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Wishing upon a star

26 September 2012

Dimitar Berbatov shouldn’t be at Fulham. He has played at Bayer Leverkusen, Spurs and Manchester United. He very well *should* still be playing at United, or have moved on to Fiorentina or Juventus, two other pursuers with more cachet.

Yet, there he was, resplendent in Fulham’s handsome “third” kit (the one they wore in a Premiership match before their designated orange change strip. Merchandising, for the win) dashing around the pitch at the DW Stadium, serving up a delightful cross for the opener and generally spearheading a rare-and-satisfying Fulham away victory. Two starts, two wins, two goals and one peach of an assist, and Fulham fans have every reason to be in love with the new No. 9. For a club ransacked at the transfer deadline of their midfield guile, Berbatov provides hope. Every time he’s on the pitch. Every time he touches the ball. Something good probably will happen. Something magical may happen.

This is not quite to the level of the LeBron-fueled Cavs or the David Robinson-led Navy team that made the Elite Eight in the late 1980s. The former had (very arguably) the best player in the world, while the latter’s supporting cast was nowhere near the level of Fulham’s veteran assemblage. Still, even if Berbatov isn’t quite at his peak, he’s still world-class, still a star, still able to do things on the pitch that most pros cannot. Fulham very rarely has stars, and that’s what makes this rooting experience a new one to those relatively new to the club.

Simply put, Berbatov gives Fulham relevance. Talking heads can’t stop bloviating about his class or what a steal his transfer price was or why Sir Alex pushed him out the door. He’s the focal point, almost lazily so, of any preview and most other stories about Fulham. He also brings casual coolness to a side that’s generally regarded as harmless and vanilla. When Wigan keeper Ali Al Habsi made an excellent save to deny Berbatov what looked like a certain goal, the look on Berba’s face was priceless. It was as if a martini bar waitress had just turned down his offer of dinner. He looked perplexed, amused and disgusted at the same time … and still very cool.

Where Berbatov is similar to LeBron and David Robinson and any other one-star team is that he makes mostly anything seem possible, whether it be during a match or in the bigger picture. Down a goal? We have Berba, so we have hope. Season aspirations? Fulham aren’t going to qualify for the Champions League, but can they pip seventh and a Europe League invite? How about an FA Cup run to Wembley? Will his presence make the team more inviting in the January transfer window, where a creative midfield type looks at how Berbatov creates space and chances for his teammates in addition to potting goals and decides he wants to run this show?

Berbatov is a player who elevates everyone, like a post man who commands a double-team or a pass-first point guard who can’t be kept out of the lane. That cannot be overstated in evaluating just what Fulham will be this season, and what they possibly can be beyond that. It also has salvaged this campaign from a rooting standpoint. A few weeks ago, as the deadline window slammed shut with Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey on the other side, this season seemed to be one of transition, with nary a hope of actually competing for anything great. The four months until January, when hope is often hopelessly overpriced, seemed too long to bridge for a patchwork side with no creativity.

Enter Berba, who gave a taste of his ability in the second half of the fiasco at Upton Park and hasn’t stopped shining since, even as a de facto No. 10 who’s also responsible for acting as a pass outlet, spraying balls around to the wings, and tracking back defensively. The all-around game probably won’t continue in this amount of fullness (especially as other options get healthy), but it’s a sign of Berbatov’s commitment to a club that stars don’t commit to. Credit Martin Jol for working the relationship, ownership for signing off on whatever his weekly salary is, and for Berbatov himself to treat his first two and a half games as if he is still playing for a world-class side.

Maybe this will be the only season for Berbatov at Craven Cottage; I believe his deal has an option for next season, but equally likely is a wink-wink understanding that if a choice club comes for him, Fulham will sell and profit. If it is, I’m going to enjoy every moment of it. It’s rare when magic falls into your lap. For Fulham fans, every Saturday now gives you an additional reason to smile, and a new reason to dream.

Fulham 3, West Brom 0: Talkin’ about a revolution

16 September 2012

When last we left this trusty blog, I was gnashing teeth aplenty over the state of Fulham’s central midfield in the wake of a poorly executed late transfer window and an execrable effort at bogey side West Ham a fortnight ago. The fears of Friday night, August 31, spilled into Saturday morning, September 1, vividly, with an ascendant club suddenly looking older, deeper in transition and quite vulnerable on the wrong day.

