City play Fulham tomorrow afternoon. After last week’s excellent win at Arsenal, City will look to build on that momentum and keep the pressure on United at the top of the table with a win against Fulham. Ahead of the game I chatted to Fulham fan / blogger Kris Balkin to get inside the opposition. As well as being the Editor of Fulham blog Cottagers Confidential Kris owns the football blog The Technical Area.
How do you assess Fulham’s season so far?
It’s been decent but I think we’ve all expected a little better from the team and from Martin Jol. We started really brightly and have seemingly petered out since November – and it’s really frustrating. The loss of Moussa Dembele hit us really hard and we haven’t been able to control games like we used to.
There’s a lot of room for improvement in both how we’re playing and in terms of personnel. With two or three good moves in this January window we could make giant leaps in the right direction but, otherwise, I think we will stagnate.
What would constitute a good season for Fulham?
Anywhere in and around mid-table would satisfy the majority of fans, given our shaky campaign so far. We’ve finished inside the top ten in the last two seasons and we’d do tremendously well to do so again. I don’t think we’ll reach those highs this season, though, and ending up in or around 12th place sounds about right. That would not disappoint me at all – as long as we use this as a year to build up our resources and make some genuinely positive strides in the future.
Who has been your best player this season?
Far and away, Dimitar Berbatov. Yes he looks lazy (more on that later) but he is just so talented and influential that, without him, I really do feel we’d be worrying about relegation right now. He can turn a game on its head in one audacious move and you need that sometimes.
Are there any players that we should keep an eye on that are not well known outside of the club?
Kerim Frei doesn’t even get the attention from within the club that he probably deserves. Admittedly, I seem more drawn to flair players than most but he’s a winger with a low centre of gravity, brilliant ball control and a great skill set. He often comes on towards the end of games – usually if behind or level – and makes a habit of running at full backs, turning inside and just generally being a nuisance. He’s lacking a final touch and a little bit of awareness of what’s going on behind him but he’s such a threatening player. Keep an eye on him!
Dimitar Berbatov was a bargain acquisition in the summer but opinion is divided on him. Some regard him as a genius; others see him as lazy and something of a prima donna. What do you think of him?
As you’ve probably guessed by now, I rate him hugely. There have been plenty of occasion where we’ve been behind and witnessed him just strolling atop the pitch, not particularly helping the team. That, admittedly, can be infuriating. But it’s Dimitar Berbatov and you know that, within minutes, he could do something severely special and turn the game back in your favour.
He comes across as arrogant which is a given but I would argue that he’s not as lazy as some like to make out. He covers a lot of ground for someone so chastised for not bothering and he’s consistently helping the defence out in times of trouble. I’d say he’s a changed man.
Martin Jol is a well-respected manager, particularly at Spurs. How do you rate the job he is doing at Fulham?
He’s taking a little bit of flack right now, understandably, but he just oozes experience and I don’t think there’s anyone better suited to the role at Fulham. He encourages a nice style of football and he’s bringing in the calibre of player to do so – Bryan Ruiz, Berbatov.
There are some concerns, of course, such as his knack for falling out with players. Add John Arne Riise to the ever growing list and it gets you wondering just how stable that dressing room really is.
Regardless, any man who can attract Berbie to Fulham is a genius in my eyes.
If you could take one City player to Fulham who would it be and why?
David Silva. This is just the sort of player we need right now, after losing Dembele. I wouldn’t say the two are similar players but we lack creativity and when Ruiz is injured – and this is quite a regular occurrence – we simply have no influential midfield players at all. He’d fit in well with how we play, too, I feel, so why don’t we just wrap up the deal before Saturday and we can see how it goes?
City’s wealth means that a lot of football supporters dislike us. What’s your opinion on us?
I have no particular dislike for you guys – in fact, I think it’s wonderful that a team has broken up the monotonous top four of Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal. Those days have very much gone now and you chaps deserve a lot of credit for that. It doesn’t mean we’re not jealous, though. We have a rich owner in Mohammed Al Fayed, too, but he runs a much tighter ship. I think it’s interesting, and admirable, that we’re on your side on the Premier League FFP proposals.
Mark Hughes is not regarded highly amongst the majority of City fans. He famously left Fulham citing a lack of ambition at the club. What do you think of him?
Not much. It was all well and good when he arrived – though he wasn’t even first choice! – but cracks soon appeared. He was arrogant, and I think it came across quite regularly, and it’s still rumoured that he instructed a Fulham player to get sent off on the final day of the 2010/11 season so that we wouldn’t enter Europe via the Fair Play League. That smarts.
But it was of course his comments on leaving that caused the most dissatisfaction. It spoke volumes that, after suggesting we lacked ambition, we employed a reputable manager in Martin Jol and he wandered off to Queens Park Rangers, spent a whole load of money, and got sacked. Just desserts.
1-0 City. I hope not, of course, but I think you’ll prevail.