They were manager-less and facing relegation from the Premiership after six seasons in the top flight.
It was an unenviable task for any manager coming in to take over the reigns at Craven Cottage. Roy Hodsgon was appointed manager and subsequently managed to miraculously keep Fulham up. And his appointment at Craven Cottage has proved a shrewd move by Fulham owner, Mohamed Al-Fayed.
And, yesterday’s battling draw against Chelsea marked the end of a successful first year for Roy Hodgson as manager of Fulham. Clint Dempsey managed to rescue a point for Fulham in the 89th minute of the game. A point which saw Hodgson’s side cement their position in the top half of the Premiership table. With Al-Fayed unwilling to loosen his purse strings to any drastic extent, Hodgson was the ideal appointment.
His vast managerial experience in Europe and wealth of football knowledge allowed him to make some astute signings such as centre back, Brede Hangland. The Norwegian has proved a great signing and was a key part of their survival in the Premiership last season. His debut performance against Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium earned him the ‘Man of the Match’ award.
Roy Hodgson is well renowned as being a journeyman of football management. He has the benefit of many years of experience in different leagues throughout Europe. He enjoyed successful spells at Halmstad BK, Malmo FF and FC Copenhagen.
He also managed Inter Milan during the nineties, where he was runner-up in the UEFA Cup final. After Hodgson departed from the San Siro, he embarked on his first managerial stint in the Premiership. Yet despite leading Blackburn Rovers to qualification for the UEFA Cup in his first season, Hodgson was sacked early in to his second season at the helm, after a string of poor results.
Hodgson has also experienced the unrelenting pressure of international management. He presided over a successful spell with Switzerland, leading them to the World Cup in 1994 and the European Championships in 1996.
In 2005, he was appointed manager of the Finish international team but despite an enviable points tally of 24, he failed to steer them to qualification for Euro 2008. His critics lamented his defensive-minded tactics after five 0-0 results during Finland’s qualification campaign.
He then returned to the Premiership in late December last year, after Fulham sacked Lawrie Sanchez. Hodgson was faced with the task of steering Fulham out of the relegation zone and keeping them safe. After a poor start, where he failed to pick up any points out of his first three games, Hodgson led Fulham to Premiership survival.
There are two results which will be remembered by all the Fulham faithful: After being 2-0 down away to Manchester City, they sealed a remarkable 3-2 victory, with the three goals coming in the last quarter of the game; and a resolute 1-0 win away to Portsmouth on the final day of the season. The result at Fratton Park culminated in Fulham finishing the 2007-08 season in 17th place.
This season, Fulham have gone from strength to strength under Hodgson. Craven Cottage is now a difficult place to go to. This is reflected when you look at the league table, where they are second only to leaders Liverpool for points earned at home (21 in total). They have a strong spine with the experienced Mark Schwarzer between the posts, Hangeland in defence, Bullard and Murphy in midfield and the potent Andy Johnson upfront.
When you see the appointments of Paul Ince, Gianfranco Zola and Tony Adams at established Premiership clubs, like Blackburn, West Ham and Portsmouth, it’s no surprise to see them struggle. They don’t have the twenty years of experience that Hodgson does in football management. The chairmans of Premier League clubs need to realise that you can’t buy experience.
The vast improvement of Fulham this year has been a joy to watch and I hope they keep improving and prove that you don’t need to spend millions and millions to survive in this Premiership. And who knows maybe Europe could even be on the horizon!
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