Perhaps it was premature to draw *too many* conclusions off what was a terrible effort mere hours after an emotional and draining transfer window closed. And it’s certainly too early to assume yesterday’s passing masterclass is how things will be, especially since Fulham are always night-and-day home and away anyway. That said, I was extremely intrigued by what I saw yesterday, more than even encouraged. Encouragement will take repeat performances, but in two weeks, Martin Jol seems to have figured out a couple things that were wrong, and that’s a great sign.

When Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey were still in Fulham white, the side often played a very lopsided formation. Dempsey always played very narrow on the left and everything sloped from back left (John Arena Riise galloping alone up and down the left flank) to the front right (where the target striker usually drifted to interplay with Damien Duff, leaving a gap into which Dempsey loved to gallop). A lot of play also came through the central channel, with Danny Murphy picking out short passes and Dembele advancing via the dribble. When it worked, it looked pretty, but often, Fulham’s players ended too bunched and we’re not Barcelona. Forays petered out at the 18.

The narrowness issue was one of the major problems against West Ham, but Fulham also had an awful performance from Steve Sidwell compounding things. Kieran Richardson pinched in repeatedly and didn’t track back well enough, leaving Riise often to deal with multiple threats on the flank. Fulham’s midfield couldn’t connect with either the back four or the front runners. The whole thing was just disjointed.

Yesterday, three major things happened that changed the look and emboldened Fulham’s offensive approach, even with a lineup that was missing Bryan Ruiz, Mladen Petric and Diarra, with a very conservative central mid pairing of Sidwell and jack-of-all-trades Chris Baird shielding the back four.

First off, Jol went back to Alex Kacaniklic on the left, and his more traditional wing play (at least in terms of width and attacking off the dribble) were a welcome addition. Kacaniklic is rapidly showing that he should be a regular feature in the Starting XI. His runs are not always fruitful, but when they are, they create very dangerous scoring chances (see the first two goals). He combines very well with Riise and also tracks back well defensively, as needed.

Combine that with the unexpected sight of Sascha Riether rampaging up and down the right in combination with a clearly in-the-mood Duff, and suddenly Fulham’s entire modus operandi, at least for one match, was totally flipped. Yesterday, Fulham was a completely balanced, outside-first team. Even when the ball did circulate centrally, whether with the deep-lying mids or when it found Dimitar Berbatov as he dropped into the No. 10 hole, it consistently ended up wide again, and Fulham spent most of the match taking on West Brom’s fullbacks and spooning crosses into the box. In an additional change, given Fulham lacks aerial presence, the crosses were almost always *in front* of West Brom’s back four. It made me daydream for a second about Clint Dempsey pouncing from late runs into the box.

The third development was that the Sidwell-Baird partnership, at least for one week, at least against a WBA side that didn’t show much attacking intent prior to Peter Odemwingie’s stupid and cynical red card, worked. Like, really worked. I wrote last week that Diarra couldn’t be the more creative presence in a midfield with Sidwell, but for a day, Sidwell definitely could be the more creative guy paired with the quietly effective Baird. Sidwell’s tidy play then fed into his defensive responsibilities and he was just much, much better all over the field. Excellent performance.

This match started what could be a season-defining stretch for Fulham. Their next three away matches are against Wigan, Reading and Southampton. They have some home matches they can get some points from. They barely have to leave the London area over the next two months. This is a time for entrenchment and initiative, to settle the fears of supporters and leave the club in a relative position of strength entering the January window. For one match, they did just that. With Bryan Ruiz, Petric, Kerim Frei and (assumedly) Diarra back to health soon, Jol will have options. What he does with them — and how different they need to be week to week — will be very interesting to watch.

Fulham 3, West Brom 0: Talkin’ about a revolution

16 September 2012

When last we left this trusty blog, I was gnashing teeth aplenty over the state of Fulham’s central midfield in the wake of a poorly executed late transfer window and an execrable effort at bogey side West Ham a fortnight ago. The fears of Friday night, August 31, spilled into Saturday morning, September 1, vividly, with an ascendant club suddenly looking older, deeper in transition and quite vulnerable on the wrong day.

Perhaps it was premature to draw *too many* conclusions off what was a terrible effort mere hours after an emotional and draining transfer window closed. And it’s certainly too early to assume yesterday’s passing masterclass is how things will be, especially since Fulham are always night-and-day home and away anyway. That said, I was extremely intrigued by what I saw yesterday, more than even encouraged. Encouragement will take repeat performances, but in two weeks, Martin Jol seems to have figured out a couple things that were wrong, and that’s a great sign.

When Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey were still in Fulham white, the side often played a very lopsided formation. Dempsey always played very narrow on the left and everything sloped from back left (John Arena Riise galloping alone up and down the left flank) to the front right (where the target striker usually drifted to interplay with Damien Duff, leaving a gap into which Dempsey loved to gallop). A lot of play also came through the central channel, with Danny Murphy picking out short passes and Dembele advancing via the dribble. When it worked, it looked pretty, but often, Fulham’s players ended too bunched and we’re not Barcelona. Forays petered out at the 18.

The narrowness issue was one of the major problems against West Ham, but Fulham also had an awful performance from Steve Sidwell compounding things. Kieran Richardson pinched in repeatedly and didn’t track back well enough, leaving Riise often to deal with multiple threats on the flank. Fulham’s midfield couldn’t connect with either the back four or the front runners. The whole thing was just disjointed.

Yesterday, three major things happened that changed the look and emboldened Fulham’s offensive approach, even with a lineup that was missing Bryan Ruiz, Mladen Petric and Diarra, with a very conservative central mid pairing of Sidwell and jack-of-all-trades Chris Baird shielding the back four.

First off, Jol went back to Alex Kacaniklic on the left, and his more traditional wing play (at least in terms of width and attacking off the dribble) were a welcome addition. Kacaniklic is rapidly showing that he should be a regular feature in the Starting XI. His runs are not always fruitful, but when they are, they create very dangerous scoring chances (see the first two goals). He combines very well with Riise and also tracks back well defensively, as needed.

Combine that with the unexpected sight of Sascha Riether rampaging up and down the right in combination with a clearly in-the-mood Duff, and suddenly Fulham’s entire modus operandi, at least for one match, was totally flipped. Yesterday, Fulham was a completely balanced, outside-first team. Even when the ball did circulate centrally, whether with the deep-lying mids or when it found Dimitar Berbatov as he dropped into the No. 10 hole, it consistently ended up wide again, and Fulham spent most of the match taking on West Brom’s fullbacks and spooning crosses into the box. In an additional change, given Fulham lacks aerial presence, the crosses were almost always *in front* of West Brom’s back four. It made me daydream for a second about Clint Dempsey pouncing from late runs into the box.

The third development was that the Sidwell-Baird partnership, at least for one week, at least against a WBA side that didn’t show much attacking intent prior to Peter Odemwingie’s stupid and cynical red card, worked. Like, really worked. I wrote last week that Diarra couldn’t be the more creative presence in a midfield with Sidwell, but for a day, Sidwell definitely could be the more creative guy paired with the quietly effective Baird. Sidwell’s tidy play then fed into his defensive responsibilities and he was just much, much better all over the field. Excellent performance.

This match started what could be a season-defining stretch for Fulham. Their next three away matches are against Wigan, Reading and Southampton. They have some home matches they can get some points from. They barely have to leave the London area over the next two months. This is a time for entrenchment and initiative, to settle the fears of supporters and leave the club in a relative position of strength entering the January window. For one match, they did just that. With Bryan Ruiz, Petric, Kerim Frei and (assumedly) Diarra back to health soon, Jol will have options. What he does with them — and how different they need to be week to week — will be very interesting to watch.

D) All of the above

01 September 2012

The temptation in the immediate aftermath of a truly dire performance is to take one of two extreme positions: Either the team just had “one of those days” or the fear of a woeful midfield has manifested itself in HD clarity. What happened to Fulham this morning, though — from the first minute of the match — requires more nuance, because those issues, and ones caused by those issues, are not mutually exclusive.

It’s been a very long week at the club. Transfer speculation mounted, modest injury woes grew, a third away match in a week loomed at a stadium Fulham never plays well in, and the end result was as predictable as Fulham’s play. A starting lineup shorn of its two most skilled midfielders, and with multiple other skill players missing or limited, was completely overmatched. More frustratingly, it was completely accepting of its fate. Fulham committed five fouls in the entire match as they were outrun and overpowered on the ground and, repeatedly and with devastating effect, in the air.

The fears about a Diarra-Sidwell midfield, as noted in last night’s blog entry, seem founded, regardless of other positional issues around it. Diarra cannot be the more creative passer in a central midfield and Sidwell is not a Premiership-quality starter at this point. The pair spent the first half of the match overreacting positionally, first leaving enormous gaps in front of the back four (the root cause of the first goal, which came directly off a long header off a Mark Schwarzer clearance), and then retreating so far to help a struggling defense that acres of space were available in front of them (see: Goal No. 3). The result was a complete disconnect. The back four didn’t have a consistent conduit to relieve pressure, and when they did, there was no way for the next ball to connect with our front four. Too much space, too little size and physicality to win and retain possession and hold long enough for the gaps to close. It was a disaster.

