After a brief but ultimately fruitless dalliance with Ajax manager Martin Jol, it would now appear that Fulham are within hours of appointing Mark Hughes as their new manager, with many reports suggesting that he could be unveiled at Craven Cottage as early as this afternoon.
It is thought that Hughes has already accepted chairman Mohamed Al-Fayed‘s contract offer, and is currently travelling to London from his home in Cheshire before being formally presented to the media either later this evening or first thing tomorrow.
Fulham have understandably taken their time in appointing an able successor to previous incumbent Roy Hodgson (who left to join Liverpool at the turn of the month) after enjoying a season of unprecedented success under his stewardship last term.
Hodgson’s close-knit side enjoyed a glorious run in last season’s Europa League, a resolute campaign that saw them advance past European footballing luminaries such as Roma, Juventus and reigning champions Shakhtar Donetsk, before narrowly losing out to Atletico Madrid during extra-time in the final.
Their showing on the domestic front was more solid than spectacular but a 12th place Premier League finish is far from derisory, especially once you take into account the inevitable physical toll that the rigours of a prolonged European run must have taken on what was essentially a very thin squad.
As a result of the club’s various exertions and laudable over-achievements last season, the level of expectation at Craven Cottage has inescapably risen – but the loss of their veteran manager, the man at the hub of the success, served to deflate that buoyant optimism almost immediately.
Supporters of any club tend to demand a certain degree of visible progress in order to sate their perpetually simmering frustrations and the loss of Hodgson to Liverpool therefore naturally represented a step backward for the Fulham faithful.
There was no bad blood and no acrimony between the two parties, but to see the architect of the club’s fledgling gestalt pulled from the heart of proceedings must have been a decidedly bitter pill to swallow for everybody involved including, I suspect, Hodgson himself.
So here we are, a month down the line and a new name (almost) installed at the helm. He may have been many of their second choice, but the appointment of ‘Sparky’ is still being greeted with a distinct air of positivity by many of the Fulham contingent.
During his spells in charge at Blackburn and Manchester City, Hughes proved himself to be a stern operator of sorts.
He demonstrated the disdain in which he holds players with overly-precious egos on numerous occasions by refusing to pander to their various whims (his willingness to drop wayward Brazilian winger Robinho being a prime example) and developed a sturdy, if not a little limited, tactical system which proved (especially at Blackburn) to be considerably difficult to play against.
These two simple factors seem to bode well for his immediate future, as it isn’t particularly difficult to foresee how both elements will integrate into the current set-up at Fulham – a team that is often lauded for it’s lack of conceit and it’s propensity to work like dogs for one-another.
With Fulham’s only summer acquisitions made so far being erstwhile (to put it politely) centre-back Philippe Senderos from Arsenal and Jonathan Greening (who spent last year on loan at Craven Cottage anyway) from West Brom, Hughes is going to have to work diligently during the remainder of the transfer window in order to bolster his squad with the kind of players that can seriously aid the club consolidate it’s position – and not just ‘make up the numbers’.
However, I believe that the biggest challenge Hughes will face is to balance the remnants of the club’s burgeoning ambition that blossomed under Hodgson, with the reality that Fulham are still a mid-table club with a mid-table squad – regardless of the feats that may have gone before.