Few players give more to the Fulham cause than Sascha Riether. The German defender has fast become a firm fans’ favourite. He’s punctual and polite, but he’s a winner - something that has served him well during his short time at the Club after joining on a season-long loan from FC Cologne. It’s a spell all parties hope will last beyond the end of the campaign.
Sascha Riether pauses for a moment before breaking into a wide smile. It’s just been suggested to him that he must be one of the front-runners for Fulham’s Player of the Year award.
It wasn’t a case of being sycophantic or trying to butter him up for the interview - it’s a widespread belief that the unflappable German has been one of Fulham’s best players so far this season.
“It’s nice that people talk about that but I just try to do my job,” says the modest Riether, who turns 30 on 23rd March. “I always give 100 per cent and I want to help Fulham step up the table by trying my best.”
His regular lung-busting runs down the right-hand touchline, coupled with some fine defensive displays, tough tackling and the ability to whip in a not-too-shabby cross or two have seen the Fulham fans quickly take Riether to their hearts. It’s no mean feat for someone who had never played football outside of his home country until his summer move to England from FC Cologne.
It’s not always the case with loan players. In a system that can be somewhat hit or miss, some loanees can appear to be only out for themselves; at a club to sharpen up their fitness or put themselves in the shop window before moving on to pastures new.
But for Riether, you get the feeling he’d give his all if it were just a friendly kickabout down the park.
“In my mind, I’ve never thought of myself as being here ‘on loan’,” stated Sascha. “I give my best as if I’m here for a long time. I’ve never felt I was coming here for a short time, for a holiday. I always give everything in each game I play and see myself as a Fulham player, not a Cologne player.
“For me, it’s been a great time here so far. It was my first experience of another country and it was a big step for me to come to England. I have always played in Germany but this was an exciting challenge for me. And I have to say Fulham is like a family and I enjoy playing here. The fans are great, I like the stadium and it’s been all good so far. I feel I have adapted well but that is down to everyone at the Club too.”
Sascha has certainly made an impact; the cry of ‘Riether, Riether’ has been regularly heard around Craven Cottage during games this season after another whole-hearted display. And the defender appears genuinely touched by the relationship he has struck up with the Fulham faithful.
“It’s a great honour,” he said. “I’ve never had this before at my previous clubs so for me it’s a new feeling. I think I was appreciated by the fans at my previous clubs but they never used to chant my name. But I guess it shows that the fans like me here and they like how I play. I think they like to see players that always give their all and that is what I do. I hope I can go on like that for the rest of the season,” continues Riether, whose tireless running never seems to waver.
“That’s my game,” he laughs. “I don’t like running normally but when there’s a game then I want to win and I’ll run until I can’t run anymore.”
In a mixed season for the Whites, Riether’s storming displays in the backline have been a beacon of light. It’s hard to think of a game when he hasn’t been one of the Whites’ best players on the park.
Not that Riether will be resting on his laurels. Bulgarian international Stanislav Manolev is now nipping at his heels following a loan switch from PSV Eindhoven to Fulham in the January transfer window.
“It’s always important for a team that you don’t just have 11 players,” mused Riether. “We have more than 20 players here who can play and who want to play. It’s a long season and we have many games so it’s important that if players are out injured or suspended, that we have others who can fit in without a problem.”
Riether was named in Martin Jol’s starting XI as Fulham shot out of the traps on the opening day of the season with a 5-0 thumping of Norwich City in blazing hot sunshine at Craven Cottage.
Three more league wins saw the Whites sitting pretty in sixth place by the end of October, with pundits and fans alike tipping Fulham to seal a European spot. That hasn’t quite gone to plan and since December Fulham have been nestled in a mid-table position. That could soon change, however, if a late-season charge was to happen. And you can bet your house on who would be leading the cavalry.
“I would say it’s been up and down this season,” said Sascha. “We had a good start. We beat Norwich, we lost narrowly at Manchester United, we beat West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa. But then we had a long, negative series of results where we just couldn’t get a victory or we’d draw games which we should have won. Games like Reading and Southampton away when we were leading in the last few minutes only to draw. That was frustrating.
“But recently we’ve changed a little bit and we’re ready for battle again. Heads can drop sometimes when a side goes through a bad patch but everyone wants to fight for each other here and if we go on like that we will get the points we need to survive and maybe push into the top half. A top-10 finish was the aim at the start of the season I think and that is still something we can achieve.”
As the season nears its end, talk turns to Riether’s situation and where he will be next term. It’s been well documented that Fulham have an option to buy the player from Cologne. And the star is keen to stay in SW6.
“I’d like to remain here,” he confirmed. “Fulham have an option to buy me and so I think in the next few weeks there will be talks about my future. At the moment I can’t really say what will happen. But I like it here and I’m thankful that Fulham gave me the chance to play in the Premier League.”
To read the full interview with Riether, be sure to pick up your copy of Issue 40 of Fultime magazine which is instore now, priced £3.50. You can also purchase your copy from our online store here.
The latest edition also features in-depth discussion from Manager Martin Jol, Damien Duff, Matthew Briggs, Les Strong, Steve Wigley, Erik Nevland and Fulham fan and television presenter Millie Clode. We also take a look at Fulham in the 1960s, provide the second instalment of the 100 Men Who Shaped Fulham Football Club, and offer a comprehensive guide to all of the Whites’ January transfer window purchases down the years.