What that complete midfield capitulation did was expose burgeoning weaknesses elsewhere. Brede Hangeland, perhaps unsettled by his own contract situation or maybe he’s just losing a step, had his second very shaky game in a row, getting punished repeatedly in the air by Andy Carroll. John Arne Riise was constantly left exposed by Kieran Richardson’s narrowness and lack of cover, so he had to retreat and give space constantly. Sascha Riether has regressed from game to game defensively and provides zero threat moving forward. To compound things, Schwarzer was significantly to blame for a goal conceded for the second week in a row, and his reaction times on several plays (including the first two goals) were shockingly poor.

So yes, it was a bad day at the office and somewhat understandable. It’s not like this is the first bad Fulham road performance we’ve ever seen. This kind of match will happen occasionally. Insert whatever other cliche you want here. On the plus side, Dimitar Berbatov showed tons of class in his 45 minutes, and his presence seemed to elevate a pedestrian-so-far Hugo Rodellega. When Bryan Ruiz, newcomer Ashkan Dejagah and Kerim Frei are available (and Jol sticks with Alex Kacaniklic, too), the side will have more skill and craft on the ball, which may help relieve the pressures on Diarra and whomever else plays centrally, which should then help the creaking back four find better footing.

All that said, there’s a problem, which I broached in worryingly prescient detail last night. Fulham badly whiffed in its efforts to reinforce its central midfield before the transfer window closed last night. Anyone who’s watched the club longer than a week knew this was a looming problem that needed to be fixed, and it wasn’t. Now it’s on Martin Jol to figure this out. Whether trying new players, new formations or new tactics, something has to give. Today, the thing that gave was the center of Fulham’s formation, and the worst part about it was everyone saw it coming.

Transfer deadline day takeaway: Stay healthy, Mahamadou

31 August 2012

The phrase “leaving it late” typically refers to a team scoring deep into a match to secure victory, but twice a year in the Premier League, it becomes the unofficial mantra for clubs looking to reinforce at the transfer window deadline. It’s said that deals aren’t made until someone’s up against a deadline, and at no time is that truer than the final day of every August and January, where breathless speculation leads to both breakneck dealmaking and abrupt dream-dashing.

Today’s deadline day was atypical in that little ol’ Fulham was one of the clubs making noise. From the morning conclusion of Dimitar Berbatov’s signing to the final stage of Clint Dempsey’s saga to numerous sexy names from the continent being linked to the club, Twitter and TV spent an abnormal amount of the day discussing the Cottagers. At one point, it looked like Fulham would be completely reloaded and improved despite losing two of their best players. In the end, after multiple deals fell through at the last minute, there was disappointment. Fulham *should* still be pretty solid, but the failure to shore up the central midfield area could haunt the club over the next four months, as could the missed opportunity to take a real run at a spot in Europe for next season.

First, the good. In the space of eight months, Martin Jol managed to turn a strikeforce of Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson into Berbatov, Mladen Petric and Huge Rodellega while pocketing a net of three million pounds in transfer fees. That’s a huge upgrade, regardless of whether Berbatov’s weekly wages cut into that profit (and my sense is that media reports are way off on his contract). The club also managed to grab north of 20 million pounds of Spurs’ money from the sales of Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey (if you believe Spurs paid 6 million for Clint; earlier reports of agreed-upon deals with Aston Villa and Liverpool may have been overstated). Four million of that yielded multifaceted left-side player Kieran Richardson and German/Iranian winger Ashkan Dejagah, and even with the four tossed in for Berbatov, Fulham are sitting on a large cash surplus should they need to do something in January’s window.

Therein lies the bad part of today. Fulham may (badly) need to enter the midseason market after whiffing on a long list of possible central midfield targets. After seeing Danny Murphy, Dickson Etuhu, Dembele and Dempsey all leave the club this summer, Fulham ended up importing no one who’s primarily suited to play in the center of the park. That leaves Mahamadou Diarra and Steve Sidwell as likely first choices should the club lineup up with a pair in front of the back four, with the hope that the Chris Bairds and Patjim Kasamis of the world can provide adequate cover.

