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How Did Fulham Defy The Odds?

Respectful, commanding, hard-working and at times eccentric, Roy Hodgson in many ways has come to epitomize the stereotypical English manager.

He’s the plucky underdog, a modest man, and can command enough authority to march million pound players up and down the side of a German motorway (a scenario which isn’t to dissimilar to Brian Clough’s improvised training session with Peter Shilton on a Madrid roundabout).

But how has he, with Fulham – ostensibly a stereotypical old English club, created a side capable of taking down European giants?

In the end, what it really comes down to is hard work; it sounds cliché but it’s true. Under Hodgson, the players are continuously drilled throughout training sessions. Scenario after scenario is reenacted by eleven men both with and without the ball. Some are even pulled directly from the previous weekend’s game.

The key is organisation; teammates knowing their positions and knowing where their teammates are likely to be. In the away games against Shaktar Donetsk and against Hamburg it was clear how Fulham had been drilled to sustain a back line of four with the four midfielders quickly pressing just in front to minimize the oppositions attacking space. Despite being technically superior, without space, the Germans and Ukrainians struggled to create chances.



Hodgson is also sensitively aware of how far he can push his players before turning them into robots. He acutely understands the self-destructive effects of ‘doing things to death’. When he was in his twenties, he would have witnessed the debilitating side-effect attributing to the downfall of Helenio Herrera’s cantenaccio Inter Milan.

In fact, in some respects this represents a real break from English manager tradition (depending on how far back you’re willing to look to define a ‘tradition’). Managers of old spent much more time concentrating on fitness and technique and confined tactics to the blackboard rather than the pitch. Players hardly spent any time at all with the ball, as the managers of yore reasoned that players wouldn’t be thirsty for the ball on match days if they were allowed it during training.

Of course, things have changed drastically since the early days of football, and it seems Hodgson is prepared to change with them. The Fulham manager, in quite eccentric fashion, has even become one of the first managers to install training cycles at pitch side for warm-ups.

Hodgson has also fully implemented, to remarkable success, the ‘inverted wingers’ system [Click Here]. Simon Davies runs from the left as a righty, and Damien Duff shuttles the right as a lefty. The inverse is utilized to condense the play which, in turn, makes it much easier for Fulham to press their opponent. And, as I noted in the ‘inverted wingers’ article, both wingers are supplemented well by a hard-working strike force. Furthermore, in comparison to City’s system, both Duff and Davies are not averse to dropping deep, either to help out the full-backs or to tuck inside to bolster the central midfield, making the team much more solid.

With a classic ‘creator and destroyer’ combination in midfield, the key to the entire outfit is the ‘creator’ Danny Murphy, the man who is irrefutably the catalyst for the Fulham attack. His range of passing is inexorably precise, whether it be a ball to the wings or down the centre for Bobby Zamora – a traditional English forward – to bring down, and in a couple of passes Fulham can quickly change defence into attack.

Don’t mistake the Cottagers directness for a team bound to a counter-attacking style, however (though they are likely to line-up as such against Athletico); the exquisite second half demonstration in the second leg against Hamburg exemplified that Fulham are more than capable of pressing high up the pitch to retrieve possession quickly in a disciplined and robust and, moreover, typically English manner.

So it seems that Hodgson hasn’t exactly left tradition in his wake, yet nor has he remained conservative in his approach. In honesty, he’s a fusion of the two, thoughtfully synthesizing all of his knowledge of football into a highly successful system with limited means at his disposal. Whatever the score tonight, south west London will have a hangover to remember and Hodgson and his players can be immensely proud of their achievements.

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