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Chateau Craven Cottage

last updated Tuesday 17th October 2000, 8:50 AM
Normally it takes a decent French vintage at least a couple of years to mature. But down at Chateau Craven Cottage, Jean Tigana has managed to find the perfect blend in just a matter of weeks.

With 10 wins in their first 10 league games, Fulham have not only enjoyed a remarkable start to the season, but are already well on the way to booking their place in the Premiership with nearly a quarter of the season gone.

Under the guidance of the brilliant Tigana, Fulham are threatening to break a stack of records.

The run vindicates the decision made by the club's owner Mohamed al Fayed back in March to sack manager Paul Bracewell and bring in Tigana.

"We are like a steamroller and nobody can stop us now," Al Fayed said on Monday. "I had to pay a lot of money to bring in Tigana but he is the best. He is a hero and a champion.

"We still have fantastic players and the majority of the team have not changed, but Tigana gets so much more out of them."

The Harrods boss charged Tigana with building him a side that could win promotion to the Premiership, while at the same time creating a structure at the club that would ensure Fulham could stay there.

Al Fayed could not have picked a more conscientious man for the job. The former French international midfielder has worked tirelessly to overhaul the club and his employer is delighted with the results.

Rather than making wholesale changes to the playing staff, Tigana has altered the thinking behind the club. The players are treated as athletes and are expected to respond in the same way, choosing pasta and vitamins ahead of chips and lager.

Tigana, along with assistant Christian Damiano and fitness coach Roger Propos, has raised their fitness levels to new heights. Every one of the 32 professionals and 28 academy players has undergone blood tests, dental check-ups and fitness examinations. Experienced players report being down to the same weight they were as teenagers.

Tigana is meticulous in his approach to the game, spending more than 12 hours a day at the training ground in south London to ensure no detail is missed.

During long training sessions, he has encouraged his team to keep playing passing football, and with their added fitness they have so far proved unstoppable.

Not that Tigana is the slightest bit surprised. "Looking back on the season so far, it comes as no surprise to me that we are doing so well," he said.

"We have such good players in the squad who have worked very hard from the start of pre-season up until now. No one individual game has given me any more pleasure than another."

Behind the scenes Fulham are investing heavily in their youth programme, something Tigana believes is vital if the club is to be able to survive when it reaches the Premiership. Fulham are also planning to rebuild Craven Cottage, turning the crumbling old ground into a space-age 30,000-seater stadium.

The planning application has been made and Fulham are prepared to ground share for a season, probably with QPR, while the redevelopment is completed.

Before all that, however, Fulham have the chance to continue their winning streak on Wednesday against Crystal Palace - and Tigana is banking on another win.

"I like to win and if the team wins I am happy, whoever the opposition may be," he said. "I am very happy now, but I hope that I am still happy after 46 games."

Source sportlive by Mark Fleming

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