Fulham Preview

the-godfather-kiss-of-death

Let’s do it for Martin Jol.

You have to feel for the big Dutchman don’t you, when you think of him on that crisp, fateful morning, turning into the training ground and slamming on the brakes when he sees that the club’s directors cars are already there and Rene Muelensteen is parked in his space.

That great head slumps forward onto the steering wheel and Jol emits a low, doleful sigh, much like the death rattle of the punctured Narwhal he so resembles.

Because he knows.

He’s always known.

All that remains is for the hollow click-clack-click of his Ford C-Max’s indicator to beat a lonely tattoo, marking time on the last dying moments of Maarten Cornelis Jol’s proud reign at Fulham FC.

Also, briefly, while we are discussing the end of an era, you probably already know that the Liverpool Daily Post will cease to be next week. Everyone will have their own opinions on the Post, Trinity Mirror and how they have chosen to face the challenges of the digital age, but personally the paper simply means a lot because I wrote Everton stuff for them for years and will always be grateful to the sports editors, Len Capeling and Richard Williamson, for giving me the opportunity to do something that made an Everton-mad family very proud.

It also taught me a great deal about the nuts and bolts of ‘journalism’, such as how to talk about the same dull match four times in a week, and how busy sub-editors care not for your ‘art’, so if you are going to write a piece that builds up to a belting punchline in the final paragraph make sure you do not exceed your word limit even slightly because without a shadow of a doubt that’s the fucker that is getting lopped off.

Right, enough of that. Personal stuff, eeugh!

See that Bears game last night?

Looking forward to Saturday’s game, Meulensteen, a Dutchman who couldn’t look any more Mancunian if he worked in a unit under a railway arch and drank in the Monkey, brings a club that have never won at Goodison but a side, let’s not forget, that knocked the Blues out of the League Cup. Their league form has picked up since he took over from his countryman Jol, and their biggest dangerman, Dimitar Berbatov, apparently looks vaguely arsed again. Not that it will last.

Everton, for their part, have improved since the cup game at Craven Cottage – bear in mind we battered them in the first half, with a much rotated line-up – and after a couple of massive results come into the weekend as heavy favourites.

Unfortunately the Toffees will be without the suspended James McCarthy though and that’s a big loss. Outside of the club, much of the attention has been on the eye-catching Romelu Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu and of course Ross Barkley, but week by week matchgoing Blues’ admiration of McCarthy steadily grows. He’s a cracker and always has been, and what’s more there is still so much room for improvement as he still defers to his teammates a little bit at times. As his confidence grows though he will take charge more and has what it takes to be the main man at Goodison for years to come. And what better teacher could he have than the man playing next to him, Gareth Barry?

Everton will certainly lack McCarthy’s drive and pace in midfield against Fulham – Leon Osman will presumably replace him, and he brings his own set of skills – but hopefully the Blues will simply have too much all round for the Cottagers, and indeed have too much of the ball, for that to impact the result.

On a broader note, much is being made in the press lately of Roberto Martinez’s use of the loan market, especially since Arsene Wenger complained that the present system is unfair. He has a point to a certain degree, that clubs should not be allowed to prevent their loaned out players from featuring against them, and Everton would love to have Barry in the side, for instance, when we play Manchester City. Romelu Lukaku not facing Chelsea is less of an issue as we’ve demonstrated already this season that we can beat them simply by replacing him with another top international striker, Steven Naismith.

The problem with Wenger’s gripe is that even if formal agreements not to play against the ‘parent’ club were banned, there would be no way to prevent informal arrangements to the same effect.

‘We would like you to ensure that our player is rested sufficiently while he playing for you. The second week in January looks good. If he isn’t then we would have to strongly question whether we can trust you with our assets in future’.

You could even go a step further and wonder how motivated a player would be when facing the club that holds his registration if he’s had a phone call the night before reminding him that clubs who have qualified for the Champions League tend to be far more generous than those who haven’t when it comes to renegotiating new contracts.

Would you put it past any of them?

That quibble aside though, the loan system is brilliant, especially when you exploit it as astutely as Everton have this season. Anything that spreads the better quality players out a bit further and therefore makes the league more competitive is surely to be encouraged.

As for doubts about amorphous, antiquated concepts such as ‘stability’ and ‘building’, are the critics really suggesting that  Everton would be better off without Lukaku and Deulofeu because they are only going to be playing in royal blue for one or two seasons? Would we be more stable if, for instance, we paid £10 million for Stewart Downing and gave him a four year contract?

Is ‘owning’ Andy Carroll better than lending Lukaku?

As long as the players are committed while they are on what essentially amounts to a one-year deal -and the evidence is there for all to see with the three Everton have at the moment – then the rest, quite frankly, is just admin.

Ultimately the loan system, when used correctly, minimises risk and maximises opportunity for the clubs and the players alike, and the only people who suddenly seem to have a problem with it are those who are envious and perhaps even a little bit scared of how well it is working for Everton. And when it comes to stuff that is unfair in modern football, well, doing well out of loan deals is right down near the bottom of a very long, financially doped list.

