DAVID SMITH - Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Clint Dempsey will have a new challenge awaiting him in London after the completion of the Gold Cup, as Fulham FC have just announced the hiring of Martin Jol as their new head coach.
Previous coach Mark Hughes had been in charge at the club since late-July, however resigned his post on June 2 stating a desire to move onto bigger and better things.
The Cottagers had reportedly agreed to terms with Jol last summer as they scrambled to replace Roy Hodgson after his ill-fated departure to Liverpool, but were unable to pry him away from Eredivisie team Ajax Amsterdam.
With Jol's early-December resignation from Ajax, who went on to win the league crown in his absence, the former Tottenham coach was free to finish what was started last summer and sign a two-year contract with Fulham just days after the departure of Hughes, and will have the benefit of a full summer of planning and pre-season preparations.
He will become the fifth full-time head coach under which Dempsey has played during his five-plus seasons at the club, with the American having successfully fought to nail down a starting role under each of the Dutchman's predecessors.
After proving to be one of the team's most important pieces, if not the most vital cog over the last year, and being voted Fulham's player of the season, it will be a major surprise if the American is once again forced to prove himself to his new coach.
Dempsey was initially left on the bench on several occasions by Hughes at the start of the 2010-11 season, however quickly stamped his place in the starting lineup, eventually going on to score 12 Premier League goals, and passing fellow Yank Brian McBride to become the team's all-time leading top-flight scorer.
In addition to his previous three-plus season stint in England at Tottenham and most recent job at Ajax, Jol has also recently held the top post at Hamburger SV in Germany's Bundesliga, most notably leading the team to the UEFA Cup semifinals in 2009.
His most recent tenure at Ajax was marked by a strong attacking philosophy. The team averaged more than three goals per game during the 2009-10 season, outscoring the opposition by a phenomenal 86 goals over the 34-game season.
Even though Fulham surged to an eighth-place finish under Hughes - their second-best finish since being promoted to the top flight in 2001 - they often struggled for consistent output amongst an under-performing cast of starting forwards.
After Dempsey, who connected with an number of his goals from his usual midfield position, the team's second-leading scorer was central defender Brede Hangelund, with the rotation of starters at forward consisting of Moussa Dembelé, Zoltan Gera and Andy Johnson combining for a paltry total of just seven goals over the course of the season.
Although Bobby Zamora did struggle for much of the season with injuries, being limited to just 14 appearances in league play, Jol will likely target reinforcements up front during the summer transfer window.
This should benefit Dempsey's role in the team, as a more balanced attack will lessen the pressure on him to be the team's lone threat, allowing more of an opportunity to provide a creative spark.
With Fulham slated participate in the first round of Europa league qualifying beginning on June 30, Jol will begin pre-season preparations with most of the squad on June 23, although Dempsey will almost certainly join the team several days later due to his participation in the Gold Cup.