Hodgson eyes another miracle
Fulham captain Danny Murphy flew in the face of conventional wisdom when he revealed Roy Hodgson "does not sprinkle magic dust" on Fulham before they embark on their European adventures.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson described Hodgson's transformation of Fulham into a serious European force as "miraculous" - the same sentiment echoed by League Managers' Association chairman Howard Wilkinson after the 62-year-old was named manager of the year on Monday.
Murphy's version of the secret of Hodgson's success in guiding Fulham to their first major European final was more conventional and removed all romantic notions. Hard work, meticulous planning and attention to detail in the transfer market are the key elements at Craven Cottage.
Fulham's story has created a stir that stretches way beyond the banks of the Thames, as was proved when Hodgson addressed the media high inside Hamburg's Nordbank Arena ahead of the Europa League final against Atletico Madrid.
Hodgson lost a Uefa Cup final when he was Inter Milan coach - photo: Getty
Hodgson can crown his cosmopolitan career if Fulham add Atletico to a list of European victims that includes Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Wolfsburg and Hamburg.
And the scale of interest in the remarkable feats of Fulham and their manager came in the shape of an inquisition that brought questions from Sweden, Finland, Norway and Italy - all countries that have benefitted from Hodgson's managerial expertise.
If Fulham have every neutral in England behind them, as they should, in Germany then it appears the nomadic Hodgson can also count on support from around the globe.
As Fulham's fans arrived in Hamburg, or dreamland as it will be known for at least the
next 24 hours, Hodgson admitted victory here would eclipse leading Inter Milan to the final of this competition in its previous guise of the Uefa Cup in 1997, which ended in defeat on penalties to Schalke 04.
It is a career has encompassed 12 clubs in six countries and spells with three national sides, and as Murphy - a Uefa Cup winner with Liverpool in 2001 - sat alongside his manager, he delivered the lesson according to Hodgson.
He said: "The manager and his staff work damn hard to make sure the lads know their jobs. He does his research on players and the mentality of players who come into the club. He is a manager who organises his team well."
Hodgson is fond of using a phrase he heard during his time in Sweden about "the self-playing piano" - a term applied to his Malmo team that won the title five seasons in succession. It was so well-drilled that ultimately few words of guidance were required from their English coach.
It is hard to see this current Fulham team functioning without Hodgson's influence, but they are finely tuned enough to have their thousands of fans descending on Hamburg with genuine hope of claiming the biggest victory in their history.
The slogan for this game, emblazoned behind Hodgson as he spoke, is "The Final Challenge". And Fulham's followers will hope these are not ominous words as victory here is certain to attract even more attention to their coveted manager.
Atletico coach Quique Sanchez Flores swept aside the opportunity to praise his Fulham counterpart, insisting only players can influence games at this level, but he should beware of taking Hodgson and his team lightly.
Danny Murphy played for Liverpool in their thrilling Uefa Cup win over Alves - photo: Getty
Hodgson, the epitome of the calm common sense that has characterised his Craven Cottage tenure even amid the expectation building here, refuses to believe simply reaching the Europa League final is far enough for Fulham, aware of the realities that await in Hamburg on Wednesday.
"You work hard to get to finals and play a lot of important games, " he said. "And when the big day arrives it is down to two teams. One will go off smiling at the end and one will go with tears in their eyes."
Such is the obvious sense of anticipation, bordering on disbelief, among the ranks of Fulham fans as they prepare to watch their team in a showpiece European occasion, that there will almost certainly be tears from them in victory if Hodgson can fashion another triumph.
As well as Murphy, the experienced and intelligent voice of his manager on the field, Hodgson was joined at the Nordbank Arena by veteran goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. He was in the Middlesbrough side thrashed 4-0 by Sevilla in the 2006 final - memories he hopes to erase at the expense of Atletico on Wednesday.
Schwarzer has proved another Hodgson masterstroke in the transfer market, and he is also a devoted disciple of his manager's approach, saying: "He has brought his experience back to the English game after working abroad, and what it shows is that at times English managers are underestimated, along with the qualities they possess.
"He was the reason I came to Fulham and it has been justified by the performances and the results we have had in the last two years."
This Hamburg experience is also the reward for Fulham owner Mohamed Al Fayed, whose investment in Hodgson's experience at a time when his club was destined for the Championship has reaped dividends beyond his wildest dreams.
In a season of turmoil when reviled owners at Liverpool and Manchester United have felt the full force of the fury of their own supporters, Al Fayed is guaranteed a rapturous reception from Fulham's fans if he takes one of his familiar pre-match walks.
And victory in Germany on Wednesday will make him even harder to prize from Al Fayed's grasp than the legendary London store.