Seeking an equivalent to Fulham's remarkable Europa League campaign the mind turned to Ipswich Town's 1981 Uefa Cup triumph. Then, as now, astute management was the key. Like Bobby Robson, Roy Hodgson has brought the best from a squad of players that has talent, but few stars.
Robson's genius was to integrate the Dutch passing of Frans Thijssen and Arnold Muhren into a solid Anglo-Scottish team. He also had a strong central defensive pairing in Terry Butcher and Russell Osman, a goalscoring midfielder in John Wark, and a well-balanced attack of Paul Mariner, Eric Gates and Alan Brazil.
It was an attractive side whose players knew each others' games inside out. The same applies to Fulham. Hodgson has drilled his men until their team shape is automatic, and imbued them with the confidence to play a passing game.
Robson's team was stronger – it almost won the title in 1981 – but talent was spread more widely then. With income and wages more equitable it was easier for smaller clubs to retain players. A modern Butcher would never stay 10 years at a club of Ipswich's size.
Brede Hangeland has been coveted but there has been surprisingly little interest in his colleagues. With Mark Schwarzer and Danny Murphy this reflects their age (37 and 33), but with others it may be because the team share another similarity with Ipswich, it is greater than the sum of its parts. Aside from Wark, Butcher and Muhren, who had successful spells at Liverpool, Rangers and Ajax respectively, Robson's players peaked with him.
So it appears with Fulham. Murphy and Damien Duff have shone elsewhere but most have never played better. If any are lured away it will be interesting to see whether they maintain that standard.
David Moyes, manager of Fulham's opponents tomorrow, was thinking along the same lines this week when he cautioned Steven Pienaar against leaving. There is a difference. The South African's career has been rejuvenated at Goodison but his performances at Ajax showed he has the talent to play at a very high level.
Nevertheless Moyes, like Hodgson, has created an environment which enables players to realise their potential (others include Mikel Arteta and Phil Jagielka).
One factor must be stability. Both managers are reluctant to rotate, which makes Fulham's handling of their arduous Europa League commitments all the more impressive.Reuse content