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Fulham; Sanchez Revives Irish Spirit
"Itís not quite the glory days of Pat Jennings, Gerry Armstrong and....er.....Billy Hamilton yet."
When any recently appointed manager takes his place at the helm, rumours immediately start about which of his former colleagues will be joining him.
And so it is with hardly a raised eyebrow that four of Lawrie Sanchezís first six signings for Fulham are part of the Northern Ireland set-up. The former Wimbledon midfielder (itís almost like some kind of journalistic version of the Japanese game show Endurance to resist mentioning THAT goal at this point) has only been in situ at Craven Cottage for three months, but has already set about recreating the kind of team spirit in evidence with Northern Ireland.
Under Sanchez a previously mocked and derided international outfit once again became major contenders for qualification for major tournaments. Itís not quite the glory days of Pat Jennings, Gerry Armstrong and....er.....Billy Hamilton yet but new Norn Iron boss Nigel Worthington has a fine platform on which to build. Thatís thanks largely to Sanchez, who has masterminded a remarkable revival in recent years and whose tenure in charge included victories over England, Spain and Sweden in competitive internationals.
Itís clear that Sanchez knows who he trusts most in football. Joining him in west London for an assault on something a little headier than staving off relegation are defenders Aaron Hughes and Chris Baird, aswell as central midfield man Steven Davis and Northern Irelandís all-time record goalscorer David Healy. That familiar quartet will be joined by the pacy former West Bromwich Albion striker Diomansy Kamara, aswell as ex-Charlton Athletic and West Ham defender Paul Konchesky.
For a combined total of around £18-20million Sanchez has set about building a squad capable of holding its own in the increasingly congested mid-section of the Premiership. Itís hardly stretching things to suggest that just about any one of around 10 or 12 clubs could rise from their current slumber to mount a challenge for European qualification. This is a target that Sanchez has already murmured under his breath, while stating rather more loudly that he would like to better Fulhamís best ever Premiership finish of ninth.
Of particular intrigue to those watching their football at the Cottage next term will be how the new strike pairing fares. Neither Kamara nor Healy can lay claim to the tag of proven Premiership quality, but both have shown enough on the international stage to suggest that they can make the side a more potent threat than in recent years. Both possess the kind of pace and skill that was never the trademark of the honest but limited Brian McBride, and the goal threat which was provided in the latter part of last season by the on-loan Vincenzo Montella.
The ex-Aston Villa pairing of Hughes and Davis will also be monitored keenly by their new fans. The former is a strong and reliable defender despite criticisms of his displays while with the defence-phobic Newcastle United, while Davis carved out a reputation as one of the most promising central midfield enforcers before Martin OíNeillís arrival at Villa Park. The former Celtic manager adopted the Sanchez policy of employing old friends, recruiting former Parkhead hero Stillian Petrov and leaving Davis in the wilderness. It may take a month or two, but there is every possibility that Davis can recapture the form of old. He could yet form an exciting midfield partnership with the colourful, energetic Jimmy Bullard.
Among those who will not survive the Sanchez revolution at Craven Cottage are Claus Jensen who has been released, aswell as former Everton pair Mark Pembridge and Tomasz Radzinski and ageing goalkeeper Mark Crossley. Radzinski was perhaps the most disappointing of these players during his time at the club, that after displaying dazzling speed and an eye for goal during his stay at Goodison Park.
This first, busy foray into the transfer market is a clear indication that Sanchez is not about to accept the mediocrity that has almost enveloped the club over the last few seasons. Since earning promotion to the Premiership amid much talk of big spending, the Mohammad Al-Fayed-owned club have consistently flattered to deceive. All of which almost came to an abysmal head last season under Chris Coleman, when the Cottagers spent much of the campaign in the bottom six. Only Sanchezís arrival and a 1-0 home win over an under-strength Liverpool preserved their top-flight status.
Talk of European qualification remains rather fanciful. Like speculating on the arrival of the sunshine this summer or boldly predicting a full-scale and long-lasting Spice Girls revival. Yet it would be no surprise to see Sanchezís Fulham, moulded from his successful model on the international stage, show a significant improvement in the weeks and months to follow.
By Stephen Orford
16 July 2007
Latest article feedbackFranklin:
>Neither Kamara nor Healy can lay claim to the tag of proven Premiership quality, but both have shown enough on the international stage to suggest that they can make the side a more potent threat than in recent years.
What about Luis Boa Morte? Or has he transfer to West Ham a mere year ago already consigned him to distant history?
And while McBride & Helgusson may not have been the fastest of fowards, they were certainly a goal threat?
The reality is that Healy is untried in the Premiership, Kamara has played in the Premiership & made absolutely no impression, Konchesky is becoming a journeyman fullback & Baird is also untried at this level.
Surely this isn't a case of a great new squad coming together, but a very belated attempt at replacing the players that have been lost over the past few seasons.
I wish Fulham no ill will but I hardly expect them, or Northern Ireland, to be making any major impact in the long term.
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