Club & Country

Thursday 18 April 2002

After playing a major part in the Republic of Ireland's Wednesday night win over the USA, Steve Finnan must surely be one of Fulham's likeliest players to be featuring in this Summer's World Cup finals.

For the seemingly width-starved Fulham fans, it must have been equally frustrating and pleasurable to see Finns bursting down the right flank to set up Ireland's first goal of the evening.

It seems things can't be going any better for Finnan at the moment, he's been a regular top performer for the Whites this season, has always risen to the occasion at International level and is a strong favourite to become Fulham's Player of the Year. Not to mention his inclusion in the PFA Team of the Year, which certainly came as an unexpected surprise.

"I was shocked but delighted to find out I had been voted into the PFA Team Of The Year. I found out just after the Chelsea game on Sunday, which didn't really help to ease the disappointment at the time, but now the news has sunk in, I'm really chuffed and proud, both for myself and the club. It will mean nothing if we get relegated, so I'll celebrate when I know we're well and truly safe."

Having been rejected at youth level at Crystal Palace, Finnan managed to play his way up through the divisions. To look at him now, you would be hard pressed to see a player who had spent any part of his career outside the top flight. Perhaps that's what's so impressive about Finnan's debut season in the Premiership.

Whilst many players over the years have struggled to adapt to the step up in class, Finnan has taken the change in his stride. However, it's also possible to have too much of a good thing.

With various other European leagues only having one cup competition, fewer teams in their top divisions and benefiting from a Winter break. The Premiership is renowned for having one of the most gruelling fixture lists in European football.

Over the last couple of years the games have been coming think and fast for Finnan. Having completed a successful Division One campaign, he's now almost got his first top-flight season under his belt. With the World Cup not too far away, there appears to be no let up. In any other profession, it could be argued that he's burning the candle at both ends.

"I feel like I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place. I know a lot of players would happily swap places because it's not a bad dilemma to have but I'm scared I'm going to let either my club or my country down, or even worse, both.

"I think more and more players feel like this but the game doesn't seem any closer to finding a solution to the number of matches we're expected to play. It's no surprise to me that this time of the season seems to throw up more injuries than any other.

"It's a sign from a personal point of view that things are going well but knowing we've got a crucial Premiership game against Leeds at Elland Road on Saturday is always at the back of my mind. I'm desperate to cement my place in the World Cup squad, because I know I'm not on that plane yet, but I also don't want to let Fulham down as we fight to stay in the Premiership."