BY ALESSANDRO SCHIAVONE
Brede Hangeland reckons that Fulham’s descent to relegation inferno in 2014 began after the club made an unprecedented UEFA Cup final appearance four years earlier.
The Norwegian spent six years at Craven Cottage and was part of the Fulham side that left Bundesliga sides VfL Wolfsburg, Hamburg HSV and record Serie A winners Juventus in their wake before they came up short in the final against Atletico Madrid.
Former defender Hangeland, who retired in 2016 following a two-year spell at Crystal Palace, emphasised that reaching the final gave Fulham a false sense of security as he laid bare the club’s mistakes and inability to build on that success.
The 39-year old, who is a respected pundit these days and currently covers the Premier League for Norwegian channel TV2 in his homeland, reflected on his time in SW6 and pinpointed the reasons for the club’s fall from grace in the space of four seasons.
He said: “There was a lot of mistakes. We didn’t perform well enough on the pitch and the club gradually got weaker since the European Cup final. A lot of people made big mistakes.
“The relegation in 2014 was very sad and the darkest memory not only in Fulham but in my football career. The way it ended when we got relegated after many good years was a dark moment.
“In 2010 we went to the European Cup final but we lost that, so that wasn’t too good. The whole journey up to that final was good but my best memory is actually my first year when we almost got relegated. We had to win at Portsmouth on the last day and we did that, so that was important for me and important for the club. That’s the best memory I have from Fulham.”
On their way to the UEFA Cup final Fulham had inflicted a shock 4-1 defeat on Juventus after falling behind to an early David Trezeguet goal.
It is fair to say that in those days it wasn’t the same dominant Juve side of today as the Old Lady had just begun their resurgence from the lowest point in their history, the Serie B, before they went on to reclaim their status as the best Italian team.
Only three years before that eventful tie Juve had still found themselves in the second tier of Italian football with the glorious Antonio Conte and Massimiliano Allegri years, the arrival of superstars such as Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, Cristiano Ronaldo and Matthijs De Ligt, the nine consecutive Scudetti and the two Champions League finals still lying in wait.
But for Hangeland that doesn’t take the gloss off their heroic achievement as he still dines out on what he and his fellow Cottagers pulled off on that memorable night.
“Our 4-1 win over Juventus is the greatest game I have ever played in. We were 1-0 down, so 4-1 on aggregate down after five minutes of the second leg and after that it was just an adventure and a fairytale for the rest of the game.”
Hangeland has delved into the reasons for why his former Fulham team-mate Adel Taarabt hasn’t quite managed to hit the heights everyone expected earlier in his career.
“He was a bit too relaxed in training but he was a nice guy who had fantastic ability on the ball. When I see him I always urge him to work a bit harder in training because he could be an unbelievable player.”
But at AC Milan, where he spent the second part of the 2013-2014 season on loan, he found another gear and Hangeland admits that no eyebrows were raised his end after witnessing how the Moroccan set Serie A alight with the Rossoneri.
“I wasn’t really [surprised] when I saw him flourish at AC Milan because it’s a very different type of football in Italy and his skill, like I say, is fantastic so I can see why it was a good fir for him back then.”
Hangeland recalled the dispiriting experience of going head-to-head with prime Didier Drogba when the west London derbies between Chelsea and Fulham took centre stage.
“The first Didier Drogba was the toughest opponent in the Premier League. In his early years at Chelsea in 2008, 2009, 2010 he was very good, the hardest player I faced, it was tough against him.”
At weekends Hangeland locked horns with some of the world’s best players in front of huge crowds, while after training during the week he often took the train back home like any ordinary person.
Whether that was at Motspur Park while at Fulham or in Beckenham, Hangeland was often seen walking to the station to catch the train home.
This clearly stood in stark contrast to the typical image of most Premier League footballers’s habit of going to training with a flashy car but Hangeland didn’t care what others did.
“It was the simple reason that it was quicker”, Hangeland chuckled.
“ I don’t care about image or anything like that. I just wanted to get home the quickest way after training and driving in London is a nightmare. Sometimes I got recognised but it was not a problem because people in London were always nice to me.”
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.