At best, it seems obvious that the club failed in its objective to strengthen this position. At worst, it could become a disaster, especially if Diarra picks up a significant injury before January. The club can spin this all it wants, but with Fulham adding two solid wingers and a world-class striker to go with skilled players like Petric and Bryan Ruiz, not addressing the hole in the middle of the park is like buying a high-end sports car and then having a four-cylinder engine installed. Fulham doesn’t appear have enough class and/or experience there to consistently connect with what should be a crafty and formidable front four.

It begs the question as to whether a formational shift is in store. Could Martin Jol start experimenting with a 4-1-3-2 with only Diarra shielding the back four? Or a 4-3-3, utilizing the bounty of wide players now available while minimizing the need for two central mids? Or even a 3-5-2, with Senderos joining Hughes and Hangeland in the back, with Riise and Duff flanking them wide? That’s what they pay him good money to figure out, with one seemingly clear takeaway is that Ruiz (Jol’s pricey purchase last season) now has a lot of pressure on him to perform.

All of this tinkering will have to come after tomorrow’s early match at West Ham, one that seems surprisingly important for just the third match of the season. A win against the promoted side will leave Fulham feeling good, with six points and three solid performances out of the gate, and with two weeks (thanks to the upcoming international break) to sort out who goes where and who plays well with whom. A loss, especially if Fulham continues to look impotent away from home, will create many questions heading into the following fortnight. Berbatov should feature, but there are questions about the health of Petric and Ruiz, and Fulham could end up fielding a very pedestrian XI and see an opportunity to take a small step forward wasted, much like it was midweek at Sheffield Wednesday.

Rooting for a club like Fulham takes a certain amount of patience and self-awareness. There aren’t limitless funds and elite players either don’t come or quickly try to go. Under those rules, Fulham had itself a pretty solid transfer day. One top-shelf talent arrived and the club did pretty well selling off two expiring assets under time pressure. Add in the approval for the expansion of Craven Cottage and the future looks quite promising. I’ll have to remind myself of that each time I see our midfield sputter over the next four months.

A group befitting the Champions League

31 August 2012

Once again, City find themselves draw into the toughest UEFA Champions League group. This time around it is Group D, consisting entirely of the defending champions from La Liga (Real Madrid), the Premier League (Manchester City), the Dutch Eredivisie (Ajax), and the Bundesliga (Borussia Dortmund).

We knew City would be facing a big-time name from Pot 1, so it was just a question of whether it was someone like Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich, or whether it would be a comparably lesser side like AC Milan or Porto. Similarly, there wasn’t that much reaction when Ajax were draw from Pot 3 for the group, as Juventus and PSG were the two sexy names in that pot. It was only when the German title holders were drawn from Pot 4 that people began talking about this group as the Group of Death.

Dortmund really are the wild card here. They were poor last season in their first Champions League action since 2002/03, finishing dead last in their group with just four points. Dortmund did go on to win the Bundesliga for the second season running, holding off European finalists Bayern Munich in the process. However, they lost playmaker Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United this summer. If Dortmund can overcome that loss and improve dramatically on last season’s European performances, this really could be a Group of Death.

What this means for City is that instead of having an 80- or 90-percent chance of advancing to the knockout stages from a group with a typical Pot 4 side, Roberto Mancini’s men probably have more like a 60- to 70-percent chance of advancement. Ajax aren’t pushovers, but it’s reasonably to expect much less naïveté from City this time around. They have a Champions League campaign under their belts and Premier League winners medals. I don’t expect to see crumbling performances like what we saw at the Allianz Arena or the Stadio San Paulo last year.

Many City fans actually have welcomed the draw. City and Real Madrid have never faced each other in a competitive match, and those two matches might be the sexiest Champions League group stage matches of all time. For traveling fans, it doesn’t get much better than this. Kicking things off at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, then a trip to Amsterdam, before the final match day at the Signal Iduna Park (formerly the Westfalenstadion) in Dortmund — one of the greatest football venues on the planet.

So while City have been drawn into two very difficult groups, frankly these are the sorts of opponents their fans dreamed of seeing their club go up against all those years when they were on the outside looking in at United playing all those glorious European ties. I join them in saying, “Bring it on.” We think our club can beat anyone on the planet, so we’re looking forward to those European nights.

Chicken and donuts

31 August 2012

Hug it out

The last month and a half has taught Clint Dempsey the same lesson we normal working stiffs most likely have learned ad nauseum: The market tells you your true value. It doesn’t matter how good you think you are, or even how good you actually are. Time, place, budget and relationships all play a huge role in what someone is willing to pay you, and what someone is willing to pay you is what you are worth.

