Bobby Zamora praised manager Roy Hodgson after his Fulham side came from a goal down to beat Hamburg and book a historic place in the Europa League final.
Hodgson took over at Craven Cottage in December 2007, with an immediate goal to keep the club in the Premier League. The team are now in their first ever European final to cap off a superb last couple of years.
Zamora said: “He has got to be [manager of the year] in my eyes. He has taken this club from almost relegation to a European final in two seasons; I would say that is unheard of.”
Centre back Brede Hangeland agreed, looking back to their struggle when he joined the club a month after Hodgson: “When I came I was hoping we could avoid relegation and we managed to do that on the last day.
“Two years later it has just been an amazing journey to be part of and to reach the final, we will have to pinch ourselves a few times to really understand what this means,” he added.
The Cottagers had to do it the hard way, going a goal down to a fantastic Mladen Petric free kick, but goals from Simon Davies and Zoltan Gera ensured they are the last English team left in Europethis season, an achievement which will take some time to sink in.
Striker Zamora, who was playing under the watchful eye of England manager Fabio Capello, said: “It is hard to put in words to be honest, it truly is a magnificent achievement and I don’t even think it has sunk in yet.”
Fulham will face Atletico Madrid in Hamburg after the Spaniards overcame Liverpool on away goals and Hangeland pointed out that they will be underdogs, a tag which they have carried all the way through their campaign.
The Norway captain said: “It would have been nice to play Liverpool in an all-English final but it is also nice to play a team we have never come across before so it will be a great game.
“They will be favourites but we will be hard to beat, as we have been in Europe this season,” he added.
Hodgson’s next task will be to prepare for a London derby against West Ham United on Sunday but, with a final to look forward to, he will have little trouble in motivating his charges.
Hangeland said: “The final will be in the back of our heads, of course, but the worst thing that we can do is drop the standards in league games and think we can raise them in the final.
“We need to keep going and do our best in the remaining league games which will be good preparation for the final.”
Meanwhile Zamora is likely to miss the match against his former side having been doubtful for the Hamburg game and will now be fighting to be fit for what will be the biggest game of Fulham’s players careers.