Damiano on Europe

Monday 9 September 2002

From Fulham Today's Ian McCulloch

European football presents a different sort of challenge to that presented by the bread and butter of the league. The TV coverage of the game in England today means that there can't be many fans around who don't know every Premiership team and every Premiership star inside out.

For the coaches, there is no shortage of video evidence available to examine every aspect of an opponent down to the minutest detail - it must be almost impossible for teams to spring any surprises from one game to the next these days.

But this is definitely not the case as Fulham take their first tentative steps into Europe. In the Intertoto Cup the Whites came up against teams no one had heard of before - and Hadjuk Split, who they've drawn in the first round of the UEFA Cup proper, might be a famous old name, but it doesn't make it any easier to find out much about them now.

As Assistant Manager Christian Damiano says, in this sort of match, the priority has to be to concentrate on your own game.

"We don't know a great deal about Hadjuk Split," he said, "Although we know a lot about their history. They have obviously been very successful in their own country, and for a long time before that when it used to be Yugoslavia, and they have competed for a long time in Europe. But it's quite difficult to find very detailed information about what they're like at the moment. I think that they and other teams in their league are suffering like France and other countries in that all their best players are moving abroad.

"But we do know that they have a fantastic academy, and they bring through some very fine players. I think that at the moment they have a very talented young team who play very good football.

"It will be a difficult game, that's for sure, but what we have to do is concentrate on our strengths."

So Fulham will be competing on four fronts this season. Understandably cagey about priorities, Damiano clearly intends to keep his options open while insisting that the Premiership is, and always will be, the number one concern.

"We can't say what our priorities are now," said the Frenchman, "It depends entirely on the situation at the time. Last year our priority was to stay in the Premiership, but we also reached the semi-final of the FA Cup which was a bonus. You could say that the draw was kind to us in that we drew teams from the Nationwide League, but we were away from home in every game, which is always difficult. But we had opportunities in that Cup, and we took them.

"This year we are aiming to finish in the top ten of the Premiership, to improve on last season. But at the same time, in each of the Cups we will give of our best - we will treat each match with equal importance. If we have the chance to do well in one of them, then we will take it.

"The UEFA Cup is a very prestigious tournament. If we can do well in that, it will be a tremendous thing for Fulham Football Club, and will also be a very good learning experience for all the players."