Thursday 11 July 2002

Mohamed Al Fayed's summer appointment of Franco Baresi as Director of Football once again demonstrated the scale of ambition that the Chairman has for Fulham Football Club.

Like his new colleague Jean Tigana, Baresi has been one of the biggest names in European football over the last two decades and brings a wealth of experience to Fulham in his newly created advisory role.

One of the very few players at top international level to have spent an entire career at one club, Baresi made his debut for AC Milan in 1978.

In a glittering twenty-year career, he will be best remembered for marshalling one of the finest defences ever seen in club football. Operating as a sweeper in his legendary number six shirt, Baresi demonstrated a truly unique ability to control and read a game from behind his backline.

He captained Milan to the most successful period in their history during the late 80s and early 90s, winning a succession of domestic and European silverware. Success at club level naturally brought international honours as Baresi helped steer Italy to the Semi Finals of both Euro 88 and World Cup 90.

Following Milan's massively successful 1993-94 season, Baresi received the ultimate accolade as he captained his country to the Final of the 1994 World Cup, losing on penalties to the mighty Brazilians.

In an unprecedented move Milan retired Baresi's number six jersey after he completed his 20th season at the club. A fitting tribute to a legendary player.

Since his retirement from playing, Baresi remained with Milan as Vice President, and his move to Fulham in June was a major step for a name so synonymous with one club.

Speaking about his reasons for joining Fulham, Baresi was quick to shoot down any notion that he would be infringing on Jean Tigana's position.

"I was just a little bit concerned with things that came out in the press and would like to clarify the situation. I don't want in any way to blame the press I would just like to clear the situation for once and for all. I am very honored to come to Fuham and find it a wonderful challenge that I have been offered this position by Mr Al Fayed and I am now currently the advisor to the Chairman and Board of Directors.

"As I have already discussed with the players and everyone at the Club, Jean still has the total and full responsibility for the team. If a player would like to leave or has to be purchased it is obviously 100 percent Jean's decision.

"It is obviously a new experience for me being in England but I will give as much input and as much information from my past to the Chairman, to Jean, to the players and to whoever might need it. I am 100 percent available for Jean or for the Chairman or anyone at the Club."

Fulham's Intertoto fixture against FC Haka of Finland gave Baresi his first opportunity to see his new club in action.

Speaking after the game he commented, "it is always very difficult to give a judgement on the very first game of the season because the players have just come back from vacation. What I would like to point out however is that we did play against a rather weak team and the result was not very good, anybody could admit to that.

"But I think that the away match will be easier for Fulham because I think that with a little bit more confidence Haka might be a little bit more open defensively which will give Fulham a good chance of winning.

"We created a lot of opportunities to score goals but we were a little bit unlucky and the physical condition of the players is not at optimum peak . Sava, Saha and Marlet are not used to playing with each other and that is obviously an important factor. There were nice combinations but they were just unlucky."

Saturday's game at Craven Cottage marked Fulham's first foray into Europe. With a UEFA Cup berth at stake for the eventual winners, the Interoto incentives are certainly high for Fulham, despite the possible risks from such an early start to competitive games in an already grueling season.

But like his new colleagues at Motspur Park, Baresi is firmly behind Fulham's participation in the tournament.

"I agree that it does start very early but we have no choice as it is an important competition and it is what the management wants to hopefully gain a place in Europe and I'm totally behind it." And as for the Premiership, Baresi is well aware that that he has chosen the true hotbed of European domestic football as his new workplace.

"I have seen a lot of matches either on TV or in person. I am a big fan of English football and I think that Fulham actually performed quite well last season considering that it was the first year in the Premiership. English football has grown and improved tremendously in the last few years. If you watch the Champions League you can see there are some very important teams in England. "