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Ultimate Premier League Era XIs: Fulham

2012-11-02 09:05:45

Our regular feature picks out a club’s best XI from the Premier League era

Ultimate Premier League Era XIs: Fulham

This week, it’s Fulham.

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Click here to read Aston Villa’s Ultimate XI…

Click here to read Chelsea’s Ultimate XI…

Click here to read Everton’s Ultimate XI…

Goalkeeper - Edwin van der Sar
In a career in which he also represented Ajax, Juventus, Manchester United and Holland, Fulham may not get much of a mention on Van der Sar’s CV. Yet the London club was arguably where he produced the best form of his career. At United he was able to set a worldwide record for the longest playing time without conceding a goal (1,311 minutes, in the 2008-09 season), yet much of that was put down to the form of the defence in front of him.

In truth, Van der Sar had a lot less to do when he was at United, whereas he was generally kept pretty busy at Fulham. Signed upon their elevation to the Premier League for the first time, the Dutchman played a key role as they not only stayed up, but finished 13th. No-one scored more than eight goals for the Cottagers that season, scoring just 36 goals in 38 games, but the fact that they conceded just 44 kept them safe - and saw them establish themselves in England’s top league.

Right Back - Steve Finnan
Not a position that has been occupied by stand-out players at Fulham. John Paintsil has put in a few games, and was around during a particularly good defensive period a few years ago, but he also had some shockers which led to him being shipped off last year. But Finnan was dependable throughout his five years at the club, playing a part in Fulham’s rise to the Premier League and their stint in the Intertoto Cup.

In many ways he was a typical Fulham investment, arriving at the club for just £600k, enjoying five solid seasons, helping them secure 10 out of 15 points at the end of the 2003 season before going to a bigger club for £3.5m. Job done.

Centre Back - Aaron Hughes
It’s some feat that Hughes is still part of Fulham’s first-choice side when you think that he made his Premier League debut 15 years ago. That was as an 18-year-old, after Hughes had come through the Newcastle ranks, and he actually made his senior debut in the Nou Camp of all places.

Hughes’ career has not had the sparkle that those early days might have suggested, but he’s never let a club down. And alongside Brede Hangeland he’s brought stability to the Fulham defence since his arrival at Craven Cottage in 2007 - especially during the time that Roy Hodgson was in charge at the club.

Centre back - Brede Hangeland
Brought to Fulham by Roy Hadgson, his former manager at Viking, Hangeland’s towering presence has brought both clean sheets and handy goals - the 2010-11 season was his most prolific for Fulham, as he netted six times in the Premier League.

That same season saw Fulham concede just 43 goals all season, which made the Hughes-Hangeland axis the fourth best defence in the league, but 2008-09 was even more impressive - the duo let in just 34 goals in 38 games. With Hangeland reportedly turning down several offers to move to bigger clubs, it’s little wonder that the Norwegian captain has become a Fulham legend.

Left Back - Paul Konchesky
He might have been a bit of a journeyman, but left back is another problem position for Fulham and Konchesky did have some storming games for the club so he edges out Rufus Brevett. Konchesky had a terrible debut, tripping over the ball to allow Hull City to score the winner, but there were plenty of good times as well - most notably the run to the Europa League final in 2009-10, where Fulham were finally undone by Atletico Madrid.

Midfield - Sean Davis
Perhaps there have been more talented Fulham midfielders than Davis, but none have turned out for the club for anywhere near the length of time that he did. In fact, Davis is the only player to have played in all four leagues in England, having climbed the ladder from the bottom with Fulham - he made his debut in a 3-0 win over Cambridge United in the old Third Division, at the age of 17.

He moved on after three years in the top flight with Fulham, and enjoyed a few successful seasons at Portsmouth, but having come through the Fulham youth system, there’s no doubt where his main connection lies. His only call-up to the England squad arrived during his time at the club.

Midfield - Danny Murphy
His age has finally started to catch up to him, leading Martin Jol to release him last summer after club and player failed to agree on a contract extension, but for five excellent years Murphy pulled all the strings at Fulham. Liverpool may have been his boyhood club, but it was only at Fulham that he was allowed to fulfil his potential as he became the main man in the centre of midfield.

That led him to wear the captain’s armband for several seasons after it was initially handed to him by Roy Hodgson for the 2008-09 season - Fulham’s best in the Premier League. As well as being a fine defender and someone who was able to run the game, Murphy’s acumen at set pieces made him probably Fulham’s most complete midfielder of the Premier League era.

Midfield - Clint Dempsey
Fulham’s most prolific midfielder during their time in the Premier League - and by some distance. In fact only Louis Saha has scored more goals in all competitions for the club than Dempsey’s 50 since their elevation to the top flight. They’re certainly going to need more goals from their strikers now that he’s gone to Tottenham, which so far has been the case with Mladen Petric and Dimitar Berbatov scoring three apiece.

Six million quid was a snip for a player who averaged a goal every three or four games, yet Fulham tripled their money after signing Dempsey for just £2 million, which at the time was the most money anyone had paid for a Major League Soccer import. And he was their top goal scorer for the last two seasons, netting 17 league goals in 2011-12.

Midfield - Steed Malbranque
Our memory of Malbranque may have been sullied somewhat by a fairly ordinary stint at Tottenham, yet the Belgian-born midfielder enjoyed five excellent seasons at Fulham. He started by scoring eight crucial goals in their debut season in the Premier League - the most by anyone at the club and arguably the difference between finishing 13th and 18th since goals were so hard to come by that season.

Diminutive in stature, his low centre of gravity allowed him to be the best dribbler in the side, and his sniping jonks in from the wing were a regular feature of Fulham’s play until he was snapped up by Spurs in the summer of 2006. He keeps Luis Boa Morte out of this side on the basis that the Portuguese player enjoyed a great spell with the club in the Championship, but never matched that once his transfer to Fulham was made permanent.

Striker - Louis Saha
Saha has played in many different colours during his career, but things have never been as good as they were at Fulham between 2000 and 2004. Part of a French influx following the appointment of Jean Tigana as manager, Saha saw Fulham into the Premier League with 27 league goals that easily earned the club automatic promotion from the Championship - they topped the league by a clear 10 points, with a positive goal difference of 58.

The next two seasons were not so prolific, and he struggled with injury in 2002-03, but he was at the peak of his powers in 2003-04. Saha’s 15 league goals, most of them swept in with that sweet left foot, lifted Fulham to ninth in the league. His legend at the club would have been greater had they not come under significant financial pressure to sell him to Manchester United, for which they received a club record £13 million.

Striker - Brian McBride
Think of Brian McBride and its difficult not to recall the sense of calm on the big American’s face as he walked off the field with blood streaming off his face at the 2006 World Cup - courtesy a vindictive elbow in the face from Daniele De Rossi. In an age where footballers were increasingly learning to feign injury, McBride proved himself a special kind of strong man, which means that he was tough as nails without feeling he had to show off about it (a la Vinnie Jones).

But he wasn’t just a solid front man who could hold the ball up either - McBride had skills and awareness as well as a thumping header. In some respects his talent was wasted in that it was only properly recognised once he was already in his thirties. But he gave four great years to Fulham, earning the captain’s armband and regular Player of the Year awards, and he became such a favourite that the club renamed the bar inside Craven Cottage ‘McBride’s’ in 2009.

Bench: Mark Schwarzer, Rufus Brevett, Moussa Dembele, Papa Bouba Diop, Luis Boa Morte, Collins John, Andrew Johnson.

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