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Skipper staggered by Fulham's final date

TEAMtalk Media Group, TEAMtalk Media Group
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Even skipper Danny Murphy shakes his head in disbelief at Fulham's extraordinary march to the Europa League final.

A competition initially viewed as a novelty that became a nuisance as injuries mounted has provided the club with the biggest match in its 131-year history.

Over nine months, 20,000 miles and 18 games have passed since Fulham set-off last July on an epic journey that has taken them to the extremity of the continent.

Their heroics in humbling heavyweights such as Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk, Wolfsburg and Roma has seen them feted across Europe.

Adding to the fairytale is that it has been achieved with a small squad working off a limited budget, while comfortably avoiding a relegation battle in the Premier League. Murphy has been present virtually every step of the way yet even he rubs his eyes in astonishment at the way Fulham have repeatedly defied all expectations - even their own.

"If you had looked at the betting at the start of the Europa League we would have been nowhere near the final," said the former Liverpool midfielder.

"If I'm being honest even here at the club we thought that if we could get to the group stages we would have done well.

"That's because we are realists and we had to mix the Europa League with the Premier League. "As we progressed it became more evident we had a good chance of doing well.

"Each time we drew big teams people thought we were the underdog and everyone thought it would be the end of the road but we kept jumping over the hurdles."

Fulham's march to the final reflects the genius of manager Roy Hodgson and perhaps more than any other player Murphy has been revitalised by his arrival. It may be hard to imagine now but 18 months ago he was viewed by fans as a secondary figure in Fulham's midfield, overshadowed by the more popular Jimmy Bullard.

Questions were even asked whether the return to fitness of Dickson Etuhu would see Murphy dropped. Hodgson had his reservations about Bullard, however, and acted by selling him in to Hull.

Fast forward to the current season and Hull have been relegated while Murphy has been in inspired form, his vision, composure and leadership making up for legs that have inevitably slowed with time.

The 33-year-old has little chance of adding to his nine caps but has been one of England's form midfielders and is far more than the ageing journeyman that lost his way at Charlton and Tottenham.

"Roy's contribution to the club in such a short space of time has been nothing short of amazing," said Murphy.

"He really has transformed the club and the reason for that is because he's a knowledgeable man with his football.

"He treats people with respect and maturity and while they sound like obvious things for a manager, I can assure you they're not.

"He's an honest man. He's always there to talk to you and whether it be positive or negative, he will tell you how he's feeling,

"That is healthy I think and honesty is not always something that managers are good at.

"In terms of his coaching he is a perfectionist. He works really hard on the training pitch with his other staff, to make sure the team plays the way he wants.

"We know our jobs - there's no question mark over what he wants from us, and I think you see that."

Atletico Madrid will start as favourites at the Hamburg Arena yet this will be shrugged off by a Fulham side that has spent the season making a mockery of predictions. For Murphy the philosophy behind the success is simple.

"There are no stars. Perhaps Bobby Zamora has become the star this season because of his goals," he said. "But if you ask people about Fulham they will say we will play as a team."

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