in the summer. Fulham do have quality defensive players – Hangeland, Reither, Stekelenburg. and Hughes (who despite what critics said last season is still capable of the type of quiet composed performances which mean he often goes unnoticed as he efficiently goes about his job). Will reserve judgement on Amorebietta (don’t know enough about him) Fulham’s left back spot is probably the weak link, but I think the expectation is that Jol will bring in a new left back before the window closes (Buttner of Man Utd has been linked with a loan move – it was well documented Jol was keen on him before he went to Old Trafford, perhaps if Man U sign Baines, they will be prepared to let Buttner go). Having said all that, young Matt Briggs (who replaced Richardson at left back on the opening day) deserves a mention as he had one of his best performances in a Fulham shirt in the left back slot against Sunderland – maybe this will be Briggs’ year….

        • All fair points Ben. Reither was a great buy and has added a lot to the team, and as you rightly say signs were good against Sunderland but I’d wait until the defense are up against a side that’s more settled and threatening than Di Canio’s to make a serious judgement on how far they’ve come over the summer.

          Hangeland and Hughes are/were a great partnership agreed, and to me it was tweaking that pairing that caused so many problems last year along with the lack of decent screening from the midfield. Senderos may be younger than Hughes but he doesn’t have the Northern Irishman’s pace. Amorebietta was good for Bilbao but he’s a bit of a loose cannon and picks up lots of cards. I don’t think either of those two quite fit the niche Hughes does, especially in the way he complements Hangeland. I look forward to seeing some fresh blood in the LB slot, or someone like Buttner who could be an exciting addition, as I’ll definitely be following Fulham closely this year. Safe to say they’ve long been a confirmed fixture on my list of secondary teams to support.

          Thanks again for taking the time to comment Ben. Such in-depth responses are really appreciated.

  3. another year, another article saying we’ll probably be relegated.. how many has it been since we’ve been in this league again?

    • Thanks guys. Comments are all part of the fun, and let’s be honest I was asking for it – I do like my dodgy wordplay! Think most got that it was meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek though hopefully. Cheers for the comment.

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