After a busy set of festive fixtures thoughts will naturally drift towards New Year’s Eve and a look back at what 2009 did for us.
When picking a ‘team of the year’ I naturally look at the winners for highlights. In England we saw Manchester United win the Carling Cup (thanks to Ben Foster’s Ipod!) and claim their 18th League title, drawing them level with bitter rivals Liverpool in the process. Champions League glory was only denied by a magnificent Barcelona side in the final.
On a swelteringly hot day in May Chelsea and Everton contested the FA Cup Final. History was made as Louis Saha scored the fastest goal ever in a Cup final but Chelsea’s extra quality told and they fully deserved their 2-1 win.
But when looking at 2009 as a whole I can’t pick any of those teams as my team of the year. United look a poorer side without Ronaldo while Chelsea have also slipped in recent weeks. Everton meanwhile are languishing at the wrong end of the league after a poor start to the season.
No, my team of the year goes to a side that didn’t win silverware or even appear in a final, but their improvement over 2009 deserves recognition. That team is Fulham.
Flashback to the winter of 2008 and the Cottagers were staring relegation in the face and, following the sacking of Lawrie Sanchez, many people thought new boss Roy Hodgson should prepare for life in the Championship rather than plot a survival bid.
But keep them up he did and he has simply transformed the side's fortunes; the 2008/09 season saw them finish in an impressive seventh place, earning the club a run in the Europa League – something many sides around them didn’t want.
Why is that? Well, that European spot, it was predicted, would hamper Fulham’s league progress as their small squad buckled under the weight of those extra games (Middlesbrough syndrome circa 2006 springs to mind). But here we are in December and the Cottagers are safely through to the knockout stages yet also sit pretty in the league. Summer signing Damien Duff is beginning to show the form that made him one of the country’s most sought after wingers when he was at Blackburn and even Bobby Zamora is scoring.
That rapid progress and continued stability, without the need for a sugar daddy to financially dope the squad, means in my opinion Fulham deserve to be Premier League team of the year.