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Martin Jol masterminding a quiet revolution

last updated Saturday 24th March 2012, 9:02 AM

Fulham manager Martin Jol
Fulham manager
Martin Jol
Martin Jol
Craven Cottage reeks of history. The timeline of the site of Fulham's Thames-side ground suggests that Anne Boleyn once hunted here before renowned football stadium architect Archibald Leitch built the now listed Johnny Haynes Stand and the iconic Cottage Pavilion during the reign of Edward VII.

But brush away the metaphorical cobwebs and a bright future is revealed.

A planning application has been lodged for the redevelopment of the Riverside Stand with the aim of increasing the venue's capacity to 30,000. And Karim Fayed, son of club owner Mohamed Al Fayed, was recently appointed vice-chairman in a move that suggests the family view their stewardship of Fulham as a long-term proposition.

On the pitch, meanwhile, manager Martin Jol is masterminding a quiet revolution aimed at expunging an ethos based entirely on survival in the Premier League and replacing it with a creed of wanting to compete against the very best.

Nearly 10 months into the job, and on Monday facing one of the biggest tests in domestic football, a Premier League game at Manchester United, this is a good time for Jol to assess the progress of his stated mission to sink new foundations to support a more sustainable, and successful, playing structure.

"Overall, I am a happy customer," said Jol. The big Dutchman's grasp of English colloquialism may not be as strong as his knowledge of the game but he knows enough of the language to make his views, and ambitions, clearly understood.

"We are doing okay, if we are being realistic," the former Tottenham and Ajax manager went on. "But, if you want to do fantastic things, we still need two or three little pieces of the puzzle to make it perfect. That is what I am trying to do. I want to create a team that can do better than Fulham have done over the past decade."

His wish could come true this season. Fulham are 12th in the table on 36 points, 17 shy of their record haul achieved under Roy Hodgson in 2008-09 when the club also finished seventh - their highest placing. There are nine games left this term, so Jol could create his own club history at the first time of asking. Such an achievement is unlikely, however, if his side continue to fail as they did at home against Swansea City last weekend.

Reflecting on that disappointment, in which Fulham were easily beaten at their own passing game by Brendan Rodgers's well-drilled team, Jol said: "If you have five or six new players you always have to wait to see if they can adapt to your culture, to Fulham's culture.

"Sometimes you take a step forward with your style and sometimes you take a step back, like we probably did against Swansea."

Jol refused to offer the excuse that Fulham's Europa League adventure, which began at the end of June, meant his squad had endured 46 competitive matches to Swansea's 32. But the immediate demands of that summer programme meant Jol did have to delay the imposition of his own style.

"There had to be some compromise," he said. "We had to go back to the system and to the style of play we knew with the players we had."

Initially, Jol also had to contend without Clint Dempsey or Mousa Dembele, both of whom were unavailable for Fulham's opening Europa League fixtures. Over-reliance on Dembele's silky skills and Dempsey's eye for goal, so vital in the Premier League just before and after Christmas when Fulham climbed clear of the relegation scrap, is something Jol is determined to avoid.

He said: "My ideal is that I want Fulham to rely on the culture and not on individuals. If Danny Murphy, Clint Dempsey or Mousa Dembele, for example, miss a game, we have to change our style. But if the culture of play is strong enough, you don't rely on one or two players. Everybody knows the culture, so other people can step in."

Among those 'other people' are experienced imports like Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak and former Real Madrid star Mahamadou Diarra, both of whom were eager to grab the career lifelines thrown by canny Jol.

The manager stressed he wants to keep his best players. Yet the January departure of Bobby Zamora to Queens Park Rangers suggests Jol will sell if the right offer is lodged, with a proportion of any income being invested in the production line of youthful talent he has already established at London's oldest professional club.

Omri Altman, Muamer Tankovic and Mesca Na Bangna hardly trip off the tongue but if Jol's instinct for star quality is right, then one day you may well hear the youngsters' names being chanted by the Cottage faithful.

"You need a vision, a philosophy," said Jol. "Our chairman has been unbelievable in putting so much money into the club and, of course, he will help us again if it is necessary. But for a club like Fulham it is not only about survival, it is about the future as well.

"The chairman has invested more than £200million into this club and I want to help him with his aim of self-sufficiency. I want to pay something back by bringing through young players that don't cost millions."

And then? Jol said: "I was at Ajax, Hamburg and Spurs, and some people might say this club is not as big. But in terms of our facilities, the working environment and our chairman, we have a top-six mentality. I want to play for Europe every year, like I used to."

Source David Smith at Evening Standard
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