What the market has told Clint Dempsey is that no Premiership club in this tighter transfer market is all that interested in a 29-year-old with no truly defined position. Or one with a perceived attitude. Or maybe one who’s American. Or is asking for big money. Or maybe Fulham has sabotaged the process with outrageous sell prices. Whatever the reason(s), no one has wanted to ante up for the fourth-leading scorer in the league last season while his current club has had him on ice.

This game of chicken ends tomorrow, and how it resolves itself could determine myriad other moves around the league and how Fulham is set up for the next four months and well beyond.

In a press conference Thursday morning, Fulham manager Martin Jol acted the part of the poker player comfortable with position. In one moment, he said that Fulham remained very clear in what it wanted in a deal for Dempsey, and if they received that offer, they would sell. In other moments, he said he would be able to forgive Dempsey for this holdout/strike/suspension/icing and welcome him back into the fold. Then he went and epically trolled Liverpool, smiling and referring to them as “potentially a Champions League” side in mocking reference to Dempsey’s previously stated career goals and the distance the Liverpudlians are from that level at the moment.

At some point, though, some Premiership club is going to shove its Dempsey chips into the middle of the table and see what the other players do. Here appear to be the options:

Liverpool antes up
With Andy Carroll being loaned to West Ham and Liverpool missing on a couple other targets, the stage appears set for them to make one last legitimate push for Dempsey. The cash savings on the Carroll deal along with one or two other small sales should give Liverpool the cash to hit Fulham’s price. There were (nonsensical) rumors about a Jordan Henderson + cash deal, but unless Charlie Adam is coming the other way (and that might not solve Fulham’s current central midfield problem), the best bet is Fulham would want the cold, hard cash and allocate it elsewhere as needed. Liverpool is very striker thin after the mercurial Luis Suarez now. Will Brendan Rogers buckle? And will Fulham choose to work with Liverpool after the alleged Summer of Tap-Up helped cause this whole thing?

Arsene/Arsenal launch a stealth bid
There’s this team in London who’s actually in the Champions League (and has a joke for a group) and, um, has zero goals so far this season. Last I checked, that’s not good. Also last I checked, Dempsey knows how to score goals in this league and has the grit and balls that Arsenal’s current roster seems to lack. Could Arsene Wenger swallow hard and violate every one of his tried-and-true transfer strategies that have led to no silverware since 2005? Dempsey’s not really young, French or African, but he can score and he’s relatively cheap for a very profitable side who just raised a ton of money by selling Robin Van Persie and Alex Song. Dare they sneak in at the wire?

Clint settles for a move to the Northeast
A lot of people on Twitter are underestimating the possibilities at Sunderland. It’s not a sexy club, but with new, rich ownership, an almost-50,000 seat stadium, a very solid roster and a well-regarded manager who elevates clubs (while running his starting XI into the ground), the Black Cats surely could push for a spot in Europe this season with Dempsey and maybe one more move. Sure, Clint’s kids wouldn’t understand a word of the locals’ “English” and it’s not UCL (or even EL) this season, but you could do a lot worse for a post-breakup hookup. He’d get a decent contract, get a lot of playing time and say he played in a couple of Wear-Tyne derbies.

Clint swallows his pride and takes the best situation
It couldn’t happen, could it? I surely haven’t spoken to Clint personally, but every person who claims to have some access to him pretty much suggests that the bridges at Fulham have been 3rd-degree burned. To whatever degree Jol has been lying/covering for the ownership, it seems Clint feels like he has been unfairly thrown under the bus as Fulham spats it out with Liverpool. Is there any way he can put the emotion of the situation aside and assess what a return to Fulham would mean for him?

The current Fulham roster, assuming a couple of rumored signings happen, is like a donut: rich with flavor on the outside and completely, totally empty in the middle. There is room for Clint here. He can play some on the left. He can slide inside to play with/instead of Bryan Ruiz. He would have a lot of space and creative opportunities playing with strikers like Mladen Petric and Dimitar Berbatov.

He also knows that he has to play for the next four months if he has any hope of forcing a January transfer and/or signing a pre-contract for 2013 and beyond with a club of his choice. Or he could do the most unexpected of things and sign an extension with Fulham, accepting that this is the best he can do and locking up significant cash.

Tomorrow is a massive day for Fulham. Several more players will likely come in, and one major one may go. Someone is going to buckle tomorrow. Will it be Fulham? A suitor? Clint himself? We’ll find out soon enough, and then we’ll have our final answer as to what the market thinks of him. It’s not personal, Clint. It’s business.

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