Maarten Cornelis Jol, better known to us English folk as Martin Jol (or MJ), is a manager who is liked by many around the country (unless you are an Arsenal fan) for his honest and straight talking nature. He is one of those guys who you think ‘I wouldn’t mind him as our manager one day’ as well as thinking ‘I could easily go for a pint with him’. How fitting that he is now managing one of the least offensive teams in the Premier League, Fulham FC, who seem to be everyone’s unofficial second team or at least a team you don’t mind.
Despite Fulham spending 2 out of the last 3 seasons flirting with the upper echelons of the Premier League and also competing in the Europa League (Uefa Cup), MJ has admitted the Fulham job “is the most difficult it’s been for me as a manager” and as he ready’s his team for the home match with in-form Liverpool, things don’t look like getting any easier. Jol has already stated publically how he has inherited the ‘oldest squad in the Premier League’ and how it is a big task to start rebuilding a team that relies on older players like Danny Murphy and Mark Schwarzer.
Jol set about freshening up the squad in the summer, but unfortunately his recruits weren’t the type of names that Fulham fans would have been too enthralled with, unless you have a ‘Championship Manager’ knowledge of world football. To lower the average age Jol bought in 19-year-old 6ft 6ins centre-back Dan Burn, 23-year-old Czech midfielder Marcel Gecov, 19-year-old Swiss midfielder Pajtim Kasami and 23-year-old Portuguese forward Orland Sa. These unknown youngsters were supplemented by some more experienced players in the form of Costa-Rican international Bryan Ruiz, former Czech international Zdeněk Grygera, ex-Liverpool full-back John Arne Riise and Hungarian keeper Csaba Somogyi.
Whilst looking though these additions, you would be excused for thinking that the quality of the players bought in has done very little to make Jol’s ‘toughest job ever’ any easier. So far this season none of these players, with the exception of John Arne Riise, have made any significant impact on the Fulham side. Bryan Ruiz, Fulham’s big summer signing, has struggled to adapt to life in the Premier League so far, although it is still very early days for the Costa-Rican. Despite the likability of Jol’s pedigree, his summer signings have looked poor in the main, although judgment cannot be fully passed until at least the end of the season.
Instead of new recruits making an impact this season, it has been current players that have stepped up and have been counted, none more so than Moussa Dembélé. As January lurks, speculation about the future of Dembélé is rife as his performances this season have prompted links with some of the Premier League’s top clubs. Another player attracting interest, after constant solid performances over the past few seasons, is Clint Dempsey. If the interest in Fulham’s star players is serious and bids are made to test Fulham’s resolve, it will be interesting to see how Fulham will respond to such enquiries. Either way, it will be the biggest indicator to Martin Jol of the true size of the task he faces at Fulham.
Fulham are a strange club; with the riches of Al Fayed, the Premier League’s original billionaire owner, you would have thought during Al Fayed’s 14 years in charge of the club he may have taken them to the top of the Premier League in Manchester City-esque fashion, but that kind of financial backing has never really materialised. This could be one of Martin Jol’s biggest difficulties; he is never going to be financially backed to recruit the best players, so anything the club achieves will be dependent on the manager wheeling and dealing whilst also getting the most out of his current players, like we saw under the guise of Roy Hodgson.
Jol does have his work cut out; you would say that the teams now around Fulham – Bolton, Wigan and Wolves, are going to be scrapping for survival this season and although Fulham have only recently slipped to 15th in the league, they will soon fit the ‘in trouble’ bracket if they don’t pick up any points in the next couple of games. Martin Jol managerial CV is impressive after having managed Spurs, Hamburg and Ajax, but I agree that things may not be easy for him at Fulham.
Jol has managed big players and squads, he has also had money to spend like at Spurs and although expectations at Fulham will be lower, the Fulham hot-seat is going to be a big test for the big Dutchman. Despite Fulham’s recent successes, it is a tough job and when you look at Fulham as I have done here, and couple that with a fiercely competitive Premier League this season, Fulham could end up fighting for survival. After being turned over by Tottenham, but managing draws against Arsenal and Manchester City, tonight’s match against Liverpool is another test that will help everyone realise the size of the task for Jol at Fulham.