By Alex Marrow
AS FULHAM’S players hunt down a return to the Premier League after a four-year absence, they could do a lot worse than to summon up the memories of the 2000-01 season and one Barry Hayles.
Striker Hayles was an integral part of the Whites side that cruised to the Division One title, finishing with an impressive 101 points, ten clear of Blackburn.
Attending matches at Craven Cottage when he can, Hayles is now confident that Slavisa Jokanovic’s class of 2017-18 can repeat that success.
“Fulham have hit form at the right time and they can definitely make one of the play-off spots,” said Fulham favourite Hayles. “There is always a team that hits form at the right time and they’ve got a great chance, definitely.”
Fulham’s recent Championship form is certainly impressive, with six wins in their last seven league games heading into this weekend, including injury-time wins at Barnsley and Middlesbrough, as well as a 6-0 thrashing of Burton.
Ten different players have scored in that period, but it is this lack of a consistent single goalscorer that has concerned Hayles. Back in 2000-01, along with Portuguese winger Luis Boa Morte, Hayles played alongside French dynamo Louis Saha and the trio bagged 63 league goals between them.
He said: “I felt like we had more of a cutting edge up top and, if Fulham can get someone in the final third scoring consistently, then they will push on from there.
“I remember watching them play Derby at home in November and they dominated the first half and should have been two or three goals up.
“Derby then equalised from their first attack. But, if Fulham had had that clinical cutting edge, they would have been out of sight.”
One man who has started scoring more goals of late is teenage starlet Ryan Sessegnon, who had bagged six in his last four league games before this weekend.
Though Hayles thinks the 17-year-old is a fantastic player, it is the deadline day loan signing of Serbian international Aleksandar Mitrovic from Newcastle that really caught his eye.
“I think he is a great signing,” said Hayles. “He will suit Fulham’s game because he can hold the ball up and will be a good focal point for their attacks.”
Despite his advancing years, Hayles still plays for Hellenic League side Windsor in the ninth tier of English football.
Working towards his UEFA B coaching badge as player-coach at the Berkshire club, he says it’s his love of the game and desire to compete that keeps him going.
“I didn’t think I would want to get into coaching, which is why I’m 45 and not fully qualified yet,” he said. “But now I’ve grasped it with both hands and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”
In January, the FA announced it would interview at least one candidate from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background for roles in the England set-up.
And the EFL have extended a pilot of the so-called ‘Rooney Rule’, seen in American football, to all EFL clubs for the next 18 months. It will cover all first-team vacancies.
Yet Hayles feels there is still some way to go for BAME coaches to break into top jobs.
“I know a lot of players I’ve played with who have got their full badges and apply for jobs but get bypassed,” he said.
“I speak to them and they say, ‘Well, I’ve got all the credentials, why can’t I be given the chance?’.
“But that doesn’t put me off. I thoroughly enjoy it and the different levels, so I will push on.”
Fulham, too, need to push on. A few more goals from the likes of Sessegnon and Mitrovic and they could yet emulate the success of Hayles and his team-mates in 2001.