Hodgson holds out for Zamora as Fulham take one final step towards history

Striker should be fit for match that could set his manager alongside English greats
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The Independent Football

It was Danny Murphy who best captured the Roy Hodgson effect on Fulham last night when he said that it was not a case of his manager "sprinkling magic dust" on his players, simply that their extraordinary run to the Europa League final had been built on the solid virtues of hard work.

But tonight, when Hodgson's players walk out in Hamburg's 57,000-capacity Nordbank Arena to face Atletico Madrid there will be an element of the unreal about the greatest occasion in the club's history. It has been the story of a bunch of talented but unheralded players brought together by an English manager who, at the age of 62, has had a career like none other of his managerial peers.

Hodgson's players were queuing up to praise the League Managers' Association's newly-crowned manager of the year yesterday and, for all that this game means for Fulham it is also a night that belongs to the first English manager in a European final for four years. It has been 15 different jobs in management and 34 years in the making but Hodgson finally has a chance of a place among the top table of English managers.

Whether his side beat Atletico Madrid will rely heavily on whether Bobby Zamora, with 19 goals already this season, can play a significant part in the match tonight. He did not participate in the training session at the Nordbank Arena last night, instead watching in his flip-flops to give that Achilles problem a rest, but, left out of the England World Cup squad, he will surely put his body on the line tonight.

Damien Duff, the other key name whose fitness is in question, trained last night and like Zamora should play. This is the culmination of 18 games over nine months for Fulham but for Hodgson the journey stretches right back to that first job with Halmstads in Sweden in 1976 when he won the league title in his first season and must have thought that football management was a much simpler proposition than it turned out to be.

It was in his seventh job, managing Internazionale in 1997 that he reached the Uefa Cup final – the Europa League predecessor – and lost in the two-legged final on penalties to Schalke in front of his own club's fans in San Siro. Hodgson is not the type for football's usual hyperbole about laying ghosts to rest and unfinished business but the memory of that day he came close to a major trophy clearly still burns strong.

"I was very proud to get to that final but I'm even prouder in some ways to be here with Fulham," he said. "We were much less fancied in the tournament than Inter were in 1997. Secondly we've had, I think, a tougher passage to the final. When I think back to the teams Inter eliminated along the way, with respect, they weren't the quality and big names that we've eliminated on the way to the final here.

"I'm hoping that 13 years on, I'm a little bit more mature, a little bit more philosophical, a little bit stronger and able to take whatever comes my way. I'm hoping the bad memories of 1997 will be expunged by a good victory. To lose on pens in front of our home crowd, and a big crowd it was, is going to be a memory that always stays with me and it won't be a happy memory."

If Hodgson's team triumph tonight then he will be the first English manager to win a European trophy with an English team since Howard Kendall won the European Cup Winners' Cup with Everton in 1985. An English manager has not won a European trophy since the late Bobby Robson won the same competition with Barcelona in 1997. Tonight there is the possibility of a small piece of history for Hodgson as well as potentially Fulham's first ever major trophy.

It was with a nod towards Hodgson's peripatetic career, including seven Swedish league titles with two different clubs, that the English manager he chose to mention was Bob Houghton, the man who led the part-timers of Malmo to a European Cup final against Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest in 1979. "It is fitting for me just to mention his name," Hodgson said. "We talk about Bobby Robson and Howard Kendall but Bobby Houghton doesn't get much credit, so I'm taking the chance to mention a close friend of mine.

"The reason that English managers have had less success recently is simple: the best English teams don't have English managers. The best foreign teams don't have English managers. If you want to win a title at this level, especially the Champions League, then you want to make sure you're working for a small group of clubs because it's not very often that teams like ours get to the final."

For Murphy, Fulham's captain, this is a competition that he won before with Liverpool in 2001 although, at a club that had four European Cups to their name then, winning the Uefa Cup was not quite the achievement that it will be with Fulham. "When you play for a club like Liverpool winning trophies every season is expected," Murphy said.

"You become a bit complacent and you think it will happen every year. For Fulham to write our names in the history books has been special, but to go that one step further and win would be something we'd remember forever."

Murphy was prepared to accept that Fulham have become "everyone's second favourite club" and even John Terry has been in touch with Zamora and Paul Konchesky, his old team-mates from Senrab boys' club in Wanstead, to wish them good luck. The popularity contest was won a long time ago – tonight it is all about the silverware.