Marlet exclusive

Thursday 14 February 2002

From Ian McCulloch

With so many players away on international duty, Wednesday's training session at Motspur Park had a somewhat depleted look about it. Add in the fact that goalkeeping coach Gerry Peyton was preparing for his place on the substitute's bench with the reserves that evening, and it was all a bit peculiar.

There was nothing peculiar about striker Steve Marlet, who during shooting practice was looking sharp and focused and really bringing out the best in Marcus Hahnemann. Having received the plaudits for his fine performance against Blackburn, the Frenchman confirmed that he was pleased with way things were going for him.

"I felt very good during the game," he said, "And I tried to do my best. I was able to contribute to two important goals for Barry and Steed and that made me very happy.

"It would have been nice to score a goal myself. I tried hard but the keeper made a good save and I hit the post in the first half. I thought that one was going in - the keeper was at full stretch but he wasn't going to reach it. With a little more luck I could have scored."

The Fulham fans are just starting to see what a strong player Marlet is. His run and shot in the last minute against York, and his powerful surge for the first goal on Saturday, where he shrugged off three challenges before exchanging passes with Hayles, show a power and physical presence that is admirably suited to the English game.

"It's something I work on in my game," said the striker, "I try to keep going if I have an opponent on top of me. I am getting stronger. Day by day I am closer to getting back to my top physical level - I think that the run that ended with Barry's goal shows that.

"It's not just in England that the game is physical, in France and other championships it is the same. But it's true that the pace of the game is more constant in England - it never drops. I think that all the players who come to play here for the first time have to learn to keep focussed for the whole of the game, and to be at your best level for all ninety minutes.

"The more games that I play, the fitter I will be and more used to the speed of the game. I've worked very hard with Roger Propos, so I'm a lot stronger now and I'm able to withstand a lot of the tackles. I'm also able to stand up to the situation where an opponent tries to use his strength to get you off the ball."

Coming back from a serious injury is never easy, especially when there are such big expectations on a player. Seeing him on Saturday, it's difficult to imagine that as recently as December Marlet was still recovering from his fractured leg.

"I still need some more games to get to my top level of fitness," he said, "And I need to score some more goals to boost my confidence, but I feel very good. Jean Tigana and Roger thought it would take me about a month to get back properly and it's a little bit more than that now, so I'm very close to getting there."

The thing that his injury lay-off has done, is impacted on his international chances. Marlet feels that he is still in with a shout of making the trip to Japan and Korea however.

"I'm very ambitious still to go to the World Cup with France. I looked at the squad this week, and he hasn't made too many changes. He has taken only three strikers, so perhaps for the next game he will make some changes, and maybe I'll get a chance then. I really hope so.

"All I can do is play well and do my best for Fulham," he said, "And score goals, and hope that that is good enough for me to be selected.

Cup glory beckons again on Saturday, with the trip to First Division Walsall. Obviously a big fan of the competition, Marlet thinks that Fulham have an outstanding chance of doing well.

"In France, we watch the Final on TV, so I know what a good atmosphere there is and what an important competition it is. I've been very excited to play in the Cup and we have a very good chance to reach the next round.

"We are very focussed on the Cup. We want to play European football next season, so it's very, very important for us. It would be a tremendous achievement for a club in its first season in the Premiership to win something like that.

"With the teams that have already been knocked-out, we have a good chance. It will be a difficult game on Saturday, but every game is difficult to be honest, it is up to us to show the same determination that we did against York.

In a thoroughly entertaining game against Blackburn, the only mystery was what really happened in the sending-off of Rovers' defender Craig Short. Short rightly received the red card for his unprovoked assault on Marlet, but study of the video failed to show why the Frenchman received his yellow card, or why Blackburn were awarded the foul. Could Marlet throw any light on the matter?

"I don't really understand what happened. All I know is that I received an elbow and he was shown the card. But then I read in the paper that he said that I cheated. Perhaps it was because he was disappointed that he is now going to miss the Worthington Cup Final, but that isn't right. I am very sorry for him, but I didn't ask him to elbow me, and I didn't give him the card!

"The referee said he gave me a yellow card because I had kicked the player first. I couldn't understand that because it is not true. And then the free kick was against us, so it was not a very logical situation.

"I am very disappointed that he is calling me a cheat. I don't dive and fall over for nothing. If I was a cheat I would have fallen down just before I passed the ball to Barry for his goal, because someone was trying to pull me over, but I don't do that."

Mystified and indignant, Marlet moved on to more pleasant matters and spoke very positively about Fulham's prospects, both for this season and next.

"We are ninth with a game in hand," he said, "So hopefully by the end of the season we can get up to six or seventh, and that will be a tremendous achievement for our first season in the Premiership. Next year, with a bit more experience behind us, I think we will do very well, perhaps a top five finish, who knows?"

Who knows indeed. Exciting though, isn't it?