And that’s how Sue ‘Cs’ it.

Yeah, Glee references at the end of 2013, what are you going to do about it?

It could have been worse, we could have run with the whole Meulensteen as Macbeth thing we were looking at, the payoff being ‘Andy Burnham would!’

You will have to agree, it’s for the best that we never.

Fulham And That

Just what is it about Martin Jol that instantly puts you in mind of a predatory prison cellmate? It’s hard to see those granite features on Match of the Day without imagining the screws tittering as they lead you to your two-man cell where Jol seems to make a point of ignoring your presence while peering intently through a magnifying glass at a particularly intricate section of antenna-work on his matchstick model of the space station, Mir.

You shuffle uncomfortably until eventually he looks up at you, one eye distorted grotesquely by the lens, and asks, ‘So, what do you think about space?’

He lays down the ground rules, which all seem fair enough, and essentially revolve around refraining from doing number twos in the bucket at night. ‘Not cool’.

After lights out though, as you huddle under your scratchy blanket and listen to the echoing menagerie noises begin to settle down, for the first time since you were sentenced you begin to drift towards something resembling sleep. And that’s when Martin’s bulk shifts above you and the springs of the mattress creak in relief as his mighty calves swing off the edge of the bunk.

The rest, well, as much as you try to blank it from your mind, you can’t shake the feel of his shovel hands smoothing down your hair and his whispering in your ear ‘Shush, everything’s going to be fine’, like when the vet put down the family Labrador.

He does though, doesn’t he. That’s exactly what he always makes you think of when you see him on Match of the Day.

Away from raping shoplifters, Jol is a jolly decent football manager and his recent comments, about how his present Fulham team deserve as much credit as Everton for the way they have started the season, seem pretty valid, especially when you consider that they lost Clint Dempsey, Moussa Dembélé and Pavel Pogrebnyak over the summer.

If any of those players left during the transfer window before, please don’t bother correcting us in the comments, as it was only when looking at Wikipedia just then that we learned that Kieran Richardson is at Fulham now as well as the quite cool little Greek midfielder Giorgos Karagounis. Ex-Blue and head of the Baker Street Irregulars, Simon Davies, is apparently still on their books as well.

Their most notable business of the summer though was obviously the £5 million signing of Dimitar Berbatov, a player who not that long ago was almost commanding ‘Andy Carroll money’ when moving from Tottenham to Manchester United.

There is a bit of an obsession with Berbatov throughout football, essentially because he is the archetype of the moody but boss foreigner who many of us remember from our childhood. The sort of fella that your dad would single out and say, ‘Watch him, son.’

In the modern game, nearly all players regardless of their nationality seem to originate from the same heart-monitored island with protein powder beaches where they do nothing but get Japanese tattoos and do sit-ups all day. Berbatov though, with his loping ‘I’ll be your dog’ bird-off-the-Kia-Ora-advert run, is the player that every talented but ultimately lazy get who had trials when he was young and was ‘well better than that Richard Edghill’ thinks he might have been if the coaches were not so stuck in their ways and only interested in ‘signing all the biggest kids’.

It really is one of football’s great contradictions that we constantly berate players for not running until they melt while at the same time the ones we wax lyrical about are very often right bone idle twats.

Anyway Everton, for their part, should be more or less at full strength for this game given that Steven Pienaar has served his suspension and Kevin Mirallas has recovered from the injury he sustained during the derby. After three successive draws it is time for the Blues to start winning, and although Fulham are excellent at home and lie a mere point behind in the table, there comes a point where you have to go to these places and demonstrate that you are indeed a serious team. After all, you can look at more or less every game in the Premier League, especially away from home, and declare it at the very least ‘tricky’.

The prize we are all eyeing is a Champions League place, the achievability of which for anyone outside of the usual candidates essentially boils down to one question: exactly how shit are Arsenal this year?

And every season the Gunners are expected to struggle, but then surprise everyone at the start so that journalists begin making them their dark horses for the title, until that is they go through quite a long patch of rough form where some of their fans start demanding Arsene Wenger’s head, before they finally get their act back together and end up finishing fourth with a little bit to spare.

There’s no real reason to think that it’s going to be any different this time around, leaving Everton, Tottenham, Fulham and the rest fighting for a place the Europa League – essentially the last cup of piss on a drifting lifeboat.

In the morning, Martin is up first and actually wakes you by smacking you on the side of the head with a rolled up Daily Express. ‘Hey sleepy head,’ he says, grinning. ‘It’s a beautiful day. Here, I got you a cup of tea and some toast.’

The sun is actually streaming in between the bars and you can’t help but notice that he has carefully arranged some freshly cut flowers in a jam jar up on the window sill. And for a fleeting moment you think ‘that’s a nice touch’.