Byline: David Smith
AS Fulham prepare for the biggest game in the club's 131-year history, owner Mohamed Fayed today hailed Roy Hodgson as a "maestro" and insisted his manager's future lies at Craven Cottage despite attempts by rivals to lure him away.
It is little wonder that Fayed is such a fan of Hodgson. The 62-year-old has worked a miracle at Fulham, transforming the west London team from Premier League relegation candidates into shock contenders for one of European football's major honours. Following a goalless draw in Hamburg last week, achieved by the kind of disciplined and resolute performance that has become the hallmark of Hodgson's reign, Fulham can tonight reach the climax of the Europa League by winning the second leg of their semi-final at the Cottage.
And Hamburg, who are former winners of the European Cup which became the Champions League but are now in a state of disarray after manager Bruno Labbadia was sacked on Monday, should hold no fears for a Fulham side that have already beaten UEFA Cup holders Shakhtar Donetsk, Bundesliga title winners Wolfsburg and the mighty Juventus to get this far in the competition.
"It is a great achievement for the manager," said Fayed. "He is a maestro for the way he trains the players and the way he gives them a fantastic touch."
Last Christmas, two years after succeeding Lawrie Sanchez and leading Fulham to a dramatic last-match escape from relegation when they beat Portsmouth 1-0 at Fratton Park, Hodgson signed a lucrative new 12-month rolling contract with the club.
It was seen as just reward for going on to achieve a club-record seventh place in the Premier League and qualifying for Europe.
Even better was to come this term as Fulham not only reaffirmed their position among the domestic elite but also went on a magnificent march across the continent. However, that incredible success has made Hodgson a target for other clubs eager to exploit his vast experience that includes steering Inter Milan to a UEFA Cup Final, Swedish League Championships with Halmstads and Malmo, and taking international minnows Switzerland to the 1994 World Cup finals.
Fayed added: "I'm sure he has had a lot of approaches from other clubs but I don't think he will leave me. I give him anything he wants to get the results he is achieving now.
"It would not be easy for Roy to find this kind of relationship elsewhere because I'm not a sleeping owner.
"I am always involved with the Fulham players and I'm always at the matches. This is different to an absent owner or a public company which may own a club."
Yesterday, Fulham first-team coach Ray Lewington revealed to Standard Sport one of the secrets of Hodgson's managerial philosophies.
Lewington said: "Roy often says, 'Remember, be modest'. Keeping things in perspective has been invaluable so far for us."
It will be no different at Craven Cottage tonight even though, for the first time in their Europa League campaign, Fulham go into a match as the bookmakers' favourites.
The odds certainly seem stacked against Hamburg, despite the presence of former Manchester United great Ruud van Nistelrooy in their line-up and the knowledge that the Europa League Final will be held back at their magnificent HSH Nordbank Arena on 12 May.
The north German side have struggled for form in the Bundesliga, they are being led by an interim coach in Ricardo Moniz who has never managed before and they are coming to Craven Cottage where Fulham remain unbeaten in eight Europa League fixtures this season. …