Interview: Martin Jol

Image: talkSPORT

Martin Jol managed Fulham between 2011 and 2013. Plenty happened to Fulham on and off the pitch whilst Martin was in the hot seat including finishing ninth, signing the likes of Berbatov, the change in ownership and our eventual relegation under Felix Magath. Fulham Focus’ Daniel Smith spoke to Martin to get his perspective of those 2 and a half years with our club…

DSWhat happened when Fulham first approached you before you actually joined us? Fulham switched to Mark Hughes for a season when the first attempt failed. It was reported at the time that your contract with Ajax had a 30-day break clause, which enabled you to talk to other Clubs. Were Fulham aware of that and did the first attempt fail as discussions went beyond 30 days?

MJ – Fulham approached me in the summer of 2010-2011. I didn’t want to leave Ajax at that stage, 1 week before our start for the Champions League Qualifications matches!

It would have been quite difficult for them in that period of time because it was so important for the club to get into the group stages! Financially of course, but even more important because they had failed to play Champions League for years and in hindsight the first time in decades that they got through the qualification stages.

There was no break clause! Fulham switched to Mark Hughes and at the end of the season I spoke to Alistair and made the decision to move back to London again, signing for 1 year plus an option for an extra year.

DSEventually we did manage to appoint you as our manager. What attracted you to Fulham and was there a project that was sold to you at the time?

MJ – We still had our house in the north-east but decided to live in Esher near Fulham’s training ground. We love London and the people. My youngest daughter was brought up in England with intermezzos in Germany and Holland. She was crying of happiness when we told her that we wanted to go back to her ‘promised land’.

For me, Alistair Mackintosh was a big reason to go to Fulham and I had some nice conversations with Mr Al Fayed.

DSDid your brother handle transfer discussions or, if not, how did the process work from identifying players through to negotiations?

MJ – My brother Cornelis was not involved in attracting players. That was Alistair Mackintosh, Barry Simmonds and me.

There was a good scouting system in place at Fulham with a very good youth department.

DSIt seemed that you had little or no transfer acquisition budget at the time, other than money for short-term loans. Was that because Mr Al Fayed would not release proper transfer funds at that time or needed to sign off on everything making discussions difficult?

MJ – Mr Al Fayed was a fantastic person but had invested a lot of money into Fulham.

The first 2 years we had a record 95 points over 2 seasons, but the sale of Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey at the start of 2012-2013 just before the closing of the transfer window indicated that it could be a hard and very long season for us!

As mentioned, we still ended with 43 points and the arrival of Berbatov, who scored 14/15 goals that second season, was a positive exception to the rule. But the transition of the club from Mr Al Fayed to the American owner Mr Khan at the start of the season was insecure for everyone involved.

We worked hard behind the scenes to get some players in who could play a good role for us (on free transfers), but we could never replace our 2 best players who left for Spurs. Our team was probably the oldest team on average in Europe and we tried to get more legs with youngsters like Kerim Frei, Kacaniklic and Kasami but that didn’t make us better of course because these guys had to learn their trade and gave me everything they had in their potential.

DSFunny that you should mention Frei and Kasami. I remember when Kasami missed a penalty at Stamford Bridge in the cup which ultimately cost us the game. Alex was sent off for the Blues for bringing down Kerim Frei for the penalty, but we didn’t take advantage, eventually losing in a penalty shootout. How did you handle this in the dressing room because I assumed he wasn’t supposed to take it? Also did this impact on why he disappeared for a season and went out on loan? I think most fans were surprised when he came back.

MJ – Kasami took the penalty and was not the one who was the number 1 penalty taker. The confidence he showed by taking the penalty was misplaced. I told him after the game and that was it. After I left, Kasami was still at Fulham, so it had no impact at all because there was never a situation that Patjim went on loan or was going out on loan while I was there.

DSDo you have a favourite match from your time managing us?

MJ – Arsenal at home in the 2011-12 season when Bobby scored the winner.

DSIt’s common when new owners come in that they want to put their own stamp on things and appoint a manager of their choice rather than the one they inherited. Did you subconsciously feel this was the case with your situation?

MJ – Not really. In football, it is all about winning enough games to achieve your goals.

I should have left after the transition of owners because I knew that the new owner didn’t come to Fulham to burn his money, as he told me in the conversation we had prior to the season and deep down I knew that the transition on the football side was eminent and necessary which proved me right after I left until this day.

DSLooking back with hindsight are there any regrets or things that you would do differently if you could start again?

MJ – We all make mistakes but at least we made them with the best of intentions because we all had this affection with this beautiful club.

DSThe signing of Berbatov was a major coup.  How easy was it to persuade Dimi to join Fulham when he was already on a plane to Fiorentina?

MJ – Dimitar Berbatov was my last chance to get a good number 9 to my football club. As everyone knows we couldn’t keep Pogrebnyak, who went to Reading and did a great job. Together with another old warhorse Ma Diarra, I went out of comfort zone to convince Berba to come to Fulham.

He was waiting for another plane to Fiorentina from Munich!!

People from the Italians were very angry with me and thought Alistair had to break the English bank to change his mind!

DSDid the 3-0 win at Swansea last day of the 2012-13 season that took us up to 12th have an adverse impact onto the budget available for the new season as it was felt we were comfortable in the Premier League?

MJ – Maybe one can only guess. But at the end of the day, we knew that it was a big task for anyone to keep this lovely club in the Premier League. And of course, Magath, Meulensteen, Curbishley, Wilkins after myself, all proved this point!

DSDid you have any say in the appointment of Rene Muelensteen as your assistant and did you see what was coming when the appointment was made with him eventually replacing you as manager?

MJ – I believe it was Khan’s decision to get Rene on-board! In the summer, I did ask Rene to join us but he had just signed in Qatar. So it was a surprise to me, although I knew that he was available again!

I didn’t want to jump ship when he arrived but in hindsight, it would have spared me a lot of irritation if I had! Nevertheless, I thought that a fresh wind through the ranks wouldn’t harm us!

DSWhy do you think the signing of Stekelenburg didn’t quite work out?

MJ – Maarten started off well but got injured and stayed vulnerable with his shoulder.

DSWhat was your relationship like with Bobby Zamora? Was it exaggerated in the media or was there always a bit of tension there?

MJ – My relationship with Bobby was good from my side and I thought he was a genuine guy! He was very injury prone though and I thought it was good for him and the club when QPR came in with a good offer and we had the opportunity to replace him with Pavel Pogrebnyak from Stuttgart, who had one of his best spells in his career with us.

DSWhat are you up to at the moment?

MJ – I do some work for media and travel a lot and watch a lot of football!

 I wanted to do a Sam Allardyce but on request of a few friends I took on a challenge in Egypt in 2016 to work for Al Ahly, one of the biggest clubs in the world with 70 million fans in Egypt alone.

DSFinally Martin, pie or pasty – Which filling?

MJ – One of the few English foods I don’t eat!

I just want to add that I am very happy to watch see Fulham doing so well, home and away, and to see them hopefully get the second spot in their league because they are, with Wolves, the best and most consistent team in the Championship in my opinion. The fans have had to wait for a while but even if they end up in the playoffs, I feel that they are ready to achieve what this group of players and their fans deserve: to play in the Premier League again.