Gaffer deserves all the credit
Fulham's players say manager Roy Hodgson deserves all the credit for the west London club's appearance in Wednesday's Europa League final against Atletico Madrid.
His fellow coaches have already recognized his work in turning Fulham from a near-certainty for relegation to a European finalist in just two years by voting the 62-year-old Hodgson England's manager of the year.
But a campaign highlighted by wins over Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk, Wolfsburg and Hamburg is only the latest remarkable feat in a coaching career that has included jobs in seven countries and stints in charge of three national teams.
Arguably the most unlikely aspect of Hodgson's career is that it has taken so long for him to enjoy success and get recognition in his native England.
"In Europe, he's been the best manager I've been able to work with," American forward Clint Dempsey said. "I'd have to say, the most successful manager I've been under and the most successful time would have to be here with Roy."
A gifted polyglot renowned for improving players' technique and discipline, Hodgson's most recent experience in England before Fulham hired him in December 2007 was being fired by Blackburn nine years earlier.
The suspicion with which many fans greeted his appointment heightened when Fulham failed to win any of his first seven matches. But the club won its last three games to avoid relegation from the Premier League and last season qualified for Europe by finishing in a record-high seventh place.
Joined by Norway defender Brede Hangeland, whom Hodgson signed from FC Copenhagen, and Ireland winger Damien Duff, largely unheralded players including Dempsey, Nigeria's Dickson Etuhu, and Wales' Simon Davies have coalesced into a tight, fluid, well-regimented side.
Hangeland, who extended his contract with Fulham despite reported interest from sides including Arsenal, said the turnaround was entirely down to the work Hodgson puts in at the training ground.
"He really sticks to his philosophy and he's just 100 percent professional," Hangeland said. "He does all the work with the team himself. He doesn't tell others what to do. I think he works really hard, really professional and all the players buy into that and that's why it works."
"He's improved my game a lot," Etuhu said. "He's just simplified it and made it so easy. It's so easy for me right now, I'm enjoying it a lot. I relish playing against the best players and I enjoy it. I don't feel I'm out of my depth anytime because he's coached me the right way and shown me what I'm good at.
"I stick to what I'm good at and I can't have anything but praise for him. And a lot of the players will say the same."
Fulham captain Danny Murphy said the discipline and defensive solidity the former Inter Milan coach had instilled in the side was typical of Italian football.
"Roy doesn't like all the plaudits but he has deserved them because he has turned the club around," Murphy said. "It has been a classic Italian mentality."
Aside from that stint with Inter, Hodgson has largely spent his career drawing hitherto unexpected levels of performance from unfavored teams.
Switzerland was briefly ranked third in FIFA's world rankings during his tenure and he took the Alpine nation to the second round of the 1994 World Cup. He won the Swedish league with tiny Halmstads, an achievement he called the greatest of his career, and took Finland to the brink of qualification for the 2008 European Championship.
The downside to Fulham's success is that Hodgson is again in demand, with Liverpool among the clubs to have been linked with him.
"We're not worrying about it," Dempsey said. "I think it's something for everyone else to worry about. What we're going to worry about is finishing the season strong, trying to win a major trophy and during the summer those things will be decided.
"Why worry over something you have no control over? What will be will be." - AP
Published May 11 2010