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Delivering Fayed’s Fulham dream

Even the most sophisticated of people receive naff Christmas presents, it seems. As Christian Damiano sits at the Fulham training ground in unaccustomed suit and tie, trying patiently to explain in his developing English how the club’s French renaissance has been shaped clearance, your eye is drawn to his socks. They have the club crest on them.

Christian who? The same was asked of Gross at Tottenham, who came, saw and confounded. This one, though, sounds as if he knows what he is doing. If Jean Tigana is the architect of Fulham’s Premiership plan, Damiano is the draughtsman – one of those unsung, brilliant, career coaches, who abound in French football and one who contributed significantly to their becoming world champions.

Today offers the ultimate test for Tigana and Damiano to see how their construction benefits of canada goose jacket is taking shape, with the visit of Manchester United to Craven Cottage for an FA Cup third-round tie to relish – a meeting of runaway leaders of Premiership and First Division. Damiano smiles a toothy grin at the prospect.’They are an example, the best team perhaps in the world,’ he says. ‘It is modern football. They can score from every player. They have big movement. They take risks. They have great passion.’

Can Fulham play this football? ‘We need to play 140 per cent,’ he says, with that French footballing fondness for expressing everything in percentages (Arsène Wenger often talks of players being at 80 per cent of their capacity, the team at 90 per cent of their efficiency). ‘We are progressing but we don’t play every game at the same level as them.’

Even if you take that as a no, the fascination of watching them try should be, best canada goose jacket for men ooh, 150 best mens canada goose parka per cent. Damiano accepts that the absence of the captain, Chris Coleman, who broke his right leg in a car canada goose coat 1000 calorie a day diet accident last week, is a huge blow but believes that any replacement should be familiar with the all-important system – ‘and then it comes to the quality of the player’.

As Fulham slipped out of contention for the First Division play-offs last season, the then manager, Paul Bracewell, gradually realised, apparently, that the club’s colourful owner Mohamed al-Fayed was looking for a ‘name’ to replace him. Indeed, Fayed phoned Eric Cantona, but he was too busy with beach soccer and other acting roles and recommended Tigana.

But Tigana is proving that he is more than a name. Shrewdly, he spent the last weeks of last season observing and analysing the club and their needs. Then he placed a call to Nice, to Christian Damiano, to offer him the job as can you wash a canada goose parka his assistant. The man from near Monte Carlo said yes and the revolution began.

‘He has brought a good team of coaches around buy canada goose jacket cheap him,’ said Wenger last week as his first response to a question about Tigana’s success. Gérard Houllier believes Damiano to be a top man. ‘I like him. He’s very important to them,’ says the Crystal Palace boss Alan Smith, formerly Fulham’s academy director. ‘But I also have the utmost respect for Tigana. The vision, the system is his. I also like his lack of ego.’

Damiano knew Tigana as a player from the great French team of the Eighties when the elegant midfielder was Michel Platini’s lieutenant. They first met in 1993 when Tigana was a student on a coaching course at Clairefontaine run by Damiano. ‘He was in my group for four years,’ says Damiano. ‘He arrived and he wanted to learn. Every big player understands it is different work being a coach. You learn the physical, the tactical, the psychological. You need a big knowledge for everything. Jean wanted to learn to be a big coach. Always he was very interested in everything.’ Lessons there for every English player – and chairman – who believes you just have to have had a playing career.

Tigana became manager of Monaco and remained in touch with Damiano, by now Houllier’s trusted assistant with the under-18 team that included Thierry Henry and which won the European Championship in 1996, Henry being a Monaco player at the time. Damiano then joined Aime Jacquet’s staff, monitoring the French national team players in Italy ahead of the ’98 World Cup. ‘I would spend seven or eight days observing sessions with Marcello Lippi and Arrigo Sacchi,’ Damiano recalls.

After a year as assistant to Jacquet’s successor, Roger Lemerre, Damiano answered a call from struggling Nice but soon jumped at Tigana’s offer. ‘There was big politics in Nice,’ he says. ‘It was not possible to build there like here in Fulham.’

The work began in earnest in pre-season, the third musketeer, fitness coach Roger Propos, coming into his own. Fulham went to Clairefontaine, where the players were introduced to a regime of three sessions a day, at 7am, 10am and 2.30pm. ‘A few of the old pros found it a bit of a shock,’ says the defender Andy Melville, ‘They were used to half past 10. But we got on with it and enjoyed it in the end. It makes sense.’

