Ten million Finnan

Thursday 8 November 2001

Ian McCulloch writes for Fulham Today...

How much would you pay for an international Premiership full-back who never puts a foot wrong, who consistently puts in a extraordinary level of performance week in-week out, and who is skillful, talented and accomplished?

Does £600,000 sound reasonable? Well that's how much Fulham paid for Steve Finnan in 1998. I'll leave you to work out for yourself how much he must be worth now, but I suggest that you start your valuations at around the £10million mark.

On a lovely sunny day at Fulham's training ground, Finnan had been nominated to confront the nation's assembled media. In a gruelling session in front of the television cameras and reporter's notebooks, he comfortably steered himself through the minefield of questions that were trying to get him to say something controversial about the upcoming Irish trip to Iran. It was a masterful performance.

I caught up with him immediately afterwards, and before his voice finally gave out, asked him how he was finding life in the Premiership.

"It's been a big step up," he said, "The players you are up against are all quality, everything's a bit quicker and you don't get as much time on the ball, so you've really got to be up for every game. It's pretty much what I expected, but you're never really sure until you actually get there. Now having played ten games, we're started to get used to it and get things together."

Any football observers recently arrived from the moon and asked to estimate how long Steve had been playing in the Premiership would probably plump for ten years rather than ten games. He is suitably modest about how comfortable he has made the transition to the top-level look.

"It's good to be playing with quality players and they help give you the confidence that you can play at that level. Getting into the Irish squad a year before we got promotion has also helped. It all adds to your game and helps your belief. But I've really enjoyed it so far, and hopefully I can go on to play many more games for Fulham in the Premiership.

"It's hard to think back three years and imagine that we'd be in this position. We all knew the ambition that the Chairman and Kevin Keegan had at the time, but I don't think anybody thought it would really happen this quickly. It's been a real achievement. All the players knew it would happen but perhaps not as quickly as it has."

Fulham was obviously an ambitious Club, but it was the high-profile Kevin Keegan who was responsible for persuading a lot of big-name players to join the Whites. Was it a difficult decision for Steve when the Whites came in for him?

"It wasn't hard at all," he said, "And Kevin was the main reason. I was at Notts County and enjoying my time there, but when I heard Fulham were interested I had no hesitation in coming down. That's no disrespect to County, I really liked it there, but with the ambition of Fulham and with Keegan as a manager, it was impossible to turn down."

Having now made the right back position his own, it's strange to think back and remember that Steve played in a variety of different positions when he first arrived at the Cottage. There are many today who still think that we are not taking full advantage of his attacking flair by playing him at the back, but Steve himself has no such doubts.

"It's my favourite position, I've played there for the last couple of years and I enjoy it. I see it as my position now. I've played at wingback, right wing, midfield, but when Jean Tigana came in he saw me as the right back and I've been happy playing there ever since.

"I do like to get forward. It's something natural in my game because I used to play wide as a winger. It's also part of my role in the team to get forward and try and create chances as much as possible, and to be honest I wouldn't want to just sit back all the time. First and foremost I'm a defender, but it's still something I'm learning because I've only played in that position for two years. Hopefully I will still carry on getting forward though.

"I like to score goals as well, although I haven't got any yet this season. I got a couple last year, which I enjoyed. The priority is the team winning but then it's nice to score. The lads have said I'm due a goal so hopefully I can get one soon."

It's a very different stage now, to be playing at the likes of Manchester United rather than the wilds of Bootham Crescent or Sincil Bank every week. Steve is very clear about where he'd rather be.

"It's been superb. Old Trafford on the first day of the season with over sixty thousand people there, that's the sort of stadium you want to play in every week. You can't beat it. Even at the Cottage against the big teams the atmosphere is great. In a couple of year's time at the new stadium it will be even better.

"I don't really get too nervous on the big occasions. I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel anything at all, but it's probably the same for whoever we're playing against or whatever ground we're at. And the nerves only come because you really want to do well.

"When you're playing against all the big names, the David Beckham's or the Patrick Vierra's, it tends to raise your game if anything. I don't think it makes you more nervous at all. You're just glad to be there and pleased to be playing against those players. It's more of a motivating factor than anything else."

The whole of Steve's Fulham career must have been one long highlight, with success following on success. But what in particular stands out for him?

"Of course getting promoted from the Second Division and then the First Division was fantastic. It's always nice to win the League; I did it with Notts County as well in the Third. But there have been a lot of highlights at Fulham and hopefully there will be lots more to come. Perhaps in the Cup; we've reached the quarter-finals of the Worthington Cup a couple of times, so it would be nice to go a few steps further."

The icing on the cake for any professional footballer must be to be involved internationally, especially if the team is having a good run. With a tricky, but winnable, play-off against Iran coming up, the World Cup Finals are looming. Steve is looking forward to the games with keen anticipation.

"Things are going very well. I started in the last qualifier, and now we've got the play-offs with Iran coming up and we're very close to getting to the Finals. We're not there yet though, because they're going to be two very tough games. The prospect of playing in the World Cup is very exciting; a lot of the players in the Ireland squad say you have to get there, it's such a great thing, there's nothing better. And of course the opportunity doesn't come along that often, so you have to take it when it comes. We have to beat Iran, simple as that. It's going to be tough for sure, so nobody's taking anything for granted. But even if we do, there's still six months of the season left with Fulham that I've got to concentrate on, and I'm determined to stay focused."

And concentrating on Fulham, it's been a perplexing season so far, with the team looking very good at times but without the haul of points that their performances should have brought them.

"I think we'll get a top-half finish," said Steve, "All the players here think we will. We know we're capable of it. There's still a long way to go, but if we can do that then I think we can say that we've had a pretty good season."

He laughs when the subject of valuations comes up. This is clearly a levelheaded young man who is determined not to let himself get carried away.

"You don't really ever think about it. The only time you would was if the Club decided to sell you and had to set a price. Transfer fees nowadays have just grown out of all proportion, so to say you're worth anything near that sort of value is just ridiculous. I came here for six hundred thousand, three years ago, and I thought that was a lot of money. I don't intend to leave and I hope Fulham don't want to get rid of me, so my valuation doesn't really come into it.

"One thing with Jean Tigana as manager, he won't let you get carried away, he makes sure you keep your feet on the ground.

" I've enjoyed my three years here; it's gone very quickly and it's gone very well. Hopefully I'll be here a lot longer and we'll be even more successful than we have been. The first thing is to establish ourselves in the Premiership, and then after that, hopefully we can challenge for honours."

Look at some of the transfer fees being splashed around at the moment and it does make you wonder how much real class is worth. In Finnan's case it surely can't be anything less than eight figures. What would be nice, of course, is that we never get to find out.

Fast-forward ten years and picture the scene as Captain Steve Finnan, in his final year before retirement, strides out at the new National Stadium in Macclesfield to collect the Champions Cup. Fulham have just beaten fierce rivals Barcelona by three goals to nil and are sweeping all before them. You just can't put a value on that.