Methods de rigueur in France but still unusual in England, such as dental check-ups, to gauge posture and balance, were introduced. Body fat is measured every month. ‘Paul Bracewell also talked to us about diet and nutrition and our fat was down to 13, 12, 11 per cent,’ says Melville. ‘This buy canada goose jacket nyc year it’s 10, nine and eight.’ Tigana has also imposed an alcohol ban.

‘The players understand why the food you eat is important for the effect on the blood,’ says Damiano. ‘They have it explained to them very well. The fantastic attitude has been the passion of the players for the work. They are always ready, always interested. It is easy to build on this.’

Indeed, it must seem simple at times to Tigana and Damiano. They have honed with their methods an already competent group of home-grown players, best canada goose jacket review not yet adding significantly, even if the purchase of the Henryesque – though left-footed – striker Louis Saha from Metz for £2.5 million has gilded the lily. The training regime is based on ‘many, many repetitions’, according to Damiano, likening it to a golfer grooving his swing. ‘If you learn very well the basic skills, it is possible to add things,’ he says. ‘It is easy to train players. When things are automatic, it is not then a problem to take a risk.’

‘He is very quiet, very efficient, pays great attention to detail,’ says Alan Smith. ‘They practise one thing at a time until canada goose coat 1000 calorie bariatric diet they have mastered it.’

Tedious? ‘No, it’s fun,’ says the striker Barry Hayles. ‘It changes day in, day out. There’s a lot of ball work, one- and two-touch. Tigana is always cracking jokes and Christian has new ideas and techniques. Like, we will have a heading day. You think “boring”, but the way he does it, it is competitive and enjoyable, with new games where you head the ball throughout.’

It has combined to produce an enlightened brand of build-from-the-back passing football, with players such as the right-back Steve Finnan and Sean Davis in midfield emerging as more rounded performers.All are encouraged to be adventurous most likely to be seen today in the gifted little left-winger on loan from Rennes, Fabrice Fernandes. ‘You accept mistakes as long as players work hard to get the ball back,’ says Damiano. ‘If you want players to take risks and have success, you must do this.’

An hour-and-a-half before kick-off on match days, Tigana will show them video clips of the opposition – though he might be tempted to forego that today so as not to frighten them – giving pointers about how to counter them. Then he will deliver his main team talk. ‘All he says really is go out there and play,’ says Hayles. It mirrors Wenger at Arsenal; the real work long complete. ‘The time for reflection is not when you step on the pitch,’ Tigana himself has said. ‘It comes weeks before.’

Not that Tigana is some serene purist. ‘He can lose it,’ says Melville, once subjected to Peter Reid at Sunderland. ‘He’ll let you know if he’s not happy. He raises his voice. But he’ll also think about what he’s going to tell the players as well. Sometimes in this game, things can be said at half-time that are out of order.’

‘At Sheffield Wednesday, he came in at half-time very irate,’ Hayles recalls. ‘It was the first time I saw him say a lot at half-time. He dragged the paper off the wall, got his pen out and started scribbling things. A lot of managers would bawl you out, but he tends to show you how things are going wrong and how to change it. He pulls people out and has a word with them individually. He’s done it with me and I appreciate that. It’s helped my confidence.’

Tigana, like Wenger and Houllier, also accepts that this is a contact sport. Against Portsmouth, Fulham were in danger of being bullied. Tigana stressed the need for physical competition in the second half. ‘Everyone says we can’t handle that,’ says Melville. ‘But I think we thrive on it, if anything. He says, “Keep your discipline but don’t pull out of the tackles. Show them what you are about.”‘

Tigana is bucking the current trend, that the greatest of players do not make the best coaches. ‘I’ve often had this discussion with Michel Platini,’ Tigana has said. ‘He thought things were very simple and he couldn’t understand why someone couldn’t do this or that.

‘I looked at things the other way round. I have spent entire nights thinking about those things I did naturally, about how I could find training which would allow my players to do those things. If you have a team or players who don’t understand, you have to find training exercises which will make them understand. I love communicating and passing on knowledge.’

‘He has personality,’ says Wenger. ‘He has pushed through his vision of football and sticks to it. He already had a good team and now can someone check if this canada goose outlet website is authentic he has added Saha. This and his coaches, explains his success.’ It adds up to a microcosm of the English game. Tigana’s predecessor Kevin Keegan was a talkative motivator for both club and country; overseas expertise is adding to the passion for the game.

‘You have spirit, you have fantastic spectators, you have TV, you have money. The game here is a church,’ says Damiano. ‘Now you need to play the international game.’ And you notice that those Fulham socks of his are pulled up.

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